Sentences from the Psalter (1): There is a River

Psalm 46:4

The Amazon, Colorado, Thames, and Nile rivers are all famous in their own right, the latter being over 4,000 miles long, the equivalent of the distance from New York City to Rome. Yet Scripture features many more lowly and obscure rivers of perhaps greater interest and from which we can glean for our souls. Psalm 46 fascinatingly states, “There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God.” But before we catch sight of this unique stream, let us consider some other less comforting waters.

The River of Difficulty (Cherith)

Difficulties are often strewn across the path of the child of God from which not even an Elijah was immune. While hiding from Ahab in the place of God’s appointment, the brook Cherith, his source of refreshment, dried up. That presented a very real difficulty. Are you facing a river of difficulty in your life? Sure of where God has led you, you are suffering drought conditions and wonder at His ways with you. Elijah wasn’t far from Jordan, but he stayed by Cherith until the Lord directed him north to Zarephath where other provisions lay in store for the prophet. Though our river may often run dry in this world, thank God, there is a river, the streams whereof make glad the city of God.

The River of Depression (Jordan)

The Jordan river boasts the lowest elevation in the world. Commencing on the slopes of Mount Hermon in the north, it flows south until it empties into the Dead Sea at 1,312 feet below sea level. The turbid clay-colored waters of this low-lying river didn’t appeal to Naaman, a man familiar with the beautiful crystal-clear rivers of Damascus. Many saints find themselves in a low place at times. Have your circumstances, history, and personality all combined to bring you to a place of depression? Faint not child of God, there is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God.

The River of Disaster (Kishon)

An entire army was once swept away by the swollen waters of the river Kishon (Jud 5:21). When disaster follows disaster we quip, “It never rains but it pours.” Sometimes like Job, we are hit with successive waves of life’s sea until it seems we are overwhelmed and our bark is sure to sink. It will not always be thus. One day, sooner than we think, we will be part of a scene of blessing in the midst of which there is a river, the streams of which make glad the city of God.

The River of Disappointment (Wadi)

The rocky watercourses of Arabia are full of water in the winter, but dry and disappointing in the summer. In the midst of his deep suffering, grief, and calamity, Job compared his three friends to such “deceitful wadies” (Job 6:15). To Job, at first sight, the friends seemed to promise much by way of comfort and understanding. In the end they proved nothing but a bitter disappointment. Have those who you imagined would understand and sympathize, unjustly judged you and turned away? Like the Arabian wadi that has no perpetual spring of water to renew it, your friends have disappeared as rapidly as they came. Don’t despair! Remember there is a river, the streams of which make glad the city of God.

The River of Desperation (Marah)

Thirst possesses a torment all of its own; and there’s no better way to experience it than by taking a three-day journey through a desert without adequate water (Exo 15:22). Imagine then the frustration of stumbling across water, finding it so bitter that you could not drink it!

One of the greatest problems afflicting God’s people – but little recognized – is bitterness. Often caused by years of unresolved frustration, which is then bottled up and converted into simmering anger, bitterness can lie at the root of many seemingly unrelated physical, emotional, and mental problems. After years of provocation by Peninnah, Hannah prayed and wept sore before the Lord “in bitterness of soul” (1Sa 1:10). Have the rivers of life turned bitter for you? Is there desperation in your heart for relief from the torment? Thank God, relief is at hand! There is a river, the streams of which make glad the city of God.

The River of Delight

So, what is the river in Psalm 46:4? The Psalmist omits the name, but one thing we know; it is a river of delight. Perhaps he was referring to the Shiloah stream which carried water from the spring of Gihon to the lower pool of Siloam; or the Kidron River that ran past Jerusalem on the east; or possibly the Holy Spirit meant it to refer prophetically to the river that will flow out from Jerusalem in the Millennium, causing the desert to blossom as a rose and the Dead Sea to be healed (Eze 47:8, Zec 14:8).

Commentators from ancient times have pointed out a devotional application of this river. It’s notable that from the water that flowed out of the rock in the wilderness to the “fountain of living waters” (Jer 2:13), God has often chosen water as a figure of Himself. The Holy Spirit is referred to as “rivers of living water” (John 7:38), and believing in Christ is to take such a drink that one will never thirst again (John 6:35). In that light, what blessed practical applications can be extracted from the most delightful image of a river that makes glad the city of God! Into all our difficulties, disappointments, disasters, and depression He brings His pure delight. As Spurgeon so aptly put it, “Divine grace like a smoothly flowing, fertilising, full, and never failing river, yields refreshment and consolation to believers. This is the river of the water of life, of which the church…partakes evermore. It is no boisterous ocean, but a placid stream, it is not stayed in its course by earthquakes or crumbling mountains, it follows its serene course without disturbance. Happy are they who know from their own experience that there is such a river of God!” May God grant us to take refreshment from the streams of His never-failing grace today!