Study 2: The overflow of God’s enjoyment
Let’s take a further look at ‘the river of [God’s] delights’ (Psalm 36:8, Hebrew text). Earthly Jerusalem is unique among the capital cities of this world; unlike most of the others it does not have a river flowing through it. Think for instance of London’s Thames, Paris’s Seine, Cairo’s Nile, Rome’s Tiber etc. And yet several significant mentions occur in the Bible of a special river associated with the city of YHWH as King. It can only mean God the Holy Spirit himself. Using the New Living Translation, let’s start in:
‘A river brings joy to the city of our God, the sacred home of the Most High. God dwells in that city . . .’ By contrast, the rest of that psalm refers to ‘times of trouble’ (Psalm 46:1) marked by ‘earthquakes’ (Psalm 46:2) and tsunamis (Psalm 46:3), the chaos of international wars (Psalm 46:6), and ‘the glorious works of the Lord’ (Psalm 46:8) in restoring peace that wins him worldwide honour as ‘the Lord of Heaven’s Armies’ (Psalm 46:7,10,11) and his people’s ‘fortress’ (Psalm 46:11), ‘refuge and strength’ (Psalm 46:1). Amidst such upheaval God’s own people ‘will not fear’ (Psalm 46:2). They are bidden by YHWH their King: ‘Be still, and know [experientially] that I am God’ (Psalm 46:10). What therapy in distressing times, to sit alongside the tranquil river of God and contemplate its unstoppable flow! This is the ultimate reality of God’s new creation (Psalm 46:4).
Ezekiel’s vision of God’s river
God’s prophet began his ministry ‘with the Judean exiles beside the Kebar River in Babylon’ (Ezekiel 1:1). Later he envisaged the river of God against the backdrop spoken about in Psalm 137:1-6, both rivers being considered in the context of Israel’s refugee status in Babylon. The psalmist described his bleak despair among those exiles as they recalled how: ‘Beside the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept as we thought of Jerusalem (Psalm 137:1). We put away our harps, hanging them on the branches of poplar trees (Psalm 137:2). For our captors demanded a song from us . . . a joyful hymn: “Sing us one those songs of Jerusalem!” (Psalm 137:3). But how can we sing the song of the Lord while in a pagan land? (Psalm 137:4) If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget how to play the harp (Psalm 137:5). May my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth if I fail to remember you, if I don’t make Jerusalem my greatest joy’ (Psalm 137:6).
The prophet Ezekiel helped to challenge that mood language. God had shown him the future cataclysmic events among the nations, as the lyrics of Psalm 46:0 had voiced. The apocalyptic names of ‘Gog of the land of Magog’ (Ezekiel 37:1 and 39:24) trigger terror in the human breast as does the term ‘Armageddon’! But he also prophesied the spiritual resurrection of the dried and scattered skeletal bones of God’s exiles as a breathing and breath-taking army (Ezekiel 37:1-14), also visualised as a flock of bruised and battered sheep now peacefully grazing again in their homeland meadows that are enriched by heaven’s ‘showers of blessing’ under YHWH’s shepherding care (Ezekiel 37:31). In such a context of restoration, God’s river was unveiled afresh to the prophet (Ezekiel 37:1-12).
 It starts as a humble ‘stream flowing . . . from beneath the door of the Temple’ (Ezekiel 37:2-3).
 ‘Measuring’ its depth at equal intervals along its progress, he realised that it grew from its initial paddling level to such a surface height that a person could no longer walk in its waters but had to swim. This came about without supplementary resources from even a single tributary – illustrating God’s Holy Spirit’s expansive ability to export his own abundant vitality without diminishing his nature one iota! (Ezekiel 37:3-5).
 ‘Through the desert’ the river flows, enabling ‘many trees to grow . . . on both sides of the river’ (Ezekiel 37:7) and even to make the salty waters of the Dead Sea fresh and pure’ (Ezekiel 37:8) and ‘swarm . . . [with] living things’, including ‘fish [that] will abound’ therein. Indeed, ‘life will flourish wherever this water flows’ (Ezekiel 37:9).
 Those who dwell near all this renewal will feed on ‘fish of every kind’ (Ezekiel 37:10) and regular fresh ‘fruit’, as well as picking evergreen leaves as herbal medicine ‘for healing’ (whether as poultices on sores or as drinks infused from) ‘the leaves’ of those trees growing along its banks! (Ezekiel 37:12)
John’s revelation of this river
The Bible concludes with a fresh unveiling of that same ‘river’ given to John on the island of Patmos, conveying ‘the water of life’ which is ‘clear as crystal’, from its source in ‘the throne of God and of the Lamb’ (thanks to the redeeming sacrifice of Jesus at Calvary, Ezekiel 37:1). It cascades ‘down the centre of the main street’ (Ezekiel 37:2) of ‘the holy city, the new Jerusalem’ (Ezekiel 37:2). John saw the constantly fruitful ‘tree of life’ that had previously been shown to Ezekiel, supplying food and medicinal blessing for ‘the nations’ (Ezekiel 37:2) – who were now emerging from the torments recorded in many earlier chapters of Revelation. The few verses that then conclude the final chapter repeatedly tell us that the setting for the ultimate and eternal reality of this river will be fully appreciated at the sudden [‘soon’] ‘coming’ of Jesus (Revelation 7,12,17,20).
Jesus’ promise of his gift of the Holy Spirit after his ascension
One more dynamic reference to the river of God came from the lips of our Lord in John 7:37-39. At ‘the climax of the festival’, on its last day’ when natural water was traditionally outpoured in the Temple, Jesus invited ‘anyone who is thirsty’, despite a whole week of the ritual and symbolism of orthodox religion, to ‘come to me, . . . believe . . . in me . . . and drink!’ The promise of ‘Scripture’ will become his/her real experience: ‘riverS of living water will flow from his heart’, meaning ‘the Spirit’ who would be given by the Saviour when he ascended and ‘entered into his glory’, from the immanent day of Pentecost even until our present times, and until he returns!
* Lord increase our thirst to ‘keep topped up with the Spirit’ (Ephesians 5:18, literal translation).