“There Is a River”

“There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the Most High.” —Psalm 46:4

THE forty-sixth psalm was written as an encouragement to the church during the Gospel Age, and particularly for today. Its symbolisms describe certain unique aspects of God’s dealings with his people in the troublesome experiences through which they pass at this end of the age.

The psalm begins, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof, Selah.” The comforting thought that God is our refuge is expressed many times in the Scriptures. One such place is Proverbs 18:10: “The name of the Lord is a strong tower, the righteous runneth into it, and is safe,” or as the margin says, “is set aloft.”

Pictured here is a strong tower, a place where the righteous, the Lord’s people, come to God and, as a consequence, are made safe, or are set aloft. These are indeed encouraging words. And all who seek refuge in God have the additional promise of Psalm 91:9-12: “Because thou hast made the Lord, which is my refuge, even the Most High, thy habitation; there shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling. For he shall give his angels charge over thee to keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.” While this last verse was mentioned in connection with Jesus’ wilderness temptation (Matt. 4:6) as specifically applying to him, additionally, we believe it is applicable to each one of his followers. Angels are certainly used to offer protection and oversight to all those who belong to the Lord.

After Jesus was tempted of the devil in the wilderness we are told that angels came and ministered unto him. Peter’s miraculous deliverance by an angel from prison and from an untimely death, is also recorded. (Acts 12:7-11) And we, too, share the encouragement of Psalm 34:7, which says, “The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear him and delivereth them.” This is a very inspiring truth which gives us strength and confidence as we walk in the narrow way.

God is a very present help in trouble; he is always there; we need merely to call upon him for assistance. Since we are walking in the way that God’s Word describes as leading to tribulation, it is comforting to remember that his help is always nigh. Although it is true that “through much tribulation shall ye enter into the kingdom” (Acts 14:22), each of us can testify that during such trying experiences we have personally found God to be a helper in every time of need. As we think back on our Christian walk from the first time we knew the Lord down to the present day, we are made aware that he has always given us grace sufficient.

When difficult trials come we can think back upon his dealings with us in the past and remember how God delivered us and helped us to overcome. Thus these lessons serve as building blocks, and we are made stronger for the tests of the moment. “If God be for us who can be against us” (Rom. 8:31), is another favorite text of many Christians, and it is also a bulwark to strengthen us in times of stress.

The prophetic background of this psalm concerns the time of the removal of this symbolic earth. Verse two reads, “Therefore will not we fear though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea.” The word translated removed means ‘changed’. The psalmist is not speaking of the literal earth, of course, because we are told in Ecclesiastes 1:4 that “the [planet] Earth abideth forever.” The word earth, as used in the psalm, is an apt symbol of the social order that exists among men on the earth. Now it is under the dominion of Satan, who is the god of this world—the social order Peter speaks of as “the world that now is.” (II Pet. 3:7) The psalmist described this same order of things as it would near its end using the pictorial term of the mountains being carried into the midst of the sea. He continues this thought in the third verse, saying, “Though the waters thereof roar, though they roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof,” sketching before our mental vision a turbulent sea which is so powerful that it causes the mountains to fall.

Isaiah 17:12,13 identifies these raging waters as the troubled nations: “Woe to the multitude of many people which make a noise like the noise of the seas; and to the rushing of nations, that make a rushing like the rushing of mighty waters! The nations shall rush like the rushing of many waters; but God shall rebuke them, and they shall flee far off and shall be chased as the chaff of the mountains before the wind, and like a rolling thing before the whirlwind.” In this text, as in the psalm, the seas are descriptive of the turbulent masses of people in revolt. The mountains which are carried into the midst of the sea represent the kingdoms and governments of this world. Our psalm gives its own interpretation in verse six, saying, “The heathen [nations] raged, kingdoms were moved.” We find that these kingdoms have been brought down by the subjects of their respective governments. Why are these restless masses bent upon destroying the old order? As one writer has so aptly expressed it, they seek “to gain their real and fancied rights;” some are legitimate, and some are not. This statement helps to explain the underlying force which is destroying the present world order.

Daniel wrote, in the twelfth chapter of his prophecy, about the great increase of knowledge in our day. Ironically, this greater knowledge which man had hoped would deliver him out of trouble has in fact created more chaos. Because of the selfishness of man, much of this increased knowledge has been applied in a way detrimental to peace and the welfare of mankind, and has helped to bring about a time of trouble such as has never before been upon the face of the earth.

In analyzing the manner in which knowledge has increased, we note that improved communications have been greatly involved. If it were not for this phenomena, especially the developments of the past several hundred years, many things which have come to pass in the earth today in fulfillment of prophecy would not have occurred. The very beginning of communication upgrading was the invention of the printing press in the sixteenth century. Since that time, improvements have continued at an ever-increasing pace up to our day. Now we have huge, computer-controlled presses, one of which can probably produce more output in five minutes than all of those early presses could in a year! And commonplace now are the mass media devices of radio and television transmitted via satellite.

Several years ago, Walter Cronkite said, “Television is the H-bomb that has come into our living room.” He was referring to the power of communication, and what television is capable of doing to promote unrest in people regarding present circumstances, by increasing their awareness of the underprivileged status of their lives. We see, then, that improved communications have truly had an effect in bringing about dynamic upheavals in the society of earth.

In the pictorial language of Psalm 46, this condition of upheaval is likened to the oceans roaring and being troubled, lashed into a foam. Thus all the discontent in the earth is depicted as a rolling ocean, breaking against the base of the mountains or kingdoms of this world, and shaking these to their very foundations—bringing about their destruction.

Jesus used a similar figure in Luke 21:25. He said one sign of the end of this age or social order, and of his second presence, was that there would be “upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity.” The word translated perplexity contains the thought of ‘no way out’. “The sea and the waves roaring, men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming upon the earth; for the powers of heaven shall be shaken.” We could ask, do we see this sign that we are living in the time Jesus described? Are we living in the time when men’s hearts are failing them for fear?

Just a few short years ago, man was not consumed with fear. But today, the concerns of man are overwhelming and unsolvable. As we discuss world conditions we note there is much that is distressing people as they view everyday events. Many are deeply touched and troubled by recession due to loss of jobs and financial straits. There is inflation and its fear; pollution of the environment; and the population explosion. There seem to be so many new and foreboding troubles. Recently, since we have new and controversial kinds of fuel, energy has become a problem. There is strong disagreement among authorities about the new construction of nuclear facilities and the utilization of present nuclear power plants. Yet the use of coal and oil to produce electricity do not solve, but rather bring about another set of problems to mankind. And while solar energy offers a possible alternative to polluting energy sources, it is still out of reach economically and technologically.

Crime continues, fueled by drugs and violence. There is a lack of credibility everywhere, especially in government. Moral degradation is rampant. Many peoples throughout the world have grave concerns about shortages of food and impending starvation. And, by far the most frightening of all problems, the threat of a nuclear war hovers over the earth. Can we say that people’s hearts are failing them for fear? Most assuredly. There is great anxiety in the world today, among both small and great. According to Jesus’ own testimony, when we see these things occurring we should not succumb to fear, but realize their great import! “When these things begin to come to pass, then look up and lift up your head; for your deliverance draweth nigh.” These events which we do see coming to pass are a harbinger that the church will soon be glorified!

In analyzing these scriptures, we conclude it was the Lord’s purpose that some of his saints should witness a portion of this time of trouble, even as we who are living today see these things. However, we are not to be fearful, we are not to be discouraged, we are not to be perplexed, because we know the trouble must come and we know why it must come. And this should stimulate our faith, and cause us to redouble our efforts to be pleasing to the Lord. It should encourage us to study the Bible more diligently than ever, examining and considering God’s plan—the only salvation for man. It should cause us to faithfully attend meetings, making the truth our own and building up our brethren. It should stimulate us to continue our witnessing efforts. Above all, we should be inspired to buckle on the whole armor of God, the protective knowledge of truth, and thereby withstand the evil day.—Eph. 6:11-13

We are exhorted to be rejoicing Christians during this time, to “rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil. 4:4), even though we will have trials and experiences that are not joyful to our flesh. We must have these trials. Paul tells us that they are needful in order for us to learn valuable spiritual lessons, and prove our Christian character. (Heb. 12:5-11) It is through such adversity that we prove our supreme love for the Heavenly Father, our faith in his plan and in his promises. These testings determine whether we have a genuine faith, or if it is superficial and in times of stress will fade away. Paul reminds us that if we are rightly exercised by these trials, they will strengthen us; they will work out in us the peaceable fruits of righteousness.—Heb. 12:11

A sudden change of scene occurs in the fourth and fifth verses of the forty-sixth psalm. “There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacle of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God shall help her, and that right early.” After all the strife and turmoil, the fear and the trouble described in the opening verses, the latter portion of the psalm speaks of tranquility and peace; here is calm and security in sharp contrast to the turbulent seas. The river and its streams which make glad the city of God symbolize the refreshing truths of the plan of God; the city of God is the New Jerusalem in preparation, the church militant in its final stage.

The river represents God’s plan as it is centered in Jesus. Normally a river is fed by its tributaries which flow into the river, making the river grow as it wanders along its course. However, the psalmist does not seem to be speaking about this kind of river, but rather about a watercourse similar to the irrigation system in California. In such a system water is drawn off, refreshes the land, and makes it fruitful. If the river the psalmist tells about represents the plan of God, then the streams that branch from it could well represent the numerous features of that plan represented in the various doctrines of truth. Those who drink of this river are refreshed, and by knowing God’s purposes are enabled to bring forth much fruit.

In II Peter 1:3,4, we read that “his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness through a knowledge of him. Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature.” It is only through a knowledge of God’s plan and his precious promises that we can appreciate his glorious character, and his attributes of justice, wisdom, love, and power. We have the privilege of drinking of this river and its streams now, and this knowledge of his plan has, indeed, made us glad. Without faith in God’s plan, our hearts would fail us for fear, just as all the rest of mankind is fearful.

David wrote in Psalm 43:3, “O send out thy light and thy truth; let them lead me; let them bring me unto thy holy hill, and to thy tabernacles.” Similarly, in Psalm 46, David speaks of the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the Most High. This is a reference to the typical Tabernacle in the wilderness, especially the Holy Place of that structure, which pictures spirit-begettal, and a spirit-enlightened mind. God’s people are in this condition now. Paul describes this in Ephesians 2:6, when he speaks of our “being seated together in heavenly places with Christ Jesus.” We are seated together in heavenly places—in the Holy of the antitypical Tabernacle. We attain this position through full consecration to do the will of God, and by living a life sanctified by the Spirit of truth. While dwelling in this Holy Place, we receive the benefits of its furnishments. Our new mind is enlightened by the light from the golden candlestick, and we feed upon the showbread of truth which is on the golden table. Our prayers are acceptable and our hopes are valid because of the sweet incense penetrating into the Most Holy and before God, which Jesus provided and placed upon the golden altar.

In verse five of Psalm 46, we read, “God shall help her and that right early.” The New American Standard translation reads, “God shall help her at the turning of the morning.” This rendering expresses the thought that at the end of this Gospel Age, just before the millennial kingdom, God will help the church; and special help has come to us in this harvest time. We have received the blessing of the greater light of dispensational truths, greater privileges for witnessing, expanded opportunities for assembly, multiple helps for clarifying the language of the Bible, understanding the signs of the times, and many, many more. Without question, however, the greatest help of all comes in the first resurrection, which, when complete, will bring to fruition the age-long hope of the church to be glorified with Christ as co-inheritors of his kingdom.

Verse seven reads: “The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah.” Even in the midst of these raging, turbulent events all about us described as the earth melting, we need not fear because God is our refuge. He is our high tower; he is our fortress, and we shall not be shaken! Then the word Selah expresses the thought, “Pause, and calmly think.”

The psalm continues: “Come behold the works of the Lord, what desolations he hath made in the earth. He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth; he breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in sunder; he burneth the chariot in the fire. Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.” These verses help us to see what will be the conclusion of present world events. Then the Lord’s voice of authority will be heard; then he will speak of peace; then he will bid all mankind to go up to the kingdom of God.

Isaiah 60:18 says, “Violence shall no more be heard in thy land, wasting nor destruction within thy borders; but thou shalt call thy walls Salvation, and thy gates Praise.” This is a description of the New Jerusalem. Another scripture speaking of that time says, “The loftiness of man shall be bowed down, and the haughtiness of men shall be made low; and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day.” (Isa. 2:17) By this verse we are assured that man’s selfish character will be taken away, and he will learn to worship and serve the living God.

The river and the streams of this beautiful prophetic forty-sixth psalm, are also mentioned in the Book of Revelation. “The Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” (Rev. 22:17) What a wonderful prophetic view of the millennial kingdom when all mankind is brought to an accurate knowledge of the truth. Zephaniah 3:9 tells of the harmony of that day: “For then I will turn to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the Lord, to serve him with one consent.” The pure, clear river will then flow from underneath the throne of God to bless all people. (Rev. 22:1) This is the same stream that we can, in prospect, drink from now—a river, the streams whereof make glad the city of God!

Dawn Bible Students Association
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