What are We Singing: The River is Here
- Wednesday, January 30, 2008
In 2002, I journeyed to Israel as a journalist to report on the safety of traveling to the Holy Land. Being there became more than just an assignment for which I’d report to Crosswalk.com. Being there became one Bible lesson after the other.
Have you ever seen something so powerful and magnificent it took your breath away, while at the same time left you feeling giddy and overcome with joy? Such was a moment for me in The Dan Reserve, located in Northern Israel below Mount Hermon.
There I walked along nature paths winding under tents of high-reaching shade trees and thick foliage, and over bridges that arched above rushing streams of crystal water, cold as ice. In the center of one bridge I stooped to take a picture, to attempt to capture the beauty, the magnificence, and the power of the water as it hurried toward its destination. Photo taken, I turned southward to watch as a single golden leaf sped away, wondering where it might end up.
I turned to our guide, Miriam Feinberg Vamosh and asked, “Where does the water come from? And, where does it go?”
To understand the Bible fully it helps to have a clear picture of the topography of the Holy Land. Mount Hermon is a mountain range with three distinct summits, each about the same height, located in the northernmost tip of Israel and the southernmost tips of Lebanon and Syria. Because of its impressive height (approximately 9,200 feet above sea level) it gathers a great deal of precipitation. Every winter and spring, snow is absorbed by the pores of the mountain, which—in turn—feeds the springs at its base. These springs become small rivers that feed into one larger river.
One of the smaller rivers is The Dan River which flows through The Dan Reserve.
Approximately 2,000 gallons of water flows through Ein Dan (the Stream of Dan) every second. This enormous volume is rushing toward the Jordan River which snakes through Israel, pooling momentarily in the Sea of Galilee and ending its stretch at The Dead Sea.
The River Jordan
In Scripture the Jordan River is often used to signify freedom. This metaphor begins with the story of the wandering Israelites. After four hundred years of slavery and forty years in the desert, they were finally to enter the Promised Land. But they would have one final step; they would have to cross the Jordan River.
But you will cross the Jordan and settle in the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, and he will give you rest from all your enemies around you so that you will live in safety. (Deut. 12:10)
This was during the harvest season, according to Joshua 3:15,16. The river would have been full to overflowing; moving quickly toward its destination. To cross would take a step of faith, literally. According to Scripture, when the people put their feet into the water, the water was cut off and piled into a heap until all of the Israelites had crossed. What joy—with song and dance, perhaps?—must have filled the hearts of the people!
The Jordan River had become, for the Israelites, a symbol of their freedom.
So it is for Christians of yesterday and today.
John the Baptizer
Like his ancestors, John the Baptist had spent a great deal of time living in the deserts and in the wilderness of the land. When the time was appropriate, he became the “voice of one crying in the wilderness,” telling the people to repent for the forgiveness of their sins and to prepare the way for the coming Messiah.
According to Smith’s Bible Dictionary, baptism signifies:
- A confession of faith in Christ
- A cleansing or washing of the soul from sin
- A death to sin and a new life in righteousness
Just as the ancient Hebrews had stepped into the Jordan River for freedom, those who would come to follow Christ were dipped into its murky depths. When they stepped back onto the banks they were a new creation. And just as today when one is baptized (whether in the Jordan River or in a baptistery or a backyard swimming pool) what joy—with song and dance, perhaps?—must fill the hearts of the people!
Could John have used any other body of water in Israel for his purpose? For God’s? I think not.
The River is Here
Whenever I hear the lyrics to The River is Here I am reminded of the photo I took in Dan and of the morning I watched pilgrims, clothed in white gowns, at the Jordan River, being baptized within the same body of water as those in first-century Israel - including Jesus - had.
I think about the mountain mentioned within the lyrics.
Down the mountain... the song begins, and I think of the mighty and majestic Hermon. I ponder how the snow falls and how it is captured, how God designed its pores to draw the snow deep within and how when the snow melts it flows into the streams and the streams into the rivers and the rivers into the Jordan…
…where freedom comes by stepping in.
And I know that because of the Holy Spirit, there is a “River” we can allow to flow through us—Jesus, the Water of Life. And I believe that after we have taken this step, this baptism, whether symbolically or literally, we will begin to experience a freedom that will set our feet to dance and inspire our hearts to sing.
And the laughter will bubble forth from within us like water in a brook.
Once There, We Desire to Return
In 2007, under contract for Thomas Nelson, I returned to Israel to photograph the land and to journal about the Bible places to which Miriam and I would journey. Early on I asked, “Will we get to return to the bridge over the water?”
Miriam knew exactly where I was talking about and she said we would.
I found that nothing about it had changed. With Mount Hermon’s snowcapped beauty just north of us, the water rushed downward, its pulse sounding like the footsteps of a powerful army, marching its way to the Jordan.
As I had done years before, I dipped my hand beneath the surface of the water and felt its icy swirl. I giggled and then I laughed. I felt joyous and revived all at once. I had returned to the river but I knew that once would not be enough. Each trip to Israel will require a visit to this site, this paradise, this provisional source for the land.
The river is much like my Savior, the River of Life. He is the “place” I return to time and again. He leaves me joyous and dancing; fulfilled and yet wanting for more.
But I don’t have to fly half-way across the world to find Him. Neither do you. This River, you see, is wherever you are. This River is here.
Eva Marie Everson and Miram Feinberg Vamosh will see the release of their book Reflections of Israel; A Personal Journey to God’s Holy Land this summer (Thomas Nelson/Nelson Bibles). Eva Marie is a seminary graduate and student; she speaks on a number of topics and can be reached by going to www.EvaMarieEverson.com.
Photos by Eva Marie Everson
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