The Nile

The River in the Bible - Third in a series

We will not find the word Nile in the King James version of the Bible, but rather, simply river. Only river is used in Young's Literal Translation and Webster's Bible as well. Most other translations do use Nile.

The first mention of the word river in the Bible is in Genesis 2 and it speaks of a flowing stream, nahar, the perennial river, as noted in the last post. The "yeor" or Nile, was a "fosse" or trench, and formed a definite channel through the land. In the Old Testament, "yeor" is used most often for the Nile.

The Nile is believed to be the longest river in the world at more than 4,000 miles, and runs through 11 African countries, emptying into the Mediterranean, from its basin in Egypt. Some infer it was the Edenic river Gihon (Gen 2:13) that flowed around the whole land of Cush, but that is not possible to determine.

We first encounter the Nile in Genesis 41 when Pharaoh dreamed, and behold, he stood by the river. (Gen 41:1)

In his dream, seven healthy cows came up out of the Nile and fed in a meadow; then seven lean ones came from the river and stood by the other seven along the river's edge. Then, the lean ones ate the fat ones, and Pharaoh awoke.

He fell asleep again and dreamed that seven good ears of corn came up on one stalk, and then seven thin ones budded out, and the thin ears devoured the full ones. Again, he awoke and understood he had been dreaming.

In the morning his spirit was troubled and he sent for magicians and wise men, but none could interpret his dreams. His butler then recalled Joseph from his time in prison, a man who had accurately interpreted his and the chief baker's dreams. In a moment Joseph was freed from 13 years of unjust imprisonment, and, crediting the Lord, he was able to explain Pharaoh's dreams.

The second dream confirmed the first: Seven years of plenty would be followed by seven years of famine. He advised Pharaoh to appoint a man to oversee the land and conserve a fifth of the produce of the plenteous years, and became that man.

The predicted famine arrived, and Israel traveled to Egypt for bread. They would move there and remain about 400 years.

The cattle came up out of the river, an emergence of the plans of the Lord.

In God's providence we are given plenty and poverty. In this instance, the purpose was to enrich Egypt and humble the other nations, so that Israel in particular would move to Egypt in fulfillment of Abraham's dream (Gen 15:13). The Lord prophesied that his descendants would be in a strange land 400 years as servants, but would return to the promised land.

That Joseph was made viceroy of Egypt fulfilled his own dreams for which his brothers had sold him to slavery (Gen 37:5-10), for his dreams revealed they would bow to him, and it turned out that way. Their deed was punished in their sons' circumstance as slaves, but then out of the Nile, the river, a man was lifted, Moses, to save them and lead them home. But before he could, the Nile would be turned to blood and vomit frogs to plague the Egyptians, to convince the Pharaoh "who knew not Joseph" (Exodus 1:8) that the Exodus was imminent. How much nicer when he turns water into wine!

Despite their years of hard labor in Egypt, the Israelites would at times look back and want to return there for protection. To end this delusion, the Lord prophesied through Ezekiel,

Behold, I am against thee, Pharaoh king of Egypt, the great dragon that lieth in the midst of his rivers, which hath said, My river is mine own, and I have made it for myself. But I will put hooks in thy jaws, and I will cause the fish of thy rivers to stick unto thy scales, and I will bring thee up out of the midst of thy rivers, and all the fish of thy rivers shall stick unto thy scales. And I will leave thee thrown into the wilderness, thee and all the fish of thy rivers: thou shalt fall upon the open fields; thou shalt not be brought together, nor gathered: I have given thee for meat to the beasts of the field and to the fowls of the heaven.

And it came to pass that the Pharaoh who claimed to own the Nile and be its creator was defeated in battle and put to flight (see a commentary on Eze 29). His subjects who attached to him as scales on a dragon suffered the same fate. They had no respect for Him who fashioned the river long ago. (Isa 22:11)

In another instance we find: ... the king of Egypt came not again any more out of his land: for the king of Babylon had taken from the river of Egypt unto the river Euphrates all that pertained to the king of Egypt. (2 Kings 24:7)

Who hath ascended up into heaven, or descended? …who hath bound the waters in a garment? who hath established all the ends of the earth? what is his name, and what is his son's name, if thou canst tell? (Proverbs 30:4)

Let us tell.

A glimpse of the River

The River in the Bible - Second in a series

English lacks many of the inflections of Hebrew, the language of the Old Testament. So crucial was Hebrew to God's Word that writings not found in the Hebrew Bible were not accepted as canonical (OT) by Protestants. The Jews were the stewards of Scripture by God's divine appointment. (Romans 3:2)

Though we cherish Hebrew as Scripture's original casing, most of us read our Bibles trusting that the translator knew well enough how to present its truth. This is a safe assumption with many versions, nevertheless, there is room for word study.

Take the word river. In Hebrew it is a masculine noun. Many who study grammar state that gender associations in languages are accidental, but do you believe that? Such assignments may partially be explained as occuring when cultures joined and languages merged and evolved, but that is not the full explanation. Gender is a way of animating and personifying words.

There are different sorts of men and different types of rivers. In addition to its figurative uses, a river in the Bible may mean: a canal (Dan 8:2), a stream or channel of water (Joel 1:20), a river stream (Ex 1:22), a perennial river (that does not wane nor dry up) (Gen 2:10), the "wady" that can be either a dry valley or flood or stream in season (Josh 12:1; Ecc 1:7), and even an artificial watercourse (Ps 1:3).

The Smith Bible Dictionary ( states:

The perennial river is called nahar by the Hebrews. With the definite article, "the river," it signifies invariably the Euphrates. ( Gen 31:21 ; Exo 23:31 ; Num 24:6 ; 2 Sam 10:16 ) etc. It is never applied to the fleeting fugitive torrents of Palestine. The term for these is nachal, for which our translators have used promiscuously, and sometimes almost alternately, "valley" "brook" and "river." No one of these words expresses the thing intended…

Likewise in the New Testament, a river may denote a stream or flood (Luke 6:48), the Jordan (Mat 3:6), and figuratively, the abundant life in Christ (John 7:38), among other things.

The river in the Bible is personified as floods clapping their hands to rejoice in the Lord (Ps 98:8), as modeling peace (Isa 48:18) and God's abundance (Ps 36:8); and it reflects his loving care for life (Ps 65:9).

In all these images we can see the works and purposes of the Lord, and in a moment of wonder we may see the almighty God in his glory: pouring forth, driving or gentle, refreshing, cleansing, shining, beckoning, sustaining, dividing, conducting. Flow, River!

Introduced in a River

The River in the Bible - First in a series

Baptism in a river began the days of Christ's ministry. John who baptized him did not understand his role in this revelatory event. (Mat 3:13-15) But he understood his mission.

“Make his paths straight!” cried John. (Mark 1:3) The hearts and minds of the hearers were the paths. Many of them cleared a way for him to enter, by repentance through baptism in the Jordan River.

As a rite of God, baptism was given to John — the son of a priest — to perform in the Jordan, not in the Jewish place of worship. The explanation for that is given: Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests, the word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness. (Luke 3:2)

In other words, Annas and Caiaphas were not about to let God rule in the Temple. This was the same son and father-in-law team that passed Jesus off to Pilate, with Caiaphas noting it was expedient for one man to die for the people. (John 18:14)

John was not interested in expedient ventures, for when the religious men came to him to be baptized, he said to them, "O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?" (Mat 3:7) Yet for a time he stayed alive on locusts and honey.

Despite his strange way of life, the weight of his authority and witness overwhelmed his enemies even after he was beheaded. When Jesus was questioned by the Pharisees, "By what authority doest thou these things?" he countered, "I will also ask of you one question, and answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or of men? answer me." But they would not, being afraid of the people ...for all men counted John, that he was a prophet indeed. (Mark 11:28-32)

There are arguments among Christians about baptism, but we can all say from what we know, the Lord was baptized in a river. Something is there to ponder.

Deep in the heart of Judaism there was knowledge of God as a river, among other natural wonders to which he promoted comparison, that we might perceive his glory.

An exploration of many of the mentions of river in Scripture will help us to meditate about why Jesus was introduced to the world in a river. Here begins a series of posts on the river in the Bible.

Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. -Mat 5:14

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