“He [Bilbo] used often to say there was only one Road; that it was like a great river: its springs were at every doorstep, and every path was its tributary. ‘It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,’ he used to say. ‘You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.’ . . .” – J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
Well it has been a long stretch of river to reach this point and I was not sure I would ever make it when I was floating about back in Leviticus learning about mold and geckos, but I have arrived at last at the Gospels, the Good News about a coming Messiah, the spring of Living Water incarnate.
I began my journey exploring water-related passages in the bible June 22, 2014, just over four years ago. I am sure I have missed some passages, but I have identified and reflected on about 450 water-related passages in the Old Testament. I have also taken time to “eddy out” about 25 times including today, and I have taken a trip down 14 rabbit trails when I felt God leading me to make a detour from my float along the river.
As I have floated through both this task and my life during this time I have been to numerous countries and I have written posts walking through forests, along beaches, and on snow-covered paths. There have been highs and lows and long periods of time off the water when I struggled to make time to continue my float. Through all of these times I have felt God’s presence, sometimes like a drenching rain that took my breath away, and other times I felt His absence like a dusty drought.
There have been many confusing passages and perplexing people which I am still puzzling over, but there is a picture that has emerged as I look back over my entire float so far in the old testament. The picture is of a loving God desperately trying to have an intimate relationship with “His people”. During much of the old testament “God’s people” was primarily the people of Israel, but there are many references and intimations that God’s love was not exclusive, and that God’s love would someday spread beyond the boundaries of Israel and the Jewish people. As a follower of the Way of Christ I believe that time came with Jesus, the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6).
As I approach the confluence of the Old and New Testaments I have reflected on what I know about where rivers meet, confluences. River confluences are interesting and dynamic places where waters from different rivers mix and become one. This mixing sometimes happens quickly and other times the waters can remain separate for some distance downstream of the confluence. At some point downstream the two streams are thoroughly mixed and it is not possible to separate them.
I am curious if this will be my experience when I pass “the confluence” between the old and new testaments. Will the “waters” remain distinct? Will I see evidence of the old testament “water” mixing into the new testament? Certainly many of the new testament writers were accomplished at navigating the sometimes turbulent and confusing waters of the old testament. I suspect there will be many times when the waters will mix, and new testament authors will reference familiar water-related passages from the old testament. There were certainly abundant references to a coming Messiah who would help us cross the river that no one could cross.
It seems to me that the prophets of the old testament were the equivalent of signposts along “the river” pointing towards this coming confluence. Part of their job was to tell the people that the River, and their image of God, was about to get much bigger. It would never be the same River after this merging of rivers and traditions. The old river remained, but it was now mixed with the Living Water of the incarnate Messiah and His teachings about how to navigate the tricky waters of this worldly existence. Many people, especially people very familiar with the old river like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, wanted to continue to run the old river rather than embrace this uncomfortable new song that Jesus represented.
After the confluence trying to run the old river would only be impossible without a long and tortuous portage back upstream, over and over again. This is what the Sadducees and Pharisees were trying to do when Jesus arrived. They wanted to run to old familiar river rather than this scary new River that was full of uncharted water.
Running the same old river would ultimately not be satisfying because “the Guide” was on another stretch of river downstream having all sorts of adventures with those willing to follow Him.
This has certainly been true of my journey since I was “swept away” by the River, and I first began to Follow the Messiah. It has been a wild ride. God and I have had many adventures together. I expect there are many more adventures and rapids to come before my days are done. I am so thankful that I am not alone in the boat, and I have a Guide who loves me even more than I can love myself.
Prayer: God thank You for serving as my guide as I have struggled to understand how You have used water in the old testament to communicate with Your people.