On Rivers, Threads and Motifs

A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers. The name of the first is the Pishon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. And the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. The name of the second river is the Gihon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Cush. And the name of the third river is the Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates. (Ge 2:10-14)

And they shall make the ephod of gold, of blue and purple and scarlet yarns, and of fine twined linen, skillfully worked. (Ex 28:6)

I mentioned in a previous post about the link between the symbolism in the four-coloured threads of the high priest's garments, and the four rivers that flowed out of Eden. This was because I saw in the four colours four aspects of God's eternal plan to reach the whole world.

The gold, the colour of the presence, represents the glory of God and God's purpose to fill the whole earth with the knowledge of his glory.

The blue, the colour of heaven, holiness, and the revealed word of God. It is God's intention that his voice go out to every nation, and that we follow his revealed purpose to bring the realities of heaven into being on the earth.

The purple, the royal colour is the colour of the kingdom, and God's intention that his righteous kingdom order be extended to the whole earth as men and women in his image establish his rule on his behalf.

The crimson, the colour of shed blood, that represents the covenant - and ultimately the gospel revealed in the New Covenant in Christ's blood. A message of good news that must be taken to every people, tribe and tongue.

Clearly there is a link with the symbolism of the waters of Eden dividing into four to reach the four corners of the world. But I wondered if there was a closer correlation between the four rivers and the four threads, or more specifically the motifs behind them: glory, revelation, kingdom and covenant.

The first link is easy to make: the Pishon is described in terms of the gold that it flows through.

The others are not so easy, but these are the connection that I made...

The Gihon is described in terms of flowing around the whole land. As taking the land is a frequent parallel in the Old Testament with extending the Kindom, this would link it with the purple thread.

Tigris means "Rushing waters" - as the voice of God is described in terms of the roar of many waters, this would link it with the blue thread.

Euphrates means either "Fruitful" or "Carrying forward". It's not unreasonable to link this with the covenant purpose of God in the gospel that is carried forward to produce a fruitful harvest from among men.

Of course, all of this is purely academic unless the Scriptures themselves associate these rivers with these motifs elsewhere. So what are the associations linked with these rivers when they are next used in Scripture?

Is Gihon linked with Kingdom?

King David said, “Call to me Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet, and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada.” So they came before the king. And the king said to them, “Take with you the servants of your lord and have Solomon my son ride on my own mule, and bring him down to Gihon. And let Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet there anoint him king over Israel. Then blow the trumpet and say, ‘Long live King Solomon!’ (1Ki 1:32-34)

Is the Tigris linked with revelation?

In the third year of Cyrus king of Persia a word was revealed to Daniel, who was named Belteshazzar. And the word was true, and it was a great conflict. And he understood the word and had understanding of the vision. In those days I, Daniel, was mourning for three weeks. I ate no delicacies, no meat or wine entered my mouth, nor did I anoint myself at all, for the full three weeks. On the twenty-fourth day of the first month, as I was standing on the bank of the great river (that is, the Tigris)... (Dan 10:1-4)

And is the Euphrates linked with the covenant purpose of God?

On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates (Ge 15:18)

Just coincidence, or a helpful framework for unpacking some of the symbolic significance in the Scriptures? I'll let you decide.


Still got the Blues

While we are on the subject of "blues". I couldn't resist a little detour to highlight some Blues of the musical variety!

The first clip is Gary Moore, one of my all-time favourite musicians, playing Still Got the Blues.

The second clip is a recent discovery for me. He's an American blues/rock guitarist by the name of Joe Bonamassa. I saw him live a few weeks ago, and well... superlatives fail me. This is him playing Bridge to Better Days live on Dutch T.V.


Sacré Bleu!

Pardon my French! The title to this post literally means "Holy Blue!" and is an outdated expletive in French. Please excuse me if I have offended any French readers sensibilities... but I couldn't resist!

You see my friend, Richard, pointed out that the colour blue is also associated with holiness. As this is an important point, I decided to write a new post rather than hide a response away in the comments section.

In my own studies into the significance of this colour, I found the same thing. Especially in relation to the holy things in the tabernacle.

When the camp is to set out, Aaron and his sons shall go in and take down the veil of the screen and cover the ark of the testimony with it. Then they shall put on it a covering of goatskin and spread on top of that a cloth all of blue, and shall put in its poles. (Nu 4:5-6)

Here the ark, the representation of the holy presence of God, was covered with a cloth of blue. If you read on, you discover that all the holy things were to be covered in blue when they were transported.

The writer to the Hebrews says that these items were just copies of the heavenly realities that are fulfilled in Christ. They are thus pieces of a heavenly reality made manifest on the earth.

Blue is therefore an appropriate colour for these holy things, for it is after all the colour of the heavens above. It symbolises something of heaven made present on the earth.

This adds an important significance to the "blue thread" of God's eternal purpose that runs all the way through Scripture: it is the Father's heart to make heaven manifest on the earth.

This is how Jesus taught us to pray - that his kingdom would come on earth as it is in heaven. This is the vision that Daniel interpreted - a rock cut out of a heavenly mountain that grew until it reproduced that same mountain on the earth.

This is not a contradiction of seeing blue as representing the word of God, but it does align it (as I thought) more with the prophetic ministry of the word, rather than the teaching ministry. For it is the essence of prophetic ministry to see into the realities that are in heaven and lay hold of them, bringing them into the here and now.

Indeed the concepts of heavenly holiness, the word of God, and the river seem to be closely linked - not just by colour-coincidence...

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. (Eph 5:25-27 NIV)

Perhaps this also is the significance of the tassels of blue on the corners of the robes. As we walk in line with the word of God, with every step we take, the colour of heaven is touching the earth.


The Blue Cord

"You shall make a plate of pure gold and engrave on it, like the engraving of a signet, ‘Holy to the Lord.’ And you shall fasten it on the turban by a cord of blue. It shall be on the front of the turban. It shall be on Aaron's forehead" (Ex 28:36-38a NIV)

These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. (Dt 6:6-8)

The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the people of Israel, and tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a cord of blue on the tassel of each corner. And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the Lord, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to whore after. So you shall remember and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God. (Nu 15:37-40)

I promised to post on the connection between the word of God and the colour blue. Here it is.

Aaron was to have a plate bound to his forehead by a cord of blue. It had the word of God - "Holy to the Lord" engraved upon it. In a parallel analogy, the Lord commanded the people through Moses to have the word of God bound upon their foreheads.

The blue cord appears again in the curious commandment about the tassels. Here the blue chord and the tassel were again to remind them of all that the Lord had spoken to them, that they would obey it and be holy to the Lord.

Slightly more tenuously, perhaps, a blue cord is reminiscent of a river. When God speaks it is often described like the "roar of many waters." This takes us back to the four rivers that flowed out of Eden. There is more to be said here too, which I will write in another post.

[Again, just to stress: this is not meant to be taken as a rigorous theological basis for the meaning of the colour blue in the scriptures , but I trust it does lend weight to my association of this colour with the revealed word of God.]


Colour me beautiful

Then bring near to you Aaron your brother, and his sons with him, from among the people of Israel, to serve me as priests — Aaron and Aaron's sons, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar. And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty. They shall receive gold, blue and purple and scarlet yarns, and fine twined linen. And they shall make the ephod of gold, of blue and purple and scarlet yarns, and of fine twined linen, skilfully worked. (Ex 28:1-2,5-6)

I have been meditating on this passage of scripture and the significance of the multi-colour garments that the high-priest was to wear.

Of course the immediate parallel that springs to mind is that of Joseph.

Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colours. (Ge 37:3)

He was the beloved son of his father Israel - given a multi-coloured coat as a sign of his favour. Typology that speaks of Christ, the Beloved of God the Father, whose manifold (or multi-coloured) wisdom is now on display in the church - his glorious inheritance in the saints - the joy for which he spurned the shame of the cross.

Through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord (Eph 3:10-11)

This, says Paul, was not a new plan of God that arrived with the New Testament, but part of his eternal purpose that has now been realised in Christ. It is a thread that runs all the way through the word and conveys the heart of God the Father.

So, I have also been pondering the significance of these coloured threads: the gold, the blue, the purple and the scarlet, that occur again and again when reference is made to the high priest - who himself is a type and shadow of Christ who is our eternal high priest.

I want to share some thoughts on these colours - not as a rigorous theological exegesis of this passage - but more as a insightful "hook" to truths that stand for themselves elsewhere...

First, these colours speak to me of the continuing thread of the eternal plan of God. The gold speaks of the glory of God; the blue of the word of God [I'll elaborate why in a subsequent post!]; the purple of the kingdom of God; and the scarlet of the covenant of God. These four great themes - glory, prophetic revelation, kingdom and covenant run right the way through the scriptures and represent the heart of the Father for this world of ours in his son Jesus.

Jesus is the revelation of the glory of the Father. Jesus is the word made flesh. Jesus is the eternal king of the kingdom. Jesus is the one who cut the new covenant in which we stand by his own blood.

These four, also seem to me like the four rivers that flowed out of Eden - representing the heart of God to take his purpose to the ends of the earth. The knowledge of the glory of God is destined to fill this whole earth, as is his message, his kingdom rule, and the mercy and grace in the new covenant.

Secondly, these colours speak to me of aspects of Christ's own high priestly anointing that is poured out on his people who represent his image in the earth.

In the Old Covenant those so anointed where the prophets, priests and kings. The prophets who were to minister the revealed word of God (blue). The kings who were to minister the kingdom rule of God (purple), and the priests who were to carry and minister the glorious presence of God (gold). I'm not sure where scarlet fits into this typology though!

In the New Covenant, each has been given a measure of Christ's gift, and in particular the ascended Christ has given gifts of men to represent aspects of his anointing to the church and to the world: apostles (purple), prophets (blue), evangelists (scarlet), and pastor-teachers (gold).

These colours are given to the church "for glory and for beauty" - for they are the glory and beauty of Christ himself, on display in the church, but destined to fill the earth.