Read Psalm 46.
If you trace the development of civilization, you’ll discover one constant. Cities are founded, and people thrive, near water. It’s one of the essential elements needed for survival. Babylon had the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers; Rome had the Tiber; Egypt had the Nile.
And Jerusalem had… next to nothing.
Jerusalem has historically been a parched city. It’s always been difficult to get water. Sure, there’s the pitiful Gihon Spring, but it’s hardly adequate. And there’s the Jordan River, but it’s miles away and doesn’t flow into the city.
Getting water into Jerusalem has been a problem for as long as the city’s been there. Hezekiah, in his day, undertook the massive task of building an underground tunnel to supply the capital with water. Centuries later, according to Josephus, Pilate took a stab at the problem. He built an aqueduct system using temple funds. The people responded with angry protests, and many Jews died at the hands of Roman soldiers.
It seems that if you were to pick a site for a glorious city—the city where God would dwell—it wouldn’t be the mound of dirt on which Jerusalem now sits. You’d take a page from the Romans or the Babylonians and set up shop near a mighty river. But God’s wisdom is higher than man’s. He chose a rather unimpressive spot for His city, knowing it would be the place where His Son would be murdered and rise again, where death would come undone. He wanted the glory of Jerusalem to be found in Him, not in its access to clean water.
The psalmist writes, “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells” (Psalm 46:4). But as we’ve seen, there is no river in Jerusalem. It seems the psalmist is speaking of the future city of God, the new Jerusalem that will one day come down from heaven. In that city, there will indeed be a river: “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city” (Revelation 22:1–2).
When this river flows, peace will come, because God reigns in the city. “He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth. He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire. He says, ‘Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth’” (Psalm 46:9–10).
A river flowing into a city in the ancient world meant that the city could be better prepared for an attack. Under siege, an uninterrupted water supply was essential if the city’s residents were to outlast their enemies. But in the new Jerusalem, the river is the water of life, and it nurtures the tree of life, which lines the river on both sides (Revelation 12:2). “And the leaves of the trees are for the healing of the nations” (v. 3). God’s river isn’t for defense; it’s to make the world whole again.
I recently read that some years ago, excavators working on a new train station in Jerusalem uncovered an ancient river flowing under the city. It’s a meager stream and, based on what they could tell, was never anything substantial. But it’s there, and has been for thousands of years, hidden away. It was there before Jesus walked the streets of Jerusalem, before Hezekiah began construction on his tunnel, before David reigned as king. It’s as if the river was waiting to be uncovered so it could finally testify to the glory of the new Jerusalem that is coming, when peace will reign because God does.
“Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea” (Psalm 46:2). Peace is coming. Healing is on the way. The parched city will be made new, and the river of the water of life will flow.