Summary: We might call this the Hymn of Defense and Deliverance of God’s River City.
“There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved: God shall help her, and that right early. The heathen raged, the kingdoms were moved: he uttered his voice, the earth melted. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah.”
There are two remarkable events in the history of Israel that may have evoked this melody. One is the wonderful deliverance of the armies of Jehoshaphat from the attacking forces of the neighboring nations, which is recorded in the book of Chronicles. But the other is the more likely inspiration – the supernatural deliverance of Israel in the time of Hezekiah, when “the Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold” and Sennacherib and all his army were swept into swift destruction by the blast of the breath of God’s nostrils. The reason THIS event is the most likely inspiration for our text song is found in the similarities between this and a portion of the book of Isaiah, who lived during the period of that deliverance.
The verses of our text are the central theme of the entire song. We might call this the Hymn of Defense and Deliverance of God’s River City. While the poetry of the song does not contain the logical accuracy found in a treaty, the lofty emotion of the song obeys laws of its own. If we surrender to its flow, we will be able to see with the Psalmist’s eyes for just a moment, and discover the source of his consolation and strength.
Consider the river by which this city is planted. It is a symbol of great joy and truth. Its significance is derived from the geographical peculiarity of Jerusalem. Of all the great cities, Jerusalem alone had no broad river. One little perennial stream or rill of living water was all it had. But Siloam, as it was called, was mightier and more blessed for God’s city dwellers than the Euphrates, Nile and Tigress combined. Standing by that stream, you can envision the Psalmist looking over the plain eastward, and remembering the mighty forces that came against them, symbolized by the breadth and depth and swiftness of the great river upon which Ninevah sat like a queen. Then he considers the little tiny thread of living water that flows past the base of the rock upon which the temple is perched. It seems small an inconspicuous – nothing compared to the dash of the waves and rise of the floods of those might secular empires. But still, “There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God.” The Psalmist knows that these waters shall never fail.
There is a constant symbolism that pervades all scripture regarding THE RIVER. From Genesis to the last chapter of Revelation, you can hear the dashing of the waters of this river.