THE THIRD STEP—THE RIVER FLOWING
The third step towards God’s goal concerns a river which issued out of Eden to water the garden and from thence was parted and became four heads (v. 10). Notice, the river came forth to water the garden. It is very meaningful. And then this river springing forth from one source became four branches, flowing to the four directions of the earth. As we see the tree of life in this chapter, we are also aware of a river flowing by its side. It is an impressive picture: a tree, a man before the tree, and a river flowing beside the man. The tree of life is for food, and the river is for watering. By experience we know that when we feed on Christ as our life, we immediately sense the flowing of something within watering us. If we do not feed on Christ, we will soon be withered and dried, for we will consequently lose the watering of the flowing river. When we fellowship with the Lord, feeding on Him continually, we not only sense satisfaction, but also a flowing within us. The life which is Christ Himself taken in the form of food and enjoyed by us is also the living water flowing within us. The Gospel of John testifies to this. The Lord Jesus is the food of life and He is also the living water continually springing up within us.
THE FOURTH STEP—PRODUCING PRECIOUS MATERIALS
We can also observe three precious items in this impressive painting. In the flowing of the river there is gold, bdellium, and onyx stone. What is this mysterious substance called bdellium? The best Hebrew authorities offer two schools of thought. One says that bdellium is a resin, a kind of gum, which issues from a certain tree as sap. The second school insists that bdellium is a kind of pearl. I feel that both are right, for with either resin or pearl the principle is the same. Gum comes forth from a living tree containing the sap of life. Once the tree is damaged or broken, it secretes this living sap, which eventually becomes a brilliant and transparent gum. The pearl also comes forth from something living, an oyster, containing the juice of life. At some time in its history the oyster is wounded, and its life juice is secreted around the wounded area. Eventually, a transparent pearl is produced. The principle regarding the gum and the pearl is the same; the only difference is that the gum issues from the vegetable life, whereas the pearl is brought forth from the animal life.
These two aspects are seen in the Lord Jesus Christ. John 1:29 refers to Jesus as the Lamb—that is the animal kingdom. John 12 and 15 respectively portray Jesus as the grain of wheat and the vine tree—these are of the vegetable kingdom. The principle of the animal life is that of sacrifice: Christ sacrificed His life by shedding His blood for us. The principle of the vegetable kingdom is that of the generation of life—Christ was the grain of wheat who fell into the ground and died to generate us as the many grains. Whether bdellium is gum from a tree or a pearl from an oyster, the principle is the same: the life must be hurt and broken and the life juice secreted to flow out and bring forth something precious.
By a thorough reading of Scripture, we understand that these three items from the river—gold, bdellium and onyx stone—are the precious materials for the building of God. Thus, the watering or flowing of the river produces the precious materials. God’s fourth step in attaining the goal of His building is the bringing forth of these materials.
In God’s building, both of the tabernacle and the temple, the high priest serving within had as part of his clothing shoulder plates and a breast plate full of precious stones. If we could look inside at that scene, we would see only gold and precious stones. This is the composition of God’s building.
In the New Testament Paul tells us that the church must be built with gold, silver and precious stones (1 Cor. 3). Why did Paul mention silver as one of the building materials? Because pearl, which symbolizes the generating life of Christ, was mentioned chronologically in Scripture before the time when redemption was needed. When Paul wrote 1 Corinthians, not only pearl, but also silver was required. Paul spoke of silver because it symbolizes redemption, and fallen man must be redeemed. In eternity pearl is again mentioned in the place of silver, for by that time redemption is fully accomplished.
Now let us look briefly at the end of the Scripture, where the New Jerusalem is portrayed. This city is composed of exactly the same materials mentioned in Genesis 2. But in Genesis these materials are by the river, while in Revelation they are built up into a city. Between the two ends of Scripture, God’s building work is accomplished.
Now put yourself in Adam’s place for a moment and look at the precious, shining materials. Now look at yourself. Do you shine as they do? How we long to be like those precious materials! But this requires a real transformation work. Adam, including all of us in him, was made of dust. We are just pieces of clay. As such, if we want to be like those precious materials for God’s building, we must partake of the tree of life. Let the life of the tree of life flow within you, and this flowing life will transform you. Second Corinthians 3, verses 6, 17 and 18 reveal the thought of transformation by the flowing of life. The Lord is the Spirit who gives life, and by this life-giving Spirit we will be transformed from clay into the precious materials for God’s building. We must remember that we were made with a spirit to contact and receive God. In principle we also are in front of the tree of life to receive Christ as life in the form of food. When we enjoy this food, the life will flow within us, watering and transforming us. By this process we are transformed from clay into gold, pearl and precious stones.
These three precious materials from the river are also related to the three persons and particularly the work of the Triune God. Gold refers to the Father, pearl to the Son, and precious stones to the Holy Spirit. When we receive Him, God the Father is like gold within us. He is the source. Christ the Son was wounded by us just as the oyster, and out from Him came the secretion of life which produces the pearl. The work of the Holy Spirit is related to the precious stones. A precious stone is formed by being burned with intense heat and pressed with intense pressure. When we enjoy Christ as food and realize His constant flowing and watering within, we will be transformed by the Spirit from a piece of clay into precious materials. And these materials are for God’s building.
(The Vision of God's Building, Chapter 2, by Witness Lee)