This post is a review of a book by one of the pastors at the church I attended while I was doing my master's degree at the University of Waterloo.
Downstream from Eden: The Amazing Gift of Water for a Thirsty World by David Knight is a book exploring water themes and imagery in the Bible. It is by turns scholarly, personal, poetic, exhortational, and prayerful—like its author.
Downstream From Eden is divided into three parts. The first part looks at water in creation and as a free gift, and in Biblical festivals that reflect such meanings. The second part goes through the narrative parts of the Bible, drawing in stories in which water plays a part. The third part is arranged around various water topics, with lessons that can be drawn from scripture.
Downstream From Eden was a slow read for me. It probably works best read as a devotional—especially for people involved in water- or environment-related fields. David has included some suggested prayers at various places in the book. Here are a couple of my favourites:
Make me a channel of Your abundance to those who do not know Your Name. And just as You raised up Joseph to preserve his generation and Moses to deliver his, would You raise up leaders young and old around the world to launch a blue revolution. (p. 141)
Dear God, let the wellspring of my life flow clean, clear and fresh today. Help me to guard the focus of my eyes, the effort of my hands, and the decisions of my heart, so that my character may be above reproach and my way of life may be a resource to many. May your people in this world become such a vibrant fountain of authentic love and joy that millions of thirsty people will find the waters they are searching for. Amen. (p. 269)
David is good at connecting Biblical accounts to ancient myths, current events, and plenty in between. For example, he draws parallels between the Hebrews' suffering in Egypt prior to the Exodus and the Rwandan genocide (also on the banks of the Nile). Many of the scriptural texts he refers to are from the wisdom literature; Psalms is full of water imagery as is the book of Job. In a chapter on marriage he refers to a Proverb about water to relate marital faithfulness to protecting the purity of water in a cistern. "Marriage is strengthened by bonds and boundaries, by both promises and prohibitions (p. 281)." Prophetic texts prove to be another rich source of water-related metaphors and imagery:
Professor Alec Motyer in his commentary on Isaiah says, "The motif of the two rivers Shiloah (verse 6) and Euphrates (verse 7) offers a telling contrast between the seeming weakness of faith and the seeming power of the world. To the human eye the way of faith (Jerusalem and its vulnerable water supply) is full of insecurity and hazard, but the believer sees all this and says, 'He is faithful who has promised' (Hebrews 10:23). But to choose the world is to be overwhelmed by the world. [...] to choose a saviour other than the Lord is to find a destroyer. (p. 180)
One of the uses of water is for washing, which is involved in the symbolism of baptism. Along with baptism, Old Testament purification rituals involving ashes are discussed in Downstream From Eden. Not mentioned is the interesting fact that ash + water = lye, a key ingredient in soap.
This book spends a lot of time in the Old Testament, even getting into some of the minor prophets. I thought it could use some more content from the New Testament, though (making it a longer book, because there's nothing I'd recommend dropping). It does go through the life and death of Jesus, I just thought that more time could be spent unpacking the meaning of scriptures like John 7.
One small criticism I have is that I think the environmental stewardship message included in this book should take a more optimistic tone, because a lot of things are getting better. These following sentences do hit the right note in this regard, in my view:
This Judeao-Christian world-view fosters human progress and prosperity. God has created an orderly universe that can be explored and understood. We are God's co-creators, endowed with reason, language and skill. Civilization and culture, science, technology and commerce flow from these gifts. Through our best use of these gifts, the resources of the world can benefit all humanity as well as the rest of creation. (p. 245)
I'll end this post with a couple of final quotes from the 'Finale' chapter of Downstream From Eden:
The Bible begins with a river flowing through the Garden of Eden and ends with a river flowing through a city. (p. 349)
How can [Christ] do it? He is the one who cried "I thirst", who parched His own soul, who embraced the anguish of unslaked longing on the thirsty Cross. By the power of the eternal Spirit flowing within, He broke through the desolation of death to bring the water of life that the whole race was panting for. (p. 353)