The River of Egypt
J. W. Hedley, Wallsend
There are seven references to the river of Egypt in the Old Testament; six concerning the extent of Israel's dominion and one the extent of Nebuchadnezzar's conquest, 2 Kgs. 24. 7. The expression 'river of Egypt' suggests a location rather than a name, and since there is virtually only one significant river in Egypt, it is generally assumed that the river Nile is meant. This is a very natural and reasonable assumption in the absence of any indication to the contrary, but it ought to be realized that there are several references in the scriptures which cast doubt on this interpretation.
The first one to consider is 1 Kings 4. 21 which says that, 'Solomon reigned over all kingdoms from the river (presumably the Euphrates) . . . and unto the border of Egypt. The Nile could never be considered to be the border of Egypt; it is the centre and lifeblood of Egypt. If therefore the river of Egypt constitutes the border of Egypt it must be located somewhere between the gulfs of Suez and Aquaba, that is, somewhere in the peninsula of Sinai. There is, in fact, such a river there and it is known as the river or brook of Egypt. It is some 100 miles or so in length and stretches from the uplands of Sinai to the Mediterranean Sea with one or two significant tributaries, and the historical and present boundary between Israel and Egypt touches or lies close to this river and its tributaries. Its modern name is Wadi-el-Arish. A wadi is a rocky watercourse which runs strongly (maybe a torrent) in the winter and wet seasons, but may even dry up in a hot summer. It may well be felt that such a river as this is too insignificant to be the river of Egypt of scripture. In this connection it is interesting to note the Hebrew word used for river in six of the seven references to the river of Egypt. It is the word nachal and it occurs some 140 or so times in the Old Testament. In the Authorised or King James version it is translated 'river' 55 times, 'brook' 46 times, 'stream' 11 times, 'valley' 11 times and 'flood' 5 times. In the one other reference the word nahar is used. It occurs much less often being translated 'river' 49 times and 'flood' 8 times.
Referring now to 1 Kings 8. 65 we read, 'Solomon held a feast, and all Israel with him . . . from the entering in of Hamath unto the river of Egypt', while Amos 6. 14 records 'I will raise up against you a nation . . . saith the Lord the God of hosts; and they shall afflict you from the entering in of Hamath unto the river of the wilderness'. These two references cover obviously the same territory and in so doing identify the river of Egypt as a river in the wilderness. The Nile could never be referred to as a river of the wilderness. Incidentally the same word nachal meaning river, brook, stream etc. is used in these two scriptures.
Two interesting facts arise from Joshua 1. 4 which state that the Lord told Joshua before Israel crossed the Jordan, 'from the wilderness and this Lebanon even unto the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and unto the great sea toward the going down of the sun, this shall be your coast'. The first is that the territory promised to Israel was not from the Nile in Egypt, but from 'this wilderness', and the second is that the river Euphrates was a great river in contrast with the river of Egypt, which, although was not named in this passage, is elsewhere indicated to be the border of Egypt. The ancients were all aware that the Nile was a greater river than the Euphrates in every respect, and certainly the Lord knew. So we have here an oblique reference to the fact that the river of Egypt was inferior to the Euphrates and therefore was not the Nile.
We have already referred to the Hebrew words used for the river of Egypt, but there is rather more significance than we have so far considered when we look further into the words used. The name Nile is never mentioned in the Old Testament, but there is little doubt that the Nile is meant in each of the following scriptures -
Genesis 41. 1 7, 18 Pharaoh's dream.
Exodus 1. 22 The killing of male newborn.
Exodus 2. 3, 5 Moses' ark of bulrushes.
Exodus 4. 9 Moses' sign to Pharaoh.
Exodus chapters 7, 8 God's judgements on Egypt.
Exodus 17. 5 The reference to Moses' rod.
Ezekiel 29. 3, 4, 5, 9, 10 Pharaoh's pride and the Lord's judgement.
Without exception every one of these references uses the Hebrew word yehore which means a channel or great river, but it is never used of the river of Egypt nor even of the Euphrates.
These facts all point to the river of Egypt not being the Nile, but rather that it is the border of Egypt and is situated in the wilderness. Its exact location may or may not correspond with the so called river of Egypt, the Wadi-el-Arish, but this is not at all important. It does not detract one iota from the scriptures; but for the sake of truth, and we are dealing with the scriptures of truth, it ought not to be confused with the Nile.
We appreciate that many Christians who have been led to believe that it is the Nile, and have sincerely believed it to be so, may be disturbed by this challenge to their belief. We regret any offence which may be felt but we firmly believe that we do no service to the Lord or His word in perpetuating an incorrect idea. We understand, too, that some may subconsciously feel that this may in some way diminish the glory of the Lord and we would hasten to assure them that this is not so, He shall reign from the river of Egypt, or the Euphrates, or it could be an entirely new river such as that of Zechariah 14. 8, Whatever river it is we know that He shall reign over the whole earth as King of kings and Lord of lords.