The Garden of Eden has five rivers connected with it. The number five represents grace. We studied this as the ‘fifth’ part in Leviticus. Grace is the policy of God toward man and all of creation. Thus the Garden of Eden begins with grace. The provision of the rivers in nourishing all of the land is representative of grace in action which we call mercy. Mercy is the actual provision of Gods grace policy.
The first river has no name. Interesting enough God of the Old Testament (God the Father) has no name. God the Son has a reference to a name – Joshua which when translated into the Greek becomes Jesus. God is the great ‘I Am’ of the Old Testament, or generally thought of as the eternally existing one. The river that flows out of the Garden is just like that name. Always existing and always flowing. God is an endless source of provision. God is the origin of all things provided to each of us personally and to the universe.
This first river flows out of the Garden so its source is from within the Garden. It waters not only the Garden of Eden, but it waters everything else outside of the Garden. And that is the subject of this study.
The river which flows out of the Garden breaks up into four rivers as spelled out in Gen. 2:10-11. They are described as the Pishon. Gihon, Hiddekel or Tigris, and the Euphrates rivers. Interesting too is the number four. God begins with a policy of grace, but that grace has boundaries. God has a government which is represented by four areas – authority, power, freedom, and vision. Later in the scriptures in various visions (after Genesis) these four areas are represented by the – lion, bull, man and eagle.
The first area is representative of Gods dominion over all of heaven and creation, combined with His perfect righteousness, then there is a lack of arrogance or pride. In contrast is mans dominion which is limited and short lived as man quickly loses his authority over planet earth as arrogance and pride enter into mans essence.
The second represents Gods omnipotent ability to do anything He wills, as well as to ‘not’ do that which He does not will. In contrast man cannot accomplish anything he wills, nor can man prevent that which he does not wish to happen. So man redoubles his efforts and ends up in more self work or burden due to greater arrogance and stubbornness and the rejection of Gods divine provision.
The third area represents Gods ability to choose, to decide for that which is right as well as to decide against that which is wrong. Man, in contrast again, is given free will volition in which man has the opportunity to make the right choices in life, however man inevitably makes wrong choices. The feminine reaction in making wrong choices results is frustration and even more effort placed in doing that which man cannot do in life. Yes, we are studying the rivers of Eden, and we’ll tie this all together in a moment.
Meanwhile, the fourth area represents Gods omniscience or foreknowledge, or far seeing vision – the eagle. God knows all there is to know both the possible and the probable as well as the reality of what is and what is to be. Man again, cannot know even what will happen in the future in a few minutes let alone in a few years. Man lacks the ability to sort out truth from lies therefore mans vision is limited
Thus we have the four rivers flowing out from the Garden of Eden which take on these representations just mentioned.
Throughout the ages people have sought to find the Garden of Eden. They have sought to identify these four rivers and somehow trace them back to some point that would identify the original Garden. But remember that the Garden existed in a ‘single’ land that was on earth prior to the flood. We would have to assume that the land masses prior to the flood of Noah were exactly the same or very similar to the land masses we have today. Maybe. Of course you would have to make changes in the land masses due to erosion, weather pattern changes, earthquakes, and so forth. But we have seven continents now and they must have existed in some form prior to the flood.
There is also the possibility that God brought the flood on the earth to do more than just wipe out life, saving only Noah and his family and a few animals. If this is the case, and if God rearranged the land masses, perhaps breaking the continents off and into the seven current continents and then floating them in to their present positions, such that following the flood, there would be nothing left of those lands described in Gen. 2:10-11 – then Havilah, Cush or Ethiopia, Assyria, and the fourth river, the Euphrates, would not be associated with any geographical area current in today’s world. In fact there are only four geographical areas that are described in Genesis. The Garden being the first and the others above mentioned being the second, third, and fourth. Well there is a reference to the land of Nod, where Cain was driven off to, which is east of Eden. Nod comes from the Hebrew word, ‘Nowd’, meaning vagrancy, waver, exile, taunt, flee. This described Cain’s attitude. He was a vagrant at heart, lazy, shiftless, spineless. He ran away into an exile where he would refuse to return from by his own decision. From a distance he would taunt or ridicule those whom he left behind, thinking that his safety was wrapped up in the distance he had between himself and the rest of those who remained with Adam. Man can find no safety in putting distance between himself and God, only further misery.
God could well have eliminated all life without the flood, but He chose to flood the entire planet to accomplish that end. Perhaps this huge mass of hydro power was utilized in breaking up the single continent into the seven current continents. Doesn’t it seem odd that this number seven seems to pop up continually in the scriptures and in life?
Anyway we know that there is continental drift. We know that all the continents were combined in the past forming a single huge continent. We know that there is evidence of plant and animal life throughout the world – even in Antarctica. This would be a good explanation as to how everything managed to get to all the continents. The real question is whether this all took place over millions of years or during that single year of Noah’s flood. God clearly has the ability to accomplish that. This would also explain why the original Garden cannot be found. Perhaps it is buried under the miles of ice which covers Antarctica. Only speculation of course. You can play with your own imagination on this subject. Oh, and was Atlantis the civilization that existed in the pre-flood era? More fun imagination games.
The four rivers have similar meanings attached to them. I’ll describe the meanings and then get to the point of this entire exercise. Remember that all of these rivers are flowing out and away from the Garden representing mans leaving God in search for mans own self meaning and self destiny.
The first river is the Pishon, ‘Piyshown’, to disperse, grow up fat, scatter, proud. This is the first river – first, ‘echad’, alone, first, only, to go one way or the other. It flows through the land of Havilah. Flows through or compasseth, ‘cabab’, to wind through, to surround, to border, to separate on every side.
Note thus far, that the original river of provision comes from God, from His Garden. It also provided support for that region outside of the Garden. The Garden represents life inside the Will of God while life outside the Garden represents life by the will of man. Flowing out of the Garden, man leaves the divine protections and blessings of God and pursues his own blessings in arrogance. That is the purpose of this first river. It saturates itself and seals off itself from the Garden, being divided from the Garden by its own fat of self importance and its own self determination, or independence as perceived by arrogance. The river goes this way and that in reference to mans aimless trek through life.
In the land of Havilah is gold and bdellium and onyx stones. But the gold is the word, ‘zaheb’, or the shimmer of gold, not the real thing. Bdellium is a stone or something in need of repair, ‘aben’, something in a constant need of rebuilding. The last item the onyx, is noted for its pale green color, ‘shoham’, thought to be beryl.
So in this land where man is trekking to, there is the imagination of wealth and building but it is in fact an illusion, a state in constant need of repair. Thus there is far less there than in the Garden. Man seeks more and comes up with less or nothing. Real gold does not exist, only the illusion of gold in that man gets color only. The real gold is found in the Word of God, in Gods wisdom and application thereof. Man has color only, something that one cannot even count in ones wealth nor even spend.
Now the second river is double that of the first. Second, ‘sheniy’, double, again, other. This is even more of the same as in the first land. More promises of illusion, things sought but not really there. The river is the Gihon, ‘Giychown’, stream, pool, going forth with labor. This is the river that requires labor in life to exist or to get ahead. It requires effort and places burdens on those who pursue it. It flows throughout the land of Cush, ‘Kuwsh’, no meaning is attached to Cush, but that is the name of Ham’s son, and sin or a curse is associated with Ham and his offspring, namely Canaan. So by doubling ones efforts, a person still comes up with nothing but curses, and emptiness.
The third river, third, ‘sheliyshiy’, meaning third in rank, it is a feminine form of the word meaning extension, third time, occasionally. This is a continuation of the first two rivers. More of the same, with the feminine reaction to the results of the first two. You work hard for nothing and you react to getting nothing. This river goes away, ‘halak’, to walk away, carry, spread, take away. It is a ‘walking’ away even further from the Garden where the blessings you pursue really exist but you cannot find them outside the Garden. The river flows east, ‘qidmah’, in a relative direction, in front of, before, general direction. Its flow is general and wandering. It is not precise in its path. It flows generally in the direction and in front of the land of Assyria, ‘Ashshuwr’, Assher (also the name of the second son of Shem, not the first born), it means straight, level, right, happy, honest, proper, guide. So this river falls short of attaining these qualities. Though man pursues some semblance of his own self defined morality and integrity and happiness, he does and cannot reach these true goals, by following this third river. Man in effect gets further and further away from God.
Fourth, ‘rebiyiy’, indicates a fraction, a fourth, as in sprawling on all four extremities, laying flat on the ground as in the position for sex, arms and legs spread, vulnerable and undefended but by choice. The fourth river is the Euphrates, ‘Perath’, break forth, rushing, east increase. Following the goals of this river gets you more and more of nothing. It has no land defined for it, no destination. There is nothing gained as a result of pursuing this river. So departure from Gods will, the Garden, means that man pursues everything with greater and greater energy, but will always end up with nothing.
By following these rivers a person in seeking the blessings of life, ends up with less than a whole. He ends up with a fraction of what he started out with and is not only laden with the burdens of the lands outside of the Garden, but is vulnerable to the dangers and of being taken advantage by everything else outside the Garden.
And, oh yes, Eden, ‘Eden’, means delicate, delight, pleasure. The river flowing out of the Garden, is in verse 8, ‘nahor’, stream, sea or ocean, prosperity, flood, sparkle, running. The river in the Garden is by far the greatest, yielding all manner of blessings for those who pursue it.
So the rivers of the Garden and those that flow throughout the lands round about the Garden of Eden, represent the life of mankind. The Garden is there for the taking, Bible study, but man prefers to pursue his own course and to redefine life in accordance with whatever philosophy his imagination comes up with. Man even does this within sight of the Garden. Bible doctrine is always nearby and free for the taking.
These points of doctrine were available to all who lived in the centuries prior to the flood. Those folks saw the Garden as well as the angels guarding its entrance. The Garden was an actual physical place. But rather than turning to God and inquiring about its meaning and purpose, rather than desiring to grow up spiritually even when all these places were right in front of them, to actually see, most people chose against God.
Better to sail up the crystal clear ocean of God knowledge than to pursue the muddy and wandering rivers of man.