Four Rivers

Studies in Genesis 2

A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers. The name of the first is the Pishon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. And the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. The name of the second river is the Gihon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Cush. And the name of the third river is the Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates. (Genesis 2:10-14 ESV)

God waters His garden with a river or stream. This stream is the head waters for four rivers which part from it once the stream flows out of the Garden of Eden. We have no name for the river which flows through the Garden of Eden. God does name the four rivers which come from the river of Eden.

Speculation about the place of the Garden of Eden revolves around the geographical location of the source of these four rivers. There is little evidence of where these four rivers are let alone where they began. They are named, as are the lands through which they flow, by God. But to suggest the names we have now correspond to the names given by God presupposes He wants us to know where these lands and rivers are and where the Garden of Eden was. If we knew we would turn the area into a shrine and worship it and not the Creator of it.

God named the first river the “Pishon” and it flows through the land of “Havilah.” He also specifically tells us there is “gold” in that land and that the “gold of the land is good” followed by a note saying “bdellium and onyx are there.” Pishon is named only once in Scripture and may mean dispersion or increase. Havilah means circle. There are several places and at least two men with this name. Havilah is a place of gems and metals. Bdellium is probably a resin from the sap of trees that gives a delightful fragrance then hardens into amber. Onyx is a gem. Now, men place financial value on gold and precious or semi-precious gems. God simply says the gold of Havilah is “good,” the same word He uses to describe His work in creation. Everything God creates is good.

The second river is named “Gihon” and is supposed to encompass the entire land of “Cush” which may be Ethiopia. Gihon may mean bursting forth. Gihon is also the name of a spring near Jerusalem. Cush also means black.

Two other rivers are named. One is the “Hiddekel” or Tigris and the other is the “Euphrates.” Hiddekel means swift or rapid and is commonly referred to as the Tigris and either flows “east of Assyria” or flows toward the “east of Assyria.” There are two rivers which flow almost parallel through the land of Assyria toward the Persian Gulf. Both rivers begin in the mountains of Turkey and merge before flowing into the Persian Gulf. They have historically carried the names of Tigris and Euphrates.

I want to make two assumptions about why God tells us about these rivers, places, metals, resins and gems. First, God names real places and things. He names light Day and the dark Night. He named the expanse above the earth Heaven, the dry land He called Earth and the waters He called Seas. He did not name the stars, the days or season, the plants or animals. He named Eden, the home for the man He created. He did not name the river which watered Eden but did name the four rivers which parted from the river of Eden after it left the Garden. He named Havilah, Gihon, Cush, or Ethiopia, and Assyria. God does not simply arbitrarily name things but the reasons for the names given may not be obvious to us.

Eden is a real place. Or was a real place.

Secondly, in making Man in His image God gave Man authority over the earth. Everything He created is good, which means useful, not just tasty or pretty. God wanted man to fashion the gold and resin and other metals and use the gems and other stones. By stating the gold is good God is giving permission for man to use and make and create. Man’s ability to imagine and fashion that which is attractive and useful is part and parcel to the image of God given. God’s image in Man is as real as the physical places and things God created.

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