Studies in Genesis 2
A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers. (Genesis 2:10 ESV)
Eden was watered by an unnamed stream. From this stream came four named rivers. God determined the names of the rivers and tells us but He does not give us a name for the stream which watered Eden. We do not know the exact location of the Garden of Eden nor of the rivers God mentions.
God, created the universe and the Earth to operate within specific laws, obviously placed the Garden of Eden high in altitude. The stream He used to water the Garden was the headwaters for four rivers. We cannot know for certain but the stream probably began as a spring or series of springs gushing out of the side of a mountain, growing as other streams merged with it finally breaking off into four directions. With this stream God watered the entire Garden.
“Watered” means to drink or irrigate. Every living creature, whether flora or fauna, needs water to survive and flourish. On the second and third day of creation God made an atmosphere for the planet then collected the waters on the face of the earth in low areas making oceans and seas. Yet, He also made rivers and streams to water the ground, for the next day He would create all the plants, herbs and trees. He surrounded the earth with an atmosphere and covered the earth with vegetation. While He could have easily sustained life through His will, He instead created an environment to sustain life. Most probably, the whole earth was well watered and filled with vegetable life. And the water was pure.
While God planted a Garden, a paradise named Eden, in the East, we can surmise He desired the entire planet would be a paradise. Relative to the small stature of Man, the Earth is huge, and God did not just dump Man somewhere but gave him a home. His home was filled with every kind of tree that was pleasing to the sight and good for food. He had pure water to drink, delicious food, and a comfortable and beautiful home. People were blessed to fill the earth and subdue it.
Eden had physical boundaries though probably not surveyed and marked with signs that said “leaving the Garden of Eden.” Perhaps the boundaries were physical mountains surrounding a large valley with an opening through which the river flowed. We do not know and we should not allow our imaginations to dictate an unverifiable perception of reality. However, Eden was a true place with a true geography, filled with real trees and plants. An actual river flowed from Eden. God placed a real, historical Man in that Garden. Though we cannot state emphatically what Eden looked like we can use our imaginations to help us understand. Trying to imagine eternity and heaven is futile. Imagining the Garden of Eden is not because we can go to places and see and experience what may have been. Eternity is an unimaginable paradise.
As the river of Eden flowed out of the Garden it split into four rivers. God does not concentrate on Eden to the exclusion of the rest of the Earth. As the plants and animals, and especially people, reproduce, multiple and fill the Earth God readies the earth for His complete blessing.