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Genesis 2:4-14 – The Four Rivers

There is some updated content (check below) – updated on 24-6-2008

So now chapter 2 of Genesis continues to describe the sixth day of creation in detail.

v. 4-9: Some particular things to note – we have here the man of “dust”, who had the breath of life by God’s breath/ruah, who was contending in man, which is merely flesh (Genesis 6:3). The Lord God planted a garden in Eden, where he “put” the man whom he had formed. I’ve spoken of this significance of Adam being made from dust outside of Eden, then to be placed in this garden of God (Ezekiel 28:13). There is no indication that Adam, had he not taken the fruit from the tree of good and evil, would then live on forever. No. Adam had a fleshly body even before his fall, and God here states that the Spirit cannot strive in man to maintain physical longevity, for we are only dust, and have not a newly created heavenly body. Regardless of Adam’s sin, the only way Adam could live ‘forever’ is by taking the fruit from the tree of life. So we are introduced to the two trees (amongst others which were pleasant to the sight and good for food), but more commentary on them come Genesis 3.

Another thing to note… is the mist/spring which was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground – a far cry from the post-Noahic period, and the anticipation of the global flood as preached on Day 2 and 5.

Before going on to the four rivers, I cannot help but note the self-sustaining nature of the garden of God at this point. Was there any necessity to introduce an outside source, Adam, into the garden? Yet, when Adam was created, God had to make special ‘concessions’ as it were for him – from creating beast-helpers (v.19), to creating woman, suitably made from Adam, to be suitable for Adam (v. 21-25). More on this come the next post on 2:21-25, and the significance of the woman being cut from her head, the man.

Four Rivers

Now a lot of people of geological, historical, geographical, scientific backgrounds will aim to deduce Eden’s location. This may ease the hearts of some, but I think we are missing on some pretty important theological significances that God is trying to tell us. Sure, we can try and deduce Eden’s location, but how does that edify God? Sure, we can bring the gospel back to Jerusalem, but God called us to preach to all nations without bias, rather than simply bring the gospel back to the Israelites? Have we fallen so hard as to forget that the physical Israel is not the saved nation, or the physical Eden, physical rivers themselves are not a source of blessing, a location to reach, an object or knowledge to possess in exclusivity? Why are we so obsessed with the physical, when there is so much more to be explained in the spiritual?

So while I concede there are many who obsess with the physics, I think the meaning of the Hebrew is equally if not more important for two reasons; firstly of course the meaning tends to reveal something of the place/person; and secondly, for biblical geographical locations, more than often what we now know can be very different from the geography of the world pre-flood:

Therefore one must not imagine that the source of these rivers is the same today as it was at that time; but the situation is the same today as in the case of the earth, which now exists and brings forth trees, herbs, etc. If you compare these with the uncorrupted creation, they are like wretched remnants of that wealth which the earth had when it was created. Thus these rivers remain like ruins, but, to be sure, not in the same place; much less do they have the same sources. - Luther on the four rivers in his lectures on Genesis

I compiled a table to quickly look @ some important meanings of the four rivers and where else they pop up in Scripture:

Rivers

Hebrew meaning

Other references in Scripture

Pishon

Associated with “the land of Havilah”. If this latter name is Hebrew, it means “sandy land”. The word “Pison” means “increase”. However the word is derived from a more fundamental root word which means “to spring about, to frisk, to be scattered, be spread, or figuratively to act proudly”. Thus we get an image of a river that spreads into a wide river or delta. It is from this idea of spreading, comes the figurative meaning. From spreading we get broad minded, cosmopolitan or sophisticated, and from thence, pride. Thus figuratively this river could mean pride, while literally we get a picture of a broad delta or river plain.

None other than Genesis 2

Gihon

The stem g-y-h means “to gush forth”. We get an idea of a river that flooded its banks, perhaps often and perhaps violently. The word that is translated in the king James Bible as Ethiopia is Cush. Cush was a grand son of Noah and his name means black, so it would seem likely that he was dark skinned. His descendants lived in Africa and the lands they lives in are referred to a Cush. Thus it is possible that this river is the Nile.

Gen 2:13; 1 King 1:33; 1 Kings 1:38; 1 Kings 1:45; 2 Chronicles 32:30; 2 Chronicles 33:14

Hiddekel

This river “flows east of Asshur” and generally identified as Tigris River. This is probably a foreign word that has been adopted into Hebrew, but it is known to mean “rapid, quick or sudden”. Thus we have an image of a fast flowing river.

Gen 2:14; Daniel 10:4

Perat

Generally associated with Euphrates – meaning “Fruitfulness”, we get a picture of a river that brings increase, or prosperity or possibly a river that floods periodically, either with the spring run off from the mountains or the winter rains. This flooding most likely would bring fertile silt down the river and provide a rich soil for crops within its flood plains. However this word is derived from a word meaning to break forth (not the same word as mentioned for the Gihon) or break out, but often with destructive consequences or results. Thus figuratively the Hebrew name for this river could be destruction.

Gen 2:14; 15:18; 31:21; 36:37; Ex 23:31; Deut 1:7; Josh 1:4; 24:2; 2 Samuel 8:3; 10:16; 1 Kings 4:21; 4:24; 14:15; 2 Kings 23:29; 24:7; 1 Chron 1:48; 5:9; 18:3; 19:16; 2 Chron 9:26; 35:20; Isaiah 27:12; Jeremiah 2:18; 13:4-7; 46:2-10; 51:63; Revelation 9:14; 16:12

The disappearance of the river Pison is of some significance – just as the Edomites were utterly destroyed by God (Obadiah), this river which represents ‘pride which increases’ (not so different from Lucifer’s pride c.f. Ezekiel 28 ) was not mentioned again throughout Scripture. Some have theorized that the Noahic flood enabled this disappearance as the river was absorbed into the waters of judgment. Perhaps this, again, is a divine implication and prophecy of God’s judgment on the proud? Although, like the other rivers, the exact geographical location of the rivers are not concretely proven, I think the real significance lies in the absolute silent treatment which the river deserved, concerning the negative symbolism offered by its Hebraic definition.

Gihon, on the other hand, is of positive significance – three in particular I wish to focus on. David’s son was anointed as king there (1 Kings 1:45) and numerous amounts of victorious works (in relation to Hezekiah and the Fish Gate) also occurred in close proximity (2 Chronicles 32:30 and 33:14). Thirdly, Gihon is also the name of the only natural spring of water in the vicinity of Jerusalem as it feeds the Pool of Siloam (John 9:7 – “Jesus answered:… “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he [the blind man] went and washed and came back seeing. This significance is particularly fitting, if Gishon is to be seen as a river symbolizing healing and anointing, in the Ethiopian regions of Cush – and I can’t help but be reminded of the Israel-Gentile marital relationship between Zipporah the Cushite and Moses, and the Israel-Gentile political relationship between the Queen of Ethiopia and Solomon, the theological and spiritual unity of the Gentiles and the Israelites which God had always intended to become the global international church.

Then we had Hiddekel (Tigris) which appears once again during Daniel’s prophecy. I can only understand that Hiddekel, meaning “rapid, quick or sudden” can relate to the spontaneity of Daniel’s prophecies? Or is something else at work? “Asshur” = Assyria – and we know what God thinks of the Ninevites and other people of Asshur (Isaiah 10:5). Perhaps “rapid, quick or suddenjudgment on these lands? After all, Daniel was in Babylonian captivity. Furthermore, “east” is a terminology often used in the Bible to connote dispersion from communion with God, much like Adam and Eve’s banishment to the east of Eden. Thus, Hiddekel seems to connote a sense of punishment in the physical lands not of Israel, representing the spiritual fallenness of all those not in Christ.

Finally, we have the river Perat, also known as Euphrates – and how aptly this river is named! This river in Assyria (2 Kings 23:29 – death of Josiah at Euphrates; Jeremiah 2:18; 51:63 – why drink from the waters of Euphrates?) has some significance in Jeremiah 51:63 and Revelations 9:14; 16:12:

When you finish reading this book, tie a stone to it and cast it into the midst of the Euphrates, and say, ‘Thus shall Babylon sink, to rise no more, because of the disaster that I am bringing upon her, and they shall become exhausted” – Jeremiah 51:63

Then the sixth angel blew his trumpet, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar before God, saying to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, “Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.” So the four angels, who had been prepared for the hour, the day, the month, and the year, were released to kill a third of mankind” – Revelations 9:13-15

The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up, to prepare the way for the kings from the east” (this bowl being one of the seven bowls of the wrath of God Rev 16:1) – Revelations 16:12

Can we deny the negative connotation of the ‘great’ river Euphrates? The descriptive remark is almost ironic. What surprise therefore to see that Perat signifies destruction.

So what are these four rivers doing in Eden? Again, it is a source of witness – a witness to God’s plan that his creation is good, but not perfect. He awaits the choice of man, just as the two trees provide that doctrine of choice, and His subsequent judgment on those who choose to stand by the rivers Pison, Hiddekel, and especially Perat – and those who choose to be washed by the waters of Gihon, which undoubtedly prophesy to the true river of the water of life (Revelations 22:1) in new Jerusalem. Matthew Henry puts it in this way:

The rivers with which this garden was watered, v. 10-14. These four rivers (or one river branched into four streams) contributed much both to the pleasantness and the fruitfulness of this garden. The land of Sodom is said to be well watered every where, as the garden of the Lord, ch. xiii. 10. Observe, That which God plants he will take care to keep watered. The trees of righteousness are set by the rivers, Ps. i. 3. In the heavenly paradise there is a river infinitely surpassing these; for it is a river of the water of life, not coming out of Eden, as this, but proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb (Rev. xxii. 1), a river that makes glad the city of our God, Ps. xlvi. 4. Hiddekel and Euphrates are rivers of Babylon, which we read of elsewhere. By these the captive Jews sat down and wept, when they remembered Sion (Ps. cxxxvii. 1); but methinks they had much more reason to weep (and so have we) at the remembrance of Eden. Adam’s paradise was their prison; such wretched work has sin made. Of the land of Havilah it is said (v. 12), The gold of that land is good, and there is bdellium and the onyx-stone: surely this is mentioned that the wealth of which the land of Havilah boasted might be as foil to that which was the glory of the land of Eden. Havilah had gold, and spices, and precious stones; but Eden had that which was infinitely better, the tree of life, and communion with God. So we may say of the Africans and Indians: “They have the gold, but we have the gospel. The gold of their land is good, but the riches of ours are infinitely better.”

Gathering my thoughts (24-6-2008 )

Prior to this update, I had thought that the four rivers represented four choices. But I want to develop on that. Firstly, I failed to ask – how and why are four rivers coming out from Eden (Genesis 2:10 – a river flowed from Eden)? Surely that is physically impossible if Eden is at the bottom of a hill, or on flat land – unless we take into account Ezekiel 28.

In Ezekiel 28 we see that the king of Tyre is spoken of as representative of Satan himself. In v. 13 He says that Satan was in Eden, the garden of God. Then, in v.14, God says he was on the holy mountain of God. Again, this is reinforced in v.16 (“so I cast you as a profane thing from the mountain of God”).

Unless God is speaking of two separate locations, there is another title for the garden of God, the garden of Eden. Within Scripture, the garden, as revealed in Ezekiel 28, is also the holy mountain of God.

Why I’m looking at the contours of the area of Eden is quite important, because it reveals why there is so much focus on the holy hill spoken of throughout Scripture, especially throughout the Psalms. Even Mt. Sinai, the mountain of God, pales in comparison to the true holy mountain of God, which was Eden, a place called Paradise. Yes, Moses going up Mt. Sinai, the mountain of God, is meant to prophesy to Jesus’ going up to the true mountain of God, Eden. This of course is a picture of ascension, of the rapture of us being taken up to God.

Let’s look at two pieces of Scripture to support that point. Psalm 15 and Isaiah 2:2

Psalm 15:

1O LORD,(A) who shall sojourn in your(B) tent?
Who shall dwell on your(C) holy hill?

2He who(D) walks blamelessly and(E) does what is right
and(F) speaks truth in his heart;
3who(G) does not slander with his tongue
and does no evil to his neighbor,
nor(H) takes up a reproach against his friend;
4(I) in whose eyes a vile person is despised,
but who honors those who fear the LORD;
who(J) swears to his own hurt and does not change; 5who(K) does not put out his money at interest
and(L) does not take a bribe against the innocent.
He who does these things shall never be(M) moved.

Isaiah 2:2-3:

2(A) It shall come to pass in the latter days
that(B) the mountain of the house of the LORD
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be lifted up above the hills;
and(C) all the nations shall flow to it,
3and(D) many peoples shall come, and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
For(E) out of Zion shall go the law,[a]
and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

The thing about Psalm 15 is that it firstly speaks of the tent, which I think should be rendered as the tabernacle; and secondly, the question about who should dwell on the holy hill. The holy hill is in fact a reference to the holy mountain of God, as the word hill and mountain is used interchangeably throughout Scripture. One should not limit the semantic range just because the word ‘mountain’ is used. Psalm 15 is within the 1st book of the Psalms which refers to the events in Genesis; and this most definitely refers to the only holy hill referred to in Genesis, which is the mountain of God on which was the Edenic garden, the mount delight. However, Mount Eden is now seen as Mount Zion (meaning drought) – from Mount Delight to Mount Drought – as a result of Genesis 3, human sin. Eden was no longer a source of delight; rather, it is now similar to drought, because of the utter difficulty of reaching there, and the painful memories of Adam’s sin.

This is why there is the whole issue of who can dwell on the holy hill. Because man has been banished from the holy hill, once delightful. No one can even go up there anymore – the cherubim and the flaming sword are perfect reminders. The one who sojourns in the tabernacle knows that too – just take a look at the veil between the holy place and the Holy of Holies – there also is a picture of the cherubim, acting as protection for us from the holy hill.

Of course, the one who can dwell on the holy hill and sojourn in the Holy of Holies is Christ himself.

This should therefore shed light on the passage in Isaiah. On this mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established the highest of the mountains, and lifted above the hills. “All the nations shall flow to it” and “many peoples shall come”, saying “let us go up the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob”. For out of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem (because the tent, the tabernacle was moved there by David in 2 Samuel 6).


How does this relate to the four rivers?

Well, first we established that Eden is on a hill, on the holy mountain of God. So the rivers are flowing down from the hill. Then, in Psalm 15, the musician is singing of the only one who can go up that hill and dwell in the Holy of Holies – Jesus Christ himself. But then in Isaiah 2:2, the nations proclaim that they too can go up that holy hill. How? Of course, only in Christ can they go up that hill! Only by the Redeemer, the Sent One, the Mediator, can they even go up that hill!

But first, out of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem, where the tabernacle/tent was located. Now this is extremely important – because it is a direct reflection of what the rivers represented. The rivers are merely a mock-up of the true river in Revelation 22 – the river of life where only the Tree of Life will stand with leaves for the healing of the nations. Here, in Isaiah 2:2, the nations will go up the holy hill in their rapture, to reach the river of life, true communion with the Trinity where the Tree of Life will have leaves which will heal them. So the river, the water of life (Psalm 1), must go out of Zion first. The law itself is embedded in this river spiritually speaking; but so is the gospel. This probably explains why each river has a different representation and has resulted in a variety of events occurring nearby.

This is very similar to what happened when the law went out of Zion. Some received it and repented (Nineveh); some rejected it (Babylon/Egypt); some accepted it (some Gentiles and Jews in the NT; and the remnant of Israel in Daniel). Because the law in itself is not sin, what it does is that it produces the conviction of sin, whereby the expected response is turning to Jesus Christ. However, not all turn to Christ, and some have resorted to works-righteousness, like the Pharisees and Sadducees. Let the rivers be a timely reminder that we must look to the true waters of life in Jesus Christ, so that we can ascend the holy hill in Him who went through the cherubim with flaming swords, to reside in the tent, the Holy of Holies!  Ultimately, we look forward to the day when the “earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea!” (Isaiah 11:9; Habbakuk 2:14).

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Discussion

15 thoughts on “Genesis 2:4-14 – The Four Rivers

  1. good attempt
    the 4 rivers are always tricky
    probably still need clearer understanding to explain the gospel in the 4

    Posted by Dev | May 16, 2008, 10:12 pm
  2. you may also want to look up the literal for 2:15

    Posted by Dev | May 17, 2008, 6:49 pm
  3. I was reading Genesis, and how streams (or mist) flowed up to water the whole earth. I wondered if these rivers were part of that system, as the river is strangely described as coming out of Eden, then breaking into 4 rivers. (The picture in my mind was like the human circulatory system, with large arteries breaking up, until the blood flows to the outermost capilarries.) It was just a thought. But I found your website in my quest for answers and got a new perspective on Eden being the mountain of God – thanks!!!

    Posted by Beth | July 27, 2008, 3:13 am
  4. Hi Beth!

    I’m quite positive the rivers and the ‘mist’ are different things (the ‘mist’ is actually more of a ‘fog’ and a ‘vapour’ – c.f. Job 36:27), although the NIV says streams (which I think is a loose and perhaps inaccurate translation, given that there were four rivers coming out of the garden because it is on a mountain… hence the rivers are sloping downwards). I think there is significance behind the 4 rivers being distinct, as opposed to the mist. You may have some fun checking out what the significance of mist is in the account of creation, and why God used this method of watering the ground prior to the global flood!

    Posted by jacky | July 27, 2008, 8:21 am
  5. Thank you very much for resources

    Posted by Pastor venu | April 21, 2009, 5:00 am
  6. Very interesting and helpful.Makes sense and it really gives a motivating factor in getting to know more about God or perhaps tapping into God`s mind as to speak.

    Thanks

    Posted by Maciu Ratu | August 13, 2009, 10:52 am
  7. Thank you very much for this extensive study on the rivers in Genesis. We are for the moment studying Genesis and my wife as Pastor (Baptist Church, Oporto, Portugal) needed some more information. As most of people, everybody knows the Tigris and the Euphrates and want to know, if one can still find the Pesom and Geom (portugiese names) on an actual map. Your explanation is perfect and stimulates us to watch ourselves being on the right river in the “end-times” (and these are the ones we are living I can feel).

    God bless you and your enlightening works !

    Your brother in Jesus

    Stefan Dahl

    Posted by Stefan Dahl | January 5, 2011, 5:56 pm
  8. Our Pastor is now doing a study at church on the four rivers in Genesis and also Ezekiel Chapter 28. Your commentary is very helpful at this time. Thank you for this good research.

    Posted by joyce | February 15, 2011, 10:53 am
  9. Praise the Lord I would have never looked at the four river in that way, thank you what got me interested, I just found out that they just finished building the bridge between river Euphrates and river Tigris, I also wanted to know if Pishon, and Gihon still existed. I like the way you explained those four rivers. thank you again.

    Posted by Alloo | April 8, 2011, 3:34 pm
  10. Welcome to the blog Alloo. Glad the post helped.

    Posted by Jacky | May 25, 2011, 3:53 pm
  11. Was just reading Mike Reeves’ thesis on Irenaeus – interesting quote on the four rivers:

    “With just the same refusal to presage the type of question prompted by more Antiochene Christologies, ‘Is redemption the work of the human or divine nature?’, so Irenaeus rejected any such awkward dichotomy between Christ’s being and his work anywhere within the oikonomia (economy). Thus could he envisage salvation, not as a last-ditch deus ex machina for creation, but as an aspect of the very same oikonomia. As the Church is watered by the four streams of the gospels, so Eden’s four rivers flowed out to the ends of the earth (Eden, rather than Delphi, being for Ireneaus the true navel of the earth), such that the cosmos could be seen as inherently cruciform (Dem. 34; AH 3.11.8). Creation itself was the beginning of plerosis (regeneration).”

    Posted by Jacky | December 4, 2011, 4:32 am
  12. I RECIEVED A NATIVE NAME FOUR RIVERS. I READ THIS AND AM CURIOUS WHAT IT MEANS; PERHAPS IT MEANS SENT ONE. i AM SPIRIT FILLED BY THE HOLY GHOST AND THE LORD SHOWED ME THIS STUDY PERSONALLY OUT OF GEN. 10 YEARS AGO. SO I RECIEVED MY NAME WITH AN OPEN HEART…BECAUSE THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS AT HAND.

    Posted by Karen Hubbard | October 22, 2012, 3:46 am
  13. Those 4 rivers are all where they are today in East Africa and the Middle-East..However Garden of Eden was submerged in the central eastern Fiji,middle of the Pacific Ocean as it says in Isaiah 51:3..that Eden is in the wilderness..and Genesis 3:8..They heard the voice of the Lord walking in the garden in the cool of the day..Also the first command that God gave man..”to have dominion over the fish of the sea”…those few biblical verse that matches Fiji alone and no other country on the planet as it also lies on the border of the earth dab smack on the 180 meridian,where east meets west,today from yesterday and sunrises from sunsets…

    Posted by keanam sunbearer | February 12, 2014, 12:47 am
  14. As we should know that there was a worlds main supercontinent before(which divided in the time of Peleg after the flood),and Fiji was on the south east of asia,with a few evidences of fresh water sources that came from the sea of a submerged landmass called Vuniivilevu on the south east end of Moturiki Island,Fiji.Group. .A village called Navuti raised a sea water fish in a fresh water pool..and that fish lived there for years.Remember that water signifies the source of life..Not forgetting fishes and marine lives from the sea,crawled and swam their way to the dry shore to present themselves to the chief of a few places in Fiji who all derived from Moturiki..which linked to Gods command on man “to have dominion over the fish of the sea..Fishes and marine life already being eaten by the chief of Moturiki in the past years and bones being thrown back to the water and the fish or marine life, was alive again and swam back to the open sea…Also Lapita potteries and human skeletons(came from south east china,which brought Fiji closer to where those 4 rivers meet in the open sea of the Pacific ocean) due to archaelogical excavations dated back to 2000bc in Moturiki Island,west of the submerged landmass known to us nowadays as Vuniivilevu(Big Eve Tree)believed to be the garden of eden..Unknown words to the summerians in mesapotemia early descendants of Noah,..”UR,..and URUK….we believed came from a place in Moturiki called “NATURUKU”…NAT..URUK..U..Even the they called themselves as “turiki”..and the Turks pronounce the name Turkey as “TURIKI”..which is the completion name of my island called “MOTURIKI”…mo-turiki…we’ve got loads of ancient history which are very interesting and we thank God for choosing our island for all those creations…Lets give thanks and praise to the Lord God Almighty!!!!!.

    Posted by keanam sunbearer | February 12, 2014, 1:20 am

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