The Four Rivers of Eden
Rev. Tony Cooke
Like many people, I have a tendency to skim over lists of names in the Bible. Some time ago, though, I began wondering about the names of the rivers that flowed out of the Garden of Eden. Genesis 2:10-14 tells us that a river went out of Eden to water the garden, and that it parted and became four rivers: the Pishon, Gihon, Hiddekel, and Euphrates.
I really try to avoid over-spiritualizing things, as I know that people sometimes miss the simple, plain meaning of a text while trying to find some deep, hidden, mystical meaning. I am reminded of the little boy in Sunday School whose teacher asked, “Johnny, what’s small, brown, furry, with a big bushy tail that likes to climb trees and eat nuts?” Johnny seemed to agonize over the question before finally answering, “Teacher, I just know that the answer has to be ‘Jesus,’ but it sure sounds like a squirrel to me.”
I don’t want to emulate Johnny’s line of reasoning, but I became curious if there was any significance to those rivers, especially the names of them. I was reminded that 1 Corinthians 3:9 in the Amplified Bible says, “…you are God’s garden.” Further, Jesus said that if we believed in Him, that out of our innermost being would flow rivers of living water (John 7:38). I wondered if the rivers flowing out of God’s original garden (Eden) had any kind of message relative to the rivers that are supposed to be flowing out of God’s garden (our lives) today.
The First River Pishon
The word Pishon means increase or full-flowing. I like that. God is not a God of scarcity and lack, but a God of abundance. Paul prayed (Ephesians 3:19) that believers would be filled with all the fullness of God, and John spoke of Jesus (John 1:16, Amplified), saying, “…out of His fullness (abundance) we have all received [all had a share and we were all supplied with] one grace after another and spiritual blessing upon spiritual blessing and even favor upon favor and gift [heaped] upon gift.”
The first river flowing out of that garden was full-flowing, and it makes sense that God wants us to experience a full-flow of His Presence and power in our lives; He doesn’t want us to be drained, depleted, or deficient.
The Second River Gihon
Gihon means bursting forth or gushing. Isn’t that interesting? If there had only been one river coming out of the garden (full-flowing), we might have concluded that all God was concerned about was us experiencing fullness on a personal level. However, if we move beyond “fullness” and are “bursting forth” (experiencing an overflow), then the nature and character of God coming out of us is bound to influence and impact others also.
John 4:14 in the Message version says, “Anyone who drinks the water I give will never thirst not ever. The water I give will be an artesian spring within, gushing fountains of endless life.”
It would seem that the message of Gihon (bursting forth or gushing) is that God doesn’t want us merely living lives of survival or success, but to move beyond that and truly live lives of significancenot merely focusing on what we need or want for ourselves, but on what we can contribute to others.
The Third River Hiddekel
Hiddekel means swift or darting, and is actually a “word picture” of a swift arrow in flight. It is not a picture of an arrow in a quiver or lying passively on the ground. When I thought about this image (a swift arrow in flight), I realized that before an arrow is ever released from a bow, it is first of all aimed at a target. A goal is in sight.
The life of a believerand remember, we are God’s garden todayis not some ethereal experience whereby we merely sit around, mystically bubbling over with His Presence. No, we are designed to have goals, aims, and objectives, and like a swift arrow in flight, we are to move toward the fulfilling of those goals with God’s help.
The New Testament is clear that we are to be specific when we pray (Mark 11:24 and James 4:2). A man who was praying very fervently at a prayer meeting was asked what he was praying about. He looked up, paused a second, and then said, “Nothing in particular.” My question is this: If you’re praying for “nothing in particular,” and God answers your prayer, what exactly is it that you end up with?
We are not to be aimless and ambiguous in our lives. We are to be like swift arrows in flight. Paul said that he ran with purpose in every step (1 Corinthians 9:26, NLT). The Holy Spirit wants to help us be people who are deliberate and intentional in our lives, in our ministries, and in our praying.
The Fourth River Euphrates
Euphrates means sweet or fruitful. I was blessed when I saw that. I realize that if we have the first three rivers flowing in our lives (fullness, overflow, and purpose) that it will result in us experiencing sweetness and fruitfulness.
This sweetness isn’t just for our own enjoyment, either. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 2:14, “…he uses us to spread the knowledge of Christ everywhere, like a sweet perfume” (NLT). If a believer is full of bitterness, he’ll export that to others. If a believer is sour in his attitude, he will no doubt pass that on to those around him. God wants our lives to be fruitful unto Him. He wants other people to be enriched through their association with us.
God’s original garden (Eden) had rivers flowing out of it. We are God’s garden today, and I believe there’s a message in the names of those original rivers. They communicate what God wants operative in our lives today, both individually and corporately. May you be richly blessed as you let the rivers flow!