Genesis 2:10 A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters.
The first river we see in Scripture flows out of Eden. It’s a beautiful symbol of God nourishing His creation and of life and vitality finding its foundation in God’s good garden, a space where He walked with His children day by day, and where His image was gloriously presented to all the cosmos through His image bearers, the man and the woman, as they lived in right relationship with Him.
(This image is from georgesjournal.net – I don’t know where he got it from, and being the scifi fan I am it looks to me like it should have two red moons in the sky or something, but it’s still a lush and evocative picture of the play of water in the first garden… and I choose to believe that it’s not the tree of the knowledge of good and evil she’s eating from here – but just something right and delicious… mmm, food… anyway, back to the Bible ;))
But more than a symbol, it seems that the river is described in Genesis to give the reader a sense of the location of this first garden.
11 The name of the first is the Pishon; it winds through the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold. 12 (The gold of that land is good; aromatic resin[d] and onyx are also there.) 13 The name of the second river is the Gihon; it winds through the entire land of Cush.[e] 14 The name of the third river is the Tigris; it runs along the east side of Ashur. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.
The presence of the river defines the place of the Eden garden, this beautiful place of new life. Even today we know the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, and it’s likely that the other two rivers were somewhere further east of these two.
For me, although we can’t see “the garden” or its one river today, there is a lesson for us in how we see the word of God in Genesis 2:10-14 and in The [first] River – that, in the midst of all the rich symbolism of the creation account in Genesis, there was a sense of historical, geographical “groundedness” – metaphor and theology and places and things and pictures and teaching all sit together with ease and intelligence. It is not only rich and beautiful, explaining so much of our human experience and our relationship with God through narrative and symbol, but also shows that God’s truth in His word is not abstracted from what Eugene Peterson calls our “sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life” – the garden had a place and it was marked by a river.
I pray that The River gathering and community might be marked by a willingness to dig deep into the rich symbolism of Scripture and be excited and changed by it, all the while having our anchors sunk into its “realness” – historically and geographically and more – so that we might have a deep confidence to walk again with the God who walked in that garden, out of which that river flowed.
Would you join me?