Genesis 2:10


From EDEN a river

Go to footnote number

went out to water the garden and from there it was parted

Go to footnote number

and became

Go to footnote number

four heads.

Go to footnote number


This place called DELICATE DELIGHTS was the source of the abundance and prosperity of life; it provided those things within the enclosure, and from there it went out and became the source of all other sources of abundance and prosperity.


Genesis 2:11


The first is called PISHON;

Go to footnote number

It encircles

Go to footnote number

the entire land of

HAVILAH, where

there is gold.


11 The first was called

THE SPREADER because it spread its abundance wherever it went; it covered and filled all the land of

SOFT SOIL (which is good for growing crops), where there was also gold.

Genesis 2:12


The gold there is very good, and there is also bdellium, stones and Onyx.

Go to footnote number


The gold there was very pure; and in that land there was also fragrant gum, precious stones, and Onyx.

Genesis 2:13


The name of the second river is GIHON which encircles the entire land of CUSH.

Go to footnote number


The name of the second river was BURSTING FORTH because it burst from its source to cover and fill the entire land

(WHERE THERE IS MUCH SUN AND WATER) with its abundance and life.

Genesis 2:14


14 The name of the third river is HIDDEKEL,

Go to footnote number

it goes toward ASSYRIA

Go to footnote number

toward the East. The fourth river is the PERATH

Go to footnote number


The name of the third river was the ARROW which GOES STRAIGHT AHEAD, IN RIGHTNESS, BRINGING BLESSING AND GUIDING toward the source of all life.

The fourth source of blessing, prosperity, abundance and life was the ONE WHICH BREAKS FORTH INTO A GREAT STREAM.


It is not uncommon in Scripture to see several images, names or other literary tools, used in concert with each other to communicate one major message in a powerful way. That appears to be the case here, for there is a common theme coming from all four of these rivers.

First of all the text says there was a source of prosperity and abundance of life (a river) which provided those things within the garden and then delivered them to places outside the garden as well. The details of the four rivers will prove that statement to be true.

The Pishon was the “Spreader” and it spread its abundance throughout an entire land which had soil which was just right for growing crops (Havilah), and was known to be very prosperous, with products like gold, onyx and useful tree gums. In the mind of the ancient people of Mesopotamia and the Near East (we now call it the Middle East) the following implication was understood: the spreading influence of the river produced a prosperous land. If the river did not directly produce gold, there was an indirect connection implied, as if the author is saying, “See how prosperous that land was, it even had very good gold.”

The Gihon “burst forth” from its source to spread its abundance into a land full of water and sun. The sun was seen as the source of life itself, and water was also seen as the source of life. Early readers of this text would have thought the message to be obvious—that all life originated in, and continues to flow from, this protected enclosure called the garden of Eden.

The Hiddekel (or Tigris) is like an “Arrow,” it goes straight ahead, in rightness, bringing blessing and guiding toward the source of all life. That also fits the theme the other two have established—that life comes from Eden. The word picture of “straight as an arrow” should not be taken as a physical description; it does not mean that the river went straight without any bends. It meant that, in delivering the abundance of life and serving as a source of life, it was unhindered and uncompromising.

Notice that the garden was in the East and this river flowed toward the East. We hear that and think of directions on the compass. Ancient people heard that and thought of levels of importance, or priorities. This source of life and abundance came from the source of life (the East) and it guided people to the source of life (the East). One is not further East than the other, for this was not about location, but about the meaning of life (see below).

The fourth source of favor, abundance, prosperity, and life possessed the same name as the river we know as the Euphrates. It “burst forth” from its source (the Garden of Eden) as a mighty stream, to do what a river does, provide life, abundance, prosperity, and blessing to those near it. Notice that nothing is said about which land the Euphrates flowed into. This is because by this time in the concert of word pictures the message had been communicated with force. Keeping it simple for the last river actually added more power. This source of life does what it does wherever it goes. It can be seen as a general summary statement.

What does all this mean? All these rivers worked in concert as one major word picture to communicate this message: life flows from the protected enclosure God has designed for people to live in. They all spread life and abundance and blessing, but only because they originated at the source of true life, a place where closeness with God was the highest priority. Although there were living plants and animals, and eventually living men, outside the garden, true and meaningful life can come only from what was found inside that enclosure. The garden represents a direct connection with the Creator God. One could live physically apart from that connection for a “short” time, but such a life would lack meaning, purpose, and joy.

To ask questions about the identity and location of those rivers and the lands they flowed into is useless because the Flood changed everything, and it takes us away from the message that was intended. Even though we no longer have access to the physical place called the Garden of Eden, we can indeed enter into and live in an enclosed and protected space that God has provided for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Among other things, this will be a place of perfect balance; it will be a protected space, but it will also offer “delicate delights” for that is what Eden meant. Knowing God and living in an intimately close relationship with God is a vitally important, yet delightful thing. That does not mean there will be no trials and difficulties in one’s walk with God, but it does mean there can be peace, joy, and intimate communion with God during those times.


1: “A river”

At this point the author changes gears and starts painting a picture of a different aspect of this protected enclosure. A river was universally associated with abundance and life in the minds of the early readers of the text because “river” meant “abundance” and provided for life. Although the word “abundance” is not used in the text, I have inserted it into the paraphrase because it would have been in the mind of the original audience just because it was a river.

2: “was parted”

During the description of the four rivers that follow we must remember that the world-wide flood of Noah’s day changed the lay of the land and even the shape of continents; we cannot be sure of the pre-flood location of anything. Even if we did know their locations, the meaning of the names would be just as, if not more important than their identity and location. We must also remember that, when people migrate, they take ideas for names with them and often ascribe names to locations in their new lands that are the same as the names for locations in their former lands. For instance, we see places in America, Africa and Australia named after places in England. So when it mentions the names Euphrates, Tigris, Cush, and Assyria we should not assume those are the things we know by those names, but only the same names which were applied in the post-flood world to new locations.

Some might argue that Moses, who wrote Genesis in its final form, knew that the locations were different, but he was copying older texts (or possibly writing down oral traditions) from the pre-flood era. I would agree, and I would also say it is still the meaning of the names that matters, for those names without locations would be meaningless. Notice that God gave Moses no explanation that would connect the pre-flood locations and the post-flood locations. Thus their location must not be important.

A focus on the meaning is the only thing that makes sense.


The Hebrew says “and became into.”

4: heads

Although the Hebrew word used here is simply “heads,” the context tells us it means what we call in English “headwaters.” To the people of ancient times, water represented life and rivers represented abundance and prosperity, therefore, they would have been inclined to see Eden as the source of those things to the rest of the world. This does not mean that the rest of the world was ugly or barren; it was their way of saying that all other places in some way depended on Eden for the things that are important to life. From a human perspective it makes sense; while the rest of the world had plant life and animal life, the highest form of life, man, had not yet spread to other places. There are many factors that effect prosperity, but the nonphysical elements God provided to man in the garden were indispensable. We cannot deny the importance of a connection to God; true prosperity and happiness do not come from things but from being connected to God.


“Pishon” means “the spreader” because it “spreads or disperses.”


The Hebrew word means “to encircle, encompass, go around, turn, or turn around.” It is a way of communicating that this river called the “spreader,” spreads its abundance and prosperity throughout that entire region.

7: “bdellium, stones and Onyx”

These are all proofs of the abundance of this land, enabled in large part by the supply of water (abundance) provided by this river.


We should assume there was a Cush located somewhere in Mesopotamia before the world-wide flood, and another Cush located in today’s Ethiopia/Sudan after the flood. The actual meaning of the name Cush seems to have been lost, for all the sources I have searched identify it by its post-flood location but not its meaning. Even searching for related spellings in the languages used in Mesopotamia such as Ugaritic, Akkadian and Sumerian, fails to turn up anything that shows a clear connection to Cush. It is the meaning that is important, not the present location. Since the meaning has been lost all we have left is an educated guess. Fortunately, the way they assigned names to things in ancient times is of help to us in situations like this.

In ancient times, names of animals, plants, rivers and other things were assigned according to primary characteristics of the same. The name was a short description of it. Therefore, we can look at post-flood Cush, which is Ethiopia/upper Nile and safely assume that the pre-flood land called Cush had similar characteristics, even though it was likely in a different location. What were the physical qualities of post-flood Cush? It was known as a place that had variety, with mountains, desert and well-watered land that was fertile. It also had lots of sunshine because its people were known as tall men with burnt faces, i.e. dark skin. Although the post-flood region in question would include all of present day Ethiopia, Sudan, and southern Egypt, many used the term Cush or Ethiopia as a reference to the upper Nile only, i.e. only the well-watered region close to the up-stream portion of the Nile. Since Egypt thrived based on the flooding of the Nile each year, this means the Egyptians saw Cush as the physical source which their gods used to provide them with prosperity. These annual floods made the land along the Nile rich, fertile and moist. To this day, satellite images of Egypt show a distinct green band on either side of the Nile with the brown desert outside that band. For these reasons I represent Cush in the paraphrase column as a place with much sun and water.

9: Hiddekel”

The meaning of this river’s name appears to have been “arrow,” and the meaning of the name is the important thing here, since none of the rivers remained in the same place after the Flood. The name Tigris (also Tigra) is considered equivalent to Hiddekel through a convoluted series of changes of spelling and pronunciation. But once again, the meaning of the name is what is important. Far too many Bible scholars come to this passage and launch into long discussions about the rivers which today bear the names Tigris and Euphrates, but their present location is irrelevant because the Flood changed everything.


“Assyria” most likely comes from a word that basically means “to guide” and can mean a number of related things, such as “to go straight, to advance, to guide, to do right, to be blessed.” We must remember that, while the name is the same as a kingdom we know of from history, the identity and location were likely different because of The Flood.


The name “Perath” is a variation on the name Euphrates (if you take away the vowels you end up with “prth” and “phrts”). Various sources give various meanings for “Euphrates” but they tend to follow a general theme. Some of those meanings are “the great stream” (Easton), “to break forth” (Strong), “the good and abounding river” (Smith), “to make fruitful” (Hitchcock). This river was a source of prosperity and bounty, and it was a large source that would not easily be depleted. Instead of trying to choose just one meaning for the name I have chosen to include a descriptive phrase because all of the above were probably accurate descriptions of the river, and all of them were likely understood by some people at certain times as one of several meanings for “Euphrates.” The Euphrates of today got its name because it had similar qualities to the pre-flood river known by that name.