George C. Lubbers is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.
When one reads Genesis 2:10 there comes to mind a beautiful symbolic picture of heaven’s glory; it is the earthly picture of the heavenly paradise of God. Truly, we have here some indication of what makes paradise the garden of God’s delight: Eden!
There is great speech in this “river of God” in the flowing of this river out of Eden to water the garden. We read: “And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads.”
Surely we ought to take notice of the teaching of the Bible concerning God’s river in both the earthly and in the heavenly paradise. Each had its own river, the one is an earthly, the other is heavenly. Howbeit, the earthly is a figure of the heavenly river to come.
Surely this is not some fantasy of man, but it is really the warp and woof of the clear teaching of the Bible. Without seeing this relationship in the work of God we are unable to form any real knowledge of the heavenly paradise. Also in the earthly Garden of Eden we see already something of the hope of heaven and earth. Here in this earthly paradise there is nothing of the vanity of vanities yet to which the “creature” was subjected in hope. However, the basis of this hope of heaven and earth was increated in Paradise, and that, too, possibly on the third day of creation week, of what is called the Hexahemeron. God created the world in six days. On the third day He created grass, herbs, fruit trees yielding their fruit. Amongst all these trees stood also the three of knowledge of good and evil, as well as the tree of life.
It is likely that these two trees are placed there by a special dispensation of God. It is beyond doubt the finishing touch of the prefiguration of the new heavens and of the new earth. When God saw all that He had made and “behold, it was very good” this surely included the fact that the earthly would serve the heavenly, and that indeed all things were “made by Christ and for him,” (Col. 1:6b). For the eternal Son is the Firstborn of all every creature, (Col. 1:15; Rev. 3:14 and I Tim. 1:17).
Hence, we may indeed say that in Gen. 2:10 we read some wonderful revelatory language; the Scriptures must interpret the Scriptures. We hear the glad strains concerning the heavenly grace and glory from out of God’s holy temple.
This is particularly true of what we read concerning the river which flowed out of Eden to water the garden. As we hope to point out, this river is very unique indeed. The water flowed out of the most holy place in the garden of Eden; it went out to water the garden, and from thence watered the entire earth. We ought to notice the following particulars a bit in depth:
1. It is called a “garden eastward in Eden.” It faced toward the east, toward the rising of the sun. It was, as such, the garden of God’s delight. Here the Lord of hosts placed, so to speak, His throne on earth, as dwelt among man; it was His holy habitation on earth, where man could dwell with God, hearing his voice upon the wind of the day. Here God walked with man, whom He had created in His own image, in true knowledge, righteousness and holiness. Man might thus know his God and serve Him in love and have fellowship with God, reading the Word of God in creation, (Gen. 2:19, 20). This description of delight is picked up in the Song of Songs by Solomon: “A fountain of waters, a well of living waters, and streams from Lebanon. Awake, o north wind; and come thou south: blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof may flow out. Let my beloved come into my garden, and eat his pleasant fruits”, (Song of Solomon 4:15, 16).
2. Now we read that God “planted the garden eastward in Eden and there He put the man whom he had formed.” The entire earth was for the animal world and for creeping things, but the garden was the habitat of man, in the covenant of fellowship with the living God, creator of heaven and earth. The garden was the dwelling place of Adam, the son of God, (Luke 3:38b).
3. It is quite clear from the description of Paradise that that which made Eden such a wonderful place, was that it was the center of the earthly creation. All life, joy, and peace for the creature came from out of God’s holy place. It all proclaimed that the world and its history was God-centered. Here stood the tree of life; it was a tree and not a mere vine or shrub. It was something great and royal. The tree in Scripture is a picture of a place where man, animals and birds seek and find shelter. Besides, it was fruit tree. It was the tree which yielded life to those who ate from it, (Matt. 13:22; Dan. 4:12-14).
4. It is safe to say that this tree was indeed a Wonder Tree; it was different from all other trees in the garden. However, it found its antithesis in the tree of knowledge of good and evil And the wonder of this tree of life was that it was connected with the Word of God to Adam. It was not standing there as a mere enigma for man to decipher, but it was connected with the Word of God as He called Adam unto obedience of love and godliness. Adam stands here not merely as an individual, but he represents Eve his wife, and the entire human race. He is their legal head, (Rom. 5:12).
5. All other trees were made with the seed in the fruit. These trees all propagated themselves. Not so this tree of life. This tree was not designed for becoming other young saplings, which would grow into “tree of life” species. It was a one-time tree. Its fruit was more wonderful than the manna which later fell from heaven in the desert. One ate of the bread from heaven and died in the wilderness (John 6:31-33). Not so this fruit of the tree of life. When one ate of this tree he would not die physical death. It had life-sustaining power. It was indeed a Wonder tree, different from all other trees. It stood in the holiest place of God in the garden. It was a “figure” of the tree of life in the heavenly Paradise of God (Rev. 2:7; Rev. 22:2, 14). The entire symbolism of Rev. 22:7is based upon, finds its picture in what we read of the earthly paradise in Genesis 2 and Genesis 3.
In close connection with the foregoing is what we read concerning the river which flowed from Eden, the center of the garden, where stood the tree of life. It appears that the river which flowed from Eden into the garden to water it had its fountainhead at the tree of life. In a sense this water, too, was water of life—life, earthly life for man, beast, and all the other trees of the garden. For this water and this river were quite different from any river which we know. Let us attend to the following matters:
1. There was only one river which flowed from the garden. It had its source from one fountain, and only one. There is not evidence in all of the Scriptures prior to the flood to believe that there were other rivers in existence.
2. It was one river that watered the garden. After if left the garden it became into four heads of four rivers to irrigate the earth. It was God’s great irrigation system.
3. These heads which controlled this great irrigation system are four in number. Yes, these were very literally, historically four branches of the one river of God. At the same time the number four in Scripture often symbolizes the four corners of the earth, to the east, west, north and the south. All the earth surrounding Eden and the garden of God was watered by these rivers. Yes, the river of God was here, too, full of water. There was abundance for the creature; not a groan or a sigh was heard from the throat of man or beast or bird. There was no evidence of the vanity of vanities of which the Preacher speaks, (Ecclesiastes 1:2-11).
These rivers, spoken of in Gen. 2:10, did not empty into the sea, nor did they have their source high up in the mountains, as do the great rivers which we know in every continent of the world! Our State of Colorado has evidently more rivers starting in it than any other state in the United States. Rivers from both the east and the west start at the continental divide where we find the never summer range of snow and ice. These rivers run down the mountain-sides, gathering momentum as they proceed. Unless these waters are arrested by dams, harnessed in water canals, they serve no useful purpose for any farmer or industry. Not so this river of God flowing from out of Eden’s fountain near to the tree of life. These were indeed not like the restless waters of the sea which cannot be quieted; they were not angry waters. Here Adam could jubilate: O, God, thou leadest man and beast and bird besides still waters! What a feeling of quiet and security Adam must have experienced beside these waters which flowed from out of the earthly holy place of God unto the four corners of the world!
Yes, these waters were in a sense the archetypical prefiguration of the waters which would one day flow from out of the heavenly temple of God—from under the east gate of the temple as envisioned by Ezekiel. For these waters were not murky, death-infested waters due to malariacarrying mosquitoes. They were not the waters of Egypt turned to blood, nor the waters as in the cursed Dead Sea, (Ex. 7:19-25; Gen. 19:23-25). Thanks be to God, they were not like the waters of land, sea and rivers spoken of in Rev. 8:6. They were pure life-affording waters. Death and sorrow were not aided by these waters. They were pristine waters, abundant waters flowing from the fountain of God’s love, fresh and clean!
If we keep the foregoing in mind we shall also be able to see, that when God subjected the earth to vanity, this subjecting of all things had its starting point in the Garden of Eden. This Eden, too, belonged to the earth which was cursed for Adam’s sake. Judgment ever begins at the “house of God”. This is also true at the time of the fall of man. Also here in the garden of Eden God visited Adam and Eve. However, He did so in such a way that the earth, the creature, was subjected to vanity in hope of one day sharing in the redemptive labors of Christ, who is the Firstborn of all creatures,as the Firstborn out of the dead! God removed these waters of the garden of Eden. (Col. 1:18).
This too belonged to the things which shall be shaken that God might bring in the inheritance which cannot be shaken or moved, yea, the River of God which is full, and which shall never go dry, (Ps. 65:5 ff.; Ezekiel 47:1 ff.; Rev. 22:1-6).
Yes, these sayings are faithful and true!