[In the story of the Bible], anytime you’ve got a spring or a bubbling of water coming up out of the ground, the desert, that’s a gift of Eden popping up out of the ground. And those are moments God wants to turn chaos into order, dry land into garden, and cursing into blessing. … Go look at all the stories that happen near wells and springs, and they’ve got “Eden” written all over them. In the big arc, this is precisely how the Gospel writers present Golgotha. It’s a hill and from it flows blood, and in the Gospel of John––he’s working this motif like nobody’s business––he portrays Jesus as having a river of life flowing out of him as he hangs on the cross. … When we go to the last page of the Bible, there’s the throne of God and the Lamb. The tree of life is there for the healing of the nations, and the river of life is flowing from beneath the throne. That is a garden of Eden image.
In part one (0:00-9:20), Tim and Jon discuss the waters in Genesis 1:1-2, which are pictured as a dark and chaotic ocean in the beginning of the narrative and later as waters containing the potential for life. Only the presence of God’s Spirit transforms the nature of the waters.
Ancient Near Eastern peoples viewed the structure of the cosmos as a disk of land floating upon the cosmic sea, with water above and water below. Rivers were fountains of the deep that channeled themselves up into the land to become sources of life. In their minds, the very existence of land was evidence of Yahweh’s control over the chaos.
In part two (9:20-13:45), Tim and Jon discuss the narrative structure of Genesis 1 and 2, which are actually two distinct creation narratives.
In the first narrative (Genesis 1), we see the seven-day structure of creation that provides a picture of Hebrew cosmology. The second narrative begins in Genesis 2:5, and the two stories don’t align in an entirely straightforward way. Genesis 1 focuses on the transformation of chaotic waters into an ordered cosmos, in which humans are created last. Genesis 2 pictures chaos as a desert, and humans emerge within the story before plants and animals.
Genesis 2 doesn’t pick up where Genesis 1 left off. Rather, the two narratives give us two unique perspectives on the same reality.
In part three (13:45-26:50), Tim and Jon explore the “mist” or “streams” mentioned in Genesis 2:6 that rose up from the land before any living creatures existed. Before anything else, God is pictured as the divine water wielder. The mud created by the streams in the desert is the material Yahweh chooses to make the creatures called humans, his image bearers.
After this, God plants a garden in Eden (Genesis 2:8). In Hebrew, “in Eden” could be a phrase meaning “in the east,” a phrase meaning “a very long time ago,” or the proper name Eden (which means “delight”). The author of Genesis probably had all these meanings in mind when he used this phrase. The garden itself is actually a smaller area within the region of Eden, so the common phrase “garden of Eden” is technically a misnomer.
The author of Genesis then pauses the narrative for a parenthetical aside in verses 10-14. The elements named in this section are rare terms in the Hebrew Bible. “Resin” (verse 12) only occurs once more, to describe the appearance of the manna God gives the children of Israel in the wilderness. The name Gihon (verse 13) is only mentioned one other time as the spring that provides water to Jerusalem and, specifically, the temple.
In the ancient Near Eastern conception of the world (the inhabited earth is a flat disk bounded by waters), the Tigris and Euphrates would have been at the center.
Like all geography in the Bible, this is a form of theological geography: places are charged with theological meaning based on what has happened there or what will happen there. The connection of the rivers flowing through Eden to Egypt, Babylon, and Assyria is incredibly significant, based on the role those two nations will play throughout Israel’s story. Don’t miss this––the regions to which the waters of Eden flow are the very places to which Israel will one day be exiled.
Not only this, but when the Bible recounts Israel in exile in either Egypt or Babylon/Assyria, the language is rich with garden imagery. Pharaoh gives the Israelites a rich, fruitful land in Egypt (Genesis 47), and Jeremiah, seeing how fertile the land of Babylon was during Israel’s exile, instructs the Israelites to plant gardens there (Jeremiah 29:5).
In part four (26:50-end), the team concludes by comparing the imagery of the waters of Eden to God’s call to Abraham’s family.
In Genesis 1-2, God tames the chaotic waters, transforming them into waters of life. Then Eden rises up as the epicenter of God’s creative power. The river of Eden becomes an image throughout the Bible of God’s longing to bestow the blessings of Eden upon the world.
Similarly, God calls Abraham’s family to be a blessing to all nations, like living water wherever they go. God’s people have a choice to participate in that blessing or participate in chaos and cursing. When Israel and the nations bless one another, micro-Edens blossom.
Following the creation narrative, springs of water, or wells, in the biblical story represent moments when God wants to transform chaos into order. For example, in Genesis 16, Sarah and Abraham fail to trust God’s promise to give them a biological son and force their Egyptian slave, Hagar, to procreate with Abraham. Hagar despises Sarah, who abuses her (16:6). When Hagar flees, Yahweh finds her near a spring en route to Shur, which is on the way to Havilah, one of the lands named in Genesis 2:11. In other words, this spring is fed by the waters of Eden. And there Yahweh gives Hagar an Edenic blessing (16:10).
Even the water that comes from Jesus’ side when he is pierced on the cross (John 19:34) follows this Eden river motif. From the mountain called Golgotha, blood and water flow, bringing life to all humanity. At the end of the biblical story, God and his people are united on the banks of the river of life, with the tree of life in the New Jerusalem, where heaven and earth are united once and for all in the truest fulfillment of Eden.
Show produced by Dan Gummel, Zach McKinley, and Cooper Peltz. Show notes by Lindsey Ponder.
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