“And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads.” – Genesis 2:10
It has been noted that the opening chapters of Genesis are a Divine allegory. The Garden of Eden does not denote a natural place, but a state of life. The people of the Adamic age had an intuitive perception of the Divine symbolism of nature. The lands and rivers of the earth were to them representative of the internal things of heaven and the church. They saw that the world of nature was a theater representative of the world of mind, and that there was a living and vital relation of correspondence between the two worlds. Remnants of the knowledge of this correspondence of natural things to spiritual are found among us today. We speak of Jerusalem, Canaan, and Jordan with spiritual ideas attached to each name. In using these names we often do not think of natural cities, but of what they spiritually stand for.
Search has been made to find the river with four branches that went out of Eden. And unsuccessful attempts have been made to make known rivers conform to this description. Yet there is such a river with its four branches, just as the Word describes it. It is not a natural river, but we can find it if we look in the right place for it.
As Eden was a highly developed state of heavenly love, as the Garden of Eden pictures a beautifully cultivated state of heavenly intelligence, so the river of Eden that parted into four heads was not a natural river, but the Divine wisdom of the Lord, which flowed into the mind, performing for it a service represented by the service a river renders to the natural country through which it flows.
When we read “Thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not,” we do not think that people are to be transmuted into these material things. When we read, “There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God,” no one thinks that this river of gladness is of material water. Intuitively we think of it as the stream of life from the Lord, as it flows down into the hearts and minds of men. The river that went out of Eden is the same as the river of water of life that John saw in vision proceeding from the throne of God, in the way of which grew the tree of life, which bare all manner of fruit. The river of life in Revelation is this same stream of life that proceeds from God. Ezekiel’s vision of the stream that issued from under the altar of the Lord’s house, and which widened and deepened as it flowed on until it became a river that no man could pass over – what was it other than the Divine wisdom received by man and deepening as he learns to love and obey it, until it attains to what no finite mind can apprehend? In the literal story in Genesis the river as it enters Eden is nameless, symbolizing the infinite and inexpressible Divine wisdom, finiting itself to the ability of the human mind to receive it.
In general the human mind is formed of three degrees, which are called celestial, spiritual, and natural, but there is a fourth degree. It is the rational, which exists between the natural and the spiritual. As the Divine wisdom flows out from God to man, it is thus parted like the river of Eden into four heads to enter these four degrees of the mind, and wisdom is formed in these four degrees apprehensible to man. To water the garden is to bestow intelligence. The four heads of the river can be named.
The first is Pison. It “compasseth the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold; And the gold of that land is good: there is bdellium and the onyx stone.” The Hebrew word “Pison” means a “change” or “extension.” Spiritually the name stands for the operation of the Divine wisdom upon the human will. As this wisdom is received by the will, the will undergoes continual changes in its quality – constant improvement. And as this takes place, the Divine wisdom directs its affections in the performance of wide and extensive uses. This is Pison – change and extension. The description of the river tells what intelligence is and whence it comes. Where the river flowed there was gold. “And the gold of that land is good.” All real good is from the Lord’s love, and love is the life of man. The true life of man is from the Lord’s life, the river of water of life flowing into those who love what is good, giving intelligence. The bdellium and onyx represent the spiritual truths by which love operates, for love cannot accomplish anything except by means of truths to guide it. This first river illumines the mind with spiritual light, giving it the intelligence to see and acknowledge the Lord and the intelligence to see the verities of spiritual life, gifting the soul with the pure gold of the Divine love. We read in the writings, “Be it known moreover that there is no wisdom which is not from love, thus from the Lord; nor any intelligence except from faith, thus also from the Lord; and that there is no good except from love, thus from the Lord, and no truth except from faith, thus from the Lord” (A.C. 112).
The name of the second river is Gihon. Gihon means “grace.” “Grace” is a spiritual term, and relates to the understanding, to those who are guided by the love of truth rather than by the love of good. It is said of this second river, “the same is it that compasseth the whole land of Ethiopia.” Spiritually the river Gihon stands for the understanding’s perception, through the truth, of all the heavenly graces. Wisdom from the Lord is the only thing that enables the understanding to distinguish between the graces of heaven and the moralities and virtues of a well-ordered natural life. The grace of heavenly life is a quality that belongs to a purified understanding – an understanding that sees how to classify the virtues of life, distinguishing those that are merely moral and civil from those that are the result of the inflowing wisdom of God. Without knowledge of God, of His purposes, and of the spiritual world, the most that one can say is, “Who knows?” He into whom this river flows knows. And from spiritual intelligence one’s knowledge grows like trees planted by the river’s side.
The third river was Hiddekel. The word means “sharp voice.” The river Hiddekel flowed “toward the east of Assyria.” Assyria stands for the faculty of reason, the rationality that real intelligence and knowledge produce. It is the great Bible symbol of the rational mind. The rational is the seeing faculty, that power which enables us to analyze and to apply our knowledge. It is very sharp, keen to detect error and falsity. Rightly developed it leads us to acknowledge God. Hiddekel is the Lord’s life flowing in to enlighten that power of the mind, enabling it to look up to God and revelation.
Euphrates, the fourth stream from the river, means literally “to make fruitful.” The whole plane of the natural life, when it receives the guidance of Divine wisdom, is made fruitful in good works, as the true and ultimate expression of the heavenly life. Thus the Lord’s wisdom, flowing down into the natural plane of the mind, rendering it prolific in works of genuine charity, is Euphrates.
The story of the river of Eden which parted into four heads is the symbol way of telling us of the influence of the Divine wisdom upon every department of human life. There is a stream for the will, there is a stream for the understanding, there is a stream for the faculty of reason, and there is a stream for the natural plane of the mind. Thus the whole mind and life may be reached by the wisdom of the Lord which is adapted to reach, enlighten, and bless every plane of life.
This river still flows. It is the Word of God. If we look to it, study it, and obey it as we should, Ezekiel’s prophecy will be fulfilled for use on every plane of our lives:
“And it shall come to pass, that every thing that liveth, which moveth, whithersoever the rivers shall come, shall live.”