Barry Newman's Blog

March 20, 2011

Science and Genesis 2: 4 – 3: 24 (part XV)

Filed under: Genesis,Science — barrynewman @ 9:50 pm

Genesis 2: 10-14 – the rivers (cont.)

What of the significance of this understanding, theologically?  The water of the garden coming from four rivers could be interpreted as an obvious indication of how blessed the garden is – that the focus of God’s blessing is the garden, not the world. The idea that the four rivers is seen to be an indication of God’s blessing to the world is a little strange since the world outside of the garden turns out, one way or another, not to be as pleasant as the world inside the garden.  It is also a little odd if the world is understood to be a reference to the peoples or nations of the world, when such have in no way yet been referred to in the account.

One cannot fail to be struck by the attempts of the writer/narrator to portray the four rivers as real rivers.  However, they seem to have little part to play in the overall account.  Why go to such attempts to identify the two “unknown” ones?  Even our identification of the Tigris seems to require a little help. To convince us of their reality and their actual locality the writer/narrator makes references to “gold”, bdellium”, “onyx”, “Havilah” and “Cush”. Could it be that the effort put into identifying these rivers and outlining the relationship between the one river, the four rivers and the garden is the writer’s/narrator’s attempt to state something significantly theological? If the association of the four rivers with the garden is intended to convey the idea that the garden is, at least in principle, the source of God’s blessing to the world, then that would be the theological point. But the broader context is one in which the garden is central, not the world.  And the garden is central if the four rivers flow into it. The garden is then seen to be the focus of God’s blessing and this understanding has considerable significance for what is about to unfold.  It is a wonderfully fruitful garden, a garden ready to receive first man and first woman. I think that Kidner’s proposal is not unlikely. Besides, geographically, it makes sense.

No monarch of the ancient world had a garden the size of God’s garden.  No monarch of the ancient world had a garden so liberally supplied with water as God’s garden did. No monarch of the ancient world had such extraordinary trees like those two special trees in God’s garden.  The existence of rulers in the ancient world does not warrant mentioning until much later in Genesis.  There really is only one great king and that king is God – Yahweh Elohim.  His people had to remember that and live with that knowledge constantly in mind.

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