8 And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed.
9 And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
10 And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads.
11 The name of the first is Pison: that is it which compasseth the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold;
12 And the gold of that land is good: there is bdellium and the onyx stone.
13 And the name of the second river is Gihon: the same is it that compasseth the whole land of Ethiopia.
14 And the name of the third river is Hiddekel: that is it which goeth toward the east of Assyria. And the fourth river is Euphrates.
Eden (v.8) = delight
Here reference is made for the first time to “the garden of Eden”—though a careful reading bears out that “Eden”—meaning “delight” in Hebrew—is not in fact that name of the garden, but rather of the larger are within which the garden was planted. The idea thus emerging from these verses is that of increasing benefit or “good” as one draws closer to the center—that is to say, to the center of the garden at which were located the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (i.e., the ability to make moral distinction), both of which find their exclusive source in God. Indeed, it is in the garden, in the proximity of trees, that God later manifests Himself in order to “stroll” with the first couple and instead finds them hiding behind the trees (3:8). Not surprisingly, this pattern of what may be called “concentric circles of increasing benefit” also appears in the layout of the Temple, for just as one there draws closer to the center (i.e., the Holy of Holies), so too does one draw closer both to the locus of priestly work (i.e., the altar and sanctuary proper/holy pace) and, at the same time, to the presence of God (i.e., the “cloud” of “glory” which would “rest” over the Holy of Holies; cf. Exodus 40:34). So too, we are told, the garden was planted toward the east, which phrase in Hebrew is literally “from the east,” the idea being that the entrance to the garden was “toward” the east, and thus to go into the garden you would walk in from the east (i.e., heading west) whereas to leave you would walk out from the west (i.e., heading east, as in Genesis 3:24)—which orientation is precisely reflected in the Temple, in the manner in which one enters and draws further into the Sanctuary and its inner recesses (see also Ezekiel 43:4, where we are told that the “glory” of the Lord will return “by the way of the gate facing toward the east”). This pattern culminates, finally, in the new heavens and new earth (i.e., the new Creation) as presented in the last two chapters of Revelation, where the New Jerusalem takes the place of Eden, with God the Son there at its “center” in place of the Temple. We are thus presented with yet another biblical “frame,” or inclusio, intended to highlight the purpose of redemption history intervening [between?] the Fall and the Final Creation—to wit, to bring mankind fully back to that which we lost: intimate access to the presence of God, and not just for only a short time (such as the Levites, and in particular the High Priest, during their term of service), but for each one of us who are God’s children, forever. — Wechsler, pages 78-81.
It seems likely that the man (Adam=man) had been created somewhere in the world outside of Eden, but was able to observe God in this special work preparing this beautiful garden for his home. The garden was planted “eastward” (Adam’s location at that time being somewhere west of Eden) in the land of Eden, and then God placed Adam there in the garden. Adam’s firs knowledge of his Creator thus would be on one who loved him and carefully and abundantly provided for him. — Morris, page 87.
The next thing we see is that God put two special trees in the garden. They are the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This is the first mention of evil in the Bible. The tree of life is so powerful that even a mortal man eating of it would live forever. It is interesting that the fruit of the tree of life will be available to us again one day, in the New Jerusalem that God puts in His new heaven and new earth.
It is very difficult to understand the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It is not possible that the tree could itself actually be evil or contain harmful substances. Otherwise, God could not have looked at the world and said it was very good. — Taylor, page 88
In general, it is evident that the geography described in these verses does not exist in the present world, nor had it ever existed since the Flood. The rivers and countries described were antediluvian geographical features, familiar to Adam, the original author of this part of the narrative. They were all destroyed, and the topography and geography completely changed, when “the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished” (2 Peter 3:6).
This means, in turn, that the names which seem to be postdiluvian (Ethiopia, Assyria, Tigris, Euphrates) were originally antediluvian names. The names were remembered by the survivors of the Flood and then given to people or places in the postdiluvian world, in memory of those earlier names of which they were somehow reminded later.
It is worth noting that the primeval land of Havilah was said to be a land rich in gold, precious stones (though the exact nature of the so-translated “onyx stone” is uncertain), and a precious gum called bdellium (likened to the miraculous substance called “manna” in Numbers 11:7). Havilah later was a name given to a son of Cush (Genesis 10:7) and a son of Joktan (Genesis 10:29), the first a descendant of Ham and the other of Shem. Evidentally both these sons were named after the antediluvian Havilah (a name believed to mean “Sandland”); so it seems that this rich primeval land had made a great impression on the sons of Noah.
Since this account was written in both the past tense (v.10, referring to the garden) and the present tense (vs.11-14, describing the rivers and regions), there is at least a hint that, when Adam wrote this account, the garden in Eden had somehow already been removed. — Morris, pages 89-90.
bdellium (v.12) The word is found only in Genesis 2:12 and Numbers 11:7 and as the translators did not translate, we may safely conclude that they did not know what it was. The Septuagint translates the latter by “krystallos,” which means “ice,” but there is no reason to think that it refers to a mineral at all. Some treat it under the minerals and some under the botany of the Bible. While some regard it as a precious stone, others regard it as the gum of the Balsomodendron. Josephus and the Vulgate think of a sort of aromatic gum. Scholars do not know the etymology of the word “bedolach.” In all probability it is from the verb “badal,” divide, separate. Modern medical science speaks of “Bdellium” as a gum, resin from a tree of India, and another kind from a palm of Africa. It, therefore, must have some medicinal value, and this also points to a plant. — Bultema, page 9.
The purpose [of the description of the garden) is to further emphasize the parallels … between the garden, the Temple, and the New Jerusalem—and thus to further emphasize Israel’s calling to live out the “garden” ideal of humanity and, ultimately, the attainment of this ideal when the “Sons of God”—redeemed Jew and Gentile—are finally redeemed in body and purified in mind, and “creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption” (Romans 8:21). As in the garden, we see precious gems and stones concentrated in the Temple (Exodus 25–27), and as in the garden, where the source of the four rivers present an emphatic symbol of life and abundance (especially to a Middle-Eastern reader), so too did water play a central role in facilitating the ritual service of the Temple—and as a symbol of life especially in the “water-libation” ceremony of the great concluding day of the Feast of Tabernacles, which is almost certainly when Jesus Himself stood up at one point and, carrying over the symbolism of this ceremony, declared that “he who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘from his innermost being shall flow rivers of living (i.e., unending) water'” (John 7:38); and in connection with the Third Temple we read that, in actuality, a true river of living water would flow out “from under the threshold of the sanctuary” and bring life to the Dead Sea and the wilderness around it so that it would once more be like “the garden of the Lord” (see Ezekiel 47:1-12 with Genesis 13:10). and in the New Jerusalem, finally, precious gems are likewise present in abundance (Revelation 21:10-21), as are the waters of the river of Life that flows out “from the throne of God,” flanked on either side by the overspreading branches of the Tree of Life (Revelation 22:1-2). — Wechsler, pages 80-81.
As I work through Genesis, I’m noticing that many of the commentary writers seem to be on the defensive. They’re trying to interpret Genesis in a way that contradicts the arguments of evolutionists and skeptics. Whether that’s the reason that their commentaries feel largely superficial or not, I don’t know. But then there’s Wechsler, who dives in so much deeper and makes his arguments strictly from Scripture and (for the most part) without reference to opposing views.
For example, in this study, both Morris and Taylor interpret “eastward” in verse 5 as simply meaning that Adam was created somewhere to the west. But that would seem, at best, to be trivial information. Wechsler, by digging into the meaning of the word, compares the garden to the Temple and the New Jerusalem, which not only makes much more sense but is much more satisfying.