Juan Ponce de Leon was born in Spain in 1474 as the grandson of a famous war hero and then distinguishing himself as a soldier in the war against the Moors. He joined Columbus on his second voyage to the new world in 1493, and was eventually named governor of Puerto Rico in 1508. During his stay here, Ponce de Leon began to hear incredible stories about a magical water source that restored youth in an area towards the north called Bimini.
Believing he had acquired enough information about the location of this Bimini, he sought permission from the King of Spain to find it and eventual set sail in the spring of 1512. After exploring many Caribbean islands including the Bahamas, Ponce de Leon came upon a beautiful shoreline with enormous trees and flowers of unrivalled beauty in late March of 1513. The natives of the area were 6-7 feet tall and lived well into their eighty's, where the average Spaniard was only 4"9" and rarely lived passed 50. Surely he had finally reached Bimini and the fountain of youth!
Unfortunately not! Though Ponce de Leon would be credited for discovering Florida on this trip, he never did find his fountain of youth. The irony of this extraordinary tale is that the Spanish explorer ultimately died of a poison spear wound he acquired during a skirmish with the natives in Florida. Though Ponce de Leon was cheated of his prize, finding only poison and death rather than the water of life, his quest has captured the imagination of our culture, for what is fame, what is power and riches if one can't ever evade death.
The location of Eden and the tree of life has intrigued mankind in the same way for more than three thousand years. Three of the world's largest religions believe Eden was the cradle of humanity, and the drama played out in the Eden story is nothing less than captivating. "And the Lord God said, Now that the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil, he must not be allowed to stretch out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever" Genesis 3:22. How many men and women through the millennium must have thought, "Would I, could I cheat death and judgment if I could eat from this tree"?
Our libraries and the internet are filled with ideas on where Eden might be, including Tibet and South America, but the majority of Bible scholars believe the location of this unusual orchard existed in one of two areas. The northern location is thought to be in Armenia or Eastern Turkey where the headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates reside. The area is also interesting because this is the final resting place of Noah's Ark, and some scholars have drawn elaborate maps of the river in Eden flowing down Mt Ararat into the four rivers mentioned in Genesis chapter 2. This makes for interesting musing among our dear Armenian brothers, but is really quite geographical implausible. This model is dubious because a few of these rivers, as we will soon learn, would have had to cross oceanic crust to get to their final destinations. For the purpose and scope of this study, let us simply state that this never happens. Yet some persist, and are still running around trying to find the remnants of those other two long forgotten rivers.
The southern and most widely accepted location of Eden is in Iraq or Kuwait where the Tigris and Euphrates empty out into the Persian Gulf. To reconcile the Biblical narrative that Eden's river fed into the headwaters of these four rivers and not the delta you have to imagine ancient peoples thinking that headwaters were like a serpent's head, and that they believed headwaters were where the water actually left the river. This is a ridiculous fabrication and in no way reflects our knowledge of the times and cultures surrounding Moses, who wrote the Genesis account.
To reconcile these difficulties, some have suggested that determining the location of Eden is impossible because of the devastation of the flood, and the changing geography described in Genesis 10:25. Yet after an honest reading of the Genesis 2 account, and knowing that the audience for this narrative is the Hebrew people that have just escaped captivity in Egypt, the description seems far to elaborate to be anything but a detailed report of where these four rivers were understood to emanated. The location of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers are undisputed. The problem scholars have had through the years is accepting the clearly defined location of these other two rivers. So where are they?
"The name of the first is Pishon; it runs through the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold. (The gold of that land is pure; pearls and lapis lazuli are also there)" (Genesis 2:11, 12). The name of the river Pishon itself is not very helpful, but the name of the people Havilah identifies the area. The people are Arabian, as the Havilah are referenced in Genesis 25:18, and 1 Samuel 15:7, and are thought to be one of the Joktanean tribes in northern Arabia. During the time of the Exodus, there was a location around Medina, towards the middle of the Arabian Peninsula, that was renowned for its pure gold and today remains the only location in Arabia where gold is still produced. Also, there's been a lot of buzz about an ancient river discovered through Shuttle Imaging Radar photos, which started in the Hijaz Mountains near Medina and flowed 530 miles northeast into the Persian Gulf off the coast of present-day Kuwait. This matches our Biblical and archeological information perfectly, so our first river mentioned in this Genesis 2 account was in Arabia, and the headwaters for this river would have been as far south as Medina.
The name of the second river is Gihon; it runs through the entire land of Cush (Genesis 2:13). Once again the name of the river itself is not very helpful to us, but this word Cush or Kuwsh in the Hebrew means black, and is mentioned 29 times in scripture. Cush invariably refers to Ethiopia, but this is really not so surprising as this area was well known among the Hebrew people, and they would have quickly identified the headwaters of the Nile to have originated here.
You can see the Bible scholar's dilemma! How do you connect rivers with headwaters in eastern Turkey, Arabia, and Ethiopia? How does this one river in Eden feed the headwaters of four rivers that are thousands of kilometers apart? The problem with these scholars perspective, however, is that they never asked themselves a far more fundamental question in the first place. How does one river ever feed the headwaters of four other rivers? Hydrology rarely works this way! The top of any river basin always has many rivers that funnel down into one river, not the other way around. A river doesn't spill a little bit of its water into one channel, go along a bit further and spill some more, until it feeds the headwaters of four different rivers. It empties itself out into that very first channel!
If we can solve the mystery of Eden's location, we need to stop thinking about a process of one river feeding four other rivers over the surface of the earth. This fact provides us with our first real clue in our treasure hunt, and is easily explained earlier in the Genesis 2 account. "Now no shrub of the field had yet grown on the earth, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted, for the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the earth, and there was no man to cultivate the ground. Springs would well up from the earth and water the whole surface of the ground" (Genesis 2:5, 6).
So if we can imagine the Eden River acting as the initial water resource, flowing down below the earth's surface to eventually feed the springs of every main river resource known to the Hebrew people. Every key river known to them other than the Jordan River which is suspiciously missing here, but we will address its absence later. If the four water heads were fed through some kind of sub-terrain process, it's possible that Eden could have been located anywhere, but finding the center of those four water heads might be a good place to start. Once again we're dealing with educated guesses here, but somewhere around Israel or Jordon wouldn't be a bad guess.
There are a few other hints in the Bible that can help us here. It says in Genesis 4:16 that "Cain went out from the presence of the Lord and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden", and then in 2Kings 19:12, and Isaiah 37:12 it mentions "the children of Eden which were in Telassar". So Eden must be somewhere west of Telassar, which is thought by modern archaeologists to have been in southern Assyria, due East of Israel. In fact, all of the Assyrian kingdom seems to be disqualified by Ezekiel 31, as the passage compares the greatness of Assyria with the trees of Eden - "Which of the trees of Eden was like you in majesty and loftiness?" (Ezekiel 31:18) If the grandeur of Eden was surpassed by Assyria, Eden could never have resided in any part of the kingdom. It's important to note here that Assyria had concurred all of Northern Israel, but Judah remained independent until the Babylonian captivity.
The Water of Life
There are many metaphors in the Bible that provide helpful descriptions of the Holy Spirit, like: The breadth of God, the wind, or the dove we see as we read about Jesus being baptized. The most pervasive metaphor throughout scripture, however, is "Water" or "Living Water". Jesus said, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. Just as the scripture says, From within him will flow rivers of living water. Now he said this about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were going to receive, for the Spirit had not yet been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified" (John 7:37-39).
Water finds an incredibly prominent role through the pages of scripture, with references of water, wells, springs and rivers being mentioned hundreds of times. Without delay, we see this prominence as water is immediately brought up in the first few verses of the Bible. "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was without shape and empty, and darkness was over the surface of the watery deep, but the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the water" (Genesis 1:1, 2). Notice here how the Spirit of God is differentiated from the "watery deep", or salt water oceans. This is an important principle of scripture, for the Holly Spirit is only ever associated with, clean, pure and moving waters. Dirty, stagnant, and salty waters mentioned in scripture are a portrait of sin!
The query we need to extract from this early reference of water is this: How is it that the Earth, which means dry land in Hebrew, is now covered with deep salt water? We are, by the way, still working on the question of Eden's location. But to answer the question of earths early salt water state, we might presume that there was an early flood before Noah's time as a result of the fall of Satan.
The word "Create" in Genesis 1:1 means to fabricate something out of nothing. Whereas the word "Make", used throughout the rest of the creation account speaks of an artist or craftsman fashioning something out of what is already there, as a potter would form vase on his potters' wheel. So, Genesis 1:1 is a reference to God original creation, Genesis 1:2 provide a picture of the earth after Satan's fall, and the rest of the chapter describes the regenerative process God takes the earth through in order to prepare the world for man.
A remarkable allusion can be drawn here, for we should remember that the extinction of the dinosaurs is thought to have occurred as a result of large meteorite colliding with the earth. This could have been Satan! Jesus said, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven" (Luke 10:18). And in the Ezekiel 28 account of Satan's fall it states, "Your heart was proud because of your beauty; you perverted your wisdom on account of your splendor. I threw you down to the ground; I placed you before kings, that they might see you. By the multitude of your iniquities, through the sinfulness of your trade, you desecrated your sanctuaries. So I brought out fire from within you; it consumed you and I turned you to ashes on the earth before the eyes of all who saw you" (Ezekiel 28:17, 18)
Regardless of the timing of the dinosaur's demise, the divine principle established here in these initial verses of scripture is this: Where there is sin, death and despair, God applies the living water, the cleansing and renewal agent of the Holy Spirit. We see this principle everywhere throughout scripture: After man's fall - the earth is deluged (Genesis 6-8), When the Israelites were dieing in the desert - Moses made water came out of a rock (Numbers 20), Before the Israelites could enter the Promised Land - they had to pass through the waters of the Jordan River (Joshua 3), Before a Priest could participate in the sacrificial system - they had to be washed in water (Leviticus 8:6), When Elijah humiliates the four hundred & fifty prophets of Baal, he poured out water on the alter of God (1 Kings 18), When Elisha asked for double Elisha's spirit, they walked through the waters together (2Kings 2). From the washing of animals about to be sacrificed, to the ceremonial cleansing of diseased people, water can be seen running throughout the pages of scripture.
Not only is water notably used throughout scripture for cleansing, restoration, and empowerment, the concept of springs or fountains of water welling up to satisfy the thirsty, supply us with an essential picture of the work and character of God. God is called "the fountain of life" in Psalms 36:9, Jeremiah 17:13, and He even calls himself the fountain of life in Jeremiah 2:11. The certain promise of fountains of water welling up in the desert to bless the people of Israel if they would only turn back to Him, are made time after time in: (Isaiah 41:19, Isaiah 43:20, Isaiah 44:3, Isaiah 49:10, Isaiah 58:11) And now, this very image of water welling up into the life of a believer is made in: (Matthew 3:11, Mark 1:8, John 1:26, John 7:37, Acts 11:15, Revelation 21:6) "But whoever drinks some of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again, but the water that I will give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up to eternal life" (John 4:14).
Human beings are made up of about 80% water, and every cell in our bodies requires it to survive. When we thirst, it seems as though we can feel each and every one of these cells crying out to be satisfied. One hundred percent of our eternal being is spiritual, and it longs to be united with its spiritual creator. Our soul thirsts for God because we were made to be with Him. Without God, our minds become dry and desolate, and live lives of utter futility.
Through Christ, we have unlimited access to the waters of the Holy Spirit, who refreshes our soul and brings meaning and value to our lives. God calls out to every despairing life, "Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat. Come buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labour on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare." (Isaiah 55:1, 2)
When God sends His Spirit for us to drink in, He does not send a little at a time. The child of God destiny is to be dunked or immersed in the river of the Holy Spirit and in doing so, is mystically transformed into the image of Christ. Paul reminds a church in Greece of this experience when he writes, "For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body - whether Jews or Greek, slave or free - and we were all given one Spirit to drink" (1Corinthians 12:13).
The River of Life
Moving back to our river in Eden, it seems abundantly clear that this river was far more than just your average river. It may have indeed been a physical river, but Eden's river was a type of the Holy Spirit, breathing life into the whole region surrounding the orchard with the tree of life. This type sees its antitype fulfilled in the New Jerusalem described in the book of Revelation. Here we see two trees of life on ether side of the river, rather than a tree of life and a tree of the knowledge of good & evil. "Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, water as clear as crystal pouring out from the throne of God and of the Lamb, flowing down the middle of the city's main street. On each side of the river is the tree of life producing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month of the year. Its leaves are for the healing of the nations" (Revelation 22:1, 2).
This fulfilled type of Eden's river in the New Jerusalem is prophesied in the Old Testament. We see a glimpse of this future "river of life" in Zechariah 14:8, but we find some real insight into the nature and purpose of this river in Ezekiel 47. In a vision, Ezekiel saw water from under the threshold of the temple, pouring out the south side and flowing toward the east (Ezekiel 47:1). This is the very same direction our river in Eden flows in the Genesis account. "The Lord God planted an orchard in the east, in Eden . . . Now a river flows from Eden to water the orchard" (Genesis 2:8, 10). Here we can imagine a region called Eden with the orchard planted in the eastern side of the region, and the river flowing from the west into the orchard in the east.
Later in the vision, Ezekiel sees trees on ether side of the river that marry the Genesis account together with the Revelation account. "When I had returned, on the banks of the river, on both sides, I saw a vast number of trees . . . On both sides of the river's banks, every kind of tree will grow for food. Their leaves will not wither nor will their fruit fail, but they will bear fruit every month, because their water source flows from the sanctuary, Their fruit will be for food and their leaves for healing." (Ezekiel 47:7, 12) Ezekiel pictures an orchard with many trees like the one we see in Genesis 2:9, and he also describes a monthly harvest and the fact that the leaves were for the healing as we see in Revelation 22:2, effectively tying the type together with the anti-type.
The Sea of Death
The river Ezekiel sees flowing from the temple heads eastward and when it hits the Dead Sea, the waters of this sea that epitomize death, explode with life. "These waters go out toward the eastern region and flow down into the Arabah; when they enter the sea, where the sea is stagnant, the waters become fresh. Every living creature which swarms where the river flows will live; there will be many fish, for these waters flow there. It will become fresh and everything will live where the river flows" (Ezekiel 47:8, 9). The vertical descent of this river is astonishing, from the top of Mount Moriah at about 2400 ft above sea level, down to the Dead Sea, the lowest elevation on the face of the earth at about 1400 ft below sea level. This is almost double the vertical drop of the highest water falls in the world, and gives us an image of the Holy Spirit being sent down from heaven to the nations - as salt water represents sin & death, and the sea is a figurative term in the Bible for the nations.
The waters of the Dead Sea couldn't hold any more salt than they do. They're absolutely saturated with about 1/3 of the waters content containing salt. This makes the water so heavy that even small waves hit the side of boats like hammers, and its density forces bobbing swimmers who attempt to dive down under the water back to the surface. Despite the high saline content of the Dead Sea, metal objects which you would expect to corrode quickly in a brackish environment like this, never seem to rust because there's absolutely no oxygen in the water. Fish that are swept down from the Jordon River die without delay as they enter into this sea, and there's a continual commotion of birds flying down from the sky to feast on their flesh as their dead bodies rise to the surface.
We will explore the purpose and imagery of animals throughout scripture in the following chapter, but this depiction of the fish and the birds needs some commentary. Or is the analogy so obvious that I need not elaborate? The fish are people and the birds are, "the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens" (Ephesians 6:12), and as we enter into the realm of sin, we die spiritually and become helpless victims to the forces of evil. If it were not for the river of life, this drama of death and enslavement to Satan scheme would play out forever.
If you haven't already caught on to the strong inferences made in this study, this is where we spell it all out. Eden was in Judah, and the river of Eden flowed down into what is now the Dead Sea. Many modern scholars do believe that Eden was located in the northern Persian Gulf area, but very few of them have degrees in geology, so they simply haven't understood other potential hydrologic mechanisms relating to Eden's location, and they've forced different locations for the first two rivers based on the Tigris and Euphrates river geography. It's clear where the first two rivers were when you focus on the Bible text. The scholars thought they had to contrive these other locations because they've only been able to conceptualize bringing all four of these rivers together above ground.
According to our model, if you were to send water down into the ground to ultimately feed what would become some of the greatest rivers in the world, one of the best place on the planet to do this would be to direct those waters into this Dead Sea rift, which descends down not only 1400 ft below sea level, but continues down another 1200 ft to the bottom of the sea. In fact, all of the rivers mentioned in Genesis 2 are in top of, or in close proximity to the "Great Rift Valley", which the Dead Sea is just a part of. The headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers come remarkably close together in area known as Elazig in Turkey, just 150 Km from the top of the Great Rift Valley in Kahramanmaras. The Great Rift Valley then moves down through Israel and south along both sides of the Red Sea, following the coast of western Arabia to supply Pishon in Medina. Then, continuing south into Africa the rift moves along both sides of Lake Victoria, which is the location of Gihon's headwaters or what is better know as The Nile.
If you think this is a remarkable insight, consider this: every one of these rivers listed here in Genesis chapter 2 would be the ultimate destiny of the exile and punishment of the Hebrew people as a result of their idolatry and unbelief. They were slaves beside the river Gihon before the Exodus, they would walk beside the waters of Pishon during their wondering in the wilderness, the 10 northern tribes were taken captive to the banks of the Tigris River during the Assyrian invasion, and Southern Israel was carried away to the shores of the Euphrates during the Babylonian captivity. These rivers had enormous spiritual implication, as though God was reaching out to them through His Spirit, nourishing and sustaining His people during their greatest times of tribulation. For these waters of encouragement emanated from their land of promise, and would restore a remnant to return back home. Why else would God call Abraham all the way from Ur of the Chaldees to this Promised Land, if it were not where the river of life once flowed and would flow again? Why else would the rivers of these other nations be mentioned in the Genesis account and not the Hebrews people's river, the Jordan River, unless the Jordan wasn't a noteworthy feature at this time?
I might even propose that the location of the Dead Sea is where Satan fell, and God was in the process of restoring this ground with "living water" before the fall of man. The Dead Sea rift is the deepest scar on dry land, and the tectonic plates under the ground are splintered like nowhere else in the world. Brimstone and flammable tar still rise up from the deep, checkering the surface of this pungent sea and together with the heat of the surrounding desert we see the Biblical lake of fire personified.
As a final evidence for this hypothesis of Eden's Judean location, we need to consider the burning sword God put in place to keep man from eating fruit from the tree of life. "So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubim's, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life" (Genesis 3:24). The word flaming here is "lahat" and might also be translated burning. The word used to describe how this burning sword moves around is, "haphak", and is used in Job 37:12 speaking of churning clouds, and also in Judges 7:13 speaking of a tumbling roll of bread.
So to locate our burning sword, we need to find a geographical barrier that would act as a deterrent to anyone attempting to access the tree of life, burns like fire, and churns like clouds or tumbles like a roll of bread. A body of water certainly churns like clouds and tumbles like a roll of bread, and you could even imagine how the waves on the surface could be perceived to be like swords moving back and forth. If our Genesis 3 burning sword is a body of water, the Dead Sea would be a good candidate because its waters burn your eyes, nose and throat like fire. Also, as incredible as it may sound, radar enhanced satellite imaging of the Dead Sea area show the previous extent of this body of water and how it use to look just like a sword.
Jesus and the Tree of Life
If the Dead Sea is indeed the burning sword of Genesis 3:24, the ramifications are astonishing, and would effect everything we understand about the Bible and Bible prophecy. Initially, I believed that the tree of life is submerged somewhere under the sea of death, painting a pristine portrait of the gospel message, eternal life is offered to those who are baptized through the waters of death. Exceptional analogy, but it's not true because it doesn't really follow the description we see in Genesis. Here we read that, "the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil were in the middle of the orchard" (Genesis 2:9) and that the Cherubim's and burning sword were placed at the east of the garden (Genesis 3:24). So where was the tree of life?
Ezekiel was called up to the river bank four thousand cubits from the temple, where he found a vast number of trees (Ezekiel 47:7). This is about 2 km or 1.2 miles from the temple, and would place us in the Mount of Olives. This is a very significant place in scripture as: Ezekiel had a vision of God and the cherubim here (Ezekiel 11:22-23), Jesus made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem from here (Luke 19:28-44), Jesus gave his Olivet discourse from here (Matthew 24:1-51), Jesus was arrested here (Luke 22:49-51), and Jesus ascended into heaven from here (Acts 1:1-12). The Mount of Olives is also where Jesus is prophesized to return (Acts 1:11).
Just a little east of this point, on the south-east slope of the Mount of Olives is Bethany, where Jesus made his Judean home. Here Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead to demonstrate to the world that he was indeed the tree of life (John 11:1-44). If this incident is matched together with his cursing of the fig tree in Bethany, which could be representative of cursing the "tree of knowledge of good and evil", the tree of life would have originally been located in the Bethany area.
But how do we deal with the river of life? If Bethany was the location of the tree of life, how does this river of life flow down from the temple on Mount Moriah and go up through the Mount of Olives which rises 60 meters above the Kidron Valley? There will be an earthquake and the Mount of Olives will be split in two when Jesus returns. "Then the Lord will go to battle and fight against those nations, just as he fought battles in ancient days. On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives which lies to the east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in half from east to west, leaving a great valley. Half the mountain will move northward and the other half southward. Then you will escape through my mountain valley, for the mountains will extend to Azal. Indeed, you will flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of King Uzziah of Judah. Then the Lord my God will come with all his holy ones with him" (Zechariah 14:3-5).
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