Meaning of Pishon in the Bible

The Pishon (Hebrew: פִּישׁוֹן‎‎ Pîšōn) is one of four rivers (along with Hiddekel (Tigris), Phrath (Euphrates) and Gihon)

The only mention of the word Pishon in the Bible is found in the book of Genesis: “A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers. The name of the first is the Pishon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. And the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there” (Genesis 2:10-12). It’s only when we compare the richness and beauty of the river to that of the Garden of Eden itself, that we are really able to discern the meaning of Pishon.

Besides the lone biblical reference, Pishon is mentioned in Sirach 24:25 of the Apocrypha. It is probably connected with the Hebrew root puwsh, which means “scatter, press on, break loose, or spring forward.” The River Pishon most likely originated from a spring and formed a delta. Jones’ Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names defines Pishon as “Great Diffusion.”

It is virtually impossible to determine where the Pishon River flowed during the pre-Flood era. The same is true for practically any location during that time, including Eden. Some scientists believe that the Pishon could be the Nile, the Indus, or the Ganges. There is simply no modern river that matches the description given in Genesis. Without question, the world’s topography prior to the worldwide Flood (Genesis 6:17) was totally different from what it is today.

Although Pishon’s location is obscure, its description and purpose are not. The Garden of Eden that God prepared was not only bountiful, it was lush and beautiful. It was a place rich with life-giving water, a land lavished with precious metals and jewels. The gold and onyx associated with the River Pishon are reminiscent of the tabernacle’s furnishings and priestly garments (Exodus 25:1-9; 1 Chronicles 29:2). Gold overlay finished the sacred furniture of the tabernacle (Exodus 25:11). Particularly important was the onyx stone of the priestly ephod, upon which were inscribed the names of the twelve tribes (Exodus 28:9-14), and the onyx of the high priest’s breastplate (Exodus 28:20).

The land of Havilah, ringed by the Pishon, is indicative of the presence and blessing of God. Furthermore, the Pishon and the other three rivers from Eden eventually marked the boundaries of the land pledged to Abraham (Genesis 15:18). As God had prepared and assigned Eden to Adam’s care, the “paradise” of Canaan’s land was given to Abraham and his descendants.

There is no question that the surface of the earth is grossly different today than it was prior to the flood (as mentioned here by and well-established by Whitcomb and Morris, in their 1961 book, The Genesis Flood.) However, Genesis 10:25 and first Chronicles 1:19 make no “clear” statement regarding the surface of the earth. Although many scholars have taken Peleg to mean earthquake, because the “earth was divided,” it is important to note there is another equally viable interpretation, which can be found in the ancient manuscript known as the Book of Jubilees.

Life-Giving Water

Life-Giving Water

Here, in chapters 8 and 9 (RH Charles 1917 translation), the story is told of Noah dividing the lands in the days of Peleg, by lot, amongst his three sons, Shem, Japheth, and Ham, who further divided their allotments amongst their 16 sons. Amidst these lots, islands and distant lands are described from north to south, which, if true, would probably suggest the dividing of the earth into continents as a primary result of the Genesis flood. It is notable that some historians have further claimed these allotments, as described in Jubilees, clearly fit with the general distribution of the various tribes or clans on the earth today.

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