Genesis 2:5 says that no shrub yet existed in the earth and no field plant had sprouted for two reasons. The first is that “Yahweh God had not caused rain upon the earth,” and the second is that “there was no man to serve the soil.” Then v. 6 explains that “a spring used to rise from the earth and water the whole face of the soil,” answering the first problem. Verse 7 answers the second problem by the creation of man, the gardener.
This is the first reference to rain in the Bible, and rain is not mentioned again until the story of the Flood, where the phrasing is very similar: “For after seven more days, I am causing rain on the earth” (Gen. 7:4). The Bible implies, but does not state, that God never sent rain until the Flood, which has been taken by creation scientists as a clue to the nature of the antediluvian world. Whatever the value and/or limitations of such a use of Genesis 2:5-6 and 7:4, we want to ask why God set up the world this way. Why are we told that God did not send rain but instead caused water to spring up from the ground?
The Hebrew word ‘ed, which I have translated “spring,” only occurs one other place in the Bible besides Genesis 2:6, and that instance (Job 36:27) does not help with the translation here. While some versions give “mist,” the ancient Greek and Latin versions give “spring,” which makes the most sense. Most commentators agree with Gordon Wenham, who writes that “spring” “fits in with the more likely etymology of the word from Sumerian/Akkadian, id, which represents the cosmic river” (Gordon Wenham, Genesis 1-15 [Waco: Word, 1987], p. 58).
Very well: The land and garden of Eden were watered by a spring. Why call attention to the fact that God did not send rain? Why not just mention the spring and leave off the statement about rain? The reason, I believe, is to call our minds back to Genesis 1:2-9. We find in Genesis 1:2 that there was an ocean over the original earth. Then God created the firmament, and separated the waters above from the waters below. On the third day God gathered the waters below into areas below the surface of the land.
Now we have a clear distinction between waters above the firmament, the source of rain, and waters below, which would have to come up from under the earth. Both Genesis 1:2-9 and 2:5-6 set up the distinction eschatologically; ground water comes first, and then heavenly water.
With this distinction in mind, we can begin to see rather clear associations between ground water and the first creation, which is earthy and Adamic, and heavenly water with the second creation, which is heavenly and Last Adamic: “The Spiritual [world order] is not first, but the natural [world order]; then the Spiritual [world order]. The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second Man is from heaven. As is the earthy, so also are those who are earthy; and as is the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly” (1 Cor. 15:46-48).
Ground water is associated with the first world, the world defiled by sin. Originally the land of promise centered on the “circle of the Jordan,” which “was well watered everywhere–before Yahweh destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah–like the garden of Yahweh, like the land of Egypt as you go to Zoar” (Gen. 13:10). This Edenic spot was chosen by Lot, who went for the obvious blessing of ground water — so much more reliable than rain, which must be prayed for. Notice that Gen. 13:10 interjects the statement that God would soon destroy this area. Why is that mentioned? I believe it is to point to the fact that ground water is not going to be the place of salvation. The waters below, the original garden of Eden, cannot be recovered. We shall have to move forward to the eschatological waters above and the heavenly Jerusalem.
Just so, Moses contrasts the old land of Egypt, watered from the ground, with the promised land, which is watered by rain: “For the land, into which you are entering to possess it, is not like the land of Egypt from which you came, where you used to sow your seed and water it with your foot like a vegetable garden. But the land … drinks water from heaven’s rain” (Dt. 11:10-11). Moses quotes God’s promise, “I will give the rain for your land in its season, the early and late rain” (Dt. 11:14).
As I pointed out in Chariots of Water: An Exploration of the Water-Stands of Solomon’s Temple , the laver in the Tabernacle and the bronze ocean in the Temple stood off the ground and thus represented heavenly water. This was the water for cleansing and baptism. The rivers that flow from the Temple in Ezekiel 47, Zechariah 14, and Revelation 22 are flowing from these heavenly containers. Alexander Schmemann, the Russian Orthodox theologian, has argued that baptism is by immersion into the creation, and joins man to the cosmos from which sin has alienated him. This is fundamentally incorrect. Baptism is by sprinkling with heavenly rain, which joins us to Christ, and thereby restores us to dominion over the cosmos.
Sin defiled the first creation, so that our hope lies in the eschatological and heavenly world to come. We need to be baptized from the heavenly ocean by sprinkling with holy rain, not to be immersed back into the first earthy ocean.
1. Most modern commentators draw from the fact that Eden and the Garden were watered by springs the notion that Eden was low ground and that it existed in Mesopotamia. Some even suggest that the four rivers of Gen. 2:10-14 did not flow out of Eden but flowed into it, forming one great river. Exegetically, however, this is very unlikely. Also, the Ark rested in the mountains of Ararat, a high place, and routinely the other garden-sanctuaries and places of worship in the Bible are said to be mountains or high places. I have dealt with this more in Through New Eyes, pp. 150ff. Eden was a plateau, the highest place on earth, and the ground water was springs that came up in that place.
2. The first time it rained in the Bible was at the Flood. Perhaps it rained before this, but theologically speaking the first “rain from heaven” was at the Flood. Let us probe the significance of this. Rain comes from heaven. Too much rain is dangerous to mankind and constitutes a judgment, as does frozen rain (the plague of hail; Ex. 9:22-35). Water from above is, thus, judgmental. It is judicial. In the Levitical law, it sprinkles the righteous, judges and cleanses him of sin and contracted ceremonial death (uncleanness). It hails upon the wicked and drowns him.
The ground waters are in subjection to the heavenly waters. Gentle rains produce streams in the desert and water the land of God. The heavy rains of the Flood were accompanied by vast amounts of ground water. “On the same day all the fountains of the great deep burst open and the windows of the heavens were opened and the rain came upon the earth for forty days and forty nights” (Gen. 7:11-12). When the Flood was announced, however, it was announced in terms of rain only (Gen. 7:4). Similarly, the hail on Egypt was followed by Pharaoh’s drowning in the Red Sea, while God’s sprinkled baptismal rain from heaven upon the Israelites as they passed through the sea dry-shod (Ps. 77:17-19).
In Genesis 1-2, part of the reason it had not rained is because it remained to be seen whether man would sin or not. Grains could have sprouted in such a way as to be relatively labor-free; instead, harvesting grain is labor-intensive (by the sweat of the brow). Similarly, the rain could have been gentle, or it could have been stormy and full of hail. Because of sin, the latter is often the case, and the first instance we see of it is at the Flood. (In the film, The Bible: In the Beginning, it storms on Adam and Eve as they are expelled from the garden. Good theology, even if not true historically.)
3. Finally, we should see that the water in the ground of the garden is associated with Eve. What Adam was to guard was the Garden, and preeminently Eve, its mistress. This is precisely what he refused to do. Later in the Bible, new Adams meet their Eves at wells, and defend them there. Eliezar met Rebekah at a well, and brought her home to Isaac (Gen. 24:11ff.). Jacob met Rachel at a well, and unsealed it for her — a sign as it turned out of his coming marriage to her (Gen. 29:10-11). Good Shepherd Moses met Zipporah at a well and defended her against bad shepherds (Ex. 2:16-19).
All of these women were outsiders, who were married by representatives of the Messianic line (compare also Joseph, Samson, Solomon, etc). The spring in Eden flowed out to other lands; the messiahs of the Old Testament married foreign women. In fulfillment, Jesus spoke to an outsider Samaritan woman at a well, asked her about her husband(s), and in so doing offered Himself as True Husband to her and her people (John 4:1-22). He associated the water He offered with the Spirit whom He would give (John 4:10, 23-24; 7:37-39).
I’ve discussed this marital imagery briefly in connection with the Laver of Cleansing in Chariots of Water, but here let me add that meeting earthly wives at wells (ground water) is part of the first creation. In heaven there is neither marrying nor giving in marriage, for all are married to the Divine Husband. Thus, the well at which Jesus meets us is heavenly water, the Spirit. As the spring watered the Garden and grew the fruitful trees, so the marriage of woman and man is to be fruitful on earth, and the marriage of Jesus and God’s Daughter (humanity) is to be fruitful unto eternity.
Lastly, the care with which a gardener directs water to cause plants to flourish should be seen as instructive of how a husband should care for his wife and family. One does not grasp or force water, and neither can a man grasp or force his wife.
James Jordan is scholar-in-residence at Theopolis.