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. The 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.