The Hebrew term na·harʹ refers to a river, that is, a considerable body of water that flows fairly constantly in a natural channel. In contrast, a wadi, or torrent valley (Heb., naʹchal), is often dry but at times carries a turbulent flow of water. Among the main rivers mentioned in the Bible are the Hiddekel (Tigris), Euphrates, Jordan, Abanah, and Pharpar. (Ge 2:14; 2Ki 5:10, 12) The Nile, though not designated by that name, is referred to as yeʼorʹ (sometimes yeʼohrʹ), which is understood to mean also a stream or canal (Isa 33:21) or a water-filled shaft or gallery. (Job 28:10) The context makes it apparent when the terms yeʼorʹ or yeʼohrʹ designate the Nile; therefore, the name Nile appears in Bible translations.—Ge 41:17, 18.
The Euphrates is often simply called “the River.” (Jos 24:2, 3; Ezr 8:36; Isa 7:20; 27:12; Mic 7:12) Being the longest and most important river of SW Asia, the Euphrates was “the great river” to the Hebrews. (Ge 15:18) Therefore, its being referred to as “the River” resulted in no ambiguity.
King David, with the help of Jehovah, was able to extend the boundaries of the Promised Land as far as the Euphrates. (1Ch 18:3-8) Concerning his son Solomon, it was stated: “He will have subjects from sea to sea and from the River [Euphrates] to the ends of the earth.” (Ps 72:8) In Zechariah’s prophecy these words are repeated and point forward to the earth-wide rulership of the Messiah.—Zec 9:9, 10; compare Da 2:44; Mt 21:4, 5.
The first river mentioned in the Bible is the one that apparently had its source in Eden and watered the garden that Jehovah provided as a home for Adam and Eve. This river broke up into four headwaters, which, in turn, resulted in rivers, the Pishon, the Gihon, the Hiddekel, and the Euphrates. The regions (Havilah, Cush, and Assyria) referred to in connection with these four rivers existed in the post-Flood period. (Ge 2:10-14) So it appears that the writer of the account, Moses, used terms familiar in his day to indicate the location of Eden’s garden. For this reason it cannot be established with certainty whether what is said about the courses of the Pishon, Gihon, and Hiddekel applies to the post-Flood period or to the pre-Flood period. If the description relates to the time before the Flood, the Flood itself may well have contributed to changing the courses of these rivers. If to the post-Flood period, other natural phenomena, such as earthquakes, may since have altered their courses, hindering the identification of some.
Figurative Use. Rivers served as a barrier to the progress of enemy forces and played a vital role in the defense of certain cities, such as Babylon. Jerusalem, however, had no river as a natural means of defense. Nevertheless, Jehovah God was described as being the source of a mighty river of protection to that city. Enemies that might come against Jerusalem like a hostile galley fleet would experience disaster.—Isa 33:21, 22; see GALLEY.
The disastrous flooding of a river is used to represent the invasion of enemy forces.—Isa 8:7.
Water is necessary for life, and Jehovah is referred to as the Source of living water. (Jer 2:13) But apostate Israelites turned their attention to Egypt and to Assyria. That is why Jehovah, through his prophet Jeremiah, said: “What concern should you have for the way of Egypt in order to drink the waters of Shihor? And what concern should you have for the way of Assyria in order to drink the waters of the River? . . . Know, then, and see that your leaving Jehovah your God is something bad and bitter.” (Jer 2:18, 19) Evidently the waters from human sources that are looked to as being vital to one’s existence are also referred to at Revelation 8:10 and 16:4.