Jordan River

Place name meaning, “the descender.”

River forming geographical division separating eastern and western tribes of Israel. It is the longest and most important river of Palestine. It rises from the foot of Mount Hermon and flows into the Dead Sea. The Jordan Valley proper is a strip approximately 70 miles long between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. The valley is divided by various rivers and wadis (small streams) into a number of geographically distinguishable sections. Due to the twists and turns of its course, the full length of the river is more than 200 miles. Its headwaters lie more than 1,000 feet above sea level, and its mouth nearly 1,300 feet below sea level. Through its descending course the river passes through a variety of climatic zones, as well as different types of terrain.

Several major tributaries (e.g., Yarmuk, Jabbok) flow into the Jordan, emptying almost as great an amount of water as the Jordan itself. The deltas of these streams are always fertile areas that widen the extent of land that can be cultivated in the valley. Many cities of antiquity were built close to the point of juncture of the tributaries and the main rivr.

The Jordan River and Jordan Valley played an important role in a number of memorable events from both the Old Testament and the New Testament. The first mention of the Jordan in the Bible occurs in the story of Abram and Lot. Lot, upon his separation from Abram, chose for himself “all the plain of Jordan” (Gen. 13:11). Jacob wrestled with his adversary at the ford of the Jabbok (Gen. 32:22-26).

Under the leadership of Joshua, Israel crossed the Jordan “on dry ground” (Josh. 3:15-17). During the period of the judges and the early monarchy, the possession of the fords of the Jordan more than once meant the difference between defeat and victory. The Jordan was a strong line of defense, not to be easily forded. The Jordan River is also featured in the miracles of Elijah and Elisha.

The essential story of the Gospels begins at the Jordan River. It was there that John the Baptist came preaching the coming kingdom of heaven. The most important New Testament event relating to the Jordan is the baptism of Jesus, which was performed by John the Baptizer (Mark 1:9). The first part of Jesus’ ministry was centered in and around the Sea of Galilee. The second part of His ministry followed as he pursued His course down the east side of the Jordan Valley. There He performed new miracles, and spoke to the multitudes in parables, especially those of the collection in Luke 12-18. ----

Philip Lee

Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary
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