"The Rich Valley" (Isa. 28.1)
George Adam Smith (1894) called the Jezreel Valley the "battle-field
of empires," and "the prey and pasture of Arabs" who each
spring invaded the valley from the east (Smith, p. 249). The central role
of the Jezreel Valley is the result of its unique position across the mountains
of Palestine. The Holy Land is sectioned into four parallel zones comprising
the coastal plain, the central hill country, the Jordan Valley, and the
eastern hill country (Transjordan). Thus the main lines of communication
run in a north-south direction, except in Galilee where a series of five
east-west valleys break through the central Galilean mountain range. The
first is the Jezreel Valley, which marks the southern limit of Lower Galilee.
These valleys carried the main lines of east-west communication and were
the focus of both local and international concern.
The rich alluvial soil of the Jezreel Valley has always produced fine crops
of wheat and barley. Even so, the valley is remembered more for the roads
that crossed it in every direction: west from the Plain of Acco, northeast
from the Sea of Galilee, east from the Jordan Valley, south from the Dothan
Valley, and southwest from the coast through the Carmel passes. At the entrance
to the middle Carmel pass stood the ancient site of Megiddo, which was the
focus of many battles in antiquity (see Selected Views).
Before 1930, the Kishon River flowed through a deep bed in marshy ground
that became dangerous to those who tried to cross it. When Edward Robinson
described the Jezreel Valley early in the 19th century, he said that the
channel of the Kishon River had in some places sunk 15 or 20 feet below
the level of the plain. Another early explorer to Palestine, John Newman
(1876), put the depth of the Kishon during the rainy season from 4 to 8
feet and said that it was from 10 to 40 feet wide. These descriptions remind
us of the War of Deborah, when the "torrent Kishon swept them away,
the on rushing torrent, the torrent Kishon" (Judg. 5:21; see Selected
Jesus must have passed through the Jezreel Valley many times as his family
traveled between Nazareth and Jerusalem and as he traveled from city to
city during the years of his formal ministry. The day after Jesus healed
a centurion's servant in Capernaum, he came to a village in the Jezreel
Valley called Nain. Approaching the city's gates, he came upon the funeral
procession of the only son of a widow of Nain. And Jesus had "compassion
on her and said to her, 'Do not weep."' After Jesus raised the boy
from the dead, "Fear seized them all; and they glorified God, saying,
'A great prophet has arisen among us!' and 'God has visited his people!"'
(Luke 7:11 - 17).
Selected Views of the Jezreel Valley
Since ancient times, Mount Carmel has been considered a holy mountain. In
Egyptian documents dating from the 18th and 19th dynasties (ca. 1567-1200
s.c.), Mt. Carmel is called Rosh Kadesh, or the "Holy Cape." The
Bible describes the beauty and fertility of Mount Carmel as the "majesty
of Carmel" and compares its fertility to Lebanon, Bashan, Gilead, and
the Plain of Sharon (Isa. 35:2; Jer.50:19). The monastery of Elijah (upper
center) over looks the western section of the Jezreel Valley (upper left).
This is the traditional site of Elijah's contest with the priests of Baal,
where "the fire of the Lord fell, and consumed the burnt offering,"
and the people cried, "The Lord, he is God." After the contest,
Elijah brought the priests of Baal "down to the brook Kishon [in the
valley], and killed them there" (1 Kgs. 18:38-40).
The Jezreel Valley has been the focus of many conflicts. It has been called
the battlefield of nations, and prophets predicted that it would be the
place where nations would assemble for the final conflict taking place at
the coming of the Messiah, "at the place which is called in Hebrew
Armageddon" (Rev. 16:14-21). Megiddo (center) is first mentioned in
the annals of _ Thutmose III, king of Egypt, who defeated a Canaanite coalition
here in 1468 B.C. According to Thutmose, "capturing Megiddo is as good
as capturing a thousand cities." The reason was Megiddo's strategic
location at one of the key entrances to the Jezreel Valley. Megiddo was
fortified by King Solomon in the 10th century B.C. (1 Kgs 9:15), and was
the site of a battle in which King Josiah was killed by the army of Pharaoh
Necho in 609 B.C.
Mount Tabor rises 1,843 feet above sea Ievel and is the highest mountain
in Lower Galilee. Because of its height and isolation in the valley, the
biblical writers compared Mount Tabor to Mount Carmel (Jer. 46:18) and to
Mount Hermon (Ps. 89:12), the two most prominent peaks in the Holy Land.
Mount Tabor was the meeting place of the men of Naphtali and Zebulun before
their battle with the Canaanites in the valley below. At the start of the
battle, "Barak went down from mount Tabor with ten thousand men following
him. And the LORD routed Sisera and all his chariots and all his army"
(Judg. 4:6-14). By capturing the Jezreel Valley, succeeded in uniting the
northern and southern tribes of Israel.
The hill of Moreh, in the Jezreel Valley is where Gideon and 300 men defeated
the Midianites. As Gideon's men descended the hill they cried, "A sword
for the LORD and for Gideon!" (Judg. 7: 1, 20). They chased the Midianites
east toward the Jordan Valley and Gilead (Transjordan). South of the hill
of Moreh was the biblical city of Shunem (the modern village is just visible
in the picture). Here the Philistines gathered to fight King Saul whose
army was at Mount Gilboa (1 Sam. 28:4; 31). Shunem was also the town in
which Elisha raised the widow's son from the dead (2 Kgs. 4:8-37).
Bible Study - Jezreel Valley
The Jezreel Valley presented a special problem for Israel. Not only was
it extremely fertile and important for agriculture, it was also the crossroads
of Canaan. When the children of Joseph complained that the hill country
was not big enough for them, Joshua responded by suggesting they clear the
forest lands of Mount Ephraim. The children of Joseph then revealed what
they really wanted, which were the lands of the plain where the Canaanites
dwelt with their chariots of iron, "both those in Beth-shean and its
villages and those in the Valley of Jezreel." Joshua repeated that
the children of Joseph would still have to cut down the forests. He also
said that after clearing the forests, they would possess the hill country
"to its farthest borders." This included the valleys, for the
Israelites were to "drive out the Canaanites, though they had chariots
of iron, and though they are strong" (Josh. 17:13-18). This incident
was only the beginning of problems, as the Jezreel Valley seems to have
been in the hands of the Canaanites until the War of Deborah (Judg. 4-5).
After that time the tribes of Israel still had to contend with raiding bedouins
such as the Midianites the Amalekites, and other "people of the east"
(Judg. 6:3). Thus the Jezreel Valley was both a blessing and a curse to
the children of Israel, depending on the faithfulness to God.
-- Judg. 4-5. Deborah and Barak defeated the Canaanites in the
-- Judg. 6. Gideon and his small army delivered Israel from the Midianites:
"For whenever the Israelites put in seed the Midianites and the Alnalekites
and the people of the East would come up and attack them."
-- 1 Sam. 31. The Philistines gathered in the Jezreel Valley before the
battle with King Saul, in which he and his son Jonathan were killed and
their bodies hung on the walls of Beth-shan (see Lower Jordan Valley).
-- 1 Kgs. 18:42,46. Elijah ran through the Jezreel Valley from Mount Carmel
to the city of Jezreel. I
-- 1 Kgs. 21:1-14. King Ahab had his winter palace in the Jezreel Valley,
near the vineyard of "Naboth the Jezreelite."
-- 2 Kgs. 4:8-37. Elisha often stayed at Shunem, for "whenever he passed
that way, he would turn in there to eat." Here he raised the son of
a wealthy woman to life.
-- 2 Kgs. 23:29-30; 2 Chron. 35:20-24. King Josiah of Judah was killed at
Megiddo in a battle with the Egyptian army.