JEZREEL VALLEY


"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 Views).

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 Jezreel Valley.
-- 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.

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