LOWER JORDAN VALLEY


"Joshua ... came to theJordan" (Josh. 3:1)


The Lower Jordan Valley is divided into two zones by a narrowing of the valley approximately 25 miles south of the Sea of Galilee. Here, for nearly 13 miles, the valley is only 2 miles wide. Just north of the narrowing, the Jordan widens to 7 miles where it joins the Beth-shan Valley but narrows again to 4 miles near the Sea of Galilee. The northern zone receives the most rainfall, and there are many streams and rivers. The most important of these (besides the Jordan itself) are the Yarmuk River and the Harod River, which runs near Beth-shan.

The valley consists of three types of landscape. First is the valley floor, called the Ghor in Arabic. It is bound by the mountains of Gilead and Moab on the east and by those of Samaria and Judah on the west. The fertile land and warm climate make the Ghor a good spot for agriculture. Abraham's nephew Lot looked upon the Jordan Valley and saw that it "was well watered everywhere like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt" (Gen. 13:10). Egypt depends on the Nile for lucrative irrigative farming. The Jordan, however, runs in too deep a channel to have been exploited by primitive methods of irrigation. Water from the streams and tributaries of the Jordan had to be caught on higher ground and brought to the fields by canals or aqueducts.

A desolate slope of eroded ridges and peaks separates the Ghor from the "jungle of the Jordan," usually rendered the "Swelling of the Jordan" in the King James Bible. Called the Zorin Arabic, the area is about 150 feet below the Ghor and from 200 yards to a mile wide. The Zor contains the Jordan, which meanders for nearly 200 miles between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. The direct distance is only 65 miles. In ancient times, the Zor was covered with luxuriant thickets and cane-brakes, and was the home of lions and other wild animals. It was used by the prophets as a symbol of trouble and danger for the children of Israel: "If in a safe land you fall down, how will you do in the jungle of the Jordan?" (see Jer. 12:5; 50:44).

The Lower Jordan Valley was close to the frontier and difficult to defend against desert marauders. These "people of the east" invaded the settled communities when the local authority was not strong enough to control their movement, as did the Midianites in the days of Gideon (see Judg. 6:33). Since there were no bridges in antiquity, only natural fords linked the regions on either side of the valley, which made the valley both a border and a barrier. The valley is also remembered because of its association with four of Israel's greatest prophets: Elijah, Elisha, John the Baptist, and Jesus Christ. (See Smith, pp. 315-320.)

Selected Views of the Lower Jordan Valley

Twenty miles south of the Sea of Galilee, the Lower Jordan Valley widens to approximatelv 7 miles. Here is the Beth-shan Valley, a well-watered region of immense strategic importance. The site of Beth-shan lies in the middle of the valley, approximately 400 feet below sea level. It guarded the eastern entrance to the Jezreel Valley and the main highway that crossed the Jordan at the fords south of the Sea of Galilee.

Six Egyptian temples have been discovered at Beth-shan, ranging from the 14th to the 11th centuries B. C. Beth-shan is also mentioned in Egyptian documents from the time of Thutmose III (15th century B.C.) to that of Rameses III | (12th century B.C.), which proves that Beth-shan was an important center of trade and Egyptian rule.


During the New Testament period, Beth-shan (now called Scythopolis) was the chief city of the Decapolis, and the only city of the Decapolis west of the Jordan River. The Gospels record that Jesus went through the Decapolis region after he left Tyre and Sidon (Mark 7:31) and also that "great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis and Jerusalem and Judea and from beyond Jordan" (Matt. 4:25). About 250 yards south of Beth-shan is one of the best preserved Roman theaters in Palestine. Elaborately decorated, it had a seating capacity of some 8,000. It is similar to one built by Herod the Great at Caesarea on the coast of Palestine. Much excavation is going on at Beth-shan today. Several teams are working year round to uncover and then restore significant parts of the ancient site. Today the visitor to Beth-shan can see public buildings, columns, streets and other ruins from the Roman and Byzantine periods.



These pictures were taken south of Beth-shan, and just south of the "narrowing" described in the introduction to this region. It shows all the major features of the Jordan Valley: the valley floor which is called the Ghor in Arabic, the winding Jordan River that flows through the "jungle" or "Swelling of the Jordan" called the Zor in Arabic, and the desolate area of eroded ridges and peaks that separates the Ghor from the Zor. The high mountain in the background is the Dome of Gilead, which is divided into halves by the Jabbok River ("half of Gilead" and the "river Jabbok" are mentioned in Josh 12:2. The Jabbok was crossed by Jacob and his family on their way to Canaan from Haran (see Gen 32:22) . At this point, the family would have traveled in the valley nearer the foothills of Gilead. They were traveling towards the fords opposite Shechem, which is in the hill country of Samaria (see Gen. 33:17-20).

Old Testarnent Jericho guarded the back door to the Judaean Hill Country. It played that role in the Israelite conquest of Canaan and the battle of Jericho (Josh.2-7). What appears to be the effects of erosion in this picture is the result of three major excavations that began in 1907. Joshua's Jericho was probably a small city, with mud brick walls that have long since disintegrated by both wind and rain. The site is 6 miles north of the Dead Sea and 2 miles north of the site of New Testament Jericho. The later city was built up by Herod the Great and was the city Jesus passed through while traveling to and from Jerusalem. The spring of Jericho is in the stand of trees across the road from the mound. These were the waters purified by the prophet Elisha, "so the water has been wholesome to this day" (2 Kgs. 2:13, 19-22).


Bible Study - Lower Jordan Valley

As you travel the Jordan Valley, remember that it was similarly traveled by some of the Bible's leading personalities. These include Abraham and Jacob as they entered Canaan from the east, Joshua and the children of Israel as they crossed the Jordan, and Jesus with his disciples on their way to Jerusalem. Notice the high range of mountains across the Jordan to the east. These are the regions of Gilead, Ammon, and Moab, which were important in the history of Israel.
-- Josh. 17: 11; Judg. 1 :27. Manasseh failed to drive out the inhabitants of Bethshan.

-- Josh. 3. Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.

-- Josh. 5:13-15. Before the battle of Jericho, the "commander of the army of the Lord" came to Joshua and said: "Put off your shoes from your feet; for the place where you stand is holy. And Joshua did so."

-- Josh.6. The Lord was with Joshua in the battle of Jericho, as the city was taken and destroyed by the Israelites.

-- 1 Sam. 31:8-13; 2 Sam. 21:12-14. The bodies of Jonathan and Saul were fastened to the wall of Beth-shan after they were killed by the Philistines at the foot of Mount Gilboa.

-- 2 Kgs. 2:4-20. After he "took up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him," Elisha purified the waters of Jericho.

-- Matt. 20:29-34 Mark 10:46-52; Luke 18:35-43. Multitudes followed Jesus as he passed through Jericho on his way to and from Jerusalem.

-- Luke 19:1-9. Zacchaeus climbed a sycamore tree to seeJesus as he passed through Jericho. Jesus then said to him: "Today salvation has come to this house." Gilead, Ammon, and Moab (selected passages)

-- Deut.32:48-52; 34: 1 -8. Moses saw the promised land from Mount Nebo in Moat

-- Ruth 1:4. Ruth came from Moab.

-- 1 Sam. 11; 2 Sam. 12:26-31. The Ammonites were defeated by Saul at Jabesh-gilead, and then by David at Rabbah (modern Amman).

-- 1 Kgs.22:29-40. The prophet Micaiah foretold the defeat and death of Ahab, king of Israel, in Gilead.

-- 2 Kgs. 3. The kings of Israel and Judah joined forces to defeat the Moabites.

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