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
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
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).
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
-- 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.