JABBOK (jăb'ŏk, Heb. yabbōq, flowing). An important river east of the Jordan about halfway between the Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee. It formed the northern border of the Amorite king Sihon (Josh.12.2) and was captured by the Hebrews after Sihon refused to let them cross his land (Num.21.21-Num.21.25). It was also the southern border of the kingdom of Og (Josh.12.5). At a ford on the Jabbok, Jacob had his encounter with the angel—the encounter that resulted in his being given a new name (Gen.32.22-Gen.32.30). The word for “wrestle” is abbaq and may have given the Hebrew name to the stream; or possibly an ancient fortress between Damascus and Mecca, Xarka, may have furnished the name. Its modern name is Ez-zerka, river of blue. It is shallow except during occasional rains, and its fords are easily crossed. Its basin is second in size of Jordan’s eastern tributaries, only the Yarmuk to the north having a larger watershed. Its banks are covered with heavy vegetation, the portion near the Jordan being semitropical. The Jabbok rises within twenty miles (thirty-three km.) of the Jordan, but runs sixty miles (one hundred km.), at first NE, then nearly due west in a great arc before turning SW to the Jordan. This unusual course explains the statement in Num.21.24, the upper section being the boundary between Sihon and Ammon, and the arc the eastern boundary of Sihon’s realm.——JDF
JABBOK jăb’ ək (יַבֹּק, LXX Ιαβοκ, meaning, flowing). A river of Trans-Jordan (Nahr ez-Zerkā=“river of blue”), about sixty m. in length, next to the Yarmuk River having greatest drainage area. It is a perennial stream, deriving from the twenty-eight to thirty-two inches of rainfall annually. Its average fall is c. eighty ft. per m., cutting a deep valley or gorge through the E Jordan Valley escarpment. The source lies in the vicinity of Ammān (ancient Rabbath-Ammon, and Hel. Philadelphia), from whence it swings eastward and northward, forming a large loop before wending westward to the Jordan Valley. The lower gorge is under sea level to a point seven m. E of the Rift, at an elevation of more than 2,000 ft. below the Gilead Plateau to the N, and the Amman Plateau to the S. Colorful oleanders line most of its banks in the hill country. After emerging into the Jordan Valley near Tell Deir ’Alla (prob. ancient Succoth), it meanders across the Ghor before joining the Jordan River near ed-Damiyeh (Biblical Adam).
The loop N of Ammān formed the western boundary of the Ammonites at the time of the Conquest (Num 21:24), and the contained area was settled by the tribe of Gad, as far W as present es-Salt. The western part of the river formed a physical and political boundary between the two parts of Gilead (Deut 3:12, 16; Josh 12:2-6), and also divided the kingdoms of Sihon and Og.
Nelson Glueck found numerous occupation sites in the Wadi ez-Zerkā in his surveys, and several Biblical cities were located on, or near, its course. The ford referred to in Genesis 32:22ff. has not been identified, but the place called Penuel (v. 31) is prob. Tulul edh-Dhahab, not far above Succoth.
D. Baly, The Geography of the Bible (1957), 229; E. Orni and E. Efrat, Geography of Israel (1964), 91-94; Y. Aharoni, The Land of the Bible (1967), 31, 114, 115.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
A stream in Eastern Palestine first named in the history of Jacob, as crossed by the patriarch on his return from Paddan-aram, after leaving Mahanaim (Ge 32:22 ). On the bank of this river he had his strange conflict with an unknown antagonist. The Jabbok was the northern boundary of the territory of Sihon the Amorite (Nu 21:24). It is also named as the border of Ammon (De 3:16). It is now called Nahr ez-Zerqa, "river of blue," referring to the clear blue color of its water. It rises near to `Amman--Rabbath Ammon--and makes a wide circuit, flowing first to the East, then to the Northwest, until it is joined by the stream from Wady Jerash, at which point it turns westward, and flows, with many windings, to the Jordan, the confluence being just North of ed-Damiyeh. It drains a wider area than any other stream East of the Jordan, except the Yarmuk. The bed of the river is in a deep gorge with steep, and in many places precipitous, banks. It is a great cleft, cutting the land of Gilead in two. It is lined along its course by a luxuriant growth of oleander which, in season, lights up the valley with brilliant color. The length of the stream, taking no account of its innumerable windings, is about 60 miles. The mouth of the river has changed its position from time to time. In the lower reaches the vegetation is tropical. The river is fordable at many points, save when in full flood. The particular ford referred to in Ge 32 cannot now be identified.