JORDAN RIVER. The only large flowing body of water in Palestine and, as such, it played a significant part in the history of Israel, as well as in the earlier days of our Lord’s ministry. The word Jordan derives from a Hebrew word, hayyardēn, meaning “flowing downward,” or “the descender,” and one with any knowledge of its course can easily see the appropriateness of the name. Four rivers in Syria are recognized as the source of what later becomes the
Though the largest river of Palestine, the Jordan differs from other great national rivers in that, because it has twenty-seven rapids between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea, it carries no traffic; and because of the swampy condition of part of this valley, the terrific heat in many places, and the presence of many wild animals, especially during Israel’s history, no large city was ever built directly on the banks of the Jordan.
Although the Jordan is never called by any other name in the Bible, it is once referred to as “the river of the wilderness” (
The natural life found in the Jordan Valley has been carefully studied, some of it proving to be unique. Of the thirty species of fish found in this river, sixteen are said to be found nowhere else; of the forty-five species of birds observed in this tortuous valley, twenty-three are peculiar to this area. About 162 species of plants and trees have been identified, of which 135 are African. They include the castor oil plant, the tamarisk, willows, poplars, and, near Jericho, the oleander. Though no large city was actually ever built on the banks of the Jordan, there are some geographical terms that belong to this area. In the north at the time of our Lord’s advent, there was an area called the Decapolis, a federation of ten Greek cities, nine on the eastern side of the Jordan, and mentioned once at the beginning of our Lord’s ministry (
Near the Dead Sea on the western side of the river, one mile (one and one-half km.) east of Jericho, stood the city of Gilgal, where Israel set up twelve stones at the command of God (
By far the most significant single event relating to the Jordan River in the entire history of Israel is the crossing on the part of the Israelites after the death of Moses, a crossing anticipated by Moses in
The theme of the Jordan River is frequently found in the ritual of the church and in its hymnology and poetry. Comparing death for the Christian with the crossing of the Jordan by the Israelites cannot be regarded as a very accurate interpretation of Israel’s history at this point. Israel did not enter into a time of peace when she crossed the Jordan but into a series of wars, many oppressions and defeats, followed by victories for a time, and ultimately ending in disaster and expulsion from the land.——WMS