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Jordan River – Its Significance

Mentioned almost 200 times in the Bible from Genesis to the Gospels, the Jordan River plays an important role throughout.[1] The River has served as a boundary, a landmark, the place of several miracles, John the Baptist ministry and where Jesus of Nazareth was baptized.

Lowest elevation of all the rivers of the world, the head waters of the Jordan feed into the Sea of Galilee (aka Chinnereth, Lake Tiberius, Lake Kinneret) on the north end, exiting on the south end of the Sea.[2] From there, the River covers a mere 65 land miles to the Dead Sea where it ends.[1]

Normal width of the Jordan River ranges between 30 to 100 feet and its depth only 10 to 17 feet. Not exactly a big river, it is the rapid current that makes it treacherous.[4] Dropping 600 feet in the short distance between the two seas, it is characteristic of its Hebrew name Yarden meaning “descender.” [5]

Either side of the River forms the Jordan River Valley expanding up to 15 miles wide.[6] The northern valley contains fertile land, but by the time it reaches the southern end at the Dead Sea near Jericho, the terrain is hot and arid.[7]

First reference to the Jordan River is implied in Genesis 13 when Abram gave his nephew, Lot, a choice where to live with his family and livestock. Seeing the fertile “plain of the Jordan,” it became Lot’s choice.[8] By default, Abram took the land west of the Jordan – Canaan. God promised Abram the land he could see in all four directions would belong to him and his descendants forever.[9]

Centuries later, escaping Egypt through the parted the Red Sea, the fledgling Hebrew nation population was as “numerous as the stars of heaven.”[10] It was time, though delayed by 40 years, to return to the land of Abraham referred to by God as the place.[11]

Between the two lands of Canaan and the Arabah, the Jordan River marked the boundary. God set the eastern boundary of Israel by the Jordan from the Sea of Chinnereth to the Salt Sea (Dead Sea).[12]

Crossing the Jordan River by the Hebrew nation into the land of Abraham sets the stage for the first miracle involving the River.[13] Aside from the rugged adults, there were mothers with babies, children, handicapped and old people. The heavy sacred Ark of the Covenant hefted on poles by priests and all the contents for the Tabernacle had to be carried across, too.[14] There was no bridge.

Traversing the swift currents of the Jordan in normal circumstance would alone would be a feat, but this time, the Jordan was flooding.[15] Typically from January through March, flood waters can expand the river several times to over a mile wide.[16] A picture can speak a thousand words:

Jordan River flooding at the Allenby Bridge near Jericho.  (Photo: Life In The Holy Land)[17]

Priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant touched the water commencing the miracle. The Jordan River stopped flowing – no water flowed into the Dead Sea and the water rose up in a heap back to the city of Adam, halfway to the Sea of Galilee.[18] All Hebrews crossed the Jordan on dry ground.[19]

Joshua, the Hebrew leader successor to Moses, remarked that the miracle on the Jordan was tantamount to the miracle of parting of the Red Sea.[20] Enemies of the Hebrews hearing of the miracle were struck with great fear and it took away their courage.[21]

Hundreds of years had passed when the prophet Elijah was called by God to Jericho and then to the Jordan River.[22] At the River’s edge, accompanied by his protégé Elisha and witnessed by 50 members of the prophet society from Jericho, Elijah took off his cloak and hit the water, the waters parted, and they both walked across on dry ground. There is no mention of flooding waters on this occasion.

Elisha watched as Elijah was taken away by a chariot of fire in a windstorm causing his cloak to fall off.[23] Elisha took the cloak, hit the waters of the Jordan and the River again parted for Elisha who walked across to Jericho.[24] The 50 religious witnesses bowed down in awe to Elisha.

Naaman, captain of the Syrian (Aram) army, had contracted the dreaded Leprosy. Syria was an enemy of Israel evidenced by the servant for his wife being a young slave girl captured from a conquest in Israel.[25]

Wistfully the Jewish slave girl commented to her mistress that if only the commander could see the prophet of Samaria, he could cure her master’s disease.[26] Naaman’s wife mentioned the comment to her husband who, in turn, told his King who said, “Go now, and I will send a letter to the King of Israel.”[27]

Misunderstanding the nature of the King of Syria’s introduction letter, the King of Israel thought it was directed to him. He tore his clothes saying, “Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man is sending word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? But consider now, and see how he is seeking a quarrel against me.”[28]

Elisha heard of the situation and asked that Naaman be sent to him. Naaman and his military escort with horses and chariots arrived at Elisha’s door. Instead of coming out to greet the commander, Elisha sent out his servant telling Naaman to go wash seven times in the Jordan River.

Taking offense to the rude behavior, Naaman caustically asked why was it necessary to travel this far when there were other closer rivers which would have been better? Servants advised Naaman it was a simple action, considering what it could have been, so why not try it?

Naaman reconsidered Elisha’s instructions, washed in the Jordan seven times and was miraculously healed resulting in skin as smooth as a young child.[29] Returning to stand before Elisha, the grateful enemy commander renounced the Syrian god Rimmon and acknowledged the power of Jehovah.[30]

Several hundred more years later, people from Jerusalem, all of Judea, and the region around the Jordan came to be baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River.[31] John prophesied that someone more powerful than him was coming, one whom he was not worthy to even tie his sandal laces.[32]

Luke referenced seven secular historical figures to mark that specific time in history – the 15th year of Tiberius; Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea; Herod [Antipas] was tetrarch of Galilee; Philip was tetrarch of Iturea and Trachonitis; Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene; and the priesthoods of Annas and Caiaphas.[33] All are accurately consistent with secular history.

Jesus of Nazareth himself came to John to be baptized in the Jordan River.[34] He did it just before entering the wilderness to fast, then face the temptation of Satan.

Appearing in all four Gospels, the accounts of the baptism of Jesus describe a voice that came from Heaven, “You are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased.”[35] John the Baptist is later quoted in John’s Gospel testifying to seeing a dove descending from Heaven when God spoke of Jesus, “this is the One who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.”[36]

Beginning with Abram until the arrival of Jesus of Nazareth, the Jordan River served as the preeminent River recognized by God. Was it merely a coincidence the Jordan River is where Jesus was baptized and recognized by God?

 

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REFERENCES:

[1] “Jordan.” NetBible.org. Search criteria. 2021. <http://classic.net.bible.org/search.php?search=Jordan&page=1
[2] “Geography of Israel: The Jordan Valley.” Jewish Virtual Library. 2021. <https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/the-jordan-valley> Deuteronomy 3:17. NetBible.org. Footnote 2. <http://classic.net.bible.org/verse.php?book=Deu&chapter=3&verse=17#
[3] “Jordan River.” BibleHistory.com. 2020. <https://www.bible-history.com/geography/ancient-israel/jordan-river.html “THE LAND: Geography and Climate.” Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 2013. <https://mfa.gov.il/mfa/aboutisrael/land/pages/the%20land-%20geography%20and%20climate.aspx> “Jordan – Geography and Environment.” The Royal Hashemite Court. 2001. <http://www.kinghussein.gov.jo/geo_env1.html
[4] “Jordan River.” BibleHistory.com. 2020. <https://www.bible-history.com/geography/ancient-israel/jordan-river.html> “Jordan River.” SeeTheHolyLand.net. 2021. <https://www.seetheholyland.net/jordan-river
[5] “Jordan River.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2021. <https://www.britannica.com/place/Jordan-River>  “Jordan River.” BiblicalTrainingLibrary.org. n.d. <https://www.biblicaltraining.org/library/jordan-river>
“Jordan River.” BibleHub.com. n.d. <https://bibleatlas.org/jordan_river.htm>  “Jordan River.” LifeInTheHolyLand.com. n.d. <http://www.lifeintheholyland.com/jordan_river> “H3383.” Lexicon-Concordance Online Bible. n.d. <http://lexiconcordance.com/hebrew/3383.html
[6] “Jordan River Valley.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2021. <https://www.britannica.com/place/Jordan-Valley
[7] “THE LAND: Geography and Climate.” Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 2013. <https://mfa.gov.il/mfa/aboutisrael/land/pages/the%20land-%20geography%20and%20climate.aspx> “Jordan – Geography and Environment.” The Royal Hashemite Court. 2001. <http://www.kinghussein.gov.jo/geo_env1.html>  “Jordan Valley.” Geography. n.d. <https://geography.name/jordan-valley
[8] Genesis 13:10. NIV, NRSV, NKJV. CR Genesis 13:12.
[9] Genesis 13:14-17.
[10] Exodus 12:40; Deuteronomy 10:22. CR Genesis 15:13; 22:17; 26:4; Deuteronomy 1:10.
[11] Deuteronomy 11:8-15; 27:2-10.
[12] Number 34:11-12; Deuteronomy 3:17-18; Joshua 16:1. CR Deuteronomy 12:10; Joshua 23:4.
[13] Deuteronomy 10:22. NASB.
[14] Exodus 25:10-40; 37:1-29; 40:17-33.
[15] Joshua 3:15; 4:18.
[16] “The Jordan River and the Baptism Site of Yardenit.” Israel Tourism Consultants. 2017. <https://www.israeltourismconsultants.com/Travel-Blog/The-jordan-river-and-the-baptism-site-of-yaardenit-in-israel>  “Jordan River.” SeeTheHolyland. 2021. <https://www.seetheholyland.net/jordan-river>  CR Rodriquez, Seth. “Picture of the Week: Jordan River Flooding in 1935.” BiblePlaces.com. 2013. <https://www.bibleplaces.com/blog/2013/02/picture-of-week-jordan-river-flooding
[17] “Southern Palestine.” LifeInTheHolyLand. n.d. <http://www.lifeintheholyland.com/43_southern_palestine_matson_american_colony>
[18] “Joshua 3:16-17. “Map of Old Testament Israel – The City of Adam. Bible History. 2020. <https://www.bible-history.com/geography/ancient-israel/ot/adam.html>  “Map of Old Testament Israel. Bible History. 2020. <https://www.bible-history.com/geography/ancient-israel/israel-old-testament.html
[19] Joshua 3:17; 4:22-23.
[20] Joshua 4:23. CR Psalms 114:3.
[21] Joshua 5:1.
[22] 2 Kings 2:4, 6-7, 15.
[23] 2 Kings 2:11-14.
[24] 2 Kings 2:15.
[25] 2 Kings 5:1-2; 6:8.
[26] 2 Kings 5:1-3.
[27] 2 Kings 5:5. NASB, NKJV.
[28] 2 Kings 5:7. NASB.
[29] 2 Kings 5:14.
[30] 2 Kings 5:15-19. NetBible.org. Hebrew text.
[31] Matthew 3:6; Mark 1:5; Luke 3:23; John 1:28. CR John 3:26; 10:40.
[32] Luke 3:15-16; John 1:26-28.
[33] Luke 3:1-3.
[34] Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-13; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:29-34.
[35] Luke 3:22. NASB, NKJV.  CR Matthew 3:16-17; 17:5; Mark 3:17; John 3:22.
[36] John 1:32, 34.

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