The Jordan River
Joshua B. Gurtler
Just the name conjurs up Biblical scenes to the mind and a desire to be there where God walked among men. Aside from being a prominent site in Biblical history, the Jordan river is truly a natural phenomenon. The word Jordan, from the Hebrew ha-yarden, most probably means descender or descending - and is it any wonder? The Jordan descends lower than any river in the world! The stream's inception is in the hills of Mt. Hermon, which peaks at 9,100 ft. Descending to Lake Huleh in northern Palestine, the Jordan assumes an altitude of 230 feet. above sea level. During the next 11 miles, the river will drop 900 feet at a rate of over 80 feet per mile before emptying into the Sea of Galilee. The trip is not yet over as the Jordan descends yet another 600 feet over a course of 65 miles where it empties it's contents into the Dead Sea at an altitude of 1290 feet below sea level. Though the distance by air between these two major lakes is but 65 miles, the river's snaking path leads it on a course of 200 miles to the salty sea. Two of the Jordans' greatest tributaries are the Yarmuk and the Jabbok which enter the river south of Galilee and from the east.
In comparison to its' greater surroundings, the Jordan River, ranging from 80 to 180 feet wide, is but a mere trickle down the base of the Jordan Rift which boasts a breadth of 2-15 miles in the Jordan valley. This geological fault, also known as the Great Rift Valley, begins in the mountains of Southern Turkey. From there, it follows a southward course along the Mediteranean Sea, through Israel and the Negev, the Red Sea and Egypt, far into southwest Africa covering a total distance of 4,000 miles. The precipitation on the Jordan is seasonal and varies from northern to southern Israel. Average rainfall in the northern region of Dan is 24 inches. This number declines as we move farther south with 16 inches at the Sea of Galilee and before the Jordan enters the Dead Sea the surrounding land receives a pittance of 5 inches of rain a year.
Between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea, the Jordan is engulfed by the lush tropical Jordan Valley. Due to the often sweltering heat, the ferocious wild beasts and the unavigable marshes, this stretch of the river has never received much traffic nor acquired any large settlements on its' banks. The Old Testament makes numerous references to the wild animals and perils of the "jungle" of the Jordan valley (Jer. 12:5; 49:19; 50:44; Zech. 11:3). Adam Smith gives an excellent description of the valley in the following:
May we never again have to wonder what prompted Naaman to snub the Jordan for the "better" rivers of the Abanah and Parphar.
Though the writings of the Old Covenant are replete with references of the Jordan, the most significant may very well be that of the Israelites, led by Joshua, standing on the edge of the Jordan knowing this was the last obstacle to their entering the promised land. The hope was then swallowed up in victory as the Lord "dried up the waters" and the Children of Israel crossed on dry land. (Josh 3; 4:23). Let us sing with a new fervor "On Jordan's Stormy Banks I Stand. . . " Other references to the Jordan in the Old Testament include:
Prior to the ministry of our Lord and to "fulfill all righteousness," He waded down into the muddy waters and was baptized of John (John 3:13-17). Many others were also "being baptized by him in the Jordan River confessing their sins. (Mt. 3:5,6).
Though the heavens and the earth pass away with fervent heat, the deeds performed by the righteous and unrighteous alike along this historic body of water shall surely precede them into the judgment.
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