What is the…
Hebrew: Yarden, meaning: “the descender;” Arabic: Nahr-esh-Sheriah, “the watering-place”
Location and history
This is the chief river of Israel. It is mentioned in the Old Testament about 180 times, and in the New Testament 15 times.
It flows from north to south down a deep valley in the center of the country. The name descender is significant of the fact that there is along its whole course a descent to its banks; or it may simply denote the rapidity with which it “descends” to the Dead Sea.
Jordan River, 156 miles (251 km) long—satellite view
It originates in the snows of Hermon, which feed its perennial springs. Two sources are generally spoken of:
From the western base of a hill on which once stood the city of Dan, the northern border-city of Israel, there gushes forth a large spring called the Leddan, which is the largest spring in Syria and the principal source of the Jordan.
Beside the ruins of Banias (Panias), the ancient Caesarea-Philippi and the yet more ancient Panium, is a lofty cliff of limestone, at the base of which is a spring, once very substantial and the site of heathen worship of Pan.
(Ein Panias)—satellite view
Before a destructive earthquake, this was known as the other source of the Jordan River, and had always been regarded by the Jews as its true source. It rushed down to the plain in a foaming torrent, and joined the Leddan about 5 miles south of Dan (Tel-el-Kady).
But besides these 2 historical springs there is a 3rd, called the Hasbany, which rises in the bottom of a valley at the western base of Hermon, 12 miles north of Tel-el-Kady. It joins the main stream about a mile below the junction of the Leddan and the Banias.
Before the Israelis channeled the river in modern times, it flowed “with a swift current and a much-twisted course,” through a marshy plain for some 6 miles, where fell into Lake Hula (Huleh), “the waters of Merom”.
Jordan River and what is left of Lake Huleh—satellite view
During this part of its course the Jordan has descended about 1,100 feet. At the Banias spring it is 1,080 feet above sea-level. Formerly flowing from the southern extremity of Lake Huleh, almost at sea level, it flowed for 2 miles “through a waste of islets and papyrus,” and then for 9 miles through a narrow gorge in a foaming torrent onward to the Sea of Galilee. Today, however, the Jordan is carefully controlled for agricultural purposes and sometimes flows in a straight channel, minimizing evaporative loss and maximizing farming land.
80 years before the establishment of the modern State of Israel in 1948, Dr. Porter reported the desolate scene here in his 1868 …Handbook for Travellers…
“In the whole valley of the Jordan from the Lake Huleh to the Sea of Galilee there is not a single settled inhabitant. Along the whole eastern bank of the river and the lakes, from the base of Hermon to the ravine of Hieromax, a region of great fertility, 30 miles long by 7 or 8 wide, there are only some three inhabited villages. The western bank is almost as desolate. Ruins are numerous enough. Every mile or two is an old site of town or village, now well nigh hid beneath a dense jungle of thorns and thistles.
The words of Scripture here recur to us with peculiar force:
‘I will make your cities waste, and bring your sanctuaries unto desolation… And I will bring the land into desolation: and your enemies which dwell therein shall be astonished at it… And your land shall be desolate, and your cities waste. Then shall the land enjoy her sabbaths, as long as it lieth desolate’ (Leviticus 26:31-34).”
—Dr. Josias Leslie Porter, A Handbook for Travellers in Syria and Palestine (1868).
From the Sea of Galilee, at the level of 682 feet below the Mediterranean, the river flows through a long, low plain called “the region of Jordan” (Matthew 3:5), and by the modern Arabs the Ghor, or “sunken plain.”
The Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River—satellite view
This section is properly the Jordan of Scripture. Down through the midst of the “plain of Jordan” there winds a ravine varying in breadth from 200 yards to half a mile, and in depth from 40 to 150 feet. Through it the Jordan flows in a rapid, rugged, tortuous course down to the Dead Sea.
The whole distance from the southern extremity of the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea is in a straight line about 65 miles, but following the windings of the river about 200 miles, during which it falls 618 feet. The total length of the Jordan from Banias is about 104 miles in a straight line, during which it falls 2,380 feet.
There are two considerable affluents which enter the river between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea, both from the east.
The Wady Mandhur, called the Yarmuk by the Rabbins and the Hieromax by the Greeks. It formed the boundary between Bashan and Gilead. It drains the plateau of the Hauran.
The Jabbok or Wady Zerka, formerly the northern boundary of Ammon. It enters the Jordan about 20 miles north of Jericho.
First biblical mention
The first historical mention of the Jordan River is in the account of the separation of Abraham and Lot (Genesis 13:10). “Lot beheld the plain of Jordan as the garden of the Lord.” Jacob crossed and recrossed “this Jordan” (32:10).
The Israelites passed over it as “on dry ground” (Joshua 3:17; Psalms 114:3).
Twice afterwards its waters were miraculously divided at the same spot by Elijah and Elisha (2 Kings 2:8, 14).
Gospel history at the Jordan
The chief events in Gospel history connected with it are:
John the Baptist’s ministry, when “there went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and were baptized of him in Jordan” (Matthew 3:6).
Jesus also “was baptized of John in Jordan” (Mark 1:9).
See the Christian archaeological video which describes the Jordan River and biblical events surrounding it: On the Promised Land: Crossroads of the World (part of the Faith Lessons video series). “The same faith that caused Israel to safely cross the Jordan at its flood stage releases His power in our lives today when we commit our lives to Him in total trust.”
Article Version: September 1, 2017