The distance from the principal source of the Jordan at the foot of Mt. Hermon to the northern end of the Dead Sea is about 135 miles, but the serpent-like Jordan flows over 200 miles. At the source, the elevation is about 1150 feet above sea level. By the time the river reaches the Sea of Galilee it is about 700 feet below sea level, and when it reaches the Dead Sea it is more than 1300 feet below sea level. These and other unusual physical characteristics make the Jordan a significant river. To the Bible student the importance of the river is found in the events which transpired in it.
Israel crosses the Jordan. The children of Israel crossed the Jordan when the water was out of all its banks during the time of harvest (Josh. 3:15). An American reader might think of this as the fall of the year, but actually it was in the spring, at the time of the latter rain (Joel 2:23). As spring approached in Bible times the Jordan would overflow its banks due to the heavy latter rains (about early April) and the melting snows of Mount Hermon. Conditions are different in modern times. Water that once flowed south from the Sea of Galilee and from tributaries such as the Yarmuk River is now used for irrigation. This makes the Jordan much smaller than in earlier times. The crossing of the Jordan by the Israelites provided the imagery for our hymn, “On Jordan’s Stormy Banks I Stand.”
Elijah and Elisha. Both of these oral prophets crossed the Jordan on dry ground prior to Elijah=s being taken up by a whirlwind into heaven. Elisha later used the mantle of Elijah which had fallen upon him to smite the Jordan so that he was able to return (2 Kings 2:8-14).
Naaman the leper. Naaman, captain of the army of the king of Aram, was told by the prophet Elisha to wash seven times in the Jordan to be cleansed of his leprosy. For a reason not explicitly given, Naaman complained that the Abanah and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, were better than all the waters of Israel. When he eventually obeyed the Lord, he was made clean (2 Kings 5:1-14). We understand that it was not in the properties of the water but by the power of the Lord that Naaman was made clean through his obedience.
John and Jesus. John immersed in the Jordan River (Mt. 3:1-6). The last important biblical event and the crowning glory of the Jordan was the baptism of Jesus (Mt. 3:13-17).
Photographs of the Jordan south of the Sea of Galilee have been difficult to make since 1967 because the river has served, more or less, as the boundary between Israel (or the occupied West Bank) and Jordan. This photograph was made at the site across from Jericho that may be identified as “Bethany beyond the Jordan” (John 1:28), where John the Baptist baptized at first (John 10:40).