The Jordan Valley

Day 5 – Israel 2014

Beth Shean

   Dead Sea



   Bethany beyond the Jordan

I.                    You leave the Northern arena of Israel and start heading south down the Jordan rift valley towards the Dead Sea.

A.     To your left (east) is Gilead – the mountains.

B.     To the right (west) is the east side of the Jezreel valley.

1. After you pass the Jezreel valley the Central Hill Country of Israel called Samaria and Ephraim will be on your right (the west side).

II.                 Vocabulary

A.     Transjordan – “across the Jordan” – The area on the eastern side of the Jordan River.

1.      The Bible will use the phrase “beyond Jordan” or “beyond the Jordan” (Gen 50:10; Dt. 3:25; Mt 4:15,25; Mt 19:1; John 3:26…)

2.      It will also use the phrase “plains of Moab” to refer to this area (Num 26:3; Dt. 2:8; Dt 34:1,8…). Moses climbs to the top of Mt.Pisgah to view the Promised Land from the plains of Moab.  And he could see up the Jordan River valley as far as Dan.  Dan was at the foot of Mt.Hermon.

B.     Cisjordan – “this side of the Jordan” – The area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

1.      Plains of Jericho – the Bible will speak of “the plains of Jericho” – meaning the land west of the Jordan River. (Josh 4:13; 2 Kings 25:5). Zedekiah, one of the last kings of Judah, lived in Jerusalem and when Nebuchadnezzar broke through the walls of the city Zedekiah ran through the desert (along the road from Jerusalem to Jericho – same road in Lk 10 – the Good Samaritan) and was caught in the plains of Jericho. That was about a 15 mile run.

III.               Sites and Places along the Jordan RiverValley

A.     The Jordan RiverValley

1.      The Jordan RiverValley runs between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea.  It is about 65 miles long; however the winding Jordan River is about 135 miles long.

2.      The Jordan RiverValley is around 600 feet below sea level near the Sea of Galilee.  It falls to around 950 feet below sea level as you get close to Jericho.  The Dead Sea is 1312 feet below sea level.

3.      The northern part of the JordanValley gets ample rain.  The southern part is desert.

4.      Traveling between Jericho and the Sea of Galilee people would normally walk on the East side of the Jordan.  There are springs along the route on that side.  Travelers would have crossed the river at Jericho and then again near Bethshan.  Jesus would have gone this way, except for the time he “had to pass through Samaria” (John 4:4).  You can see how much more difficult that would have been.  (See too Acts 15:3 – Paul goes through Samaria.)

B.     Gilead

1.      Gen 31:47 – Laban catches up with Jacob at Mizpah in Gilead.  They make a covenant and Jacob calls the place “Galeed”, which plays off the name of the region, Gilead, and means “mound of witness”.  Laban calls it that, but in Aramaic.

2.      The tribes of Manasseh and Gad and Reuben stayed on the eastern side of the Jordan. (Numbers 32). The land there was suitable for livestock.

3.      Jer 8:22 – “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there?…”  Jer asks why the people’s hurt is not cured?  Isn’t there balm (medicine) and a physician there?  Well, there is.  But their hurt can not be cured by that balm or their physicians.

a.       Edgar Allen Poe’s poem “The Raven” – Poe laments the loss of his love – Lenore – and refers to Jer 8:22 when he asks in the poem if there is a balm in Gilead.  Is there something to heal his hurt?  And the raven says, “Nevermore”.

b.      Christ is our physician and the gospel the balm.  There is a balm in Gilead, now.

4.      Jephthah, the son of a harlot (Judges 11 and Heb 11 in the roll call of faith) is from Gilead.

5.      Judges 12:5 – The Gileadites took the fords of the Jordan (near Adam where the JabbokRiver runs from Gilead into the Jordan River) in the fight against the attacking and angry men of Ephraim.  They tested the fleeing Ephraimites by making them say “Shibboleth”.  The Ephraimites could not pronounce that word correctly. (12:6).

C.     Beth-Shean (OT name) or Scythopolis (Roman name – NT era name) (about 14 miles S of the Sea of Galilee)

1.      Beth-shan or Beth-shean  or Bethshan or Bethshean – The OT name of the city that guarded the eastern entrance into the JezreelValley. It is a tel today.

2.      It is near the foot of Mt.Gilboa.

3.      Traffic from Gilead (through the city of Ramoth-Gilead) on its way to Egypt would have passed through Bethshan.  Gen 37:25.  The caravan coming  from Gilead carrying balm…probably came through Bethshan on its way to the Jezreel valley and Dothan where they bought Joseph and took him to Egypt.

a. Bethshan was a natural and convenient place to cross over from Gilead to the JezreelValley.

4.      Mt.Gilboa and Bethshan

a.       Samuel dies in I Sam 28:3. When the Philistines camp and plan to wage war against Saul, Saul inquires of the Lord but the Lord does not answer him – not through a dream, or Urim or by a prophet. Saul and his troops are on Mt.Gilboa.

b.      He decides to consult a medium in Endor. The medium conjures up Samuel.  And he tells Saul he will die the next day by the hand of the Philistines. (note 1 Sam 28:25 cf John 13:30 and Judas)

c.       I Sam 31:1 – Saul is killed on Mt.Gilboa the next day. He falls on his own sword.  The Philistines take his body and the bodies of three of his sons and cut off his head and fastened his body to the city wall in Bethshan.

d.      The men of Jabesh Gilead come and take his body down – why – See I Sam 11

1)      I Sam 11 – The Ammonites besiege Jabesh-Gilead.  Taking this city would give them access to the JezreelValley through Bethshan.

2)      Saul, just after he becomes king, comes to their rescue.

3)      Judges 11 – The Ammonites earlier wanted Gilead and the elders call on Jephthah.  The Ammonites were probably in the area of Jabesh Gilead (11:29)

5.      Beth-shan (167-76 BC) – was under the control of the Hasmoneans. The Hasmoneans revolted against its Greek rulers when they were prohibited from practicing their religion and the temple was desecrated. (Apocrypha – I and II Maccabees)

6.      Scythopolis – The Romans under Pompey (Julius Caesar’s military leader who later fought against him) took over, freed Bethshan and 9 others cities from the Hasmoneans and rebuilt the city shortly after 100 BC.  And it became a part of the Decapolis, a league of 10 cities located in Gilead and this one city in Israel.  Scythopolis is not mentioned by name in the Bible.  But people from the Decapolis came to see Jesus (Mt 4:25); he heals a deaf-mute boy from the Decapolis (Mt 7:31); a man Jesus cured of a demon went through the Decapolis telling what Jesus had done for him (Mk 5:20 – this man was probably on the east side of the Jordan – Mk 5:1).

a.       Scythopolis means literally “city of the Scythians”. The Scythians, according to Eusebius moved into Palestine around 630 BC. (ISBE v. 4 Scythians).  The Scythians were considered barbarians by the Greeks.  Paul, however, in Col3:11 says that there can be no distinction between the barbaric Scythian and any other person in Christ.

b.      The town you will see is the Roman town.  You will notice that it looks different than the Jewish cities.  It has the main road down the middle, paved with stones, Roman colums.  It has a similar look to it as Ephesus and Corinth. There is a bath house and a theatre like you would find in a big Roman city.  Impressive site.

c.       Jesus would have likely passed through Scythopolis on his way from Galilee to Jericho and Jerusalem, though the Bible does not explicitly state that.

D.     Pella

1.      Pella is south of Bethshan and across the Jordan in Gilead.  (ROR 31)

2.      There is a wadi there named Cherith.

3.      Elijah was from this area and when he tells Ahab that it will not rain the Lord tells Elijah to depart and hide by the brook Cherith.  And God uses ravens to feed him. (I Kings 17:1-7)

4.      According to Eusebius of Caesarea, Pella is also where Christians fled in 68 AD when Rome attacked Jerusalem. Jesus had warned his followers to do such – Mt 24:16.

E.      Abelmeholah

1.      Judges 7:22 – Gideon’s men blow the trumpet and the Midianites flee here.

2.      I Kings 4:12 – Abelmeholah is about ten miles south of Bethshan in a narrow part of the Jordan RiverValley.

3.       2 Kings 19:16 – Elisha’s hometown . Elijah meets him there plowing.

a.       Elijah, was a Tishbite.  Tishbe is in Gilead not far from Abelmeholah. (I Kings 17:1)

F.      Aenon (near Salim) –

1.      GEO p. 17 – locates this near Bethany beyond the Jordan (with a ? mark). However, ROR 32 B locates Salim closer to Scythopolis (about 7 miles south of Scythopolis), near the Jordan.  The exact place is not certain.

2.      John 3:23 – John baptized here (a place near Salim ) because there was plenty of water – or “many waters” there.  There were 7 springs in the area.  John may not have been baptizing people in the Jordan River at this time, but rather at various springs in Aenon.  The name Aenon means “fountains”.

3.      John 3:23 seems to say that Jesus baptized people, but 4:2 tells us it was his disciples.  The disciples are baptizing somewhere in Judea.

4.      John did baptize in the Jordan.  Mt 3:13 – Jesus meets John at the Jordan and is baptized.

G.     JabbokRiver

1.      The JabbokRiver runs into the Jordan River near Succoth.

2.      Jacob, as he returns from Haran with his family to the Promised Land looks like he took the highway from Damascus through Ramoth-Gilead to the JabbokRiver. Gen 32:22. And he wrestles with “a man” as vs 24 calls him.

a.       Jacob’s name is changed to “Israel” because he has striven with God and with men. Gen 32:28.

b.      He is on the other side of the Jordan near Penuel or as the name is changed to Peniel. He evidently meets Esau in this vicinity the next day. Gen 33:1

3.      Penuel – I Kings 12:25 – Jereboam fortified Penuel to protect the land from enemies entering in the land from the east.

4.      Genesis 33:17 – Jacob, after he meets Esau, journeys to Succoth, which is near the Jordan on the JabbokRiver.  He built himself a house (Israel is no longer a sojourner, but a dweller. God has settled him in the land.), and made booths for his cattle. From there he moves on to Shechem on the Israel side of the Jordan River. (Gen 33:18).  Succoth and Shechem are linked in Ps 60:6 & 108:7. These are the first two places God gives to Jacob and are symbols that God keeps his promise regarding the land – even when David thinks God has quit fighting for Israel.

5.      Succoth

a. 2 Chron 4:17; I Kings 7: 46 – Solomon is building the Temple and its furnishings.  The workers were attracted to the area because of the clay ground.  The metal workers cast huge objects – even the large pillars – in the clay.   Zerethan is near Adamah (Josh 3:16).  About 10 miles south of Bethshan.

6.      Mahanaim – a city along the JabbokRiver close to where Jacob wrestled and had his name changed.

a.       2 Sam 2:8 – after Saul was killed at Mt.Gilboa he had one son, Ishbosheth, who Abner took over to Gilead and made him king. David had already been made king.  But Saul’s son and his family warred against David. 2 Sam 3:1.  Ishbosheth ruled from Mahanaim.

b.      2 Sam 17:24-29 – When Absalom rebelled and drove his father David out of Jerusalem, David went to Mahanaim. Absalom pursued him.

H.     Jericho aka city of palms

1.      Jericho is one of the oldest cities in the world (claims to be anyway).

2.      It is about 740 feet below sea level.

3.      The first city taken by the Israelites as they enter the promised land.  Josh 6

a.       Whoever would rebuild this city would be cursed and lose his firstborn son – Josh 6:26

b.      I Kings 16:34 – Hiel rebuilds Jericho at the cost of his firstborn.

4.      Elijah and Elisha – Elijah parts the waters of the Jordan near Jericho and the two of them go over on dry land (2 Kings 2:8);  Elijah is taken by the chariot (evidently near the Jordan) – his mantle falls from him and Elisha takes it and goes back to the Jordan and parts the water. (vs 13-14)

5.      The setting for the Good Samaritan – the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. Lk 10:30

6.      Mk 10:46 – Bartimaeus a blind beggar is sitting by the road outside Jericho and Jesus heals him.

7.      Luke 19:10 – Jesus meets Zacchaeus, the tax collector, in Jericho

8.      Mt 20:29, Lk 18:35 – blind beggars receive their sight

I.        Mt Nebo

1.      Dt 34:1, 32:49, Mt Nebo is on the other side of the Jordan River at the Dead Sea.  God allows Moses to go to the top of Mt Nebo, to the summit of Pisgah and view the land of Canaan. Moses could see up the Jordan River valley as far as Dan.  He could see as across the hill country to the Mediterranean.  He could see south to the Negev and Jericho, right across the river.  Moses dies and is buried there.

J.       Bethany beyond the Jordan – on the other side of the Jordan River (not the Israel side) (GEO 17). Located north of the Dead Sea and across the Jordan from Jericho.

1.      John 1:28 – this is the place where John was baptizing.

2.      Mark 1:10-11 –At this place the dove descended upon Jesus and God’s voice from heaven was heard saying of Jesus, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

3.      Mt 4:1, Luke 4:2 – After Jesus’ baptism he is led into the wilderness.  That would be the Judean wilderness (Mt 3:1) on the Israel side of the Jordan between Jericho and Jerusalem.  (see Isaiah 40:3-5  – Jesus goes into this wilderness.)

4.      Mark 10:1 – Jesus is in the region of Judea, beyond the Jordan when the Pharisees come to him and ask him questions, bring little children to him, and tells the story of the rich young ruler.  Then Mk 10:32 – he leaves there by way of the road to Jerusalem.

5.      John 10:31 the Jews take up stones to stone Jesus.  John 10:40 – Jesus again goes away across the Jordan to the place John first baptized (John 1:28).  Lazarus dies (ch 11) and Mary and Martha sent to him while he was here.

a.       So according to John 10:22 – it was winter when Jesus left Jerusalem.  And he goes to Bethany beyond the Jordan where his public ministry began for the last winter of his life before returning to Jerusalem to go to the cross at Passover. John 10:18 – Christ would lay down his life for his sheep, when the time came (John 17:1).

IV.              Dead Sea (Sea of the Arabah (Aravah), SaltSea, the east sea) (The Greek name is LakeAsphaltitus)

A.     The Arabah – is a part of the Jordan rift valley that runs from south of the Sea of Galilee in the north to the Dead Sea and on down to the Gulf of Aqaba in the south.

1.      Josh 3:16 – When Joshua crossed the Jordan River the waters stood in a heap as far north as Adam and down to the Sea of Arabah, the SaltSea. (Adam is about 19 miles upstream from Jericho.  You will ride by it on the way down from Bethshan.)

2.      Many of the references to the Sea of the Arabah have to do with Israel’s boundaries.

3.      Ezekiel 47:8 – is an eschatological passage speaking of the river that flows from the Temple (from the south-east end of Jerusalem into the Kidron valley onto the Dead Sea)  (see Rev 22:1-2 – where the rivers flows from the throne of God and the Lamb).  In Ezekiel the river will flow from the Temple to the east, down to the Arabah where it will enter the stagnant waters of the sea where it will become fresh.  And life will come to the Dead Sea.  The swamps will stay salty (Ez 47:11).  Ezekiel looks to the time when all things are made new.  Note that this is the lowest dry place on earth and it is dead, yet God makes it alive.

B.     Eastern Sea – Joel 2:20 , Zech 14:8, Ez 47:18

C.     Cities and Places along the Dead Sea (East Side) (You will travel the West side the next day).

1.      Down south on the other side of the Dead Sea – is the probable location of Zoar – in the Valley of Siddim where there were tar pits.  This is where the kings went to war and took the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah and captured Lot.  Gen 14:8-12;

2.      Moab – country on the east side of the Dead Sea – Gen 19:36-38 – The Moabites were descendants of Lot.

a.       Ruth – There was a famine in Bethlehem of Judah and Elimelech takes his wife Naomi to Moab.  They would have probably crossed over from Israel to Moab around the Dead Sea at Jericho and gone to an area near Kir (in red on ROR 5) where the land is fertile and there is rain in its season.  Ruth is from Moab.

1)      This may help explain too why David fled to Moab (I Sam 22:3) when he was pursued by Saul.  (Moab and Israel are usually hostile to each other).  Kir was stronghold (Is 15:1).

b.      Moab’s king hired Balaam to curse Israel – Numbers 22:1ff

c.       Eglon, the king of Moab, was killed by the “left-handed” judge, Ehud. – Judges 4.

d.      Isaiah 15 & 16 – Isaiah tells Israel not to rely upon Moab for security.  Moab is going to weep and be humbled (16:6); Moab’s only hope is to be found in the only hope of Israel – 16:5 – the king that is coming, from David’s line.  (See too Jer 48)

V.                 Herod’s building programs

1.      Along the Jordan in the hill country on the Israel side just south of Adam is Alexandrium (Sartaba).  Herod built this in memory of his brother, Phasael.

2.      Jericho – Herod built a retreat here.

3.      More on this in the Jerusalem section.


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Israel 2014

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