River Jordan

"O my God, ... I will remember thee from the land of Jordan, and of the Hermonites, from the hill Mizar." Ps. 42:6.

THERE is no river in the world like the Jordan none so wonderful in its historic memories, none so hallowed in its sacred associations, and none so remarkable in its physical geography. It is THE RIVER of the Holy Land. It has been more or less intimately connected with all the great events of Scripture history from the patriarchs to the apostles. Its banks have been the scene of the most stupendous miracles of judgment, power, and love, ever the earth witnessed.... Thrice was the swollen torrent of that river stayed, and its channel divided to let God's people and prophets pass over "dry shod." Once, at the bidding of the man of God, the iron ax rose buoyant from its channel, and floated on its surface. Once its waters gave forth healing virtue, as if to prove to the proud Syrian chief the fallacy of his sneering exclamation: "Are not Albana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel?" Greater still were those miracles of our Lord which the evangelists have grouped thickly on and around the central lake of the Jordan.

There did the storm-tossed billows hear and obey the voice of their Creator; there did the incarnate Son of God walk upon the face of the deep; there, obedient to his will, the fishes filled the disciples' nets; along those shores the lame walked, the deaf heard, the blind saw, the sick were healed, lepers were cleansed, the dead were raised to life again. But the most glorious event the Jordan ever witnessed was Christ's baptism; for when he was baptized, "the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him;" and when the Divine Son was perfectly equipped for his great work of redeeming love when just about to set out on his glorious mission the voice of the Divine Father pierces the vault of heaven and proclaims to the astonished and joyful disciples on Jordan's banks the divine approval of both work and worker: "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."

Surely, then, we may say that every spot along the stream is holy ground," and that the name JORDAN is not only emblazoned on the page of history, but enshrined in the Christian's heart.

It would almost seem as if nature or nature's God had from the first prepared this river to be the scene of wondrous events, by giving to its physical geography some wondrous characteristics. Its principal fountain, bursting from the base of Hermon, is, like the mouths of other rivers, on the level of the ocean. It descends rapidly through its whole course, and at length empties into the Dead Sea, whose surface has a depression of no less than 1312 feet. The whole valley of the Jordan is thus a huge rent, or fissure, in the earth's crust. Though it is not much over a hundred miles in length, at its southern end, along the shores of that mysterious lake, we have the climate and products of the tropics, while at its northern end, on the brow of Hermon, we have a region of perpetual snow.

Between the Lake of Galilee and the Dead Sea lies a long, deep valley, varying from five to ten miles in breadth, and shut in by the parallel mountain ranges of Samaria and Gilead. Down the center of this valley, in the bed of a deep ravine, winds the River Jordan. It has two distinct lines of banks. The first or lower banks confine the stream, are comparatively low, generally alluvial, and thickly fringed with foliage. The second, or upper banks are at some distance from the channel occasionally nearly half a mile apart, and in places they rise to a height of one hundred and fifty feet. The appearance of the river itself is exceedingly varied. Now it sweeps gracefully round a green meadow, softly kissing with its rippling waves the blushing flowers of the oleander as they bend over it; now it clasps a wooded islet in its shining arms; now fretted by projecting cliffs, and opposed by rocky ledges, it dashes madly forward in sheets of foam.

 One bridge alone spans the river, on the road, which joins the ancient cities of Bethshean and Gadara. But the ruins of many others are visible, and the fords are numerous. Of the latter, one of the most remarkable is Succoth, where Jacob crossed with his flocks and herds (Genesis 33:17), and where the fleeing hosts of Zebah and Zalmunna suffered so terribly from the Israelites (Judges 1 : 24 ; 8 : 4-10).  The plain around Succoth is abundantly watered by fountains and streamlets from the mountains. The soil is exceedingly rich. Dr. Robinson says of it: "The grass, intermingled with tall daisies and wild oats, reached to our horses' backs, while the thistles sometimes overtopped the riders' heads." Jacob showed his usual worldly wisdom, when he encamped at this favored spot, and "made booths [Succoth] for his cattle."

But the most interesting spot on the Jordan is unquestionably that now called the "pilgrim's bathing-place," opposite Jericho. Here the channel is deep, the current rapid, and yet, on three different occasions, the river was stayed by a miracle, and the channel left dry, to let God's people pass over. And an interest still higher and holier clings to it. It is the scene of Christ's baptism. Sitting here one day on the river's bank, beneath the shade of a great willow tree, I read in succession the Bible narratives of the passage of the Israelites under Joshua, of the translation of Elijah, and of the baptism of Jesus; and then looking up on those grey bluffs that bound the narrow ravine, I involuntarily exclaimed, " Oh, that my eyes had seen those glorious events of which you were the witnesses! Oh, that the eye of sense had witnessed what the eye of faith now contemplates! The marshalled hosts of Israel; the ark on which rested the Shekinah glory; then the fiery chariot bearing God's prophet to heaven; and last of all, 'the Dove,' the Heavenly Dove, coming down and abiding upon the Saviour." 

It was in the month of April I visited this "holy place" on the Jordan.

It was already the time of harvest, for the people of Jericho were reaping their little fields up on the plain. And we are told that "Jordan overfloweth all his banks all the time of harvest" (Joshua 3:15; 1 Chron. 12:15). The fact is still true, though Palestine is changed. The heavy rains of early spring falling on the northern mountains, and the winter snow melting on the sides of Hermon, send a thousand tributaries to the sacred river. It rises to the top of the lower banks, and when I was there, the ruddy, swollen waters had flowed over and covered portions of the verdant meadows on each side.

Mounting my horse, I followed the tortuous river to its mouth, and saw it empty its waters into that sea of death.

One would almost think they flow in reluctantly, for the current becomes slower and slower, and the channel wider and wider, till at length water touches water, and the Jordan is lost.

Such is this sacred river, without a parallel, historical or physical, in the whole world, a complete river beneath the level of the ocean, disappearing in a lake which has no outlet, and which could have none. In whatever way we regard it, the Jordan stands alone.


 SABBATHS are quiet islands on the tossing sea of life.