The Jordan River runs through the land of Israel and history of the Bible, giving its waters a spiritual significance that sets it aside from other rivers. The Jordan is significant for Jews, because the tribes of Israel under Joshua crossed the river on dry ground to enter the Promised Land after years of wandering in the desert. It is significant for Christians because John the Baptist baptised Jesus in the waters of the Jordan. The prophets Elijah and Elisha also crossed the river dry-shod; and the Syrian general Naaman was healed of leprosy after washing in the Jordan at Elisha’s direction.
Flowing southward from its sources in the mountainous area where Israel, Syria and Lebanon meet, the Jordan river passes through the Sea of Galilee and ends in the Dead Sea. A large part of its 320-kilometre length forms the border between Israel and Jordan in the north and the West Bank and Jordan in the south. The river falls 950 metres from its source to the Dead Sea. For most of its course down the Jordan Rift Valley, it flows well below sea level. Hence, its name which means “Dan [one of its tributaries] flows down.” Though an old song says the River Jordan is “deep and wide”, the modern river is neither. In some places, it’s more like a creek than a river — less than 10 metres across and 2 metres deep. From Jesus’ time until the mid-20th century, seasonal flooding in winter and spring expanded its width to 1.5km. Dams in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Israel now preclude flooding. The place where Jesus was baptised by John the Baptist is believed to be in Jordan, on the east bank of a large loop in the river opposite Jericho. A site less than 2km east of the river’s present course, at Wadi Al-Kharrar, has been identified as Bethany Beyond the Jordan. This is where John the Baptist lived and baptised, and where Jesus went to for safety, after being threatened with stoning in Jerusalem.
The instances of the river appearing in Scripture: The Israelites crossing the Jordan on dry ground: Joshua 3:14-17; Elijah crosses the Jordan on dry ground: 2 Kings 2:8; Naaman’s leprosy is cured in the Jordan: 2 Kings 5:1-14; John baptises Jesus: Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:29-34.