The Jordan River
The Jordan River: 7 Stories of Feet and an Ax Head
The Jordan River, Israel’s second largest water resource, flows north to south in the Rift Valley through the Sea of Galilee down to the Dead Sea. As it travels, it descends from about 650 feet below sea level to approximately 1300 feet below sea level. The Jordan serves as a natural boundary between Israel and its surrounding nations. Throughout biblical history, the Jordan (and the stream bed of the Jordan) had the pleasure of hosting a number of now well-known feet in its waters…and one ax head. Oh the stories it could tell…
Jacob’s feet first touched my waters while he was fleeing to his uncle Laban in Haran. Those were the feet of one who was running for his life. See, Jacob and his mother deceived his father so that he received the blessing that rightfully belonged to his brother Esau. Esau “hated Jacob” so much that he intended to kill his brother for stealing his blessing. When their mother Rebekah heard this, she instructed him to go to her brother’s house in Haran until Esau forgot about what Jacob had done. In order to reach Haran, Jacob had to cross “this Jordan” (Genesis 27:1-28:5; 32:9-10). After marrying and having multiple children, Jacob, his very large family, his servants, and his hundreds of animals returned to his homeland, this time crossing one of my tributaries, the Jabbok (Genesis 32-33).
2. The entire nation of Israel
What a day that was! The entire nation of Israel was camping beside my banks. I’m not really sure how many people there were, but there were a lot! Excitement and anticipation filled the air for three days. One day men shouted instructions to all of the people—they were headed to the city of Jericho, a city which received its water from me, and it was the time of year when my banks were overflowing with water! The people all “set out from the tents” and followed behind the priests who were carrying the ark of the covenant. As soon as the feet of the priests “were dipped in the edge of the water” I stood still—the presence of the Lord of the Cosmos, the living God, was there. I couldn’t help but stand still. My waters rose “in a single heap.” And I stayed that way until everyone, the entire nation of Israel, crossed over on dry ground (Joshua 3:1-17).
3. Elijah and Elisha
The entire nation of Israel was not the only one to cross on dry ground. After the time of Joshua and Judges, during the time when kings reigned in Israel there was a prophet, a man of God, named Elijah. When it was about the time that the Lord was going “to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind” the Lord sent Elijah to Jericho and to my banks. Elisha, another prophet of God, would not leave Elijah’s side, even after Elijah had instructed him to stay behind. Elisha swore he would not leave Elijah. When they reached my bank, Elijah rolled up his mantle and struck my waters with it. At that moment my waters once again parted, and the two men of God “crossed on dry ground.” And then something happened that I had never seen before—“a chariot of fire and horses of fire” appeared and the prophet Elijah “ascended in a whirlwind into heaven!” Elisha picked up the mantle of Elijah, and once again my waters parted when he struck me with it, allowing him to return on dry ground (2 Kings 2:1-14).
Now this might be a name you don’t recognize. Naaman was a commander of the army of the king of Aram, a country located to the north of Israel. He was a great man, but he “suffered from leprosy.” One of the maidservants of Naaman’s wife, a captive from Israel, told her that if Naaman “were with the prophet in Samaria” (Elisha) he would heal him. So, Naaman went to see Elisha. Rather than coming out himself, Elisha sent a messenger out to Naaman and instructed him to “wash in the Jordan seven times.” Yes, he told him if he would wash in my water he would be healed! At first Naaman was outraged. Being a man in his position he expected the prophet to come out to him “and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy!” After one of his servants reasoned with him, Naaman did “[immerse] himself seven times in the Jordan” and “his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy” (2 Kings 5:1-14).
5. An ax head
I know what you’re thinking…ax heads do not have feet. You’re right, they don’t. But this was a fun day for me. The company of prophets to which Elisha belonged had come to my banks to “collect logs” to build a larger place to live. They came with their axes to cut down some trees, and in the process one of the ax heads flew off and landed right in my water! Now you know that an iron ax head is going to sink, right? Immediately, I heard the panicked voice of the one who lost the ax head crying out that it was borrowed! Elisha, however, did not panic. After the one who lost it had shown him the place where it fell in, Elisha cut a stick, threw it in at that place, and the iron ax head popped right up and floated (2 Kings 6:1-7)!
6. John the Baptist
John the Baptist, a man who wore “clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist” and ate “locusts and wild honey” would stand in my waters and call people to repentance, proclaiming that “the kingdom of heaven has come near.” He was “the one [about] whom Isaiah the prophet spoke,” he was “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness.” He stood in my waters and baptized all those who came confessing their sins (Matthew 3:1-6; Mark 1:1-8; Luke 3:1-6; John 1:22-28).
Yes, Jesus, the Son of God, the Creator of the Cosmos stood in my waters. One day he came walking toward me and toward John the Baptist, and I heard John declare, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” An amazing thing happened that day—Jesus came to John in the water to be baptized. John tried to stop him, but Jesus insisted. After being baptized, when Jesus “came up from the water” the heavens opened and “the Spirit of God [descended] like a dove and alighted on him.” Then there was a voice, the voice God the Father declaring “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:29-34). The Son of God, the One who created all things, stood in my waters…what an honor.
Note: This list is not meant to be all-inclusive of the feet that touched the waters of the Jordan River during biblical times.