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IN. THE Jordan VALLEY.
JERICHO AND THE JORDAN to JERUsALEM.
Lo G the sterile, desolate shores of the Dead Sea, we ride in a north-westerly direction over a plain encrusted with salt and sulphur, through a morass overgrown by a jungle of reeds and rushes, and then enter upon the plain of the Jordan. The soil is cumbered with clumps of nu%, its thorns sharp as prongs of steel, and thickets of Zizyphus Spina Christi, from which tradition says that the crown of thorns was made. The osher or apple of Sodom, its flowers resembling those of the potato, its fruit green or yellow, attracts the eye by its deceitful beauty. Innumerable pools and rills of water, fed by the perennial fountains which spring up near the site of the ancient Jericho, nourish this rank and unprofitable vegetation. The climate is semi-tropical, in consequence of the deep depression of this part of the Jordan valley below the sea-level. ‘Well watered,' and with such a climate, the district once was, and might still be, an Eden of fertility and beauty.' Now its only settled inhabitants are a few wild and lawless, squalid and poverty-stricken Arabs. Turning eastward, we soon reach the Fords of THE JORDAN, the traditional site of our Lord's baptism and the present bathing-place of the pilgrims. The river comes down from the Sea of Galilee in a turbid impetuous stream. It has cut its channel so deeply in the marly soil, that throughout the greater part of its course it is hidden from view. From any elevated point, however, it is easy to trace its course by the fringe of bright green which marks it. Innumerable willows, oleanders, and tamarisks grow upon its banks and overhang the river-bed. Hence the incident recorded of the sons of the prophets, who, in the days of Elisha, went down to the Jordan to cut timber, one of whom let the head of a borrowed axe fall into the river." As we contrast this muddy, turbulent torrent, rushing unprofitably along
* Gen. xiii. Io.
ER RIHA, NEAR JERicho.
its deep-cut channel, with the clear bright waters of Damascus, which spread fertility and prosperity wherever they come, it is easy to understand the scornful words of Naaman the Syrian : ‘Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel ? . . . So he turned and went away in a rage.’’ Like the Dead Sea, the physical phenomena of the Jordan are absolutely unique. Emerging from the Sea of Galilee at a probable depression of six hundred feet below the level of the Mediterranean, it rushes along a narrow
* 2 Kings vi. 2-5. * Ibid. v. 12.
THE RIVER jorp.A.N. 73
fissure of sixty miles in length ; but doubling and winding as it goes, its actual course is two hundred miles. Starting from so low a level, its current might be expected to be slow and torpid. So far from this, it plunges over a series of rapids,' and finally loses itself in the Dead Sea, to emerge no more, at a depth of thirteen hundred feet below the level of the Mediterranean. No river famous in history is so unproductive and useless. Like the Upper Rhone, its rapid torrent and its sudden violent floods,” make it an object rather of dread than delight to the dwellers on its banks. Yet, even in
these physical characteristics, we can see its admirable adaptation to the Divine purpose. The Israelites were to be cut off from intercourse with the licentious idolaters on the east bank of the Dead Sea. A river easily crossed, with numerous fords and bridges, would have failed to answer this purpose. But the Jordan, though only from twenty to thirty yards wide, offered an almost insuperable barrier to intimate association, the fords being few and dangerous, and the floods rendering bridges almost impossible. * Lieutenant Lynch enumerates twenty-seven, of great violence, between the Lake of Tiberias and the Dead Sea.
* From these the prophets often deduced lessons of warning for the impenitent. Thus Jeremiah says, “If in the land of peace, wherein thou trustedst, they wearied thee, then how wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan?” Jer. xii. 5.