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THE PASSAGE OF THE JORDAN.
against Beth-peor ; but no man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day.” Even in Palestine itself there are few spots upon which the eye rests with a deeper sense of awe, and mystery, and reverential wonder than as we look across the Ghor of the Jordan and gaze upon this peak, glowing in the light of the setting sun, where the prophet of the Lord breathed his last earthly sigh, and awoke in the presence of his God.
As soon as the days of mourning for their great leader had been accomplished, his chivalrous successor set the host in motion. Passing, probably, down the Wady Hesban, they encamped in the valley of the Jordan. To cross the river in the presence of their enemies would at any time have been a difficult and dangerous operation. The fords were few, the river rapid, the banks steep. And Jordan was now in flood. It had filled up its banks and was absolutely impassable. Confiding, however, in divine aid, the signal to advance is given. The priests march first, bearing with them the ark. mile in their rear are the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh fully armed, so as to resist any attack made upon them by their foes. No sooner had the feet of the priests touched the brimming waters of the river, than the stream ceased to flow downward, being cut off at a point nearly thirty miles above, at the city of Zaretan, leaving the bed dry till the whole people had passed safely over. We are told, respecting the similar miracle of the crossing of the Red Sea, that “the Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night.”3
The enquiry suggests itself whether any natural agency, working under the control of a divine power can be suggested to account for this drying up of the Jordan. It has been already remarked that the whole region is volcanic and subject to earthquakes. It is, therefore, a possible conjecture that such a convulsion of nature may have occurred at this critical moment, so that for a time the bed of the Jordan was laid bare “from the city of Adam, that is beside Zaretan."4 We need not, however, feel any anxiety to explain these divine interpositions by the action of natural laws. He who instituted the laws of nature and uses them for His purposes as He pleases, can, when it seems good to Him, dispense with them altogether. The fact of the miracle is certain, account for it how we please : “this is the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes."
The siege of Jericho speedily followed. The same divine power which dried up the bed of the river (perhaps working through the same natural agency) caused the walls of the city to "fall down after they were compassed about seven days ;” and Rahab, who had “received the spies with peace,
1 Deut. xxxiv. 5, 6.
? It is significant that these are the tribes to whom possessions had already been allotted east of the Jordan (Num. xxxii. 20-28). The selection was probably made either to prove their fidelity, or because they were free from encumbrances, their families and possessions being left in their newly-acquired territory.
3 Exod. xiv. 21.
Joshua iii. 16. In the great earthquake of 1837 this did happen to many of the rivers of Northern Syria.
was spared to be enrolled amongst the chosen people, and even in the ancestry of our Lord, as the reward of her faith.”
Whilst still encamped near Jericho, Joshua undertook two important military exploits. One has been already described--the relief of the city of Gibeon and the defeat of the Amorites in the valley of Ajalon. The other has yet to be spoken of. In the mountain range which rises immediately to the west of the Jordan valley, are several passes which run up into the interior of the country. At the head of one of these stood the city of Ai, near to Bethel. It was an important stronghold, and its acquisition by the Israelites would secure them a firm and commanding position in central Palestine. A small detachment of men was therefore ordered to advance up the pass and attack the city, whilst the main body remained at Jericho. They were, however, defeated with great slaughter by the men of Ai and had to retreat down the steep defile. The sin of Achan having been detected and punished, a new assault was ordered by divine command, which proved successful.2 The acquisition of this almost impregnable post made Joshua master of the whole of Southern Palestine, to the subjugation of which he could now proceed at leisure.
It was along the same pass that, in after years, Elijah and Elisha went up from Gilgal to Bethel and again returned to Jericho. Then crossing the plain, they proceeded to the Jordan, whilst "fifty men of the sons of the prophets ” climbed the mountains in the rear, which command a view of the whole region, and “stood to view afar off.” At the place where the children of Israel had crossed the river under Joshua, the prophet took off his mantle, and smiting the waters they again parted, so that “ they two went over on dry ground.” Here, perhaps, on the very spot where Moses had died and was buried, Elijah “went up by a whirlwind to heaven.” The two, who were thus mysteriously associated in their departure from earth, were to return to it together, and on the Mount of Transfiguration, to speak with their Lord and ours, “ of the decease which He should accomplish at Jerusalem.”3
Yet once again was the Jordan to be miraculously parted asunder at the same place. Elisha, returning to Jericho, smote the waters with the mantle of Elijah, and invoking “the Lord God of Elijah, the waters parted hither and thither, and Elisha went over.'
Reference has been made to the perennial fountains which rise around the site of Jericho. Most of the springs in the lower part of the Ghor are either brackish, or absolutely undrinkable. From their salt and acrid character they cause barrenness rather than fertility.5 But there is one at the foot of the mounds which attracts attention from the purity, sweetness and abundance of its waters. It bears to this day the name of Elisha's FOUNTAIN, and is
| Joshua vi. Heb. xi. 30, 31. Matt. i. 5. An interesting article on Rahab in Smith's ‘Bible Dictionary' suggests reasons for believing that Salmon, who became her husband, was one of the spies whose lives she saved, and who, with herself, became an ancestor of our Lord.
Joshua vii. ; viii. 2 Kings ii. 1-11. Luke ix. 30, 31. 4 2 Kings ii. 12–14.
doubtless the one of which the historian speaks as having been healed by the word of Elisha speaking in the name of the Lord, so the waters were healed unto this day, according to the saying of Elisha which he spake.":
Whilst we have no precise indication of the scene of our Lord's baptism yet a balance of probabilities seems to confirm the accuracy of the tradition that it was here, where the river had been thrice divided by miracle, that the event took place. John had been preaching in the wilderness of Judea which is just behind us. It was apparently in the same neighbourhood that he baptized the multitudes who came to him. And it was in immediate connection with his baptism that “Jesus being full of the Holy Ghost returned from the Jordan and was led by the spirit into the wilderness, being forty days tempted of the devil.” Though the Mons QUARANTANIA, which rises immediately above Jericho, has only a vague tradition to associate it with the “forty days'” fast, yet it meets all the requirements of the narrative, and its savage desolate solitude is in keeping with the spirit of the
Once only do we read that our Lord actually visited Jericho. He had crossed the Jordan and preached “on the further side."2
ELISHA'S FOUNTAIN, NEAR JERICHO. Recrossing the river, either by the fords or by the Roman bridge some distance up the stream on his way to Jerusalem, He passed through Jericho. The new city rebuilt by Herod, was now in the height of its splendour. Josephus describes the country round as surpassingly beautiful and fertile. Groves of palms and balsam-trees stretched far and wide. The roads leading to and from the city were shaded by Sycamores. Having healed the blind man who sat by the wayside begging, He conferred a yet diviner boon upon Zaccheus, who in his eagerness to see the Lord had climbed into one of the wayside trees. Amidst the reproachful murmurs of the people, He went to be the guest of a man that was a sinner, bringing salvation to his house, “for the Son of man is come to seek and save that which was lost... And when He had thus spoken He went before, ascending up to Jerusalem.”3
Thither let us follow Him.
Mark x. I.
3 Luke xviii. 35-43; xix. 1-28.
The road at first winds amongst the mounds of débris, so often referred to, past ruined aqueducts and water courses which in the time of our Lord conveyed the fertilizing streams to irrigate the plain. The mountains above us are honey-combed by cells of hermits, who came here to live useless ascetic lives, where our Lord had fasted, prayed, and been tempted of the devil. Soon we begin to ascend and find ourselves skirting the edge of a savage ravine which plunges sheer down to a depth of five hundred feet. It is the Wady Kelt-once known as the valley of the CHERITH, where the prophet Elijah was fed by ravens,' and, in still earlier times, as the valley of Achor in which Achan was stoned."
The ascent is continuous and steep. In a distance of about fifteen miles we rise more than three thousand feet. Hence the constant phrases "going up to Jerusalem,” “going down to Jericho.” On every side are steep mountains and wild glens, the haunt of plundering Bedouins, so that a strong and vigilant escort is needful.
About midway on our journey, we pass the ruins of an ancient khan. In accordance with oriental custom, noticed before, by which khans seldom or never change, but occupy the same spot from age to age, a halting place for i Kings xvii. 1-7.
THE “GOOD SAMARITAN'S” INN.
travellers has stood here from immemorial antiquity. This then is the inn to which our Lord referred in his parable of the Good Samaritan. The road then, as now, was notorious for its insecurity. Reading on the spot the narrative of the traveller, who going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, was stripped, wounded, and left for dead on the road-side, every incident and detail acquired new significance and appropriateness.
From this point the wild weird desolation of the earlier part of our journey ceased, and gave place to the rounded featureless hills which characterise the scenery of Southern Palestine. About midday we reached the Ain el Haud, or “ The Apostle's Fountain,” and halted awhile. Before us rose a steep ascent up which wound a rough mountain road. It was the Mount of Olives. Reaching the summit we should look down upon Jerusalem !
I proposed to one or two of our party that we should walk on alone, so as to indulge, without restraint, in the emotions which such a view would excite. posal was heartily agreed to, and we started.
The day had been showery, and, though not actually raining at the moment, the clouds were black and heavy. Scarcely had we commenced the ascent when
RUINED AQUEDUCT NEAR JERICHO. the rain began to fall in torrents. The stiff, tenacious mud, and the slippery sheets of rock over which the track led, made the walk very difficult ; but still we persevered. Soon a miserable, ruinous, poverty-stricken hamlet came in view, standing on a plateau of rock in a slight depression on the hill-side. The pasturage around it was good and abundant, and the olive groves ought to have been a source of wealth to the inhabitants. Under a better system of government, and with a more industrious population, it might have been a bright and prosperous village; but now its only attraction consists in its hallowed associations. It is Bethany—the home of Martha and Mary and Lazarus—the one spot on earth where He who “had not where to lay his head” found a loving welcome and a peaceful home. It has always seemed to me to be not without meaning that our Lord, on his Ascension, “led his disciples out as far as to Bethany,” so that the last spot his eyes looked