Photo Credit: courtesy author
When the Jews crossed the Arnon River, above them on both sides of the canyon lay the Amorite ambush.

They journeyed and encamped on the other side of Arnon…that juts out from the border of the Amorite; for Arnon is the border of Moab…Israel sent emissaries to Sihon, king of the Amorite, saying, “Let me pass through your land; we shall not turn off to (the) field or vineyard…until we pass your border. But Sihon did not permit Israel to pass, and…assembled his entire people and went out against Israel. Israel smote him with the edge of the sword and took possession of his land, from Arnon to Jabbok (Numbers 21: 13-24)”

Arnon River canyon in Jordan as seen from Israel

When speaking of spectacular biblical sites in Jordan that can be experienced from Israel, the Arnon River is one key site that is often overlooked.  One of the greatest miracles in world history took place here, and that is why one of the only ten songs recorded in the Hebrew Bible was sung here.

Nachal Arnon in Jordan. The Arabs call it Wadi Mujib.

After the exodus from Egypt, the Children of Israel wandered the Sinai Peninsula.  They then crossed Ezion Geber (today’s Eilat) and walked along the Eastern border of Edom (in Jordan today).  They then asked the King of Edom permission to cross over their territory to get to Israel (Numbers 20) and promised to stay on the main road the entire time and pay them for the food and water they would need on the journey.  The King of Edom sent his army to their border as a show of force against Israel.  G-d had forbidden Israel from attacking Edom (Deuteronomy 2) so they had no choice but to continue Northwards on their route until they reached the Eastern border of Moab.

From Ezion-Geber (today’s Eilat), the Children of Israel went northwards (see Yellow). They asked for passage through Edom which was refused (territory in red), they also asked to enter via Moab and were refused. They continued northwards until they got to Arnon River (yellow circle)

The Children of Israel asked the King of Moab for permission to cross his territory to get to Israel.  The King refused this request, and because G-d had also commanded the Jews not to attack Moab, they continued North until they got to the Arnon River, the northern border of Moab and the Southern border of the Amorites.

While on their journey to Arnon, the giant Sihon, King of the Amorites made war with Moab and captured much of their northern territory (Numbers 21:26).  While seemingly unrelated to the Children of Israel, according to Jewish sources, G-d wanted this territory to belong to Israel.  When the land was controlled by Moab, Israel had been commanded not to attack them, but now that it was controlled by the Amorites, when Israel attacked, they also gained this newly captured territory (formerly of Moab).

The Jews entered the narrow Arnon canyon, now entirely within Sihon’s borders.  When the Amorites heard that the Jews would be crossing this narrow canyon of Arnon, they planned a special ambush.

When the Jews crossed the Arnon River, above them on both sides of the canyon lay the Amorite ambush.

Unbeknownst to the Children of Israel, on the ledges above them lay the Amorites who were planning to annihilate them. Under attack, there would be nowhere for them to run.  According to Jewish sources, the northern side of the valley had many rocks jutting out, while the southern side was filled with caves.  G-d moved the protruding rocks of one cliff into the caves on the other side, and thus the soldiers of the Amorites were crushed to death. Their blood turned the Arnon red, and only then did the Jews discover how G-d had saved them from an attack that they had no idea was about to take place.

Once on the other side, the Jews captured the Amorite territory and found themselves in the plains of Moab, opposite the Jordan river & Jericho, ready to enter the land which G-d had promised them (to continue the story of the Children of Israel entering the Holy Land, click here).

Relive the miracle of the Arnon River with Nosson Shulman on your very own private luxury Israel tour. To experience Israel from the comfort of your own home see our new Virtual Tours including our new released Hebron Tour.

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(All images used are either free usage or properly licensed by the author)


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