It happened after the death of Moses…that G-d said to Joshua… “Moses, My servant has died. Now, arise, cross this Jordan (River), you and this entire people, to the land that I give to them, to the Children of Israel (Joshua 1: 1-2)
Recap: Last week, we visited Mount Nebo (click here to learn more) where G-d buried Moses. After his death, the Children of Israel, who were encamped in the plains of Moab, mourned for 30 days, after which G-d told Joshua, their new leader, that in 3 days they would cross the Jordan River.
After 40 long years in the desert, the Jews were finally ready to enter the land G-d promised their forefathers to give them. Joshua first sent two spies to scout out Jericho. When they returned, the spies said “G-d has given the land into our hands, and all the inhabitants of the land have even melted because of us (Joshua 2:24)”. Now it was time to cross and the trajectory of history was about to change forever.
Today we are visiting one of my favorite sites: Qasr El Yehud (Arabic for break through point of the Jews) on the Jordan River, by far the most mentioned body of water in the bible (181 times). According to tradition, this is the exact spot where Joshua and the Children of Israel entered the holy land. The Bible mentions that they crossed “opposite Jericho (Joshua 3: 16).” Indeed, this section of the river is exactly opposite the historic city.
The roughly 200 km river (which does not include the Jordan river section which starts at Mt. Hermon and ends at the Kinneret) flows from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea.
The night before the miraculous events, while encamped on the Jordanian side of the river, Joshua told his people “Prepare yourselves, for tomorrow, G-d will do wonders in your midst (Joshua 3:5)”. How were they supposed to prepare? According to Jewish sources, they were supposed to prepare themselves spiritually because G-d was about to do a wonderous miracle for them and the people needed to be worthy of it.
Joshua will command the Kohanim (priests) to enter the river carrying the Ark of the covenant.
Once they did, the water descending from upstream (from the north) stood still and they rose up in one column, and the water that was descending to the Dead Sea (southwards) continued to flow downstream until there was dry land and everyone could cross (Joshua 3: 15-17).
Once everyone was safely on the other side, Joshua commanded 12 men, one from each tribe, to return to the dry riverbed and to each take a stone from it. The stones would later be set up at Gilgal as a testimony to the miracle which G-d brought about. One the Kohanim (priests) were no longer in the river, the waters continued flowing naturally towards the Dead Sea.
Centuries later, at this location, Elijah the Prophet ascended alive to heaven on a chariot of fire (2nd Kings 2)
When taking tourists here, many wonder why such a miracle at this place was even necessary? While standing at Qasr El Yehud, one sees a river which is only a few feet wide. Its depth is shallow enough where a person could cross, in water, by foot without being totally submerged.
However, what we see today is a mere remnant of a once mighty river. In 1848, a scholar named William Lynch, who wrote one of the first maps of the Jordan River (and Dead Sea), said the river was 70 yards (about ¾ of a football field) long and up to 10 feet deep.
Unfortunately, since the 1960s, Jordan, Syria and Israel have diverted 70-90% of the water for pressing domestic needs, which has caused the river to shrink (although Syria does not border the river, one of the Jordan River’s main tributaries goes through Syria). That is also the reason why the Dead Sea is shrinking every year, as it gets most of its water from the Jordan river which today barely flows into it. Syrian and Jordanian sewage flows into the Jordan river via the Yarmouk river, which gives the polluted water it’s current yellowish green color.
None-the-less, this site is still a gem you need to visit at least once in your lifetime. As this is an international border, while standing on the riverbank, one is mere feet away from both Israeli and Jordanian soldiers.
The Israeli soldiers are usually happy to pose for pictures with my tourists and this site can be done as a quick stop as part of a larger day trip.