Jordan History & Scripture Reference

The part of the Holy Land on the eastern side of the Jordan River, in the country of Jordan, is blessed with the rich spiritual heritage of the full story of Salvation as recorded in the Bible. The Biblical history of Abraham, Job, Moses, Ruth, Elijah, John the Baptist, Jesus Christ, Paul and other leading figures from the Bible is found etched in the ancient landscape now within the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

In and around southern Jordan, God first manifested Himself to mankind.  Subsequently, this land witnessed the missions of numerous prophets, the completion of the Covenant through Moses and the Israelites, the increased revelation of the Christian faith heralded by John the Baptist and completed through Jesus Christ. Jordan is also where Jacob wrestled with the angel of God, Job suffered and was rewarded for his faith, and Elijah ascended to Heaven.

The very name of the country and its famous river of baptism and spiritual commitment - Jordan retains the unique heritage of the land.

The heartland of this spiritual landscape that witnessed the unfolding of God's Salvation History is the area alongside the Dead Sea and the Jordan River, in today's west-central Jordan. This area was called the "Plains of Moab" in the Old Testament and formed part of the region of "Peraea" in the New Testament. This is the only area in the Holy Land that combines the traditions of Moses, Elijah, John the Baptist, and Jesus Christ, key figures in God's redemption of mankind.

This is where Moses delivered God's Law to mankind and here is where Jesus was baptized by John and anointed by God, where he called his first disciples, and where the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit manifested itself explicitly during the baptism along the Jordan River.

In the land of Jordan, God frequently appeared and encountered mankind in the form of a whirlwind, a cloud of light or dust, an angel, or a voice speaking with the prophets. One biblical passage (Habbakuk 3:3) says explicitly that "God come from Teman, and the Holy One from Mount Paran". Deuteronomy 33:2 notes that "The Lord come from Sinai, and dawned down on them from Seir; He shone forth from Mount Paran". Teman, Seir and Paran are in the area of Edom, in southern Jordan.

God repeatedly designated Jordan as a land of peace and refuge, where Ruth, Elijah, David, Jesus, John the Baptist and the first Christian communities, among others, found safety and peace. Most of the great biblical prophets journeyed from the east bank of the Jordan River to the west, symbolically moving from the "wilderness" where men and women are tested, to the promised Holy Land, the Kingdom of God.


The Ammonites occupied the tableland east of the Jordan Valley that stretched into the Arabian Desert.  The capital of the Ammonites was Rabbah (sometimes called Rabbath-ammon), current-day Amman,  Jordan.  By New Testament times, Rabbah had become the southernmost city in the league of cities called the Decapolis, and it's name had been changed to Philadelphia.
Period of the Exodus  Deuteronomy 2:19-21, 37 - God prohibited Israel from taking the land of the Ammonites.

Bethany Beyond the Jordan/Plains of Moab

On the Eastern bank of the Jordan River is "Bethany Beyond the Jordan,"  the place associated with John the Baptist's baptism of Jesus.
This is also the area where the twelve tribes camped prior to entering the Promised Land.
Nearby you may view a small hill called Tel Mar Elias, or "Elijah's Hill," the place where Elijah ascended into heaven.
Period of the Exodus  Numbers 21:1 - Israel arrived at the Plains of Moab.
Numbers 26: Deuteronomy 1:5 - Moses numbered the sons of Israel
Deuteronomy 34:8 - Israel mourned the death of Moses for 30 days.
Joshua 13:8-32 - Moses allotted this territory to Reuben, Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh.
Divided Kingdom  2 Kings 2:1-15 - Elijah and Elisha crossed the River and Elijah was taken up in a chariot of fire.
Life of Christ  John 1:28-29 - John the Baptist


The Edomites were the descendants of Jacob's twin brother, Esau (Gen. 25:21-26: 36:9).  The name Edom comes from the word meaning "red", and it described Esau's physical characteristics at birth (25:25).  It also became his nickname because of his fondness for red lentil stew, the "red stuff" for which he bartered away his birthright (v. 30-31 NASB).  Finally, the name is an apt description of the land occupied by the Edomites with its red sandstone rock.  Because the Edomites descended from Jacob's brother, they were considered a "brother" nation to Israel.  Moses commanded Israel, "Do not abhor an Edomite, for he is your brother" (Deut. 23:7).  The northern border of the land of Edom was the Wadi Zered which flows from east to west and joins the Arabah at the southeastern tip of the Dead Sea.  The land of the Edomites extended south to the Red Sea, or Gulf of Aqaba.
Period of the Exodus  Numbers 20:14-21 - The Edomites refused to let Israel pass through their land as the Israelites made their way up the east side of the Dead Sea.  Israel had asked for permission to travel on the "king's highway" (the main north-south road from Damascus to the Gulf of Aqaba) where it passed through Edom. 
Numbers 34:3; Joshua 15:1 - The Wilderness of Zin, along the southeastern border of the tribe of Judah, was the boundary between Israel and Edom.
United Kingdom  1 Samuel 21:7; 22:9-19 - Doeg the Edomite spotted David when he fled from Saul to the priests of Nob to retrieve Goliath's sword.  Doeg later reported the event to Saul and personally killed eighty-five priests at the order of Saul.
2 Samuel 8:13-14; 1 Chronicles 18:12-13 - David destroyed an Edomite army and conquered the land of Edom.
1 Kings 9:26; 11:14; 2 Chronicles 8:17 - Solomon built a fleet of ships at Ezion Geber near Elath "in Edom, on the shore of the Red Sea."  God raised up Hadad the Edomite as an adversary to judge Solomon for his unfaithfulness.
Isaiah 34:1-11; 63: 1-3 - In picturing God's final judgment on the earth as He intervened to judge sin and restore His people Israel, Isaiah recorded that God's sword "descends in judgment on Edom." (34:5)  The prophet pictured God coming from Edom with His robe stained in the blood of His enemies.

Divided Kingdom 2 Kings 3:4-27 – The kings of Judah, Israel, and Edom led their armies through the Desert of Edom in a surprise attack against the king of Moab.  2 Kings 14:7; 16:6 – King Amaziah of Judah defeated ten thousand Edomites in a major battle and captured the city of Sela.  Later the king of Aram captured Elath from Judah, and drove out the people of Judah.  The Edomites moved back to populate the city. 
2 Chronicles 20 – The Ammonites, Moabites, and Edomites united and crossed the Dead Sea at the tongue of land called the Lisan to attack
Judah.  Jehoshaphat led the Israelites into the wilderness, only to discover that God had already intervened and caused the allies to fight among themselves and kill one another. 
2 Chronicles 28:17 – The Edomites attacked Judah during the reign of Ahaz. 
Isaiah 11:14 – Isaiah prophesied a day when God’s people would triumph over Edom, Moab, and Ammon.

Ammon  Isaiah 34:1-11; 63:1-3 – In picturing God’s final judgment on the earth as He intervened to judge sin and restore His people Israel, Isaiah recorded that God’s sword “descends in judgment on Edom” (34:5).  The prophet pictured God coming from Edom with His robe stained in the blood of His enemies. 
Joel 3:19; Amos 1:11-12 – God would make Edom a desolate waste because of their violence against the people of Judah.  Through Amos, God condemned Edom for pursuing “his brother [Judah] with a sword, stifling all compassion” (Amos 1:11).

The Book of Obadiah – The prophet Obadiah described God’s judgment on the prideful people of Edom

Babylonian Captivity Psalm 137:7 – The psalmist asked God to judge the Edomites for their boastful taunting over Jerusalem when it fell to the Babylonians.
Jeremiah 49:7-22 – Jeremiah described God’s judgment against Edom. 
Lamentations 4:21-22 –
Edom rejoiced over the fall of Jerusalem, but God promised to punish Edom for their sin.
Ezekiel 25:12-14; 35:1-15 – God vowed to destroy Edom because the Edomites had taken revenge on the people of Judah and because the Edomites tried to take by force the land God had promised to His people Israel. 
Daniel 11:41 – Daniel predicted that Edom, Moab, and Ammon would not fall into the hands of the final world ruler who would invade Israel just before the coming of Israel’s Messiah. 

Restoration Malachi 1:4 – God vowed the Edomites would not be allowed to rise again.  Instead they would remain under the wrath of the Lord. 

Ezion Geber/Ezion-geber

Meaning: the giant's backbone (so called from the head of a mountain which runs out into the sea)
an ancient city and harbor at the northeast end of the Elanitic branch of the Red Sea, the Gulf of Akabah, near Elath or Eloth (Num. 33:35; Deut. 2:8)
According to the translation of "Targum Yonathan Ben Ezial", the words Ezion-Geber mean 'The Village of the Hen'.

Here Solomon built ships, "Tarshish ships," like those trading from Tyre to Tarshish and the west, which traded with Ophir (1 Kings 9:26; 2 Chr. 8:17); and here also Jehoshaphat's fleet was shipwrecked (1 Kings 22:48; 2 Chr. 20:36). It became a populous town, many of the Jews settling in it (2 Kings 16:6, "Elath"). It is supposed that anciently the north end of the gulf flowed further into the country than now, as far as 'Ain el-Ghudyan, which is 10 miles up the dry bed of the Arabah, and that Ezion-geber may have been there.

The Children of Israel encamped in Asiongaber in their journey through the wilderness (Numbers 33:35). The ships of Solomon and Hiram started from this port on their voyage to Ophir. It was the main port for Israel's commerce with the countries bordering on the Red Sea and Indian Ocean. Josaphat, King of Juda, joined himself with Ochozias, the wicked King of Israel, to make ships in Asiongaber; but God disapproved the unholy alliance, and the ships were broken in the port (2 Chronicles 20:37).

Ezion-Geber was one of the places the Israelites migrated through during the Exodus.


The modern city of Jerash in Jordan preserves the name of the ancient city of Gerasa, one of the most important cities in the region of the Decapolis.  The city is located about twenty-five miles north of Amman and about forty miles southeast of the Sea of Galilee.  Jerash has some of the best-preserved Roman ruins in the Middle East.  The only possible reference to Gerasa in the New Testament occurs in the account of Jesus casting the demons into the herd of swine.  Matthew 8:28-34 records the exact location where the miracle occurred.  Matthew, writing to a Jewish audience more familiar with the geographical details of the land, could record the specific village along the shore of the Sea of Galilee.  However, Mark (writing to a Roman audience) and Luke (writing to a Greek audience) recorded the nearest large city that would be familiar to their readers.  While there is a textual problem that divides scholars, the two possible cities named by Mark and Luke are Gadara (a smaller city six miles from the Sea of Galilee) or Gerasa (the larger city forty miles from the Sea of Galilee).  If Gerasa is the correct textual reading, then Mark and Luke were pointing to the region dominated by the city called Gerasa (modern Jerash).


The dramatic hilltop/fortress of Machaerus, known today as Mukawir, is the place where John the Baptist was beheaded.  This promontory allows for a view of the Dead Sea from the Eastern shore.
The fortress was originally built by Hasmonean ruler Alexander Jannauus (103-76 BC) to defend the region of Perea.  His widow, Alexandria, stored her treasure here. The site was destroyed by the Romans in 63 BC and restored and enhanced by Herod the Great (37-4 BC).
Life of Christ  Matthew 14:1-12, Mark 6:14-29 - When Herod Antipas divorced his wife to marry Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, John the Baptist publicly condemned his behavior.  John was imprisoned and later beheaded when Salmone, Herodias's daughter, danced for Herod and requested John's head on a platter.



The Medeba of the Bible is today the Arabic town of Madaba.  Also known as "the City of Mosaics", the town is famous for its spectacular Byzantine-era mosaics, which are scattered throughout the town's homes and churches.  Located on the king's highway just nineteen miles south of Amman, Madaba is best known for the sixth-century mosaic map of the Holy Land, in which Jerusalem and its surrounding regions are depicted.
Period of the Exodus  Numbers 21:21-25, 30-31 - Israel defeated Sihon king of the Amorites and captured his territory, including Medeba.
Joshua 13:15-16 - The tribe of Reuben received "the whole plateau past Medeba" as part of its inheritance.
Divided Kingdom  Isaiah 15:2 - Isaiah predicted the inhabitants of Moab would weep over the destruction of Nebo and Medeba.

Moab/ Moabites

The Moabites descended from a son born to Lot and his oldest daughter following the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19:30-38).  Because the Moabites descended from Lot (Abraham’s nephew), they were considered a “related” nation to Israel.  “Do not harass the Moabites or provoke them to war, for I will not give you any part of their land.  I have given Ar to the descendants of Lot as a possession” (Deut. 2:9).  The Moabites occupied the tableland east of the Dead Sea.  Their northern boundary extended to the Arnon River, and their southern boundary extended to the Zered River.  However, in times of strength their territory did expand northward beyond the Arnon River.  Thus, the place where Israel crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land was called the “plains of Moab.”  The national god of the Moabites was Chemosh. 

Patriarchal Period Genesis 19:30-38 – Lot’s oldest daughter got her father drunk and had sexual relations with him.  The child born of that union was named Moab, and the Moabites descended from him. 

Period of the Exodus Numbers 21:11-13; Judges 11:17-18 – Israel skirted past Moab on its journey northward along the eastern side of the Dead Sea.
Numbers 22-25; Revelation 2:14 – Balak, king of Moab, summoned the prophet Balaam to Moab, summoned the prophet Balaam to curse the nation of Israel.  Although Balaam was unable to curse Israel outright, he evidently urged the Moabite women to entice the men of Israel into idolatry. 
Deuteronomy 2:9-18 – God prohibited Israel from taking the land of the Moabites. 

Period of the Judges Judges 3:12-30 – Eglon, king of Moab, oppressed Israel for eighteen years and controlled the city of Jericho until he was defeated by the judge Ehud. 
The Book of Ruth – Elimelech, Naomi, and their two sons fled to Moab to escape a famine in Bethlehem.  Naomi’s husband and two sons died.  She returned to
Bethlehem accompanied by one of her daughters-in-law, Ruth the Moabitess.  Ruth married Boaz, and from their line came King David (Ruth 4:22) and Jesus (Matt. 1:5, 16).   

United Kingdom 1 Samuel 14:47 – King Saul conducted military campaigns against Moab
1 Samuel 22:3-4 – David, while a fugitive from Saul, took his parents to live in Moab. 
2 Samuel 8:2; 1 Chronicles 18:2 – David conquered the Moabites and made them his subjects.  

Divided Kingdom 2 Kings 1:1 – After King Ahab’s death, Moab rebelled against the northern kingdom of Israel.
2 Kings 3 – The kings of
Israel, Judah, and Edom attacked and defeated the Moabites.
2 Chronicles 20 – The Ammonites, Moabites, and Edomites united together and crossed the Dead Sea at the Lisan to attack
Judah.  God would intervene and cause the allies to fight among themselves and kill one another. 
Isaiah 11:14; 15-16 – Isaiah prophesied of a day when God’s people would triumph over Edom, Moab, and Ammon and presented God’s oracle of judgment against the people of Moab because of their excessive pride.
Amos 2:1-3 – Amos announced God’s judgment on the people of Moab because of their callous disregard even for the dead.   

Babylonian Captivity Jeremiah 48 – Jeremiah presented God’s prophecy of destruction against the people of Moab for their prideful self-reliance and their gloating over Judah’s destruction. 
Ezekiel 25:8-11 – Ezekiel predicted Moab’s destruction because of the nation’s refusal to acknowledge God’s special place for Israel. 
Daniel 11:41 – Daniel predicted that Edom, Moab, and Ammon would not fall into the hands of the final world ruler who would invade Israel just before the coming of Israel’s Messiah. 

Restoration Nehemiah 13:23-27 – Nehemiah rebuked the people of Judah for mixed marriages, including marriages to women of Moab.   

The Nabateans were Semitic nomads who developed and controlled the land caravan routes in the Middle East.  Their early history is obscure, but by the fourth century BC they had taken control of Petra from the Edomites, forcing the remaining Edomite population to migrate westward into the Negev and wilderness area in southern Judea. 
Although the Nabateans began as nomadic traders, they eventually settled into cities that sat strategically along the main trade routes.  Several such cities are in Israel (Mampsis/ Mamshit, Avdat/ Oboda), but the most well-known city is Petra in Jordan.  The beautiful buildings carved into the hillside were constructed by the Nabateans and, later, by the Romans who captured the city in AD 106. 
The Nabateans’ sudden, swift conquest of the land of Edom and expulsion of the Edomites seems to confirm Obadiah’s prophecy against Edom.  “All your allies will force you to the border; your friends will deceive and overpower you; those who eat your bread will set a trap for you, but you will not detect it” (Obadiah 7).  The Edomites welcomed the caravans of the Nabateans, and the wealth they brought, into their land … only to discover their “allies” would later become their conquerors. 

Mt. Nebo 

Mount Nebo, also identified with Pisgah, was located northeast of the Dead Sea overlooking the Jordan Valley opposite Jericho.  A town with the same name was nearby.  It is unclear whether the town was named for the mountain or the mountain named for the town.
Period of the Exodus  Numbers 23:13-14 - The king of Moab took Balaam the prophet to "the top of Pisgah" in an effort to get Balaam to curse Israel.  Numbers 32:1-3, 37-38 - The tribe of Reuben received the city of Nebo as part of their tribal inheritance.  Deuteronomy 32:49; 34:1 - God allowed Moses to view the Promised Land from "Mount Nebo in Moab, across from Jericho".  The specific mountain on which Moses stood was called "the top of Pisgah."
Divided Kingdom  Isaiah 15:2 - Isaiah predicted the inhabitants of Moab would weep over the destruction of Nebo and Medeba.
Single Kingdom  Jeremiah 48:1, 21-22 - Jeremiah predicted the destruction of Nebo and the other cities located on the "plateau."


Petra, the rose-red capital of the Nabateans, was originally a city of the Edomites (2 Kings 14:7).  Some believe the Old Testament city of Sela (from the Hebrew word meaning "jagged cliff, craggy rock") is the same as the Nabatean city of Petra (from the Greek word meaning "the rock").  The city of Petra is located in a semi-landlocked valley on the eastern side of the Arabah, approximately fifty miles south of the Dead Sea.  The normal entrance to the city of Petra is through the Siq ("cleft"), a winding fissure in the eastern ridge.  At the end of the Siq, the path opens up to a canyon... and a spectacular view of a temple carved into the face of the rock.  Some Bible teachers believe the people of Israel will flee to Petra during the period of tribulation immediately preceding the return of Jesus Christ to earth to set up His kingdom.  These teachers cite several passages of Scripture to support their view.  Those Scriptures are listed below.
Divided Kingdom  "All the stars of the heavens will be dissolved and the sky rolled up like a scroll; all the starry host will fall like withered leaves from the vine, like shriveled figs from the fig tree.  My sword...descends in judgment on Edom, the people I have totally destroyed.  The sword of the LORD is bathed in blood" (Isa. 34:4-6).  "Who is this coming from Edom, from Bozrah, with his garments stained crimson?  Who is this, robed in splendor, striding forward in the greatness of his strength? 'It is I, speaking in righteousness, mighty to save'" (Isa. 63:1).
Life of Christ  "So when you see standing in the holy place 'the abomination that causes desolation', spoken of through the prophet Daniel - let the reader understand - then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains" (Matt. 24:15-16).
Apostolic Age  "The woman fled into the desert to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days" (Rev. 12:6).


Excerpts taken from: The New Christian Traveler's Guide to the Holy Land, Dyer/Hatteberg