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Israel's Water Supply
By John Stembridge

(Excerpt from the book The Geography of the Holy Land and its effect upon Israel’s Religion and Politics.)

Skiers on snow-covered Mount Hermon.

One of the most important aspects of any region is its water supply. Biblical Israel, on the whole, had a good supply of water. Besides the Mediterranean on its western boundary, the land had three main bodies of water: the waters of Merom, the Sea of Galilee, and the Dead Sea. Lake Hula was a small lake of about four miles long and about three and a half miles wide. [Editor’s note: In modern times the Hula area was drained, but now restored.]

The Jordan originates at the base of Mount Hermon, which rises 9,165 feet above the Mediterranean Sea; and it culminates in the Dead Sea, which lies approximately 1,300 feet below sea level.

The upper Jordan originates at the merging of three streams which flow from the vicinity of Mount Hermon. They are the Nahr Habany, Leddan, and Banias. These converge about 10 miles north of Lake Hula of the Waters of Merom and then flow into that lake. This is a small body of water that "...Joshua encountered and crushed the confederacy of the northern tribes of Canaan, under the leadership of Jabin, King of Hazor ...." (Joshua 11:5,7). Then proceeding from this lake, the Jordan continues south for approximately 20 miles until it reaches the Sea of Galilee. In this short distance of 20 miles, the Jordan falls or descends 689 feet or an average of 35 feet per mile until it flows into the second body of water along the course of the Jordan – the Sea of Galilee.

This sea was the focal point of Galilee, for around it centered the religious, social, political, and commercial life of Galilee. Its length is about 15 miles and its greatest width is about 6 miles across. Surrounding the lake are long plains and an array of hills and tablelands. The plain of Gennesaret is located on the northwest side of the lake and the plains of Jordan on the south. It was on the plain of Gennesaret that it is supposed the miraculous feeding of the five thousand took place. (Mark 6:35; Luke 9:10). Being surrounded by hills, it seems this lake would be protected from the storms that plague similar bodies of water, but such is not the case. Tempests are of frequent occurrence, made possible by the openings in the surrounding hills through which rush the cool winds of the Mediterranean to displace the hot atmosphere hanging over the low surface of Galilee.

View of the Mediterranean from Israel's shoreline.

Paradox: Dead – but Rich

The next section of the Jordan is called the Ghor or the middle Arabah, and it extends from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea. This section is the most unusual. The direct distance between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea is 60 miles; but because of the twisting and turning of the riverbed, it covers a distance of 200 miles. Another unusual feature of this section is the rapid descent which it makes averaging about 10 feet per mile. The width of the river averages from 90 to 100 feet with the exception of the flood time during the winter months when it is extended widely. Because of the mighty rush of the water, much soil is dislodged, and the sediment makes the water muddy. It was because of this factor, no doubt, that Naaman did not want to wash in the Jordan but, rather, in the cleaner "rivers of Damascus" saying, "Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? May I not wash in them, and be clean?" (II Kings 5:12).

To all of this valley area the name of the Ghor is applied, lying between two massive, bulging mountains ranges which hang over it or recede from it at various points.

The next division of this area is the Dead Sea which is about 1,300 feet below sea level. Within this sea is deposited the vast amount of sediment which has been upbraided by the mighty surge of the Jordan. Because of this rich deposit, there are many valuable minerals and substances in this body of water.

In terms of the world’s resources the wealth in the Dead Sea has been estimated to be more than all the wealth of the world beside. There are bromides and other chemicals for medicinal purposes, potash for fertilizer, various chemicals for dyestuffs, and salt for preservative and other uses.

The water of the Dead Sea consists of about 25% solid matter. In other words, to every 100 pounds of water 25 pounds of that amount is composed of solid material. For centuries this wealth has been of no use, but a new day has come to the Dead Sea. The rich chemical accumulations of the centuries, such as potassium chloride, magnesium bromide, and magnesium chloride in solution there, are now being extracted and commercially marketed.

View of the Southern tip of the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan Valley.

Desert Streams

Beside these bodies of water, there were innumerable brooks and wadis which are scattered throughout the land. Wadi is an Arabic word used to designate the channel of a watercourse which is usually dry. During and after the rainy season the wadi is a river or stream frequently large and rapid.

Dead Sea view from Qunran, the home of the Essenes,
and beyond the Dead Sea, the Mountains of Moab.

A number of these channels flow into the Jordan River from both the eastern and western plateaus and the others flow into the Mediterranean. Some of the more important wadis which flow into the Jordan include the Yarmuk from Bashan, the Jabbok from the central area, and the Arnon from the south. Another which enters the Dead Sea on the southeastern corner is the Zared. Others which flow into the Mediterranean include: the Leontes and Kishon in the north, the Nahr ez Zarqa, the Kanah, Sorek and the Wadis es-Sant from the central area, and the Zephathah, Ghazzeh, El-Arish, and the river of Egypt in the south. So one can readily see that the land had an abundance of water, which helped to make it the fertile, productive land that it was.

Author’s Postscript:

I just returned from my chai (18th) trip to Eretz Israel Oct. 7, 1999. The Sea of Galilee, Israel’s main source of water, was the lowest that I’ve ever seen. In some ports, the water line is down more than 50 feet. In fact, it was so low that there was an island that is not visible when the water level is normal.

Rain is desperately needed this fall. Please pray for an abundance of rain to cover Israel this season. Also, pray that the Arab nations in the Middle East will adopt the same policy of the Jewish National Fund, "Reclaiming and redeeming the land." Each of Israel’s neighbors needs to "reclaim and redeem" its desert lands through drip irrigation, reforestation, vegetable and fruit orchards. The more vegetation in the Middle East, the more rain and normal seasons it attracts.

Another key to normal rains, forests and vegetation in the Middle East is Aliyah (the regathering of all the twelve tribes of Israel. So earnestly fast and pray for all twelve tribes to be regathered this year to Zion.

"Listen to the Word of the Lord, you nations, announce it, make it known to coasts and islands far away: He Who scattered Israel shall gather them again and watch over them as a shepherd watches his flock….They shall come with shouts of joy to Zion’s heights, shining with happiness at the boundary of the land, the corn, the new wine, and the oil, the young of flock and herd.

A bustling port welcomed visitors to the prosperous village of Capernaum
in Jesus' time, as drawn by archaeological draftsman Leen Ritmeyer.

"They shall become like a watered garden and they shall never want again" (Jer. 31:10-12).