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AtlasToursJordanBiblical Jordan

Jacob and Esau

Some of the most important theological events associated with the life of Isaac's twin sons Jacob and Esau (pbut) took place in ancient Jordan. Jacob, with his wives Rachel and Leah, his two concubines, and his many children, fled the home of his uncle Laban in Haran, Mesopotamia (Turkey/Iraq area today), and headed back to Canaan.

Laban chased down Jacob's party and caught up with them at a place called Mizpah in Gilead, in the hill country above the Jordan Valley (Genesis 31). Jacob and Laban reconciled there and made a lifelong pact of peace, saying, "May the Lord watch between you and me while we are absent one from the other" (Genesis 31:49).

Ancient Penuel to the East of Jabbok River

The sites of Penuel and Mahanaim, where Jacob stopped during this transformative return journey from Mesopotamia to Canaan, have long been identified with two sites in north-central Jordan, Tulul Eddahab El-Gharbi and Tulul Eddahab El-Sharqi (the eastern and western hills of gold).

Jacob had reconciled with his uncle Laban, but still feared facing his brother Esau, for Jacob had used trickery to steal Esau's birthright, and Esau had vowed to kill Jacob one day. When Jacob camped at Mahanaim on his way to meet Esau, he was greeted by the angels of God who protected him (Genesis 32:1). Nevertheless, a frightened Jacob made the first prayer in the Bible in which a human being asks God for personal protection (Genesis 32:9-12).

Penuel (the face of God) was so named by Jacob after he wrestled there all night with God in the form of a man or an angel (Genesis 32:24-30). A massive Bronze and Iron Age temple recently discovered at Pella, in the northern Jordan Valley, is thought to be the largest, best preserved temple from Old Testament times excavated anywhere in the Holy Land.

The discovery leads some scholars to believe that ancient Penuel may have been located at Pella, After Jacob struggled with the angel of God, his name was changed to Isra-'el (which means "he struggles with God"). Then he reconciled with Esau, continued with his family to Canaan, and soon after emerged as father of the 12 tribes of Isra-'el. Esau remained in southern Jordan, where the Bible describes him as the father of the Edomites in the land of Seir (also called Edom) (Genesis 36:6-8).

Ruins of Ancient Pella

The moving reconciliation in this area between Jacob and Laban, and Jacob and Esau, are only two of many examples of Jordan's enduring symbolism as a place where human beings learned and applied God's command to love one another, and to be merciful, tolerant, humble and forgiving.

The region of southern Jordan below the Zered River (modern Wadi Hasa) includes the biblical lands of Midian, Edom, Paran and Seir (or Mount Seir), fabled for their pasture lands, mineral-rich mountains, strategic communication routes, and expansive deserts (Genesis 14:6, 32:3; Exodus 2:15).

During the Exodus, Moses (pbuh) and the people had to detour around Edom because the King of Edom refused them passage. The excavated 7th century BC remains at Busayra town are those of ancient Bozrah, an Edomite capital (Isaiah 34:6). One biblical passage suggests that the Messiah will return from Bozrah (Isaiah 63:1; also, Revelations 19:13), while Habbakuk 3:3 says that the Lord God came from Edom and Paran.

The summit of Umm Al-Biyara mountain in central Petra, with its excavated 7th century BC village, is identified by some scholars as biblical Sela (rock). King Amaziah of Judah "killed ten thousand Edomites in the Valley of Salt and took Sela by storm" (2 Kings 14:7, Isaiah 16:1). Ancient Sela also is identified with the mountaintop stronghold known today as Sele', north of Petra and near Busayra.

Fords of Jabbok River from South

Jacob's son Joseph (pbut) is known to have passed through the land of Jordan only once as an adult, (Genesis 50:10,11). He and other members of the family brought the body of their father Jacob for mourning at a place called "the threshing floor of Atad, which is beyond the Jordan" (i.e., east of the Jordan River Valley), after which they took it for its final burial in Canaan.

The Old Testament lands of Bashan and Gilead in northern Jordan were the scenes of episodes in the lives of Jacob, Moses, David, Solomon, Elijah, Elisha (pbut), Gideon, and other kings, judges and prophets. Bashan was famed for its thick oak forests, while Gilead was noted for its balm.

The Ishmaelite traders who bought Joseph and took him to Egypt were carrying aromatic gum, balm and myrrh from Gilead to Egypt (Genesis 37:25). The southern border of Gilead was usually the Jabbok River, the modern Zerqa River (Numbers 21:24).

Abraham, Jacob, Gideon, Jephthah and others traveled along its banks east of the Jordan (Judges 8:4-12, Genesis 33:17). Archaeological remains of biblical towns in Gilead include Rammoth-Gilead (Tell Rumeith), which is linked with events in the lives of Ahab, Jezebel, Elijah and Elisha (2 Kings 9:1).

Jabesh-Gilead in Wadi Al-Yabis, whose citizens retrieved and buried the bodies of Saul and his sons, has been identified with modern Tell Al-Maqbara, Tell Abu-Kharaz, or Tell Al-Maqlub (Judges 21:8-15; 1 Samuel 31:11-13; 2 Samuel 2:4-7).

Continue to: Moses and the Exodus
 
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