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Fordings

A ford is a relatively shallow place in a stream or river that humans or animals can directly cross simply by walking or wading. The Romans (see Ancient Empires - Rome) were the first to construct bridges in the land of Israel, so the early Israelites were well familiar with fords in The Jordan River, as well as fords in the Arnon, Yarmuk and Jabbok Rivers. One of the most famous events of Bible History, the renaming of Jacob as Israel, occurred as he was crossing the ford of the Jabbok River (Genesis 32:22-32). John The Baptist may have baptized "on the other side of the Jordan" at or near a ford (John 1:28).

Rivers of Israel Jacob Becomes "Israel"

After having left Laban (see Jacob and Laban), while returning to his father Isaac, Jacob crossed the fords of the Jabbok River just before he encountered his estranged brother Esau:

"The same night he arose and took his two wives [see Leah and Rachel], his two maids, and his eleven children [see Children of Jacob], and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. And Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and Jacob's thigh was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, "Let me go, for the day is breaking." But Jacob said, "I will not let you go, unless you bless me." And he said to him, "What is your name?" And he said, "Jacob." Then he said, "Your name shall no more be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed." (Genesis 32:22-28 RSV)

Rahab And The Spies

Just before the Israelites crossed into the Promised Land, Joshua sent two spies across the fords of the Jordan:

"Then the king of Jericho sent to Rahab, saying, "Bring forth the men that have come to you, who entered your house; for they have come to search out all the land." But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them; and she said, "True, men came to me, but I did not know where they came from; and when the gate was to be closed, at dark, the men went out; where the men went I do not know; pursue them quickly, for you will overtake them." But she had brought them up to the roof, and hid them with the stalks of flax which she had laid in order on the roof. So the men pursued after them on the way to the Jordan as far as the fords; and as soon as the pursuers had gone out, the gate was shut." (Joshua 2:3-7 RSV)

"Shibboleth"

By their nature, fords were strategic military points of access:

"And the Gileadites took the fords of the Jordan against the Ephraimites. And when any of the fugitives of Ephraim said, "Let me go over," the men of Gilead said to him, "Are you an Ephraimite?" When he said, "No," they said to him, "Then say Shibboleth," and he said, "Sibboleth," for he could not pronounce it right; then they seized him and slew him at the fords of the Jordan. And there fell at that time forty-two thousand of the Ephraimites." (Judges 12:5-6 RSV)

Fact Finder: Did the Euphrates River in Babylon have fords?
Jeremiah 51:30-32


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