As I began to think about a series of articles on the Arabah (or Aravah) in Israel I realized that I should begin with a general discussion of the rift valley or, as it is sometimes called, the Great Rift.
If we begin in the north, the great rift begins south of the Amanus Mountains in southern Turkey, near modern Antakya (biblical Antioch of Syria, Acts 11). Antioch was built on the Orontes River, a river that flows north from Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley finally turning west and flowing into the Mediterranean. As it flows northward from its source into Syria it passes the site of Riblah (2 Kings 23:33; 25:6, et al.), and through Lebo-hamath (or the entrance of Hamath, as many English version read; 2 Kings 14:25). Hamath is located at the site of modern Hama, Syria. From there the Orontes flows north in the rift valley of Syria till it approaches the Amanus Mountains.
Going back to the Bekaa Valley between the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon mountains, we look to the south. The rift enters Israel near Dan. Abel-beth-Maacah (1 Kings 15) overlooks the rift from the west. Those who have traveled north of the Sea of Galilee in Israel likely have some idea about the great depression or rift in that region.
Running south from Israel’s northern border with Lebanon continues to the Hulah Valley, then through the Sea of Galilee where it is about 700 feet below sea level. From there it continues south in the Jordan Valley until it reaches the Dead Sea at more than 1300 feet below sea level.
I plan to begin a series of articles dealing with the portion of the Great Rift that runs from the south end of the Dead Sea to the Gulf of Eilat (or Gulf of Aqaba in Jordan). In Israel, the rift runs from Dan to Eilat (or Elath). From Eilat the depression continues south through the Gulf of Eilat/Aqaba to the Red Sea and into eastern Africa. On our recent study trip Leon Mauldin and I traveled the entire length of the rift from Dan to Eilat.
One can easily find articles and maps explaining the great rift on the Internet, as well as explanations in many good Bible atlases. Describing the Rift Valley in Israel, Carl Rasmussen says,
This depression is part of the Rift Valley system that extends for 3,700 miles from southern Turkey into Africa. North of Israel the system continues in a northeasterly direction into the Lebanese Beqa; to the south it runs through the Red Sea and down into Africa.
In Israel proper, this depression runs from Dan in the north to the southern tip of the Dead Sea, a distance of 150 miles, and then continues south-southwest as far as Elath, a distance of 110 miles. The various sections of the Rift Valley are diverse in character; a considerable amount of rain falls in the northern section (24 in. at Dan), whereas in the south the rainfall is negligible (2 in. at the south end of the Dead Sea). The valley receives runoff water from the mountains to the west and east along its entire length. (Rasmussen, Carl G. Zondervan Atlas of the Bible. Revised Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010. Print.)
The Gulf of Eilat/Aqaba enters the Red Sea proper at Sharm el Shekh near the tip of the Sinai. Back when the Sinai was under Israeli control I had the opportunity to visit the site. At the time Sharm el Shekh was only a place with a few cabins and a place for the adventurous to park their small trailers. It later became a popular Egyptian resort with expensive hotels. In recent years tourism has suffered due to terrorism in the vicinity.
In 1967 Egypt closed the Straits of Tiran to ships delivering goods to Israel. This is generally thought to be the act that precipitated the June War of 1967.
As I began to study about the Great Rift for the past several days I realized that I have visited all of the major area from north to south along this rift from the Amanus Mountains of Turkey through Syria, Lebanon, and Israel until it reaches the Red Sea at the tip of the Sinai peninsula.
An understanding of this rift helps the Bible student better understand many events of the Scripture.