This concluding installment continues the history of Petra from the Old Testament, and reveals the prophetic significance of Petra's past.
THE second installment revealed that Moses led the Children of Israel through Petra toward the Promised Land. At Petra, Miriam was buried. Nearby, atop Mount Hor, Aaron died in the sight of the whole congregation. From Petra — called Kadesh or Kadesh-Barnea in the account of the Exodus — Moses expected to lead Israel into Palestine. The direct route from Petra to east of Jordan was by the King's Highway. Now we pick up the story of the Exodus with Moses' request to journey on this important road-link with Eastern Palestine.
Where Was the King's Highway?
When Moses and the Israelites were at Kadesh they sent messengers to the king of Edom asking permission to "go by the king's highway" (Num. 20:17). Edom refused passage. "And the children of Israel said unto him, 'We will go by the highway: and if I and my cattle drink of thy water, then I will pay for it'." In response to this second request we read: "And he said" — this is Edom's reply — "Thou shalt not go through." They refused again. "And Edom came out against him with much people, and with a strong hand. Thus Edom refused to give Israel passage through his border: wherefore Israel turned away from him" (Num. 20:19-21). Israel was not permitted to go through Edom by the King's Highway. Where was this highway? Part of it may still be seen today. It lay east of the Dead Sea and east of Mt. Seir. It is nearly identical with today's main-traveled road from Amman to the Gulf of Aqaba. All of us who have visited Petra have had to travel the same general route of this ancient highway! It is the only highway in the region! This route east of Palestine and Mt. Seir has always been known in history as the King's Highway. What was Israel going to do, now that Edom refused them passage by this route?
Journey NORTHWARD in the Arabah
After Israel had moved from Etiongeber to Kedesh the second time, God said to Moses: "Ye have compassed this mountain long enough; turn NORTHWARD. And command thou the people, saying: 'Ye are to pass through the border of your brethren the children of Esau, that dwell in Seir... contend not with them" (Deut. 2:2-5). After Kadesh was reached and the King's Highway closed to them, Moses summarizes the next few months by saying: "So we passed by from our brethren the children of Esau, that dwell in Seir, through the way of the Arabah [the King James Version has "plain"), from Elath and from Eziongaber" (Deut. 2:8). Since Edom refused passage, Israel had to turn back, pass by Mt. Hor, and continue northward through the Arabah to by-pass the territory of Edom, Most Bible maps would have the children of Israel going southward around Mt. Seir and then taking the King's Highway in order to by-pass Edom! It shows how little most scholars read their Bibles. Israel had to go west of Edom through the Arabah in order to avoid cutting through the border of Edom. Upon leaving Mt. Hor, Israel journeyed to Gudgodah and to Jotbath (Deut. 10:7). These two places on the road from Petra to the Arabah Road are probably spelling variants of the two locations — Hor-hagidgad and Jotbathah — which Israel stopped at about 38 years earlier when leaving Kadesh the first time (Num. 33:33). This clearly proves that the Eternal was leading the children of Israel into the Arabah from Kadesh both times — the first time southward by the Red Sea Road into the wilderness; the second time by the same Red Sea Road northward to compass the land of Edom (Num. 21:4). This road is called the "Arabah Road' in Deut. 2:8, because it ran the length of the Arabah, north and south of Petra. When the Canaanites heard that Israel was proceeding northward (Deut. 2:3, 8),"by the way of the spies" (Num. 21:1) — that is, by the way which the spies used to enter Palestine when they searched the land 40 days — then the Canaanites fought Israel and were this time defeated (Num. 21:3). These verses show that Israel proceeded northward, not southward, on the Arabah Way — the "Way of the Plain," sometimes called the "Way of the Red Sea." To go the Way of the Red Sea does not mean one has to go to the Red Sea. It would, of course, be the route leading to the Red Sea, hut one may be going in the opposite direction on the road — just as Israel did! This Arabah road stretched from the Gulf of Aqaba northward to near the Dead Sea. En route north, they came to Punon (Num. 33:42). The settlement of Punon is north of Petra and in the Arabah. It is an area of extensive copper mines. (See Keller's The Bible us History, p. 143.) Its modern Arabic name is Phenan. The stop at Punon immediately proceeded the stop at Oboth (Nurn. 33:43). Now compare this with Numbers 21:9 and 10. Notice that at Punon — the stop just before Oboth — Moses made a "serpent of brass" — an alloy of copper. Certainly there is no mistaking where Punon is! The very next encampment is on "the border of Moab" (Num. 33:44). Not until they reached the northern border of Edom did Israel cut eastward between Moab and Edom along the brook Zered (Deut. 2:8, last part, and 13). This was 38 years after they left Kadesh the first time (Deut. 2:14). They had to journey eastward because Israel had rejected the direct route into Palestine from the south nearly forty years earlier!
Petra Occupied by Israel
Next, let us skip over to the time Israel under Joshua took the promised land. Remember that Kadesh rightfully belonged to Israel (Deut. 1:19-20). Observe what Joshua did: "And Joshua smote them from Kadesh-barnea even unto Gaza, and all the country of Goshen, even unto Gibeon" (Joshua 10:41). Here the easternmost limit of southern Palestine is the city Kadesh-barnea. Compare this with Joshua 15:1-3: "This then was the lot of the tribe of Judah... even to the border of Edom the wilderness of Zin southward.... And their south border was from the shore of the salt sea... and passed along to Zin, and ascended up on the south side unto Kadesh-barnea." And again: "So Joshua took all that land... and the Arabah ["the plain" in King James Version]... even unto the mount Halak, that goeth up to Seir" (Josh. 11:16-17). "Mount Halak' is not quite a clear translation of the original Hebrew. The word "Halak" means smooth, bare. Smiths Bible dictionary indicates it is "the mountain range on the east side of the 'Arabah, or one of the bare mountain summits in that range." Hasting? Bible Dictionary declares: "The Arabah Valley gradually rises toward the summit level, which it reaches immediately in front of Mount Hor on the borders of Seir; and to this line of elevation the term 'smooth' would not be inapplicable, while at the same time it would be on the line of communication between southern Palestine and Petra, the capital of Seir." Observe that all these verses point out that Israel occupied the Arabah just west of Mt. Seir even to the barren mountain region of Petra. Yet we found (Joshua 10:41) the easternmost border city is Kadesh-barnea. Surely Petra and Kadesh are the same from these verses! Years later Judah had to recapture Petra after the Edomites rebelled (II Kings 8:20; 14:7). Petra belonged to Israel. The capital of Edom was not Petra, but Bozrah (Amos 1:12; Jer. 49:13, 22). Petra was the gate by which Israel controlled their Edomite enemies. Consider another important fact. Josephus, Eusebius and Jerome wrote that the Aramaic, Assyrian and Arabic name for Petra was Rekem (Antiquities, bk. iv, ch. 7, sec. 1 ). Rekem comes from the Arabic word for "ROCK." "But in the Aramaic versions Rekem IS THE NAME OF KADESH," according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica! This authority, under article "Petra," further states: "Sometimes the Aramaic versions give the form Rekem-Geya [for Kadesh], which recalls the name of the village El-ji, southeast of Petra." Here are literally dozens of Scriptures — hidden from the world — which Clearly speak of Petra and the route to Petra! These Scriptures are profitable for our INSTRUCTION Those events in Old Testament times are examples for as today (I Cor. 10:11). Under Moses, Kadesh — Petra — was the station from which the promised land could have been entered. Will it again be the last station today for those who are obedient, before entering the promised eternal Kingdom of God? We must remember, however, that the route to Palestine at the first exodus did not go directly to Palestine; it went via Mt. Sinai! What the route for God's people will be this time is not revealed yet! When God reveals it to His ministers on earth, it may seem just as unusual as that first route. God will reveal it in His time!