Edomites and Nabateans

 September 19 (Day 3)

It was rise and shine and breakfast at 7am. The hotel provides a good selection for a breakfast buffet with the exception of “non-Kosher” meat products common on an American menu. No complaints. Our driver and our Tour Guide Fadi are on time and we load up with plenty of water as we head for the desert.in the south of Jordan as we are heading to Petra, the World Heritage Site. 

Our guide provided background information on modern Jordan as well as tying together the past and present and the realities of life in a tough neighborhood. He explained that Jordan is the one stable and peaceful nation in a region that includes neighbors like Syria, Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia. Yes, they have a constitutional monarch but the institution provides a social anchor in a tribal society where things can become volitile. Fadi is a Christian whose family beliefs can be traced back to the earliest Christian communities in the 2nd Century located in the ancient Decapolis of the Bible. His family retained their Christian identity while most of their neighbors converted to Islam. He enjoyed connecting us to Bible passages as we bumped along King’s and Desert Highways.


We disembarked at the gates to the Petra complex. Other than being bombarded by easy to ignore postcard and bracelet vendors, the walk to and through the Siq or “crack” was enjoyable with Fadi’s continual commentary. We enjoyed his brief homily about the fig tree under a resident wild fig. The Wadi Musa or Mose’s River runs through the Siq in the winter. Today it was as dry as the Fresno River. Along the way were numerous niches where  idols and sacred images have been placed over the centuries through entrance to this holy site of the ancient Nabateans as well as Roman and Early Christians before the collapse of the city in the 4th century because of destructive  earthquakes and collapsing Byzantine Empire. The city was largely forgotten for a millennium before being rediscovered in the early 19th Century and by Hollywood in the 20th. 


Our visit was pleasantly shady and even mild and somewhat empty until the arrival of the cruise ship tours from the Gulf of Aqaba in the afternoon as we were leaving. I do need to mention that there as plenty of donkey, horse, camel and cart traffic. We held off the horses until the end. We climbed and explored and posed and enjoyed ourselves.

Our return on the speed bumped highway was tranquil until we caught up with folks on their way to a political rally up the road. Tradition is that the candidates provide a free feed for voters before they cast their votes in the national elections tomorrow. The participants were not practicing safe and sane driving. We were OK with our driver practicing patience. It was quite a show. We returned to the hotel after dark and ate our meal with drums and chanting coming from the reception area. We are too tired to join in. 

On a more mundane note, Sharon and I are still without are checked luggage. We shall see what happens. Despite that difficulty, the tour met all of our high expectations and many pieces of the Bible now fit together because of what we saw today. I believe we even understand the significance of Gold, Frankincense and Myrhh having held and smelled the fragrance and understand their connection with Petra.

The Background

The Edomites were descendants of Esau, Jacob’s twin brother (Genesis 25:21-26; 36:9). The word Edom means “red” and that is connected to Esau and his love of red lentils along with his appearance at birth. It also aptly describes the red rock so common in the land of the Edomites. The Edomites were considered a “brother” nation and Moses told Isreal to “Do not abhor to the Edomites, for he is your brother” (Deuteronomy 23:7). Edom extended from the souther tip of the Dead Sea to the Gulf of Aqaba and to the east including the capital of the Arab Nabatean nation.

In Abraham’s time, Esau left Canaan settled in the land of Seir, later known as Edom (Genesis 32:3; 36-6-8). The Edomites refused to let the Israelites use the “King’s Highway” that went from the Gulf of Aqaba to Damascus n Syria (Numbers 20: 14-21). The Wilderness of Zin would become the border between Israel and Edom (Numbers 34:3; Joshua 15:1). Despite the admonition of Moses, the nation of Israel will continue to issue with the Edomites. David destroys an Edomite army and conquers Edom (2 Samuel 8:13-14: 1 Chronicles). Solomon will build a fleet of ships on the Red Sea and be challenged by Hada the Edomite (1 Kings 9:26; 11:14; Chronicles 8:17).

in 2 Chronicles 20 we find the Edomites meeting their end along with their Moabite and Ammonite allies after God answers Jehoshaphat’s prayers. Isaiah prophesies that God will judge and destroy the Edomites (Isaiah 34:1-11; 62:1-3). The prophets Joel, Amos and Obadiah all see things ending badly for the Edomites. During the time of the Babylonian Captivity Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel all see the destruction of Edom for their rejoicing of the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple. In Malachi 1:4, God vows that the Edomites would not be allowed to rise again. During the last few centuries BC, the Edomites will be replaced in the region by the Arab Nabateans who will build the city of Petra.

The Semitic Nomads called the Nabateans will push the remaining Edomites out of the region and into the Negev Desert by the 4th Century BC as predicted by Obadiah 7. Through their skill in capturing and conserving water, the Nabateans will be able to establish control over the desert trade routes from the Arabian Peninsula and points east. The city that they create will remain an independent nation until conquered by the Romans. There is no specific mention of Nabatean culture in the Bible but there is much archeological conjecture that the Hebrews may have spent time here during the Exodus waiting for a generation to pass away. The spring that fed the city of Petra is still referred to as the Moses Spring.

Some Biblical teachers believe that during the period of tribulation preceding the return of Jesus Christ to Earth that the Israelis will flee to Petra for sanctuary. Those who believe this to be true cite Isaiah 65:1, Matthew 24:15-16 and Revelation 12:6 to support their argument and belief.

The Machaerus fortress was built about the year 90 BC. Herod the Great rebuilt the fortress after an earlier destruction by the Romans. He in turn passed the fortress to his son Herod Antipas who rules the Herodian Kingdom from 4BC to 39 AD. The Roman-Jewish historian Josephus relates that it is at this citadel where John the baptist is beheaded (Mark 6:24; Matthew 14:8) at the request of Herod Antipas’ daughter Salome. The fortress was once more destroyed by the Romans after the Jewish Revolt of 66 AD.

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