The King’s Highway is referred to as the long and meandering road running north-south in Jordan. It was the scene of battles since prehistoric times. In the Roman period it was called Via Regia. Emperor Trajan rebuilt and renamed it to Via Traiana Nova. He built fortifications in the desert in the province of Petra, stretching over 1,500 kilometers from Syria to Palestine. Today, part of it is a simple byway, often rutted and narrow, which follows the contours of the rolling hills above the Dead Sea rift. Highway 35 & 15 follow this route, connecting Irbid in the north with Aqaba in the south. It also runs through fields and small towns, linking a series of springs and following the line of maximum hilltop rainfall. The southern part crosses several deep wadis, making it a highly scenic, curvy and low-speed driveway.
The King’s Highway (red lines) from Egypt to the Fertile Crescent passing through Jordan (Wikipedia)
The King’s Highway is also referred to an important trade route in the ancient Near East connecting Africa with Mesopotamia. After the Muslim conquest of the Fertile Crescent in the 7th and until the 16th century, its northern section was the darb al-hajj or pilgrimage road for Muslims from Syria, Irag and beyond heading to the Islam holy city of Mecca.
The King's Highway is alluded to in Genesis 14, which recounts how an alliance of four kings (Amraphel king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Chedorlaomer king of Elam, and Tidal king of Goiim) marched along the highway toward the Valley of Siddim from the north to battle against another alliance of five kings (Bera king of Sodom, Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, Shemeber king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela).
It’s also mentioned in Numbers 20:17 & 21:22 as “the king’s road” that the Israelites, after leaving Kadesh in their Exodus journey requested right of way from the King of Edom, but were refused. They even offered to pay for any water their cattle drank. Still the Edom King refused them passage and advanced against them with a large and heavily armed force, vowing that he would attack them if they used the road. After making a detour to the Transjordan area between River Arnon and River Jabbok, they made the same request to Amorite King Sihon, and for the second time on the same road they were denied passage. King Sihon engaged them in battle at Jahaz, where they won "by the edge of the sword". As a result, they gained control in that land and north of it. The tribes of Manasseh (eastern half), Gad, and Reuben subsequently settled in those territories.
Many of the wars of the Israelites against kingdoms of the trans-Jordanian highlands during the period of the Kingdom of Israel (and its sister-kingdom, the Kingdom of Judah) were probably fought, at least in part, over the control of the Highway.
Centuries old pebbles along the King’s Highway near Ma-an, Jordan (taken by the author on 4-11-2018)
The Nabateans, from their power base in Petra, used it to trade luxury goods between Arabia and Syria. When the Romans annexed the Nabatean kingdom, the road was renovated to facilitate travel and communications between his regional capital at Bosra, now in southern Syria, and Aqaba on the Red Sea coast. Early Christian pilgrims visited a number of sites along and near the road in Madaba, whose beautiful Byzantine mosaics still merit a pilgrimage today.
The Crusaders used the King’s Highway as the linchpin of their Oultrejourdain Kingdom, fortifying positions along the road at Karak and Shobak – where extensive remains of castles survive – and also at Petra and Aqaba. However, with the development by the Ottomans of the faster and more direct Darb al-Hajj, from Damascus to Medina and Mecca through the desert further east – and the subsequent construction of both the Hejaz Railway and the modern Desert Highway along the same route – the King’s Highway faded in importance. It was only asphalted along its entire length in the 1950s and 1960s.
Church of St George, Madaba, Jordan with mosaic map on the floor for the early pilgrims (taken by the author on 3-11-2018)
From Madaba turning south, the Highway meanders up and down across several valleys east to Dead Sea, including the dramatic canyon of Wadi Mujib (Arabic: وادي الموجب, Wadi al-Mujeb), also known as Arnon River (Hebrew: נַחַל ארנון). People traveling on the King’s Highway can see a vast gash in the barren landscape, cutting through 1,200m of altitude from the desert plateau in the east all the way down to the Dead Sea in the west.
Tourist directory of the mosaic map on the floor of the Church of St George, Madaba, Jordan (taken by the author on 3-11-2018)
The Mesha Stele
In 850 BC, a man called Mesha, described as a “shepherd king”, liberated Moab from Israelite aggression, built a palace in Dhiban, the then capital of Moab, and set about refortifying the King’s Highway against future attack.
Over two thousand and seven hundred years later, in 1868, a German missionary travelling in the wild country between Salt and Karak was shown by Dhibani Bedouin a large basalt stone inscribed with strange characters. Unaware of its significance, he informed the German consul of his discovery, who then made quiet arrangements to obtain the stele on behalf of the Berlin Museum. However, a French diplomat in Jerusalem who heard of the discovery travelled to Dhiban, took an imprint of the stele’s text and then offered the locals a large sum of money for it. Suddenly knowing its value, the Bedouins refused his offer. They managed to shatter it and sell off each fragment to foreigners one by one. Meanwhile, scholars in Europe were studying and translating the text, which turned out to be Mesha’s own record of his achievements. It’s the longest original inscription in the Moabite language and from the biblical period yet discovered. The mostly reconstructed stele now sits in the Louvre Museum in Paris, and copies are displayed in museums all over Jordan.
Wadi Mujib – River Arnon
Some 2km south of Dhiban, the vast canyon of Wadi Mujib opens up spectacularly in front, over 500m deep and 4km broad at the top. Just over the lip of the gorge is a small rest stop and viewing platform (see photos in the following pages). The dramatic canyon is an obvious natural focal point, named Arnon in biblical times, the heartland of Moab. The broad, flat plain of the Wadi bed, now dammed as shown in the picture below.
Asphalted King’s Highway mid-way between Bozrah (Boseira) and Petra (taken by the author on 4-11-2018)
OFI members looking from the view point; and the Bedouin shopkeeper with his cat (taken by the author on 4-11-2018)
The King’s Highway is one of the world's oldest continuously used communication routes. After centuries, it is still an active road in the Middle East.
Jesus told His disciples in Matthew 24:15-16, 21 that antichrist will invade and control the Jerusalem Temple in the 3½ years of the Tribulation: “15 “Therefore when you see the ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), 16 then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains...... 21 For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will.” Isaiah predicted that the Messianic Jews will flee carrying the Holy of Holies: “Depart, depart, go out from there, touch nothing unclean; Go out of the midst of her, purify yourselves, you who carry the vessels of the LORD.” (Isaiah 52:11) The path of the escape has also been predicted in Micah 7:14 to be from Carmel to Bashan to Gilead and then south, very likely via the King’s Highway: “14 Shepherd Your people with Your scepter, The flock of Your possession which dwells by itself in the woodland, In the midst of a fruitful field (Hebrew כַּרְמֶל = Carmel). Let them feed in Bashan and Gilead as in the days of old.”
John told us in Revelation 12:6 that the two witnesses will lead the believing Jews to a place prepared for them: “Then the woman fled into the wilderness where she had a place prepared by God, so that there she would be nourished for one thousand two hundred and sixty days.” The dammed Wadi Mujib in Karak is likely to be the place, in view of its geographical landscape, water and food nourishment, and the vast flat land available.
At the end of the 7 years Tribulation, the two witnesses would be killed by the antichrist after completing his 1,260 days prophecy mission. The Messianic Jews in Arnon will then lose the protection and flee to Bozrah in ancient Edom 120km in the south where Jesus comes to save them from the antichrist army. (Isaiah 34:6, 63:1; Revelation 12:15)
The King’s Highway will function to the last minutes of human history before Jesus returns. It is quite amazing!
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