Tag Archives: Petra

Visualizing Isaiah 34: Judgment upon Edom

The judgment upon Edom is mentioned prominently in chapter 34 (verses 5, 6, 9; cf. the city of Bozrah, v. 6).

The most prominent place today within the ancient territory of Edom is Petra. Most people visit Petra to see the sculpted structures of the Nabateans. But the Nabateans came much later. The area was originally settled by the descendants of Esau, the brother of Jacob (Israel).

Our first photo, showing the desolate nature of the area, was made from a higher spot where several tourist hotels are located. To the right of center you will be able to see the parking lot and some of the buildings associated with the operation of the national park of Petra.

Petra is located within this ancient territory of Edom. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Petra is located within this ancient territory of Edom. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Our next photo was made inside Petra, but our attention is drawn to the large, high, steep-sided, flattop mountain named Umm el-Biyarah. From this vantage the ancient Edomites felt impregnable.

Umm el-Biyarah, the ancient stronghold of Esau. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Umm el-Biyarah, the ancient stronghold of Esau. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

For those who wish to see a more comprehensive discussion about Edom, I call your attention to the succinct discussion by J. Alec Motyer in the Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries.

Edom is presented as a case in point. Even though Esau himself had no capacity for sustained animosity (Gen. 33:4–16), it was with him that relations with Jacob were soured (Gen. 27:41) and by the time of Numbers 20:14–21 hostility had become an established pattern. Saul made war on Edom (1 Sam. 14:47). David became the only king to subdue and annex Edom (2 Sam. 8:14; cf. 1 Kgs 11:15–16). Edom rebelled against Solomon (1 Kgs 11:1–17, 23–25) and was still rebelling a century later (2 Kgs 8:20). Fifty years further on, there was still fighting (2 Kgs 14:7, 10), and at the fall of Jerusalem the bitter hostility of Edom became notorious (Ps. 137:7; Obad. 10–14). Consequently Amos’ accusation (1:11) of perpetual hatred is well founded. Jeremiah 49:7–22 shows that, even prior to Edom’s behaviour at Jerusalem’s fall, the idea of judgment on Edom was part of the prophetic worldview. Obadiah saw Edom as both a place and a symbol: meriting judgment in its own right but also picturing the judgment which would mark the Day of the Lord. He was not innovating: in Psalms 60:8; 83:6, Edom had already a symbolic place in the theme of hostility to Zion. Two factors make Edom specially fit to stand as a motif for the whole world in the final judgment: first, its ceaseless hostility to the Lord’s people, and secondly the fact that it was only to David that it ever really succumbed. Thus Ezekiel, foreseeing the coming David (34:23), moves immediately to the conquest of Edom (35:1–15). Isaiah stands in this same tradition by following his forecast of the King (ch. 33) with the rout of Edom in the final judgment (cf. 11:14; 63:1–6). Recollecting 29:22 and the establishing of the family of Jacob, the overthrow of Edom/Esau makes the End the exact fulfilment of the beginning (Gen. 25:23). The purposes of God according to election stand.

Churning produces butter

One of the new things I noticed in a visit to Petra last year was the Bedouin actors demonstrating various aspects of daily life. Many of these customs are similar to those we read about in the Bible. This photo shows a man using an animal skin as a churn.

Using an animal skin for producing butter. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Using an animal skin for producing butter. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The writer of Proverbs speaks of churning in giving advice about those who stir up strife.

If you have been foolish in exalting yourself Or if you have plotted evil, put your hand on your mouth. For the churning of milk produces butter, And pressing the nose brings forth blood; So the churning of anger produces strife. (Proverbs 30:32-33 NAS)

When the three men came to the Patriarch Abraham to announce the birth of Isaac, Abraham showed hospitality to them. He provided water so they could wash their feet. He told Sarah to prepare bread. He took a young calf from the herd and had the servants prepare it. Then the text says,

He took curds and milk and the calf which he had prepared, and placed it before them; and he was standing by them under the tree as they ate. (Genesis 18:8 NAS)

Read Genesis 18 for the complete account.

Mount Hor

The Scripture records that Aaron was buried on Mount Hor (Numbers 20:25-29). We wrote about this here. A few interesting questions have been left in a comment. I am away from home for the week and do not have access to all the materials I might check, but here is a brief response.

1. How long would it take to walk unaided up Mt. Hor? Are there clearly marked-out historical trails?

Hikers make the trek. My recollection is that one should allow between a half and a full day for the trip up and down. A guide book such as Lonely Planet would surely answer this question. Perhaps some reader has made the climb and will tell us.

2. Do you know anything about the history of the Muslim shrine at the summit? I’m sure there have been quite a bit of academic research into this over the years, but I’m hoping for a simple answer about how reliable is this tradition about the exact location of Mt. Hor?

Not really. There are many “traditional” places identified by Jews, Christian, and Muslims, but a large number of them are without any historical foundation. Todd Bolen has this comment, along with a nice photo, at Bible Places.

In Bedouin tradition, Jebel Haroun is Mt. Hor where Moses’ brother Aaron was buried.  Most scholars reject this, locating Mt. Hor near Kadesh-barnea to the west.

I trust this will be helpful.

Here is a photo of the beginning of the Siq at Petra. Almost everyone likes to show the photos of the narrow part. It is beautiful, even from the beginning.

The beginning of the Siq at Petra. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The beginning of the Siq at Petra. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Sunset over Edom

I ran across this beautiful sunset photo that I made from a hotel above Petra, Jordan, in 2006.

The oracle concerning Edom. One keeps calling to me from Seir, “Watchman, how far gone is the night? Watchman, how far gone is the night?” The watchman says, “Morning comes but also night. If you would inquire, inquire; Come back again.” (Isaiah 21:11-12)

There are some text critical issues with the term Edom in this verse, but I will leave that for you to work on. Keil and Delitzsch call attention to a comment by Luther that illustrates the certain judgment that would come upon ancient Edom, the descendants of Esau.

But what is the meaning? Luther seems to me to have hit upon it: “When the morning comes, it will still be night.”

The decline and fall of any nation ought to cause one to take a pause and think about it.

Unleash your inner Indy

Anything Indiana Jones is the fad now since the release of the fourth movie featuring the adventuresome archaeologist. The USA Today Travel Newsletter (May 27, 2007) lists 10 great places to unleash your inner Indy. One of the places mentioned is Petra in Jordan. The article says,

“Hike or ride donkey-drawn carts through a slot canyon to arrive at this ancient city carved out of the sandstone cliffs,” [National Geographic’s Boyd] Matson says. “Petra offers the chance to hook up with nomadic tribesmen and do either a one-day or multi-day camel safari in the desert.” Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this once-vibrant Nabataean city was an oasis where Greeks, Romans and Arabs met for caravan trading. visitjordan.com

Parts of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was filmed at Petra. In this photo we see the snack shop, coffee shop, and gifts shop, all named for Indiana Jones.

The site of Petra is identified as the biblical Sela (rock; 2 Kings 14:7; Isaiah 16:1), and the home of the ancient Edomites (descendants of Esau). From about 300 B.C. the area was inhabited by the Nabataeans from North Africa. G. Ernest Wright once described them as,

one of the most gifted and vigorous peoples in the Near East of Jesus’ time. (Biblical Archaeology, 229).

This photo shows the Roman theater at Petra which was cut out of the rock in the 2nd or 3rd century A.D. The theater seated about 3,000.

Several archaeologists have already pointed out that what Indiana Jones does is a far cry from real archaeological work. The real work is sometimes exciting, but always tedious. Bryant Wood is cited here:

“It is rather adventurous in a way, because for the most part, you’re going to some exotic country and delving into their past. But it’s not an adventure with a whip and chasing bad guys and looking for treasure,” said Bryant Wood, an archaeologist with Associates for Biblical Research.

“You’re working at one site tediously, probably for many, many years and spending more time processing the finds and writing reports than you do actually digging at the site. But that wouldn’t make for a very good story, spending 70 percent of the time in a library.”

Wells of water

Without water it is impossible for men to survive. Many disputes throughout history have been about water and water rights. The importance of water during the time of the the biblical patriarchs is prominent in several Bible accounts.

  • Abraham made a covenant with Abimelech. He said, “I dug this well” (Genesis 21:30). This covenant was made at Beersheba (well of seven).
  • Isaac had to dig again the wells of water dug by Abraham because the Philistines had filled them with debris (Genesis 26:15-18).
  • The scene around the well where the servant of Abraham selected the bride for Isaac is especially impressive (Genesis 24).
  • The meeting of Jesus with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well (John 4).

The well was so important that the wise man used it as a euphemism to teach sexual purity.

Drink water from your own cistern And fresh water from your own well. (Proverbs 5:15)

At Petra in Jordan, men dressed in antique costumes demonstrate life among the Bedouin. Here we have a man at the well. This may seem ancient to younger people, but I drew water from a well when I was a youngster (and it was not in the patriarchal period!).

A Bedouin at Petra, Jordan, illustrates the importance of the well. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Death of Aaron on Mount Hor

When Aaron, Israel’s first High Priest, died his son Eleazar became the High Priest. The book of Numbers says that Aaron died on the mountain top of Mount Hor.

“Take Aaron and his son Eleazar and bring them up to Mount Hor; and strip Aaron of his garments and put them on his son Eleazar. So Aaron will be gathered to his people, and will die there.” So Moses did just as the LORD had commanded, and they went up to Mount Hor in the sight of all the congregation. After Moses had stripped Aaron of his garments and put them on his son Eleazar, Aaron died there on the mountain top. Then Moses and Eleazar came down from the mountain. When all the congregation saw that Aaron had died, all the house of Israel wept for Aaron thirty days.” (Numbers 20:25-29, NASB).

Deuteronomy records that Aaron died at Moserah (10:6), but it also records that he died on Mount Hor (32:50). We need not think of this as a discrepancy.

The best solution that can be posed to this problem so far is that Moserah is probably a larger area that included Mount Hor. Thus it would be quite correct to declare that Aaron’s death was either on Mount Hor (Num 20:22–29; 33:38–39; Deut 32:50) or Moserah (Deut 10:6). (Hard Sayings of the Bible, 166).

Mount Hor is identified traditionally with Jebel Nebi Harun in the territory of ancient Edom near Petra. From the area of the hotels above Petra one can see the white Moslem shrine marking the tomb of Aaron on the top of Mount Hor. This photo shows the monument in the distance. The mountains reflect the typical color of the area around Petra.

Mount Hor near Petra in Jordan. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.