While many Bible enthusiasts see Mt. Seir (the Hebrew) or Petra (Greek for “rock”) as a potential hiding place for the nation of Israel during the so-called “end times,” many are left to ponder a difficult question: Just how is this remnant supposed to make their way through the rugged, Grand Canyon-like terrain that comprises much of central Jordan?

That question may find its answer in the King’s Highway, also known as the Arabah Road – the oldest, continuing commercial trade corridor on the globe.

Key passages about the King’s Highway and its prophetic significance are found in Deuteronomy 2, Numbers 20:17 and 21:22, Isaiah 19:23-25 (speaking of a future free-trade zone near the Gulf of Aqaba) and Isaiah 35 and 62. These passages detail the journey of Moses and Aaron in their trek out of Egypt, headed for the Holy Land. Aaron was buried at Mt. Hor, near Petra. En route to the Promised Land, the Israelites battled the Horites, who lived in caves in the region.

One of the main passages is found in Isaiah 11:11-16 which states:

“And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant of his people, which shall be left, from Assyria, and from Egypt and from Pathros, and from Cush, and from Elan and from Shinar, [the site of the Tower of Babel] and from Hamath, and from the islands of the seas. And He shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth. … They shall fly upon the shoulders of the Philistines toward the west. … And there shall be a highway for the remnant of his people, which shall be left, from Assyria; like as it was to Israel in the day that he came up out of the land of Egypt.”

Some Bible scholars believe that the phrase “like as it was to Israel in the day that he came up out of the land of Egypt” refers to the 4,000-year-old King’s Highway. The road moves through Jordan from the Gulf of Aqaba in the south and meanders north and then east up into Iraq and Syria.

According to the June 2001 edition of the Southwest Radio Church’s Prophetic Observer, “It is truly the King’s Highway which King Yeshua will travel when He comes as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.”

Frankincense trail

Yet exactly where the King’s Highway begins and ends is itself the subject of intense debate. In fact, it may extend far beyond the borders of Jordan. However, Petra remains the focal point of the roadway.

“Depending on whom you speak with, some scholars, archaeologists, historians and anthropologists believe that the King’s Highway passes all the way down through the Arabian Peninsula,” said French archaeologist and engineering student Marie-Claire du Croix.

Under the direction of Queen Noor, the area around Petra is getting a facelift with help from the World Bank. New hotels, water works, sewage and even military supplies are being added. Jordan’s King Abdullah is expected to continue the project until it is fully completed. Over 1 million tourists every year journey to Petra.

According to official accounts, Petra was established by Nabataean Arabs in the sixth century before Christ. These Arabs were nomads, but their work around Petra provided the impetus for a grand and widespread commercial empire that reached north all the way to Damascus. They worked diligently to carve out temples, burial chambers and other facilities from the yellow, white, red and brown sandstone rocks. King Aretas IV was the most prominent Arab architect. Herod the Great of New Testament fame lusted after Petra but was unable to take control of it. Pompey, the Roman general, ordered his legions to literally carve out a military fortress amid the sheer cliffs of Petra, eventually overturning Nabataean rule. Even through the Byzantine era, Rome retained some influence in the region, yet the empire was shifting away from Jordan and establishing itself in western Turkey.

The Crusaders, led by a knight named Baldwin, came in the 12th century and, like the Romans, built military fortifications. During the Crusader era, wild legends about Petra sprang up in the imaginations of the West. The Crusaders, upon examination of Petra’s burial chambers and temples that had been dedicated to the Nabateans’ god Dhushares and goddess Allat, concluded that these represented the Pharaoh of Exodus and the Pharaoh’s daughter. After the Crusaders withdrew, the local Arabs had complete control of Petra.

In 1812, Swiss adventurer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt traveled to Petra incognito, dressed as an Arab Bedouin. He was fascinated by the royal tombs, sacrificial chambers and obelisks he encountered at Petra. Burckhardt interacted with the local Bedouins and tried to learn from them about the history of this wildly rugged place.

Adds Du Croix, “The King’s Highway – and, mind you, there are many definitions, which is one of the beauties of this complex mystery – extends all the way down into Arabia and South Yemen.”

South Yemen was a solidly Marxist nation in the orbit of the USSR during the Cold War. South Yemen is known for the ancient treasure of frankincense, one of the gifts brought to the Christ child by the wise men. To the magi, frankincense embodied the concept of divinity, du Croix asserted.

“Frankincense, a white, milky substance found in Boswellia Sara trees, requires lots of sun, limestone soil and dew produced by seasonal monsoons,” explained du Croix. “Frankincense forms a resin that was once highly coveted.”

The quest for frankincense stretches back to South Yemen’s Hadramawt kingdom and on into the era of the Queen of Sheba (to whom Mark Antony offered Petra as a gift). Using camels as their main mode of transport, traders in frankincense crossed the black volcanic deserts of Saudi Arabia laden with over 3,000 tons each year around the time Jesus was born.

Will the Christ of the New Testament return and walk along the King’s Highway?

“The road has been improved. Petra has grown into a city capable of shielding a remnant during the biblical tribulation – food, water, supplies, caves and high walls that absorb radiation. All the signs point towards the King’s Highway fulfilling its purpose and sense of cosmic destiny,” said Du Croix.

Related stories:

A city for ‘end times’

The real Lawrence of Arabia

Jordan: Modernity meets the ancient

Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.