The Israelites And The King’s Highway -- By: Bryant G. Wood

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 03:2 (Spring 1990)
Article: The Israelites And The King’s Highway
Author: Bryant G. Wood


The Israelites And The King’s Highway

Bryant G. Wooda

After wandering in the wilderness of the Sinai peninsula for some 38 years, the Israelites proceeded up the east side of the Dead Sea to enter the Promised Land from the east. In the following pages we will travel with the children of Israel as they make their way from the Sinai to the Plains of Moab, the area from which they launched their Canaanite offensive.

The starting point for the drive to Canaan was Kadesh Barnea. The Israelites had spent considerable time at this desert oasis. It was here that Miriam, Moses’ sister, died and was buried (Nm 20:1); and it was also the place where Moses struck the rock to obtain water for his people (Nm 20:2–13).

Kadesh Barnea is generally thought to be Tell el-Qudeirat in the northeast Sinai. The name of the tell derives from the spring Ain el-Qudeirat, located at the largest oasis in northern Sinai. It is a lush green valley that has attracted travelers and a variety of permanent and semi-permanent residents for millennia. Excavations at Tell el-Qudeirat have uncovered pottery from the tenth century B.C. and the remains of a fortress from the period of the kingdom of Judah. No remains from the Israelite encampment have so far come to light, however.

In order to travel through Transjordan, Moses and the Israelites had to pass through a series of small kingdoms. The first two of these were Edom and Moab. The Edomites were descendents of Esau (Gen 36), while the Moabites descended from Lot (Gen 19:37). Moses sent messages to these nations requesting permission to pass through their land (Jgs 11:17). Only the message to the King of Edom, whose capital was at Seir, later known as Petra, is preserved for us in the Biblical record:

Let us pass. I pray thee. through thy country; we will not pass through the fields, or through the vineyards, neither will we drink of the water of the wells; we will go by the King’s Highway, we will not tam to the right hand nor to the left, until we have passed thy borders (Nm 20:17).

But the king of Edom refused permission. This prompted the Israelites to send a second message:

We will go by the Highway; and if I and my cattle drink of thy water, then I will pay for it; I will only, without doing anything else, go through on my feet (Nm 20:19).

This time, the king ...

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