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Exodus Stations in Jordan

The first site in southern Jordan mentioned in the Exodus journey is Ezion-geber (Numbers 33:35). Ezion-geber and Elath (or Eloth) were port-towns located at or near Jordan's Red Sea port Aqaba. They are best known in the Bible for their roles during the Iron Age, a few hundred years after the time of the Exodus. They are associated with Solomon (pbuh) and the Queen of Sheba, and chronic wars between the kings of Judah and Edom (Deuteronomy 2:8, 1 Kings 9:26, 2 Kings 14:22).

Moses (pbuh) wanted to travel from the Aqaba area directly north on the King's Highway. He asked permission from the king of Edom to "travel along the King's Highway and not turn to the right or to the left until we have passed through your territory", but the request was turned down.

The Bible says that Moses and the people then traveled west of Edom until they reached the Zered Valley (Wadi Hasa), from where they traveled due north through Moab, or possibly skirted around Moab along an ancient desert caravan track. The route of that desert caravan track is today's Desert Highway. Visitors to Jordan usually travel between Amman, Petra, and Aqaba in south Jordan along the Desert Highway in one direction and the King's Highway in the other direction.

The Brazen Serpent Monument on summit of Mount Nebo

One Exodus itinerary has Moses and the Israelites passing through the Petra area in Edom. Local tradition says the spring of Wadi Musa (Valley of Moses) at Petra is where Moses struck the rock and brought forth water (Numbers 20:10-11). A fresh water spring still emerges from the rocks at the entrance of the modern town.

The Bible says that Moses was not allowed to enter the Promised Land, but could only glimpse it from Mount Nebo, because he struck the rock with his rod instead of speaking to the rock to bring forth water, as God had commanded (Numbers 20:12-24).

Aaron, the brother of Moses and Miriam, was "called by God" to be Moses' "voice" or "prophet", and God spoke directly to Moses and Aaron (Exodus 4:14-16, 7:1; Numbers 20:23, Hebrews 5:4). Aaron died in Jordan and was buried at Mount Hor at Petra, now called Jabal Harun (Mount Aaron in Arabic) (Numbers 20:22-29).

A Byzantine church and later an Islamic shrine/tomb, of Aaron were built on the summit of the mountain, which today attracts pilgrims from all over the world. Aaron was the first high priest in the Bible, and is remembered in particular for the beautiful priestly blessing that God commanded him to give people: "The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face shine on you, and be gracious to you, the Lord lift up his countenance on you and give you peace" (Numbers 6:24-26).

The next Exodus station, Zalmonah, is often identified as the village of Bir Madhkur in southern Wadi Araba. The important stop of Punon (precious stone) is widely associated with the sprawling, partly excavated ancient copper mining settlement at Feinan, southeast of the Dead Sea.

This is thought to be the place where the incident of the brazen serpent took place (Numbers 21:4-10). God instructed Moses to erect a bronze, or brazen, serpent on a pole to stop the plague that He had sent to kill the rebellious Israelites during the Exodus journey.

All who looked up at the raised serpent were spared death by the plague. A modern sculpted replica of the brazen serpent stands today on the summit of Mount Nebo, where Moses (pbuh) died, and the curative serpent wrapped around a pole later became the symbol of the pharmaceutical industry.

The raised serpent would be recalled in the New Testament as a precursor to the lifting of Jesus on the cross, giving life to all those who looked up to the raised figure. Jesus (pbuh) Himself said: "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life" (John 3:14-15).

The next Exodus station they reached was Oboth, which could be Ain Ubur (spring of the passage), northeast of Busayra. They next stopped at lye-abarim, "in the desert that faces Moab toward the sunrise". The Zered Valley, today's Wadi Hasa, is where Moses and the Israelites camped at the end of their wanderings through the wilderness, as they entered central Transjordan (Numbers 21:12; Deuteronomy 2:13-14).

Dibon-gad, the next station, is another name for the Moabite capital of Dibon, modern Dhiban, whose excavated grand citadel was the capital of the Moabite King Mesha in the 9th century BC (Numbers 21:26-31; Isaiah 15:1-9). Dhiban is located just north of Wadi Al-Mujib, the Bible's Arnon River (Numbers 21:24; Judges 11:18).

The Bible's Arnon River, Wadi Al-Mujib

After stopping at Almon-diblathaim, the Exodus party reached "the other side of the Arnon" (Wadi Al-Mujib), and then stopped at Beer (or Beer-elim), thought to be in the Wadi Themed south of Madaba.

Mattanah north of the Wadi Al-Mujib was the next station, followed by Nahaliel and Bamoth. They then reached the Mountains of Ab'arim (mountain beyond), the range in northern Moab and southern Ammon, north of Heshbon, that includes Mount Nebo (Numbers 27:12; Deuteronomy 32:49).

The epic wilderness journey finally brought Moses (pbuh) and his people to the Plains of Moab, the wide floor of the Jordan Valley east of the Jordan River, along the northeast Dead Sea Plain opposite Jericho (Numbers 33:49; Deuteronomy 34:8). The Plains of Moab were so named because this area once fell under the control of the King of Moab in the Iron Age. Here is where Joshua (pbuh) prepared the people for the crossing of the river into Canaan (Joshua 3:1).

The area includes several archaeological mounds identified with biblical sites. Abel-shittim (modern Tell Hammam) is where Joshua (pbuh) was designated as Moses' successor and from where Joshua and the Israelites set out to cross the Jordan River (Numbers 27:23, Joshua 3:1).

Beth-nimrah (Tell Nimrin) was a fortified city of the tribe of Gad (Numbers 32:36). Beth-jeshimoth was a Moabite frontier town that God promised to destroy in a prophecy in (Ezekiel 25:9). It is associated with the ancient remains at Khirbat Suwayma or Tell Azeimeh (Numbers 33:49).

The Wadi Nimrin riverbed that enters the Plains of Moab from the eastern hills is likely the biblical Waters of Nimrin, which once dried up in antiquity (Isaiah 15:6; Jeremioh 48:34).

Mount Nebo, 10 minutes west of Madaba by car, was the final station in the life of Moses (pbuh), the "servant of the Lord" and "friend of God" (Deuteronomy 32:49; 34:5). Moses and the people camped "in the valley near Beth-peor". Biblical Beth-peor has long been associated with the site known today as Ayun Musa (Springs of Moses), a small, lush valley northeast of Mount Nebo (Deuteronomy 3:29; 34:6; Joshua 13:20).

From Mount Nebo's windswept promontory overlooking the Dead Sea, the Jordan River Valley, Jericho and the hills of Jerusalem, Moses (pbuh) viewed the Promised Land that he would never enter. He died and "was buried in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth-peor", and the location of his tomb remains unknown until today.

Jeremiah, after consulting an oracle, reportedly hid the Ark of the Covenant, the tent and the altar of incense at Mount Nebo (2 Maccabees 2:4-8).

The early Christians revered this spot on Mount Nebo and made pilgrimages to it from Jerusalem. A small church was built there in the 4th century AD to commemorate the end of the life of Moses (the stones of that church remain in their original place in the wall around the apse area).

That first church subsequently was expanded in the 5th and 6th centuries into the present large basilica with its stunning collection of Byzantine mosaics.

The late Pope John Paul II at the Mount Nebo PromontoryThis ancient memorial to Moses (pbuh) received worldwide attention in March 2000 when the late Pope John Paul II began his spiritual pilgrimage to the Holyland with prayers in the basilica, and then stood on the Mount Nebo promontory and viewed the scene that Moses saw more than 3,000 years ago.

The viewing platform erected for the late Pope's visit remains and is used by pilgrims who want to enjoy the same profound, panoramic views of the Holyland area around the Jordan Valley and the hills of Jerusalem.

After Joshua (pbuh) was anointed in the Plains of Moab by Moses (pbuh) as his successor upon God's specific command, Joshua completed Moses' mission by miraculously crossing the Jordan River with his people (Joshua 3:14-17). The traditional crossing point has been identified as the ford directly opposite Jericho, known as Bethabara, or Beit Abarah (house of the crossing), and this may be the same ford also known in the Bible as Beth-barah, Beth-arabah and Bethany beyond the Jordan (Judges 7:24-25; John 1:28).

This also has long been identified as the spot where, centuries later, the Prophets Elijah and Elisha (pbut) divided the Jordan's waters "to the right and left" and crossed to the eastern bank of the river (2 Kings 2:8).

Two other important biblical episodes associated with Moses' last days took place in this region. The Moabite King Balak, fearful of the advance of Moses and the Israelites, hired the folk-prophet Balaam to curse the Israelites.

Balaam climbed three mountaintops around Mount Nebo overlooking the Plains of Moab, but instead of cursing the Israelites he obeyed God's command and blessed them (Numbers 22, 23, 24). At one point, God used Balaam's donkey to send the folk-prophet a message, a telling example of how God used even animals and non-Israelite prophets to communicate with humankind.

Balaam would be remembered as an example of a false prophet who loved gain from wrongdoing but was rebuked for his transgression, for he ultimately was killed by Moses' army (2 Peter 2:15-16; Numbers 31:8). A text with Balaam's name and some prophetic curses was excavated in the Iron Age levels at Tell Deir Alla in the central Jordan Valley (biblical Succoth), one of several instances in which archaeological texts found in Jordan correspond to biblical events.

The Plains of Moab also was the setting for the story of Phinehas, son of Eleazar, and grandson of Aaron (pbuh), who demonstrated his zealotry for God by spearing an Israelite man and a Midianite woman who were engaging in a religious sexual ritual (Numbers 25:1-8).

Some very early biblical traditions suggest that Moses and Phinehas never died, but were taken to heaven, like Enoch and Elijah. If this were so, then three of four Old Testament figures taken to heaven, Phinehas, Moses and Elijah - may have ascended to God from the area in modern Jordan between Mount Nebo and the Jordan River.

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