The King’s Highway is mentioned by name in Numbers 20:17 and 22. As the Israelites made their slow trek toward the promised land (Genesis 12:7; 15:7) they asked permission to go through the land of Edom.
17 Please let us pass through your land. We will not pass through field or vineyard, or drink water from a well. We will go along the King’s Highway. We will not turn aside to the right hand or to the left until we have passed through your territory.”
18 But Edom said to him, “You shall not pass through, lest I come out with the sword against you.”
19 And the people of Israel said to him, “We will go up by the highway, and if we drink of your water, I and my livestock, then I will pay for it. Let me only pass through on foot, nothing more.”
20 But he said, a”You shall not pass through.” And Edom came out against them with a large army and with a strong force.
21 Thus Edom refused to give Israel passage through his territory, so Israel turned away from him. (Numbers 20:17-21 ESV)
After going around Edom, Israel sent messengers to the Amorites with a request to go through their land.
“Let me pass through your land. We will not turn aside into field or vineyard. We will not drink the water of a well. We will go by the King’s Highway until we have passed through your territory.” (Numbers 21:22 ESV)
Rasmussen suggests that the first reference is to the East-West route from Kadesh Barnea to Edom. He says,
The second reference is possibly to a portion of the N-S Transjordanian route that connects Edom/Arabia with points to the N. (Zondervan Atlas of the Bible, p. 290).
Sihon, the king of the Amorites, went out to fight Israel. According the the biblical account Israel was successful and settled in cities of the Amorites. Reference is made to Heshbon and the Arnon, now known as the Arnon Gorge or Wadi el-Mujib. As a point of reference the Arnon is about 35 miles south of modern Amman, Jordan.
Our photo shows a wadi along the King’s Highway between Heshbon and the Arnon.
This photo was made in mid-May. The shepherd finds shade for his sheep, and a place where some water remains. I think the overhanging rock gives us some indication how high the stream gets when it rains. (NB: I wonder if perhaps this water has been brought in by truck for the sheep.)
Thomas Levy reminds us that “Nahal, incidentally, is Hebrew for a dry river bed or valley that flows at most a few times a year. In Arabic, the word is wadi. The two words are used interchangeably in Israel today.” The wadi is similar to the arroyo of the American southwest. (Biblical Archaeology Review, 1990).