Looking out from the top of Mount Nebo in Jordan, on a clear day you can see all the way to the Dead Sea and even farther to Jericho, Bethlehem, the Mount of Olives and Jerusalem. It is here that Moses surveyed the promised land for his first and last time. Few know the vast number of Biblical events which took place in Jordan and Mount Nebo is no different.
After traveling through the Saini for 40 years, Moses and the tribes of Israel come to the base of Mount Nebo, the highest point in ancient Moab. Here Moses re-articulates the Lord’s commands (Numbers 36:13). After defeating a king named Og and Sihon (of Beshan and Heshbon), Moses pleads with God to enter the promised land, but because of his disobedience, the Lord tells Moses he can only see, not enter the land.
Pilgrims flock to mountain monastery
The monastery you see today on Mount Nebo is built on the foundations of a 1,500-year-old Byzantine basilica uncovered by archaeologists in 1930. By the 4th century, (during the reign of Constantine) pilgrims were already traveling to Mount Nebo. A small monastic community was formed and this ancient Byzantine monastery was built in the 6th century, where the monks worshipped, housed relics, and hosted visitors.
Although not much of the ancient Basillica’s structure remains, archeologists have uncovered remains of stunning Byzantine mosaics which now dot the new chapel’s floor and walls. The largest mosaic stretches an outstanding 10 feet by 29 feet!
In 1993, Mount Nebo was purchased by Italian Franciscan monks and to this day remains an active monastery, and is open to visitors.
A key installation on Mount Nebo is the Serpentine Cross, a symbolic combination of the bronze serpent Moses lifted high in the wilderness to heal the Israelites. This powerful symbol foreshadowed Jesus’ crucifixion and victory over all sickness and ultimately, death itself.
Where is the Ark of the Covenant?
It is said that here, in the caves below Mount Nebo, where the prophet Jeremiah hid the Ark of the Covenant. Although its final resting place is not mentioned in the Bible it is interesting to wonder where the Ark of the Covenant ended up. Maccabees, a series of books canonical to Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy and included in the Protestant Apocrypha, hint to where the Ark may be hidden.
According to 2 Maccabees 2:4-8, Jeremiah received a revelation to take the tabernacle and the ark to a cave on the mountain and seal the entrance. The cave would then remain undiscovered until God gathers all His people together. Interesting…
John the Baptist’s final days
Now let’s journey south a few more miles. About an hour’s drive from Mount Nebo we find Machaerus, the ruins of Herod’s ancient fortress. It was here that John the Baptist lived his final days before being beheaded. (Matt. 14:1-2). Archeological digs in 1986 uncovered five columns (which were re-erected by the team), the original fortress foundations, and fragments of mosaics.
The Dead Sea’s salty past
Located between Israel and Jordan, the Dead Sea or Sea of Death is mentioned numerous times throughout scripture. The Siddim Valley was home to Soddomand Gahmmorah.
The story of fire and brimstones ends with Lot and his family fleeing, told to never look back. However, in a moment of hesitation, Lot’s wife stops. She turns her head and looks back at the smoldering cities and in an instant is turned into a pillar of salt (Genesis 19). Now, whether that is connected to the saltiness of the Dead Sea and whether we could find her salt statue today is beyond our knowledge, but bears for some interesting thought.
The Dead Sea is also mentioned in Ezekiel. Ezekiel can be a difficult book to read through from start to finish, but if you stick through to the end, in Ezekiel 47 Ezekiel paints a beautiful picture of heaven’s river of healing flowing towards….you guessed it, the Dead Sea.
We encourage you to read the entire passage in Ezekiel 47 and compare it with Revelation 22. “Then the angel showed me a river with the water of life, clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb…” Revelation 22:1.
Our vision for the MENA Collective is to shed light on the rich Christian heritage found in the Middle East and empower the modern Arab church. Ultimately, our 150+ partners’ goal is to introduce all Arabs to the new life found in the river which flows from the throne of God.
Thank you for joining us as we journeyed through a few of Jordan‘s Biblical sites, follow us on Facebook as we begin our Egypt highlight the coming month of February.
For these past three blog posts, we’ve been privileged to pull from a variety of wonderful resources, one which we highly recommend is the Biblical Archeology Society’s book, “Exploring Jordan” which you can learn more about here: Exploring Jordan.