Petra –City in the Rocks
Enclosed by towering rocks and cliffs of soft red and cream colored marbled mountains, Petra is located south of the Dead Sea about 100 km by road. Carved by the resending waters of the great flood, this range of mountains becomes a focal point of History and is scattered all the way through Scriptures. If you were to ask a researcher to list five great cities of old, Petra conceivably would not be on the list: it finds itself sprinkled throughout times gone by. In the Bible, this city is located in the heart of Mount Seir. Mount Seir is known as the place that Esau made his home (Genesis 36:8; Joshua 24:4). It was named for Seir, the Horite, whose sons inhabited the land (Genesis 36:20). The children of Esau battled against the Horites and destroyed them (Deuteronomy 2:12). Mount Seir is also given as the location where the remnants “of the Amalekites that had escaped” were annihilated by five hundred Simeonites (I Chronicles 4:42-43). Mount Seir is also referenced in Ezekiel 35:10.
Wikipedia describes Petra this way:
Petra is an “[i]Arabian historical and archaeological city in the Jordanian governorate of Ma’an, that is famous for its rock-cut architecture and water conduit system.”
Petra was “established possibly as early as 312 BC as the capital city of the Nabataeans, it is a symbol of Jordan as well as its most visited tourist attraction. It lies on the slope of Mount Hor in a basin among the mountains which form the eastern flank of Arabah (Wadi Araba), the large valley running from the Dead Sea to the Gulf of Aqaba.”
Genesis14:6 tells us that it is a place in the wilderness. It was built as a resting point from the Kings Highway to the Water Parting trade route. It can be found, figuratively, “in the middle of nowhere.”
 Avi Rubin, a former airborne commander in the Israel Defense Force, says this with reference to Petra: “Petra might be the ultimate defensive position in a regional war” because of its location. The city carved out of the mountains as a resting place for travelers. This resting spot became a very wealthy and very cross-cultural in nature. It is part of Jordon today, but in the time of the Bible being penned, it was part of Edom or Esau (the father of the Edomites, Genesis 36:9) and a city that connected Horeb and Kadesh-barnea (Deuteronomy 1:2).
Its location is of such importance that according to Rubin, “[ii]It is an outstanding defensive position. Airborne assault would be most difficult. It is what I would call a natural defensive position. The Roman legions, the Crusaders, the Arabs and now the IDF, Iraq and the Jordanian army all recognized this… The most important defensive feature is called ‘the Shiq,’ which is about 2,000 meters long. It is a narrow passageway, which leads into the city. It has very high, sheer walls, which will protect the Israeli population as they enter the city from the west (more on this later). The rocks of Petra can help protect from gunfire, bombing, artillery and perhaps even absorb some radiation.”
This Shiq that he refers to leads to the Kasni, a structure that is completely carved out of the mountain as on large room and several underground tombs fit for a king. It is not completely know how this was carved with the tools and technology of the day, but it was and is still there. It said to be one of the greatest achievements of the day. The Kasni itself stands over 39 meters high, looking all around are ancient buildings that once housed a city of people.
Petra is literally a dugout hollow of the mountains. Used as a central trading spot in the time of its economic heights and located in the middle of all the major trade routes of the day. It is not completely know how the Kasni was built, however, it is believed to have been carved from the top down leaving behind the tomb of Kasni. The building of this great mystery must have required many workers, supervisors and surveyors to plan and execute the building of this tomb. Leaving the Kasni behind, you enter into the great city of Petra. Today this land is not much more than a tourist attraction. However, this will change as Petra will once again find its place again in the pages of history.
Many challenges were faced in the building of this city including the management of water supplies. The rainy season of March through May could drop many feet of water on the city and drown it all. To overcome this there was a great tunnel leading to a dam away from the city. They also carved out gutters along the mountain that acted as vast water management for the city. The design and thought that went into planning the water system of Petra is one of the greatest designs of the ancient times. Located at a bottom of a basin, they designed these channels to flow water into the city to last for the whole year by saving water in great cisterns. They mastered the hydraulic engineering that was needed to sustain life in the desert. They have over 200 cisterns in the city providing water for over 50,000 people plus the traders that came and went.
Because of all the trade that took place in this desert, religion became over shadowed by a little bit of each country that came though the city. They worshiped gods from Rome and Egypt and Babylon as well as others. It is believed that city and the Kasni was built around the time of Christ’s birth but there is not enough information to clearly see when. The Israelites upon leaving Egypt and crossing the Red Sea circled this land for about 38 years time before God directed them northward to Canaan. The exodus of the Israelites was 1313 BC and the great city was not built until about 1000 years later.
Petra is believed to be a location that Israel will flee to during the end times as a place of shelter as previously mentioned. It is a place of old that God will use again in His story. More recently, Petra has indeed been placed back in the headlines when the [iii]US Government has stepped in to provide up to $477 million dollars to aid Jordon in rebuilding Petra to a status of inhabitable. It remains unclear as to how exactly this city will come back to life but the location and size of the city in past history shows us that it is capable of providing substance to a people living there.
Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible
Gills Commentary on the Bible
Adam Clark commentary on the Bible