Tucked away in the mountains of eastern Jordan lie the remains of the ancient city of Petra, in the territory of biblical Edom. The name Edom, which means ‘red’ in Hebrew, reflects the hue of the sandstone from which the city was constructed. Perhaps the most impressive surviving feature of the ruins is the towering Al Khazneh or ‘Treasury’, a carved edifice that stands over thirty metres tall. Although the structure is commonly referred to as the Treasury, it is believed originally to have served as the mausoleum of the Nabataean King Aretas IV in the first century BCE.
When addressing the Edomites, Obadiah refers to them as, ‘You who live in the clefts of the rock, whose dwelling is high’ (v.3). At the time of Obadiah’s prophecy, the Edomites had built their settlements in the region of Petra, creating for themselves an elevated dwelling that was naturally easy to defend. The wording of Obadiah 3, ‘in the clefts of the rock’, additionally suggests the Edomites, like the Nabataeans after them, carved out their accommodations from the sandstone and used natural caves to create secure living spaces. So although Al Khazneh was constructed approximately 500 years after Obadiah prophesied, it remains a stunning visual representation of Edom’s dwelling places, bringing Obadiah’s words vividly to life.
It appears that the location’s perceived defences engendered a false sense of security among the inhabitants of Edom, to the point that they felt untouchable. Obadiah’s words in verse 3 expose this sentiment. He addresses the Edomites as ‘You … who say in your heart, “who will bring me down to the ground?”’.
Despite the ostensible security of their dwellings and the pride of their hearts, Obadiah’s words to ancient Edom proclaimed destruction against them; even though they were lodged in high mountain fortresses, the God of Israel would bring them down, ‘Though your nest is set among the stars, thence I will bring you down’ (v.4).
Bienkowski, Piotr. (ed.). 1991. The Art of Jordan: Treasures from an Ancient Land (Stroud: Alan Sutton)
Wright, G. R. H. 1997. ‘The Khazne at Petra: Its Nature in the Light of its Name’, Syria: revue d’art oriental et d’archéologie, 74.1: 115–20