Highways in Bible Times

In Israel, carriage roads existed even before their kings reigned. One of which was the King’s Highway, a toll road for public use (see Numbers 20:17). Jewish law regulated roads and their upkeep, particularly those which led into the cities of refuge. One book of law, the Hebrew Talmud, required proper maintainance, a width of 48-feet, safe bridges, and well-marked signposts. 

The law also stated requirements for making roads safe for camel riding. No branches, balconies, or other projections could overhang roads or darken streets. Within city limits it was unlawful to pour water on roads or drop things from carts. Or to leave building materials, broken glass, or even thorns on the streets. And anyone causing damage to roads had to pay for repairs.

Decent roads were essential

Two needs, in particular, required high-quality roads in Israel.

  • It was imperative that people would be able to reach the cities of refuge.
  • To worship God as he required, the Jewish people had to reach the tabernacle, and later on in their history, the temple.

In the New Testament era, the Romans constructed more roads to make it easier to govern their vast empire. They built six major highways mainly for the use of soldiers and government officials. Like the Roman soldiers who took Paul to his trial before Felix. Or the centurion who encountered Christ along the road to Capernaum.

Roads carried news from near and far

The nation’s busiest and only international highway traveled through Nazareth, in Galilee. This road linked Rome with Damascus, and also led to Nazareth from Samaria. From that juncture, it led on to Ptolemais, along Galilee’s coastline. Nazareth was thus strategically placed on a major highway for world commerce. So that news from Nazareth resounded throughout Palestine. And spread even to the far lands of both East and West.

News from Nazareth, on one of the world’s busiest highways, echoed far and wide. Good News that still resonates throughout the world and for all time!

And there Christ found Matthew Levi

It was along the King’s Highway, that busiest of roads, that Christ found Matthew Levi and called him to a new work. Called him to become a highway for the King, to take his Gospel of Good News into the world.

The Good News that came from Nazareth that echoed near and far, and which still resounds loud and long today.

For just as he called Matthew, Christ continues to call people today. “Come, follow me,” he says.” Become a highway for the King, and spread my good news everywhere.”

We know little about Matthew. But as a tax collector, he was at the opposite end of the spectrum from the other disciples.

Most of Christ’s disciples were poor. But tax collectors amassed large sums of money, even though theirs was an unpaid position. They profitted by cheating people, while the other disciples held respectable law-abiding positions. And they worked for their nation’s invaders and enemies. Consequently, faithful and devout Jews, like the disciples, resented and avoided them.

Yet Christ called Matthew, the same as the other disciples, to become another highway to the king. Leading people everywhere to himself.

Christ was teaching them to embrace

He was teaching them to become kind neighbors. To love, forgive, and accept everyone. For he knew that all people, everywhere, need a refuge.

We sometimes meet people like Matthew Levi. Untrustworthy scoundrels, ready to take advantage of others. And like the disciples, our instinct is to avoid these who seem impossible of reform.

Jesus knew that Matthew was corrupt. Yet he wanted his disciples to embrace such people, not avoid them. He understood that sometimes such people are more apt to realize their great need. “I have come to call sinners. And it is the sick who need a doctor, not the healthy,” he taught. 

So he took Matthew in and changed his life around. And in doing so, turned the other disciples’ world upside down. Teaching them to go to the unhealthy and the sinners, even thieves like Matthew. He taught that everyone was their neighbor. People he wanted them to love.

Nazareth’s Good News still resounds today

And he wants to turn our world upside down too. So he sends us to the sick and the sinners. To love everyone as a neighbor, even our enemies. He continues to call people today. “Come, follow me,” he says.” Become a highway for the King, and spread the Good News everywhere.”

That same Good News from Nazareth that resounded in Christ’s time. And that still echos today. Sound the news that there is still a highway leading to the city of refuge. The most secure refuge ever – the Lord Jesus Christ.

And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.’

Matthew 4:19 ESV

Source: Sketches of Jewish Social Life, Chapter 4 Travelling in Palestine by Alfred Edersheim, in public domain.

Images: Camels in desert by Papafox | From FreeBibleImages.org: Shepherd | Tax collector by http://www.LumoProject.com.

4 thoughts on “Highways in Bible Times

  1. This has brought a lot of clarity to me! Roads have been very symbolic to me in my walk with Christ (for multiple reasons). But I don’t know why I’ve never thought about this before, till now.

    I also use Biblehub.com and it’s so nice to see someone else use it too 🙂


    1. I’m glad it spoke to you, T.R. We’re on a journey with Christ, so the paths and roads we take are important. It’s odd how sometimes we overlook what’s fairly obvious, for sure. Which is why it’s so important to listen for the Holy Spirit’s gentle nudges. Thankfully he always leads us and speaks to us! Biblehub.com is a great site, isn’t it? I love the way everyday things can bring the Lord’s teachings to life! Be blessed.

      Liked by 1 person

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