The girl’s shriek was shrill, and echoed across the valley and beyond into the gorges that made up the walls the extended along the Jabbok until it ran out in the monotonous desert some 20 km further east. Her brothers laughed at her apparent terror at my photographing her at the door of the tent. The tent itself was a work of art. I am sure that should transport be found, the unbroken contraption would have been designated a master at the Geddy. It was a composition of coarsely stitched fertiliser and vegetable bags branded with exotic locales within Jordan and beyond. It struck me that there must be contentment in such existence. Bedu such as this family move without restraint across Jordan, and by law are permitted to set camp within any area they so please.
And this is the place of tents. Mahanaim means two camps / hosts, and reflected the contest within the mind of Jacob of two strong forces; of natural guile and spiritual concepts. It reflects the struggle that exists in every man’s mind in the development of a divine character. The development of Jacob reflects the same divine care and patience that Yahweh has with the development of the ecclesia. The word ecclesia is first used in the bible in Gen 28:3 where the blessing of El Shaddai was to make Jacob into a multitude (LXX ecclesia) of people. Ecclesia or called out ones indicate the action of deity in assembling a family, to call out of the nations a people for His name Acts 15:14. This process would be finished when God would turn unrighteousness from Jacob, with the same process implicit in individuals Isa 59:21 20,21. Mahanaim in a sense reflects the arena of conflict between the things of the spirit and those of the flesh, in a man or woman who is grappling to understand and act in a manner that pleases deity Rom 84-8 This involvement of deity within the events of men was carried forward in the tradition of making Mahanaim a Levitical city of Merari, where Levites and priests would represent the interests of deity to the nation Joshua 13:26; 1 Chron 6:80; Mal 2:7 So the actions of deity in the maturation of Jacob at Mahanaim are reflective of all men’s development of a spiritual mind.
Jacob’s life is a life marked by divisions.
- He was with his brother in the womb, and there would be contention over the position within the house, and with the son’s relation to the promises
- His mother was attached to Jacob, whereas his father delighted (at least for a time) in his son Esau, and specifically the venison
- There is a specific contrast between the place of Laban where wells were stopped, and the place of Jacob’s head where the word of God came
- There was bitterness and struggle between his wives
- There was a division of the family into parts prior to the meeting of Esau
- There was division between his sons, and in particular between Joseph and his elder brothers
- There was division in thought between himself and Laban over the concept of deity, one saw the God of Nahor, the other the fear of Isaac
- Jacob was confident in the face of Laban over principle, but uncertain in the face of Esau
It is then noteworthy that on leaving Mahanaim he was to camp at Succoth (booths) and sought made peace by sacrifice of lambs at Shechem. Jacob had learnt the lesson of the source of real peace. Jacob was now represented in the altar he erected, as the manifestation of Yahweh Himself; the power of the powerful princes of power Gen 3:20.
The location of Mahanaim is a matter of considerable contention. There are numerous locations offered from the wild and ridiculous to the most educated speculation, but from my reading no one place can be nailed down. The following biblical clues are given for its location: It was north/northeast/east of Succoth, for it preceded the arrival of the family of Jacob to that location. It was near the the river Jabbok where the events of the wrestling with the angel was to occur. It was just inland of the Jordan valley as the route taken by Cushi provided sufficient advantage in taking the flat country instead of proceeding over the undulating hills of southern or middle Gilead, and the same advantage of distance would be taken away if the location was further east, 2 Sam 19. In the same token, it was sufficient distance from the Jordan to provide a buffer of protection for David from an immediate confrontation by Absalom in the event of crossing, and would take Abner an afternoon to walk 2 Sam 2:29. [The word for “night” or forenoon in 2 Sam 2:29 has been considered by some to be a similar hebrew word meaning ravine, in which case Mahanaim could be located on the side of a wadi] The site is on the border with Manasseh Josh 13:30 and if on the Jabbok, then this would form a natural location for demarcation. The site that fits most of these well is Tulul ad-Dahab (2,3) around 7km inland from Deir Allah [The photograph above is from the heights of this location looking over the nahr es-Zerqa.] and an adjacent location suggested by Aharoni, Tell edh -Dharab el-Gharbi (4,5) Another feature of this place is the closeness to the mines around 3km to the north at Mugarat al-Warda. The name of Barzilai having the meaning of iron-hearted or iron-smith may have some connection to the geography. The presence of other large iron deposits in the area was noted by Glueck.
Mahanaim was within the territory of Gad, Josh 21:38; 1 Chron 6:80 whose name contains the idea of overcoming Gen 49: 19 The place was considered a significant regional centre, as the location provided the southern border of the land of Bashan a significant town to place one of the heirs of king Saul, Ishbosheth 2 Sam 2:8,12 It was a town large enough to be mentioned as a city taken by Shishak (1) 1 Kings 14:25 (6)
The final picture of Mahanaim is the perfect unity between the representative of deity and His people. It is the picture of two dancers moving together, perfect balance, posture, movement, instinct and direction. The movement of two armies or camps, and translated as the “dance of Mahanaim” NIV. Song 6:13 The dance is the victory dance after war, a typical picture of victory over the power of sin, cf Ex 15:20 1 Sam 18:6. This dance has already started, and is reflected in the beautiful feet of those that preach peace Song 7:1; Isa 52:7; Luke 1:79
- Maspero, The struggle of nations pg 773; Smiths Bible dictionary “mahanaim“; [Karnak inscriptions, 22 cartouche]
- Lapinski, On the skirts of Canaan in the Iron Age: historical and topographical researches pg 280ff
- RA Coughenour, In the search for Mahanaim, BASOR 273 (1989) pg 57-66
- Archeological encyclopaedia of the holy land, Avraham Negev pg 308
- ISBE 223
- J Simons, Egyptian topographical lists relating to western asia, pg 98-101, 178-186
- Merril, East of the Jordan, pg 438f