posted on Jan, 9 2015 @ 05:01 PM
Jacob saw the angels of God at Bethel, when he was close to leaving the land of Canaan.
He saw them again on the way back, when he had already entered the later territories of Israel but was still on the eastern side of the Jordan.
He recognised them as “God’s army”, and therefore called the place “Mahanaim”, which means “two armies” (Genesis ch32 vv1-2)
The number “two” has been explained in various ways, but the simplest answer is that Jacob’s own company was the other one.
One army from earth, one army from heaven, advancing together.
Jacob could, if he liked, see it as a confirmation of the promise made at Bethel, when God said “I am with you and will keep you wherever you
The very fact that Mahanaim has a naming-story in Genesis suggests that it was an important cultic site in early Israel.
It may have been a pinch-point on the popular trade-route on the eastern side of the Jordan, which would have been a factor in its prosperity.
In the distribution of the land, it was one of the cities of the Levites.
Then twice, in the days of the early kingship, Mahanaim became a useful base for a king’s authority.
Strategically placed, central to the Gilead region, but close enough to the Jordan to maintain contact with the lands on the west.
The first king was Ishbosheth (or Ishbaal), son of Saul.
When Saul was defeated and killed by the Philistines, his army commander, Abner son of Ner, took charge of affairs.
He nominated Ishbaal as king and brought him across the Jordan to the comparative safety of Gilead.
This regime lasted in Mahanaim for a couple of years.
When David was forced to flee from Jerusalem because of Absolom’s rebellion, he too took refuge across the Jordan.
Once he came to Mahanaim, he stopped there and began re-gathering his armies.
He remained in the town when his armies were led out for the battle, and that’s where he was when he learned about the death of Absolom.
Jacob and David had one thing in common.
On their arrival in Mahanaim, they were both exiles.
Jacob had been exiled, originally, through fear of Esau, while David was exiled by fear of Absolom.
But it was also true, in both cases, that they were close to the end of their exile.
So the significance of Mahanaim, for both men, was the short-lived nature of exile, thanks to the presence of God’s army alongside their own.
There is one further reference in the Old Testament.
The Woman in the Song of Songs asks her observers;
“Why should you look upon the Shulammite, as upon a dance before two armies?”
However, the word for “two armies” is Mahanaim, and I think it would be better left as a place-name.
If Mahanaim was a cultic site, as I’ve suggested, then that would be enough to explain the reference to dancing.
To me, the significance of the comment is that the Woman is yet another exile.
That is, she believes herself to be “exiled” from the love of her husband.
She represents God’s people Israel, who were exiled in Babylon, and beginning to think that their God had turned against them.
But this exile was also short-lived, because the Woman’s fear was unfounded.
She had not lost her husband’s love, and he remained by her side even if she could not see him.
The time of exile in Babylon came to an end, and the relationship was rebuilt.
Jacob’s Bethel experience of his God offered the assurance of “I will be with you wherever you go”, which can be applied to the covenant
relationship between God and his people.
The effect of Mahanaim was to re-affirm the assurance, making it stronger than the sense of loneliness and isolation.
God’s people in his covenant can be exiled from one place or another, but they cannot be exiled from the presence of God.