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Mahanaim, from the Hebrew word pronounced mock-awn-ah-yim, means two camps or double camp. It was the name given to the place east of the Jordan River, near the Jabbok River (see the map below) where Jacob divided his family into two groups on his return journey from Padan-aram. He did it because he feared an attack from his brother Esau. It was a justifiable maneuver considering that Esau's wanting to kill Jacob was the reason that Jacob had been away for all those years (see Jacob and Laban), although a militarily-impotent one - it was entirely defensive (Genesis 32:7-8), hopelessly defensive. If Esau had attacked, the only difference that splitting the camp made was that it would have taken Esau and his force of 400 men a little longer to kill them all.

On the other hand, if Jacob and his sons had bows, as they likely did, they could have set up a triangulation killing zone in that shallow-water ford of the river, while positioning the rest of his family safely at the point on the opposite bank as visual bait for the ambush. If they had been left to fight their own battle in which they were outnumbered 400 to 12 (Benjamin wasn't born yet), it would at least have given them a fighting chance and they very likely could have taken out Esau himself, and his sub-commanders, as Esau led the column (reduced from a wide battle line because of the river and the topography around it) of his men across that narrow choke point of the river. Seeing Esau's dead body go floating down the river may then have caused the rest to retreat in shock e.g. as happened with the Philistine army when David killed Goliath, or at least caused a command hesitation problem that Jacob and his sons could then have escalated by killing even more of those at the front. It could have been a "turkey shoot," but it never came to any of that. Fortunately, for Esau, Esau didn't attack. The Lord would not have permitted the killing of Jacob, or of any of his children, who became the fathers of the twelve tribes of Israel (see Children of Jacob) as Jacob should have been more sure of by then. Jacob didn't name the place Mahanaim because of the two camps of Jacob's family, but because of the large camp of angels that Jacob saw were there with Jacob's camp (see below). In later years, Mahanaim was also the scene of numerous other events of Bible History.

"This is God's host: and he called the name of that place Mahanaim"

Jacob called the place Mahanaim because of the angels of The Lord who were camped there with him:

The Jordan River

"And Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him. And when Jacob saw them, he said, This is God's host: and he called the name of that place Mahanaim." (Genesis 32:1-2 KJV)

In later years, during the The Civil War, Saul's son Ishbosheth reigned over Israel at Mahanaim while David reigned over Judah at Hebron:

"But Abner the son of Ner, captain of Saul's host, took Ishbosheth the son of Saul, and brought him over to Mahanaim; And made him king over Gilead, and over the Ashurites, and over Jezreel, and over Ephraim, and over Benjamin, and over all Israel. Ishbosheth Saul's son was forty years old when he began to reign over Israel, and reigned two years. But the house of Judah followed David." (2 Samuel 2:8-10 KJV)

It was at Mahanaim that Ishbosheth was assassinated by two of his own traitorous troopers, a murder of a king (that David himself avenged, even though it won him the war, 2 Samuel 4:9-12) that ended the civil war and brought all of Israel under David's rule (see also Israelite Dynasties).

"And the sons of Rimmon the Beerothite, Rechab and Baanah, went, and came about the heat of the day to the house of Ishbosheth, who lay on a bed at noon. And they came thither into the midst of the house, as though they would have fetched wheat; and they smote him under the fifth rib: and Rechab and Baanah his brother escaped. For when they came into the house, he lay on his bed in his bedchamber, and they smote him, and slew him, and beheaded him, and took his head, and gat them away through the plain all night." (2 Samuel 4:5-7 KJV)

King David may then have had the loyalty of all of Israel, but there were times when he was unable to maintain the loyalty of his own sons. When Absalom attempted to overthrow his father as king, David fled to Mahanaim where he was helped by the people there. It was at Mahanaim that David received the news that his rebellious son had been killed in battle.

"Then David came to Mahanaim. And Absalom passed over Jordan, he and all the men of Israel with him. And Absalom made Amasa captain of the host instead of Joab: which Amasa was a man's son, whose name was Ithra an Israelite, that went in to Abigail the daughter of Nahash, sister to Zeruiah Joab's mother. So Israel and Absalom pitched in the land of Gilead. And it came to pass, when David was come to Mahanaim, that Shobi the son of Nahash of Rabbah of the children of Ammon, and Machir the son of Ammiel of Lodebar, and Barzillai the Gileadite of Rogelim, Brought beds, and basins, and earthen vessels, and wheat, and barley, and flour, and parched corn, and beans, and lentiles, and parched pulse, And honey, and butter, and sheep, and cheese of kine, for David, and for the people that were with him, to eat: for they said, The people is hungry, and weary, and thirsty, in the wilderness." (2 Samuel 17:24-29 KJV)

Fact Finder: Which of the tribes of Israel were given homelands east of the Jordan River?
See Eastern Tribal Lands

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