Monday, March 19, 2018

"I Have Seen the Face of God." The Jabbok River

The Reunion of Jacob and Esau (1844 painting b...
The Reunion of Jacob and Esau (1844 painting by Francesco Hayez) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The Zarqa River
The Jabbok River (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The sound of the Jabbok's rushing water, as it tumbles over rocks on its descent from the  Hauran plateau to the Jordan River Valley is like music. Even more so to the weary and parched desert traveler. The word Jabbok (יבק) comes from two different Hebrew verb roots (בוק  בקק) meaning "empty" and "luxuriant." Originally, this word may have derived from Arabic verbs meaning a "gurgling sound" and "abundance."  (See reference). It is easy to see how this name came to be. Water has always represented life and abundance in the Middle East. Where there is water, there is life.

All along the modern day highway near the river, fruit and vegetable farmers sell their produce. Beautiful and ancient olive groves can be seen flourishing along the river's parched hillsides. City water trucks can be seen tanking up near the river to quench the thirst of the nearly 7 million people living in and around Amman, the capital of Jordan. What abundance this "gurgling" river provides!

My favorite places to visit in Jordan are those off the beaten tour path. The ones that are often forgotten for the more famous sites like Petra, Jerash, and the Dead Sea. The Jabbok River is one of these neglected places. Did you know rivers in the Bible often marked the borders between kingdoms? Rivers were also a place where God chose to meet with the prophets of old.

Abraham likely crossed the Jabbok river on his way from Ur of the Chaldeans (Iraq) to Canaan (Modern day Israel/Palestine).

Then the Lord told him, “I am the Lord who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land as your possession.”  (Genesis 15:7)

Later Jacob would follow this same path down the Jabbok River Valley upon his return from his Uncle Laban's home in Haran to Shechem. Genesis says Jacob was in this place when, "the angel of the Lord" met him. Jacob named this place Mahanaim which means "camp" in Hebrew. Scholars debate the actual location of both Peniel and Mahanaim, but most agree both were located near the Jabbok River in this region.

As Jacob started on his way again, angels of God came to meet him.  When Jacob saw them, he exclaimed, “This is God’s camp!” So he named the place Mahanaim. (Genesis 32:1-2)

Jacob was traveling on the south (right) side of the Jabbok River at this point in the story. He camps with his flocks of sheep, goats, and donkeys at Mahanaim. He is fearful his brother Esau will attack and kill him and his entire family, so he devises a plan to appease his brother. First, he sends messengers with a soft and gentle message, then he decides to send his family in two separate groups to test the waters.

Then Jacob sent messengers ahead to his brother, Esau, who was living in the region of Seir in the land of Edom. He told them, “Give this message to my master Esau: ‘Humble greetings from your servant Jacob. Until now I have been living with Uncle Laban, and now I own cattle, donkeys, flocks of sheep and goats, and many servants, both men and women. I have sent these messengers to inform my lord of my coming, hoping that you will be friendly to me. (Genesis 32:3-5)
 My best guess is Mahanaim is the closer hilltop on the right side of the photo. It is from this camp Jacob sends the first group across the river to meet Esau and his 400 warriors. He is convinced his death is near.
After delivering the message, the messengers returned to Jacob and reported, “We met your brother, Esau, and he is already on his way to meet you—with an army of 400 men!”  Jacob was terrified at the news. He divided his household, along with the flocks and herds and camels, into two groups.  He thought, “If Esau meets one group and attacks it, perhaps the other group can escape. (Genesis 32: 6-8)
Jacob decides to send his flocks and family across the river in waves to hopefully appease his brother Esau.  Each wave is a generous gift of animals for his brother.

Jacob stayed where he was for the night. Then he selected these gifts from his possessions to present to his brother, Esau: 200 female goats, 20 male goats, 200 ewes, 20 rams, 30 female camels with their young, 40 cows, 10 bulls, 20 female donkeys, and 10 male donkeys. He divided these animals into herds and assigned each to different servants. Then he told his servants, “Go ahead of me with the animals, but keep some distance between the herds.” (Genesis 32:13-16).

Jacob spent the night alone on the far side of the river. It was at this darkest hour of his life that God showed up. As the story goes, Jacob wrestled all night with God and demands a blessing from Him. Jacob's name is changed to "Israel" and Jacob names the place Peniel (which means "face of God"). Jacob said, "I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been spared." (Genesis 32:30).

Significant Biblical References to Mahanaim:

*After the death of Saul, his son Ish-Bosheth took refuge and ruled from Mahanaim (2 Sam 2:8). 
*During Absalom’s revolt, David fled to Mahanaim (2 Sam 17:24-29). 
*Mahanaim seems to be a Transjordan administrative center. Jeroboam I built his Transjordan capital at Penuel (1 Kgs 12:25), possibly in connection with the invasion of Pharaoh Shishak.

All of these significant Biblical events took place in the modern country of Jordan by the Jabbok River and the surrounding area. To visit the Jabbok River, request it as part of your tour with Beyond Bethany.

By: Joshua Cropsey