|MIZPAH, MIZPEH |
(mihz' pah, mihz' peh) Place name or common noun meaning, “watchtower” or “lookout.” A name commonly used in Palestine to refer to places used to provide security. The name appears in two different forms, Mizpah and Mizpeh, with the same basic meaning.
The name Mizpah was used for at least two different sites in the Transjordan, one located in the territory of Gilead, the other in Moab. In Gilead, Laban and Jacob made a covenant (Genesis 31:25-55), set up a pillar, and named it Mitzap (Genesis 31:49). Mizpah was also the name of the hometown of Jephthah, the Gileadite (Judges 11:1). While the location of Mizpah of Gilead is not known, it was most likely located in the northern part of Gilead, perhaps a site like Ramoth-gilead. See Ramoth-gilead. The location of Mizpeh in Moab has not been identified. In biblical history, this was the site to which David took his parents (1 Samuel 22:3-5) when Saul sought his life.
At least two sites and one region west of the Jordan were named Mizpah. The account of Joshua's encounter with Jabin, king of Hazor (Joshua 11:1) refers to “the land of Mizpah” (Joshua 11:3) and “the valley of Mizpeh” (Joshua 11:8), a region in north Palestine, the location of which is unknown. A second Mizpeh west of the Jordan was located in the tribal territory of Judah (Joshua 15:38). While the exact location is unknown, this Mizpeh may have been near Lachish.
The town of Mizpeh located in the territory of Benjamin (Joshua 18:26) seems to be the most important of the Mizpeh's in the Old Testament. In spite of the numerous references to this important Old Testament site, its location is still debated. Two major sites have been suggested as possible locations: Nebi Samwil, located about five miles north of Jerusalem, and tell en-Nasbeh, located about eight miles north of Jerusalem. While a major excavation has never been done at Nebi Samwil, the stories of Samuel seem to fit this location. On the other hand, tell en-Nasbeh has been excavated, and the archaeological data fits well the history of Mizpeh of Benjamin.
The important role of Mizpah played in Old Testament history is reflected in the many events associated with the site. Mizpah was a rallying point for Israel as they gathered against the tribe of Benjamin (Judges 20:1). Samuel gathered Israel to Mizpah for prayer in the light of the Philistine threat (1 Samuel 7:5-11). Mizpah was a major site at which legal decisions were made (1 Samuel 7:15-17). One of the most interesting chapters in the history of Mizpah took place after the Fall of Jerusalem. With Jerusalem in shambles following the Babylonian attack in 587 B.C., Mizpah became the administrative center of this Babylonian province. At Mizpah Gedaliah, who had been appointed governor of the province, sought to encourage those who had remained behind (Jeremiah 40:1). See Watchtower; Samuel; Jephthah; Gedaliah.