The Dance of Mahanaim
Have you noticed the reality of God continually expresses in twos? There is a compatibilist duality to nearly everything God is and does. The heavens and the earth. Man and woman. The Law and the Prophets. The spirituality of Psalms and the practicality of Proverbs. Perfectly balanced between heaven and earth (Eze 8:3). A wheel within a wheel. Israel and the church. The hypostatic union of Jesus, fully God and fully man in one being. The gospel is bad news (our sinful hopelessness) followed by good news (a Savior has been provided). Spirit and truth. Logos (the written Word) and rhema (the Spirit-worked situational word). Our inner person is spirit and soul. Our body is kept alive by the heart and the brain. And though God is a triune being, the Father and Son have the priority, while the Holy Spirit does not speak or act on His own, but only what He receives from the Father and Son (Jn 16:13-15).
There is a bilateral choreography to nearly everything God is and does. Like a dance. If you do not like dancing, or feel awkward doing so, it is time to learn. Your Creator loves to dance in a way we have yet to perceive in this church age.
After Jacob closes the door on the Laban season of his life (Genesis 31), he "went on his way, and the angels of God met him" (32:1 NKJV). When Jacob saw the angels, he said, "This is God's camp." And he called the name of that place Mahanaim, which means "two camps, two companies, double camp" (v2). At that moment Jacob was shown the duality of the host of God: one camp that is invisible, spiritual, angelic and one camp that is visible, physical, human, united in their God-centricity and functioning in a harmonious choreography.
Jacob's realization is partial, however. He named that place Mahanaim. He said that particular place is where and when God's company is a duality. Jacob did not generalize, he did not say God's company is always a duality, all the time, in all places. Why not? At that time in human civilization and theological development, the common understanding was that God was limited to specific places and holy sites (the way many humans, even some Christians, still do today). Jacob did the same thing earlier on his way to Haran. He said Luz, renamed Bethel, was "the house of God, the gate of heaven" (28:17-19).
Jacob only saw in part, only knew in part. Later revelations would explain more thoroughly the omnipresence of God, the ubiquity of His bilateral camp, and the stationing of angels all over the planet. Nonetheless, it is here at a spot east of the Jordan where Jacob experienced an emergent revelation about God's duality reality.
The Meaning of Mahanaim Develops
A Shared City, A Shared Reality, A Dance
Fastforward several hundred years to Israel's successful conquest of the promise land and the subsequent territorial allotments. Who gets the city of Mahanaim? Here the Holy Spirit further develops the revelatory meaning of Mahanaim.
Gad & Manasseh
Joshua 13:24,26 say Mahanaim went to the tribe of Gad. Ah, but verses 29,30 say Mahanaim also went to the tribe of Manasseh. Mahanaim, which means "two camps, two companies, double camp", became a shared city by two tribes, Gad and Manasseh. Clever Lord, very clever. A scroll is unfurling.
Levi & Manasseh
Soon after the allotment of Mahanaim to Gad and Manasseh, the tribal heads of Levi came to Joshua and the other tribal heads and said, "Hey guys, Moses promised us cities and pasturelands too, so, ahem!" Each tribe then donated a few cities in their territory to the Levites. See Joshua 21.
What concerns our topic is that Gad donated its share of Mahanaim to the Levites, verse 38 records (also 1Chronicles 6:80). That made the tribe of Levi and Manasseh the new co-owners of the city. Lord, what deeper truth are you hiding in these historical facts?
Fighter (Gad) + Forgetter (Manasseh) = Conflicting Realities
The name Gad means "troop, combatant, attacker, invader, raider, fighter". When Zilpah gave birth to a son on behalf of Leah, Leah rejoiced and prophesied his personality, saying, "A troop comes!" In other words, she was saying of Gad, "A fighter comes, a fighter is here!" See Genesis 30:10,11.
Some English Bibles translate Gad to mean "fortune, fortunate, fortune has come". It is true the Hebrew word gad, and its root words gud and gadad, can have that connotation also. However, Gad's papa, Jacob, confirmed Leah's meaning of Gad and reiterated her prophecy with his own. In Genesis 49:19, Jacob prophesied (Young's Literal Translation), Gad! a troop assaulteth him, but he assaulteth last. The CEV words it like this: Gad, you will be attacked, then attack your attackers. The KJV: Gad, a troop shall overcome him: but he shall overcome at the last. Jacob and Leah are both prophesying Gad's personhood: an intrinsic soldier, anointed with an instinct to fight a lot and win a lot.
Moses, in the same parental prophetic spirit, also reiterated Gad's providential personality. In Deuteronomy 33:20,21 he said of the tribe of Gad (ESV): And of Gad he said, "...Gad crouches like a lion; he tears off arm and scalp...a commander's portion...he executed the justice of the LORD, and his judgments for Israel." A lion, tearing arm and scalp. A commander's portion. Executing the justice and judgments of Yahweh. This is why Leah, accurately perceiving the Spirit of prophecy, declared at Gad's birth, "A fighter comes!"
Manasseh, on the other hand, means "making to forget, making forgetful". Joseph named him thus because God made him forget--in a healthy Ecclesiastes 5:20 kind of way--his sufferings and original family (Gen 41:51).
How is this going to work out? How can a fighter and a forgetter share Mahanaim? How can they dance in step when one wants blood and the other wants to forget and move on? Two cannot walk or dance unless they are agreed. The reality will not be shared, but conflicted. Gad has to concede to Levi, whose name means "joined, attached, connector, joiner".
Joiner (Levi) + Forgetter (Manasseh) = Dancing at Mahanaim
As mentioned above, Gad donated its share of Mahanaim to the Levites (Jsh 21:38, 1Chr 6:80). Do not miss the dazzling revelation tucked into this historical act. A fighter (Gad) and a forgetter (Manasseh) cannot share Mahanaim, cannot share reality, cannot dance in step. Manasseh, the one with a healthy Ecclesiastes 5:20 ability to forget and move on, needs Levi, the one who wants to connect, join, and attach more than fight. If Gad can concede to Levi, if fighting can mature into connecting and attaching, then a beautiful harmonious dance happens at Mahanaim. We could call it the dance of Mahanaim.
The Misuse of Mahanaim
Synchronicity for Wrong Goals
Immediately after David was installed as king over the tribe of Judah, Abner declared Ish-bosheth son of Saul as king over Israel (2Sam 2:1-11). It was a preemptive oppositional move meant to quarantine David's power to Judah only, keeping him from becoming king of all Israel. And where did Abner install Ish-bosheth as king? Mahanaim. See verses 8,9,12,29.
Abner & Ish-bosheth's Dark Dance
Mahanaim is the idea of two elements synchronized into a unified movement, identical to a dance. But such synchronicity, such goal-oriented choreography, can be done by ungodly people too. The idea of Mahanaim can be applied by literally anyone for any reason.
This is precisely what happened in the aftermath of Saul's death. Abner, commander of Saul's army and the most powerful man in non-Judah Israel, did not want David to be king. Abner was intensely loyal to Saul and the tribe of Benjamin, so he wanted Saul's bloodline heir to rule Israel. People want their tribe to be in power--right or wrong, for better or for worse, whether ancient Israel or today's America. Abner therefore declared Ish-bosheth to be the new king of Israel, installing him at Mahanaim. Ish-bosheth ruled from Mahanaim for two years until he was assassinated.
The collaboration between Abner and Ish-bosheth was a dark, dysfunctional dance. Abner was the real power in non-Judah Israel, Ish-bosheth was merely a puppet or figurehead. 2Samuel 3:11 and 4:1 capture the dynamic (NASB): And Ish-bosheth could no longer say a word in response to Abner, because he was afraid of him...Now when Ish-bosheth, Saul's son, heard that Abner had died in Hebron, his courage failed...
Misusing Mahanaim Ends Very, Very Badly
Ish-bosheth was not God's predetermined choice to lead Israel, David was. David ruled in Hebron while the Abner/Ish-bosheth symbiosis ruled in Mahanaim. They misused a precious location filled with divine meaning to keep their party in power. Both men were violently murdered. There is an aggressive judgment God imposes on those who misuse Mahanaim. It is a precious place and idea to Him. Run from dancing the wrong dance with the wrong individuals. Better to wait patiently at Hebron, like David, than misuse Mahanaim, like Abner and Ish-bosheth, and end very, very badly.
David's Re-Education at Mahanaim
Power & Love Must Dance
Absalom insurrects to overthrow David's government. David is forced to flee with supporters and loyalists to save themselves from a slaughter. And where exactly do they flee to? Mahanaim. See 2Samuel 17:24,27, 19:32, 1Kings 2:8.
Why on earth would David, guided by the conscious and subconscious leading of the Lord, flee to Mahanaim? Because God had a message for him there about power and love dancing in step.
Absalom's insurrection is recorded in 2Samuel 15-19. However, it is the Psalms that give us behind-the-curtain insight into what God was doing through it all, specifically when David reached Mahanaim. Psalm 62 is one of the psalms David wrote while exiled at Mahanaim. What God said to him during that time is amazing, amazing, amazing.
God spoke the following to David at Mahanaim, which he journaled in Psalm 62:11,12 (ESV): Once God has spoken; twice have I heard this: that power belongs to God, and that to you, O Lord, belongs steadfast love...
Two Hearings of One Revelation
David said God spoke once, i.e., one revelation, one main message. Then he said, "Twice I heard it." Can you see Mahanaim in that? Mahanaim is the idea of two elements harmoniously synchronized. At Mahanaim God spoke to David in a very Mahanaim way.
This also tells us location and revelation are interdependent. God speaks this way in Mahanaim, that way in Jerusalem, this way in Destin, that way in Atlanta, this way at the Brook Cherith, that way in a desert, this way in a prison, that way on Mount Pisgah, this way in your car, that way in the church prayer meeting, etc. This is why you have to get out of your stale routine and go places with God.
Power & Love Must Dance
Psalm 62:11,12 say, at Mahanaim, God spoke one main message to David: power belongs to God and love belongs to God. Once again, notice the very Mahanaim nature of this revelation. It includes two elements, power and love, and the implication that these two elements must coexist and synchronize, because, both belong to God and coexist perfectly in Him. Why is God saying this to David during Absalom's insurrection?
Absalom was doing exactly what Abner and Ish-bosheth did. Remember Abner and Ish-bosheth's conspiracy? Their symbiosis was one of power, but not love. If Abner really, truly loved the people of God (and not just his own tribe, Benjamin), he would have wanted what was best for her--Israel's divinely chosen king, David. Abner did not want that at first; he did not synchronize his power over Israel with a love for Israel. Abner and Ish-bosheth's toxic collaboration was about power and power only for the house of Saul. After a couple of years, however, Abner's eyes seemed to open and he realized David was God's best for Israel (2Sam 3:8-21). Before his murder he tried to reunite power and love in a Davidic administration over all Israel.
Absalom was mimicking Abner's initial push for power and power only. But, God said, power and love must dance together as they do in Him. At Mahanaim, God re-educated David on this.
Recompense for How One Choreographs Power & Love
At Mahanaim, Abner and Ish-bosheth misused the spirit of Mahanaim for power and power only, and they were rewarded with a violent death. The exact same recompense would be given to Absalom (a violent death) for the exact same wickedness (divorcing power and love). At Mahanaim God impressed on David that power and love belong to Him, implying they had to coexist and stay synchronized as they do in Him. For the most part David kept the two synchronized throughout his reign, and therefore, God would reward him by sparing his life and administration just as God had spared him during Abner's conspiracy.
God recompenses each person for how they choreograph power and love. This is precisely why David ends Psalm 62 with a promise/warning (v12, ESV): ...For you will render to a man according to his work. God will recompense each of us for how we manage the Mahanaim of power and love. Do we consistently make them dance together as intended, or do we consistently divorce them?
The Error of Love & Love Only
The stories of Abner and Absalom show us the error of power and power only. David, however, was in this mess with Absalom because of the opposite error: the error of love and love only. When Amnon raped Tamar--Absalom's sister--Amnon should have been executed according to the Law of Moses (Deu 22:25-27). David did not respond with strength and power and punish Amnon, rather, he retreated into sloppy agape and did absolutely nothing. This infuriated Absalom, Tamar's brother, and gave him a life-consuming grievance against David. Many sloppy agape, ice cream diet Christians today are the same way. They hold no one accountable, they do not speak difficult truths, they passively enable significant wrongdoing among the people of God.
David had a good track record of synchronizing power and love, though, which is one reason God did not let Absalom succeed. However, Absalom's insurrection was certainly a form of divine punishment and re-education for David for divorcing power from love when Amnon raped Tamar.
The Dance of Mahanaim
Staring at the Shulammite, A Beautiful Woman
Song of Songs 6:13 (NIV): [Others] Come back, come back, O Shulammite; come back, come back, that we may gaze on you! [He] Why would you gaze on the Shulammite as on the dance of Mahanaim?
The NKJV translates Solomon's response more clearly, which we will look at in a bit: ...What would you see in the Shulamite--as it were, the dance of the two camps?
The "Others" refers to the friends of Solomon and the Shulammite, who periodically contribute to the song. They say they want to gaze or stare at the Shulammite. Solomon, in response, sings back to them, "Why do you want to stare at her, what would you see? Would you see something resembling the dance of Mahanaim?"
At the 2016 Rio Olympics Opening Ceremony, Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bundchen walked across the field at Maracana Stadium to 78,000 admiring eyes, and millions more at home. Always one to insert Himself into mundane daily moments, Song 6:13 came to mind with sudden illumination. We need to understand the full meaning of Solomon's response, and why he would parallel looking deeply at a beautiful woman to looking deeply at the Mahanaim dance, and vice versa.
Staring at Two, Analyzing Two
Mahanaim means "two camps, two companies". Conceptually, it is the idea of two elements harmoniously synchronized. Therefore, to gaze at or carefully observe the dance of Mahanaim means to analyze the two elements and how they are synchronized.
If we gaze at the dance of Mahanaim in Jacob's pioneering experience (Gen 32:1,2), we can analyze the two elements (the angelic camp and the human camp) and how they were synchronized (God-centricity). If we gaze at the dance of Mahanaim in Abner and Ish-bosheth's toxic collaboration (2Sam 2-4), we can analyze the two elements (Abner and Ish-bosheth) and how they were synchronized (one was the power, one was the puppet, functioning codependently). If we gaze at the dance of Mahanaim in David's punishment and re-education at Mahanaim brought about by Absalom's insurrection (2Sam 17:24,27, 19:32, 1Kings 2:8), we can analyze the two elements (power and love) and how they were synchronized or divorced. Gazing at the dance of Mahanaim means seeing and analyzing the two elements and how they are synchronized.
The Shulammite/Mahanaim Parallel
Once again, notice Solomon's profound, otherworldly response in Song 6:13. The NKJV captures his response most clearly: ...What would you see in the Shulamite--as it were, the dance of the two camps?
Solomon parallels the Shulammite to a Mahanaim dance, and vice versa. If the Mahanaim dance is the synchronicity of two elements, what two elements of the Shulammite is Solomon hinting at?
In Song of Songs, at least seven separate times, Solomon referred to the Shulammite with a duality. In 4:9,10,12, and 5:1 he called her: (1) my sister and (2) my bride. In 5:2 he used four names, but the same two main ideas (Young's Literal Translation): (1) my sister, my friend and (2) my dove, my perfect one. In 2:10,13, he called her (YLT): (1) my friend and (2) my fair one. All of Solomon's romantic nicknames for the Shulamite fell into two categories: inner beauty and outer beauty.
Inner Beauty & Outer Beauty
When Solomon called the Shulammite "sister, friend", he was gazing on her inner beauty, her personality, her ability to connect with him in spiritual, soulical, even recreational, ways. When Solomon called the Shulammite "bride, dove, flawless one, fair one", he was gazing on her outer beauty, her looks, her sexual desirability to him, her overall physical presence.
Legalistic Christians and those with a weak conscience struggle terribly with this. They think all that matters is loving God and being spiritual, while the more practical areas of personhood and life are inherently wrong or inferior, a form of Gnosticism and Asceticism. They openly attack, or quietly disdain, the very things Solomon celebrated in his dual experience with the Shulammite, the very things God made sure were a part of His Bible via Song of Songs. Solomon celebrated her inner beauty and outer beauty, and in a God-centered romantic relationship/marriage, only one will never be enough. Your covenant partner has to be someone you can pray with and play with daily, but also someone your teeth sweat to get naked with. The male-female romantic relationship is one of the strongest expressions of the Mahanaim dance. The importance of both inner beauty and outer beauty (in the eye of the beholder), and the dancing synchronicity of the two, is more important than many Christians have to courage to accept. This is what Solomon is cleverly hinting at in Song 6:13.
Look at Her Through a Dual Lens
The friends say, "We wanna stare at the Shulammite some more!" Solomon replies, "Why? Will you stare at her the way I do, through a dual lens, the way you would watch a dance of Mahanaim?"
Solomon is saying, do not look at her as a beautiful woman outwardly only, but through a Mahanaim lens, as a beautiful woman inwardly also. Both in synchronicity. Amazingly, he is saying the opposite too: do not look at her as a beautiful woman inwardly only, but through a Mahanaim lens, as a beautiful woman outwardly also. Both in synchronicity. It seems Babylon and the church both need to learn the timeless meaning of Song 6:13.