The name Mizpah came from a common Hebrew word meaning ‘watchtower’ or ‘watchpost’, and was given to a number of places referred to in the Bible. The earliest mention is to a place that features in the story of Jacob where he and Laban made an agreement not to be treacherous to each other in future. They called the place Mizpah, since God was witness to their agreement, the one who ‘watched’ between them (Gen 31:44-50). In relation to the history of the nation Israel, the most important town that had the name Mizpah was in the central hill country of Palestine.

It was one of four administrative and religious centres that Samuel visited on his annual circuit (1 Sam 7:5-12,16). The town was located in the tribal area of Benjamin and had previously featured in one of the most disastrous events in Benjamin’s early history (Judg 20:1-7; 21:1-8). Israel’s first king, Saul, who was from the tribe of Benjamin, was publicly declared king in Mizpah (1 Sam 10:17-24; for map see BENJAMIN). During the period of the divided kingdom, Mizpah became an important defence outpost on Judah’s northern border with Israel (1 Kings 15:22). After the destruction of Jerusalem it became the centre from which Gedaliah, the governor appointed by Babylon, administered the scattered remains of the former kingdom (2 Kings 25:23,25; Jer 40:6-16; 41:1-18). Other places in Palestine named Mizpah were near Mount Hermon in the far north (Josh 11:3), in Gilead east of Jordan (Judg 10:17; 11:11,29,34), and in the low foothills west of the central highlands (Josh 15:38). There was also a Mizpah in Moab south-east of the Dead Sea (1 Sam 22:3).

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