Michmash

MICHMASH mĭk’ măsh (מִכְמָ֣שׂ or מִכְמָ֔ס in Ezra 2:27 and Neh 7:31, LXX B Μαχμάς, LXX A Χαμμἅς, but Μακαλῶν in 1 Esd 5:21, meaning unknown). A town and a pass c. six m. SE of Bethel.

Michmash apparently was not a large enough town to warrant mention in the list of Benjamite cities. Its only real claim to fame is in the battle that was fought there by Saul and Jonathan against the Philistines (1 Sam 13:1-14:35). The town does receive mention in the postexilic period. Ezra records that 122 men of Michmash returned from exile (Ezra 2:27, cf. Neh 7:31, 11:31, and 1 Esd 5:21 where the town is called “Macalon,” perhaps through the misreading of an uncial Mu for Alpha-Lambda). After the siege of Bethbasi the Maccabean Jonathan settled in Michmash, which may have served as a competitor with Jerusalem for the allegiance of the people (1 Macc 9:73, cf. Jos. Antiq. XIII. i. 6).

Biblical Michmash is the modern Arab town of Mukhmas. It is reached by the road that goes E from the main highway at Ramah. South of the town less than a m. is the narrow canyon of the Wadi Suwenet which joins the Wadi Qelt and empties into the Jordan near Jericho. To the SW of Michmash is Geba, situated on another hill. A knowledge of this geography is necessary in order to understand the Battle of Michmash as recorded in 1 Samuel 13 and 14. Saul had been camped at Michmash with 2000 soldiers while his son Jonathan was at Gibeah (perhaps one should read Geba here) with another 1000. Jonathan had reached Geba after routing the Philistines. When they retaliated by rushing on Michmash, Saul fled eastward to Gilgal and his men scattered—some even across the Jordan. The Philistines did not pursue, but waited at the Pass of Michmash which was easily defended. At Gilgal, Samuel shamed Saul into going back and fighting. So with 600 men out of the original 2000, Saul joined forces with Jonathan at Geba (1 Sam 13:15). The Philistines accepted the challenge and split into three companies, with a garrison guarding the pass at Michmash (13:17-23).

The weak character of Saul continues to show as he remains under the pomegranate tree (14:2) while Jonathan plots to defeat the Philistines. Jonathan took his armor-bearer, made his way across the pass, and scaled the precipitous N wall in front of Michmash. The two of them made a surprise attack on the garrison and killed twenty men (14:14). This threw the whole Philistine army into panic and they raced westward to escape. It was then that Saul and his men joined in the chase and “the Lord delivered Israel that day; and the battle passed beyond Beth-aven” (14:23). Verse 31 indicates that there were Philistine casualties all the way from Michmash to Aijalon.

In a vivid account of an Assyrian or Syro-Ephraimitic attack on Jerusalem, Isaiah mentions Michmash. Isaiah 10:28b, 29 reads:

At Michmash he stores his baggage; they have crossed over the pass,

at Geba they lodge for the night; Ramah trembles,

Gibeah of Saul has fled.

Perhaps to facilitate mobility, the heavy non-combat equipment was stored some distance from the Assyrians’ objective.

No excavation of Michmash has been made, but there is no question about the location of the site. All the geographical details of the battle fit, and the modern but insignificant town bears such a similar name (Mukhmas) that there can be no doubt. The land is rough and hilly and the pass or canyon leading SE fits the description in the Bible, as well as that in Jos. Antiq. VI. vi. 2.

Bibliography E. Kraeling, Bible Atlas (1956), 180-182.

Article 2

A town in the territory of Benjamin, apparently not of sufficient importance to secure mention in the list of cities given in Jos 18:21 ff. It first appears as occupied by Saul with 2,000 men, when Jonathan, advancing from Gibeah, smote the Philistine garrison in Geba (1Sa 13:2). To avenge this injury, the Philistines came up in force and pitched in Michmash (1Sa 13:5). Saul and Jonathan with 600 men held Geba, which had been taken from the Philistine garrison (1Sa 13:16). It will assist in making clear the narrative if, at this point, the natural features of the place are described.

Michmash is represented by the modern Mukhmas, about 7 miles North of Jerusalem. From the main road which runs close to the watershed, a valley sloping eastward sinks swiftly into the great gorge of Wady es-Suweinit. The village of Mukhmas stands to the North of the gorge, about 4 miles East of the carriage road. The ancient path from Ai southward passes to the West of the village, goes down into the valley by a steep and difficult track, and crosses the gorge by the pass, a narrow defile, with lofty, precipitous crags on either side--the only place where a crossing is practicable. To the South of the gorge is Geba, which had been occupied by the Philistines, doubtless to command the pass. Their camp was probably pitched in a position East of Mukhmas, where the ground slopes gradually northward from the edge of the gorge. The place is described by Josephus as "upon a precipice with three peaks, ending in a small, but sharp and long extremity, while there was a rock that surrounded them like bulwarks to prevent the attack of the enemy" (Ant., VI, vi, 2). Conder confirms this description, speaking of it as "a high hill bounded by the precipices of Wady es-Suweinit on the South, rising in three flat but narrow mounds, and communicating with the hill of Mukhmas, which is much lower, by a long and narrow ridge." The Philistines purposed to guard the pass against approach from the South. On the other hand they were not eager to risk an encounter with the badly armed Israelites in a position where superior numbers would be of little advantage. It was while the armies lay thus facing each other across the gorge that Jonathan and his armor-bearer performed their intrepid feat (1Sa 14:1 ).

See BOZEZ; SENEH.

It will be noted that the Philistines brought their chariots to Michmash (1Sa 13:5). In his ideal picture of the Assyrian advance on Jerusalem, Isaiah makes the invader lay up his baggage at Michmash so that he might go lightly through the pass (Isa 10:28). A company of the men of Michmash (see MICHMAS) returned with Zerubbabel from exile (Ezr 2:27; Ne 7:31). Michmash produced excellent barley. According to the Mishna, "to bring barley to Michmash" was equivalent to our English "to carry coal to Newcastle." Michmash was the seat of government under Jonathan Maccabeus (1 Macc 9:73).

The modern village is stone-built. There are rock-cut tombs to the North. Cisterns supply the water. There are foundations of old buildings, large stones, and a vaulted cistern.

Article 3

Something hidden, a town of Benjamin (Ezra 2:27), east of Bethel and south of Migron, on the road to Jerusalem (Isa. 10:28). It lay on the line of march of an invading army from the north, on the north side of the steep and precipitous Wady es-Suweinit (“valley of the little thorn-tree” or “the acacia”), and now bears the name of Mukhmas. This wady is called “the passage of Michmash” (1 Sam. 13:23). Immediately facing Mukhmas, on the opposite side of the ravine, is the modern representative of Geba, and behind this again are Ramah and Gibeah.

This was the scene of a great battle fought between the army of Saul and the Philistines, who were utterly routed and pursued for some 16 miles towards Philistia as far as the valley of Aijalon. “The freedom of Benjamin secured at Michmash led through long years of conflict to the freedom of all its kindred tribes.” The power of Benjamin and its king now steadily increased. A new spirit and a new hope were now at work in Israel. (See Saul.)

Article 4

(hidden), a town which is known to us almost solely by its connection with the Philistine war of Saul and Jonathan. (1 Samuel 13:1; 1 Samuel 14:1) ... It has been identified with great probability in a village which still bears the name of Mukhmas, about seven miles north of Jerusalem. The place was thus situated in the very middle of the tribe of Benjamin. In the invasion of Sennacherib in the reign of Hezekiah, it is mentioned by Isaiah. (Isaiah 10:28) After the captivity the man of the place returned. (Ezra 2:27; Nehemiah 7:31) At a later date it became the residence of Jonathan Maccabaeus and the seat of his government. 1 Macc. 9:73. In the time of Eusebius and Jerome it was “a very large village, retaining its ancient name, and lying near Ramah in the district of AElia (Jerusalem), at ten miles distance therefrom.” Immediately below the village the great wady spreads out to a considerable width, perhaps half a mile; and its bed is broken up into an intricate mass of hummocks and mounds, two of which, before the torrents of three thousand winters had reduced and rounded their forms, were probably the two “teeth of cliff”, the Bozes and Seneh of Jonathan’s adventure.