Spiritual laxity in any nation is soon followed by lawlessness
and violence, and so it proved.
Vv 1,2: "Micah's consecration of Jonathan proved to be the
prelude to an episode unique in the history of Israel. The tribe of Dan,
although apparently one of the largest tribes at the time of the entering of the
Land, had not proved strong enough for the task of both winning and holding its
inheritance from the indigenous races. 'And the Amorites forced the children of
Dan into the mountain: for they would not suffer them to come down to the
valley' (Jdg 1:34). The reference here to Amorites where one would expect the
word Philistines is interesting. Can it have been between the time of Joshua and
Samson that the Philistines first migrated to Canaan from their original home in
Crete? On the other hand, it may have been Philistine pressure from the west on
the Amorites which caused them to expand eastwards at the expense of the tribe
"Whatever the explanation, it became a matter of urgent
necessity that the portion of the Danite inheritance already occupied by
speedily enlarged. So, after solemn conference, they proceeded to do the wrong
thing. Instead of asking counsel of the Lord, instead of rallying their brethren
of the other tribes of Israel to their aid, instead of strengthening themselves
in the unfailing promises that had been made to their fathers, instead of going
forth against both Amorite and Philistine in faith that God would give them the
territory assigned to them under His leader Joshua -- instead of any of these
good alternatives, the men of Dan coveted another inheritance in a region where
the divine lot had not fallen to them, and which was, indeed, outside the
borders of the Promised Land as it had been measured off by Joshua. And there
they planned to blot out a peaceful unsuspecting people rather than turn their
weapons against legitimate and detestable foes on their own doorstep.
"In pursuance of this aim they first sent out five spies to
find new land for settlement. In the course of their journey, these men came to
the house of Micah" (WJR).
Vv 3-6: "In the course of their journey, these men came to the
house of Micah where they recognized the young Levite from Bethlehem. 'They knew
his voice' (Jdg 18:3). There seems to be an implication here that the wanderings
of this worthless Levite had taken him into Zorah and Eshtaol. Perhaps they
readily recognized his voice because he was singing psalms in the 'sanctuary' at
the time they came to the place.
"The men used this opportunity to ask counsel (somewhat
belatedly!) of the Lord. How like human nature, to decide on the course to be
followed, and then as an afterthought, when fully committed to it, to ask divine
blessing on it!
"The Levite was, of course, unable to give them any genuine
communication from the Lord. That was only to be had through the high priest.
Nevertheless his ready wit was fully equal to the occasion and he gave them a
message in the best Delphic tradition of ambiguity: 'Go in peace: before the
Lord is your way wherein ye go.' What better than this most platitudinous of all
truisms? It would apply perfectly to any circumstance that might befall them.
But the men of Dan, with the naivete of so many who enquire of God in the wrong
way, read into the words an assurance that their project would prosper, and they
went off highly satisfied. Whatever bloody deeds they might plan hereafter, they
were sure of divine approval -- or so they thought" (WJR).
THEY RECOGNIZED THE VOICE...: Poss a different accent
(cp Jdg 12:6). But note Jdg 18:30: this was a well-known young man, the grandson
of Moses himself!
Vv 7-10: "In due time they came to the extreme border of the
Land, at the very edge of the northern territory assigned to Naphtali. Exploring
there the fertile, remote valleys of the Anti-Lebanon, they lighted upon the
quiet prosperous city of Laish. The people were Zidonians by race but out of
touch with the main body of their people, being cut off from them by difficult
mountain ranges: 'They were far from the Zidonians, and had no business with any
man (or -- probable reading -- with Syria).'
"The description of that quiet life of these people, as given
either in the AV or RV, is not at all according to the original, and indeed
scarcely makes sense. Yet it requires only the alteration of one letter to give
the much more coherent reading: 'There was no one to restrain (ie, to exercise
political control over) any in the land.' In the eyes of these spies from Dan,
this would be a factor of some considerable importance.
"They hastened back home to report to a conclave of elders of
their tribe. Their enthusiastic urgent story reads as though it had been their
early intention to make an onslaught on this particular locality. It may be that
from the first, this Danite migration was a deliberate move to rejoin Naphtali.
Dan and Naphtali were both sons of Bilhah, and the two tribes shared the same
encampment in the wilderness and were both in the rearguard when on the march.
The returned spies reinforced their own favourable impression with Jonathan's
oracular utterance -- or rather their interpretation of it: 'God hath given it
into your hands; a place where there is no want of any thing that is in the
earth' " (WJR).
UNSUSPECTING AND SECURE: It would have been more to
Dan's credit had they stayed south and tackled the warlike Philistines. They
applied Deu 20:10-18 where it should not have been applied, because outside
their specified boundaries.
NO RELATIONS WITH ANYONE ELSE: That is, "with any MAN".
"Since the distinction between ADaM and ARaM (Syria) is so very slight, the
change is quite likely. There are plenty of examples of this accidental switch
between D and R" (WJR).
Vv 11-21: "Immediate action was taken. A body of six hundred
well-equipped men set out accompanied by their families. En route the additional
scheme was hatched of persuading Jonathan the Levite to accompany them, to be
their spiritual guide and helper in their new land of promise.
"This plan was expeditiously carried into effect. Whilst
Jonathan was kept talking at the gate, others of the party boldly entered the
"sanctuary" and brought forth the ephod and all the other appurtenances of
priestly office. Jonathan felt bound to remonstrate, but there was little he
could do about it, and when his own self-interest was coolly expounded to him,
he speedily threw all scruples to the winds. Forgetting his commitment to Micah,
and quite oblivious of the moral principles associated with the service of
Jehovah, to whom he claimed to minister, he readily threw in his lot with these
"It was only to be expected that there would be pursuit by
Micah, so the women and children were put in front, out of harm's way. But
Jonathan, immediately assuming the authority due to his new office, insisted on
the observance of the religious proprieties and arranged for the holy equipment
to be carried 'in the midst of the people', that is, in the centre of the long
caravan, just as the furniture of the Tabernacle had travelled during the
wilderness journey (Num 10; esp v 21)" (WJR).
MAHANEH DAN: Was mentioned in Samson's day (Jdg 13:25).
Thus Jdg 17; 18 predates Samson, and prob most if not all of book of Judges (Jdg
Vv 22-26: "Micah and the neighbours who rallied to help him
made immediate pursuit and soon came up with the slow-moving host. At first the
men of Dan feigned innocence and surprise: 'What aileth thee that thou comest
with such a company?' Micah made bitter and reproachful reply (there is a superb
realism about the narrative here): 'Ye have taken away my gods which I made (see
how the man confesses here his own folly!)... and what have I more? and how then
say ye unto me, What aileth thee?' There was little strength of character behind
these words. Why did he not insist that these men had earlier accepted his
hospitality (v 2) and therefore should now maintain the covenant of peace by
returning his property?
"As it was, the men of Dan speedily recognized that here was
no formidable enemy. They knew now that they could bluff their way out of this
situation without difficulty: 'Let not thy voice be heard among us, lest angry
fellows run upon thee, and thou lose thy life, with the lives of thy household';
as who would say: 'These men are desperate; you would be wise to cut your
losses, or worse things might befall.' Which thing Micah did, for he loved his
life more than his religion and its appurtenances.
"Moses had made a prophecy about this strange change of policy
by the tribe of Dan: 'Dan is a lion's whelp: he shall leap from Bashan' (Deu
33:22). From this it may be inferred that from Ephraim the migrants crossed
Jordan and travelled north round the east side of Galilee. Their target Laish
means 'a lion', so there is fair likelihood that it was an understanding of
Moses' prophecy which led them to this remote place in the north"
Micah had robbed his mother. Now he is robbed of very objects
on which money was spent, by those who had used his hospitality.
THE GODS I MADE: The quintessence of spiritual
stupidity: "They know nothing, they understand nothing; their eyes are plastered
over so they cannot see, and their minds closed so they cannot understand. No
one stops to think, no one has the knowledge or understanding to say, 'Half of
it I used for fuel; I even baked bread over its coals, I roasted meat and I ate.
Shall I make a detestable thing from what is left? Shall I bow down to a block
of wood?' He feeds on ashes, a deluded heart misleads him; he cannot save
himself, or say, 'Is not this thing in my right hand a lie?' " (Isa
THE SON OF MOSES: Definitely not "the son of Manasseh",
as KJV has it. The name of the Levite is finally revealed: he is the grandson of
"[This] verse makes Gershom to be the son of Manasseh. But
Gershom was certainly the son of Moses (Exo 2:22). The explanation of this
discordance, fully accepted by all scholars, is not without interest. In an
effort to safeguard the reputation of their revered Moses, the scribes wrote
into the manuscripts an additional letter nun above the line, thus: MnSH. In
this way it was intimated to the synagogue reader that he was to substitute the
name Manasseh for the name Mosheh. That alteration persists in every Hebrew
Bible right up to the present day" (WJR).
LAND: Or poss "ark", as in 1Sa 4:2,3,10,11.
JONATHAN SON OF GERSHOM, THE SON OF MOSES, AND HIS SONS
WERE PRIESTS FOR THE TRIBE OF DAN UNTIL THE TIME OF THE CAPTIVITY OF THE
LAND: "This statement about their priesthood is usually taken to mean that
this Danite sanctuary continued right up to the time when Shalmaneser V, king of
Assyria, took the northern tribes into captivity. And to this is often added the
inference that therefore the Book of Judges must have been written after that
date and probably after the Babylonian captivity.
"Both of these conclusions must be rejected because of two
fairly plain indications that this unofficial priesthood ceased before the end
of the reign of David -- as indeed might be expected from a knowledge of David's
zeal for the sanctuary of the Lord in Zion. There was a Shebuel, a contemporary
of David in the line of Moses-Gershom-Jonathan who was NOT a false priest in Dan
but a faithful treasurer in Jerusalem (1Ch 26:24). Also, the words of the wise
woman of Abel to Joab were, according to the Septuagint version: 'They were wont
to speak in old time, saying, They shall surely ask counsel in Abel AND IN DAN'
(2Sa 20:18). The allusion is clearly to Jdg 18, and she spoke as though of a
custom now discontinued. So it may be safely inferred that by the end of David's
reign the worship at Dan had ceased.
"A further detail in Jdg 18 suggests a different 'captivity'
than the Assyrian or Babylonian: 'And they set up Micah's graven image, which he
made, all the time that the house of God was in Shiloh', ie, until the days of
Samuel. This time indication is precisely what would be expected, for it is
difficult to believe that Samuel, with his stern sense of duty, would tolerate
even in remote Dan the existence of an apostate priesthood. The true 'house of
God was in Shiloh'.
"The Hebrew words for 'land' and 'ark' are very easily
confused in Hebrew script. This alternative removes all difficulty: 'Jonathan
and his sons were priests until the day of the captivity of the ark' (that is,
until the time of Samuel: 1Sa 4:17,22); and Micah's oracle continued its vogue
all the time that the house of God was at Shiloh.
"The first secession from true religious loyalty left its
mark. In the days of Rehoboam, when upstart Jeroboam was seeking to wean the
northern tribes from service to the House of David, he revived in Dan and Bethel
the ancient worship of the golden calf. Dan was hardly a good centre to choose,
because of its remoteness. Some site immediately north or south of Jezreel would
surely have been better. But Dan already had a reputation as a place of worship.
The memory of the sanctuary there still lingered.
"Further, it is interesting to observe that whereas at Bethel
'he made priests of the lowest of the people, which were not of the sons of
Levi', the same is not written concerning Dan, for Dan already had its own
tradition of priests descended from Moses.
"Thus it can be seen that the doom of the Northern Kingdom is
to be dated from the day that Jonathan, the restless Levite, joined forces with
the men of Dan. From that time also there began to be fulfilled the prophecy:
'Dan shall be a serpent by the way, an adder in the path' (Gen 49:17).
"In Dan, apostasy was first fully organized. For this reason,
probably, the name of Dan has been omitted from the roll of the tribes of Israel
in Chronicles, and from the catalogue of the spiritual Israel who are sealed in
their foreheads as the servants of God (Rev 7). 'Without are... idolaters, and
whosoever loveth and maketh a lie' " (WJR).
Competition with cousin, Phinehas, true priest in Shiloh (Jdg
20:28). Cp rivalry of Korah, etc against Moses and Aaron (Num 16).