Chapter 18


Idolatry in the Tribe of Dan

        • In those days there was no king in Israel, and the tribe of Dan was looking for an inheritance for itself to live in, because up until that day it had not been allotted an inheritance among the tribes of Israel.

        • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible clarifies, “According to Jos 19:40-48, the original Danite territory allotment was located west of the Benjaminite land, between the territories of Ephraim and Judah. The present events must have happened soon after the death of Joshua and prior to the events described in Jdg 13-16. First, the Levitical priest is identified in 18:30 as ‘Joshua son of Gershom, son of Moses,’ which would suggest placing these events within two generations of the conquest (though at times generations can be skipped). Second, the Philistines claimed a large part of the territory allotted to the Danites. However, there is no hint of Philistine involvement here- unless, of course, their presence was the reason the Danites could not occupy the land assigned to them.”

        • So, the people of Dan sent out five brave Danite men from Zorah and Eshtaol to explore and spy out the land saying, “Go explore the land.” And they came to Micah’s house in the hill country of Ephraim and spent the night there. While they were near Micah’s house, they recognized the voice of the young Levite, so they turned aside there and asked him, “Who brought you here? What are you doing and what business do you have here?”

        • The NLT Illustrated Study Bible writes, “The Danites either recognized the young Levite’s accent (literally voice) as belonging to the region of Judah (17:7) or recognized his voice because they had known him personally…”

          • ESV Archaeology Study Bible adds, “Zorah and Eshtaol are a 12-mile journey from Bethlehem. This proximity could account for how the Danites and the Levite knew each other.”

        • He told them what Micah had done for him and that he had hired him to be his priest. They said, “Please inquire of God so that we’ll know if the journey we are on will be successful.” And the priest replied, “Go in peace, Yahweh is watching over the journey you’re on.”

          • HCSB says, “Despite what this priest concluded, there was no certainty he had truly ascertained the Lord’s will. The priest had been functioning outside of the Lord’s revealed will. His quick response to the Danites suggests he had not even thought to consult the Lord (cp 2 Sm 7:1-7).”

          • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible adds, “…The present context gives no indication of how- or even if- the Levitical priests sought his oracle from Yahweh. Presumably, he used the household gods or ephod mentioned in 17:5.”

        • The same source includes this interesting note, “Most translations…interpret his positively, but in fact it is quite ambiguous. The Hebrew reads lit. ‘Before Yahweh is your course on which you are going.’ This could mean that it has the approval of Yahweh’s watchful eye, but it could also mean the opposite, ie., the conduct of the scouts and the Danites as a tribe is under critical scrutiny by Yahweh. Such ambiguity was characteristic of many ancient prophecies…”

        • The five men left and came to Laish and saw that the people living there were living in security, like the Sidonians: quiet and secure, lacking nothing in the land, and no oppressive ruler. They were far from the Sidonians and didn’t have any dealings with anyone.

          • The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible provides some helpful context, “like the Sidonians. A paraphrastic idiom suggesting that Laish was located within the sphere of Sidon, a major Phoenician coastal city. This accords with what we know of Sidon’s status at the end of the second millennium BC. Although Sidon existed in the shadow of Tyre from the time of Solomon, prior to this, she had been the premiere Phoenician city. In the OT, the non-Semitic ‘Sidonians’ stands for ‘Phoencians.’ The Sidonians, separated from Laish by the Lebanon mountains and preoccupied with their maritime interests, apparently had neither time for nor interest in exerting political control in the interior. Nestled in the shadow of Mount Hermon, between the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon mountain ranges, the people of Laish lived in isolation from the Arameans to the east and north and independence from Sidon to the west. Recent archaeological excavations of Dan may have unearthed one more reason for the Laishite smugness: their massive defensive ramparts. Like most Canaanite cities of the time, Laish was not defended by stone walls, but by huge ramparts consisting of alternating layers of soil from the surrounding region and debris from previous settlements.”

        • When the men returned to their relatives in Zorah and Eshtaol, their relatives asked, “What do you report?” They answered, “Come on, let’s go up against them. We’ve seen the land and it’s very good. Will you do nothing? Don’t hesitate to go, enter, and take possession of the land. When you go, you’ll come to an unsuspecting people and a spacious land, for God has handed this place, where there is nothing lacking on this earth, into your hands.”

          • ESV Archaeology Study Bible writes, “Laish was the ancient name for the city of Dan, located in the northern end of the Huleh Valley…The Huleh Basin is a fertile plain in the northern Jordan Valley.”

        • So, 600 Danites set out from Zorah and Eshtaol, armed with weapons of war. They went up and camped at Kiriath-jearim in Judah. Therefore they call that place Mahaneh-Dan to this day. It’s located west of Kiriath-jearim.

        • ESV Archaeology Study Bible notes, “Mahaneh-Dan means ‘the Camp of Dan.’

        • Guzik says, “Curiously, they assembled an army of 600 men to fight for the city of Laish in the land of the tribe of Ephraim; yet they could not fight for the land of their own tribal allotment. For some reason (to them and often to us) a distant battle seemed easier than a close battle.”

        • From there, they went to Micah’s house in the hill country of Ephraim. The five men who had gone to spy out the land told their relatives, “Did you know that there are an ephod, household idols, and an idol of cast metal in these houses? Now, think about what you should do.”

        • So, they detoured there and went to the young Levite’s house, at Micah’s house, and greeted him. The 600 Danite men armed with their weapons of war stood by the entrance of the gate. The five men who had gone to spy out the land went in and took the cast metal idol, the ephod, and the household idols. The priest was standing by the entrance of the gate with the 600 men armed with weapons of war. When they went into Micah’s house and took the cast metal idol, the ephod, and the household idols, the priest said, “What are you doing?” And they replied, “Keep quiet. Put your hand over your mouth and come with us and be a father and a priest to us. Is it better to be a priest for the house of one man or to be a priest for a tribe and family in Israel? So, the priest’s heart was glad, and he took the ephod, household idols, and cast metal idol, and went with them.

          • Guzik writes, “His heart was glad because he was filled with mercenary ambition. The Levite did not care about Micah, only for the pay and status that he might get by being the priest for a whole tribe instead of a mere family.”

        • So, they turned and left, putting their small children, livestock, and valuables in front of them. After they had gone some distance from Micah’s house, the men who were in the houses near Micah’s house assembled and caught up to the Danites. They called out to the Danites, who turned around to face them and said to Micah, “What’s the matter with you, why have you assembled together?” And he replied, “You took my gods that I made and the priest and went away. What do I have left? How can you say, ‘What’s the matter with you?’”

          • NLT Illustrated Study Bible says, “Some of Micah’s neighbors had apparently become converts to the cult of his shrine. The question was only intended to cow Micah into abandoning the fight. Micah’s last speech is pathetic and pitiful. He began by stealing from his own mother and ended by losing to worse thieves than himself. The narrative drips with irony, including Micah’s loss of the gods I have made. His fate was that of all who forsake the Lord’s covenant: I have nothing left!

        • The Danites said, “Don’t argue with us, or fierce men will attack you and you and your family will lose your lives. The Danites went on their way, and Micah turned to go back home because he saw that they were too strong for him.

        • They took what Micah had made, and the priest that belonged to him, and they came to Laish- to a quiet and unsuspecting people. They killed them with their swords and burned the city down. There was no one to save them because they were far away from Sidon and they didn’t have any dealings with anyone. It was in the valley that belonged to Beth-rehob. Then the rebuilt the city and lived there. They named the city Dan, after the name of their ancestor Dan, Israel’s son. However, the city was formerly named Laish.

          • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible notes, “…Archaeological excavations at Laish indicate the city was destroyed by a massive conflagration in the mid-eleventh century BC, leaving a layer of ash and rubble two to four feet thick in some places. Whether those remains point to the events described here is uncertain. [Danites rebuilding the city] accords with the archaeological evidence, which suggests that despite the total destruction of the city people continued to occupy it. The walls of the previous occupation continued in use and the material culture continued without appreciable change.”

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible reminds us, “…Nothing heroic, and no holy war, accrued to these Danite warriors who captured this defenseless city. Dan fulfilled Jacob’s mixed blessings by turning from the high calling of governing his people (Gen 49:16) to becoming ‘a snake beside the road, a poisonous viper along the path that bites the horse’s hooves so its rider is thrown off’ (Gen 49:17).”

        • The Danites set up the cast metal idol for themselves. Jonathan (the son of Gershom, who was the son of Moses) and his sons were priests for the tribe of Dan until the time of the captivity of the land. So, they set up for themselves the cast metal idol that Micah had made, as long as the house of God was in Shiloh.

          • There is variance in the manuscripts as to the lineage of Jonathan, the young Levite. HCSB explains, “Some translations identify the priest as Jonathan, the son of Gershom, the son of Manasseh. Other translations, however, indicate that the priest was Jonathan, the son of Gershom, the son of Moses; thus, the idolatrous priest was none other than the grandson of Moses. Some scholars believe that the original Hebrew was altered by later scribes to protect Moses’ reputation so that his name would not be linked in any way with the idolatry of the tribe of Dan. According to those scholars, the Hebrew text was changed from ‘Moses’ to ‘Manasseh’ (the name of an apostate king of Judah) by the insertion of the Hebrew letter ‘nun’ (‘n’ in English) as a superscription above the other consonants.”

        • Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges corroborates this with evidence from Jewish writings, “The Levite and his descendants, the priests of Dan, claimed descent from Moses. The margin notes another reading; in the Hebr. text the letter n is ‘suspended,’ or inserted above the line, thus turning Mosheh… into Manasseh… The Jews admit that the text was altered in order to repudiate the Levite’s claim; he acted, not like a son of Moses, but like the impious king Manasseh, to whom the Rabbis apply the principle, ‘every corruption is fastened upon (i.e. is named after) him who started it’; Talm. Bab. Baba Bathra 109b.

            • ESV Archaeology Study Bible writes, “The captivity of the land could refer to the Babylonian captivity (586 BC) or the Assyrian captivity of 722 (or even earlier, when Dan passed into Assyrian control), since Dan is in the north. In any case, the Danites’ priest and his descendants served in that role for centuries, and only exile ended the arrangement. Shiloh was destroyed at the end of the period of the Judges… (cf Ps. 78:60; Jer 7:12, 14; 26:6).”

          • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible adds, “For some time prior to the establishment of the monarchy Shiloh functioned as the religious center for the nation (21:19; 1 Sa 1:3), being home to the tabernacle, which housed the ark of the covenant law…”

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