OT History Part 1 – Judges 17-18

Now a man named Micah from the hill country of Ephraim said to his mother, “The eleven hundred shekels of silver that were taken from you and about which I heard you utter a curse—I have that silver with me; I took it.”
Then his mother said, “The Lord bless you, my son!”
When he returned the eleven hundred shekels of silver to his mother, she said, “I solemnly consecrate my silver to the Lord for my son to make an image overlaid with silver. I will give it back to you.”
So after he returned the silver to his mother, she took two hundred shekels of silver and gave them to a silversmith, who used them to make the idol. And it was put in Micah’s house.
Now this man Micah had a shrine, and he made an ephod and some household gods and installed one of his sons as his priest. In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.
A young Levite from Bethlehem in Judah, who had been living within the clan of Judah, left that town in search of some other place to stay. On his way he came to Micah’s house in the hill country of Ephraim.
Micah asked him, “Where are you from?”
“I’m a Levite from Bethlehem in Judah,” he said, “and I’m looking for a place to stay.”
Then Micah said to him, “Live with me and be my father and priest, and I’ll give you ten shekels of silver a year, your clothes and your food.” So the Levite agreed to live with him, and the young man became like one of his sons to him. Then Micah installed the Levite, and the young man became his priest and lived in his house. And Micah said, “Now I know that the Lord will be good to me, since this Levite has become my priest.”

  • Judges 17:1-13

In those days Israel had no king.
And in those days the tribe of the Danites was seeking a place of their own where they might settle, because they had not yet come into an inheritance among the tribes of Israel. So the Danites sent five of their leading men from Zorah and Eshtaol to spy out the land and explore it. These men represented all the Danites. They told them, “Go, explore the land.”
So they entered the hill country of Ephraim and came to the house of Micah, where they spent the night. When they were near Micah’s house, they recognized the voice of the young Levite; so they turned in there and asked him, “Who brought you here? What are you doing in this place? Why are you here?”
He told them what Micah had done for him, and said, “He has hired me and I am his priest.”
Then they said to him, “Please inquire of God to learn whether our journey will be successful.”
The priest answered them, “Go in peace. Your journey has the Lord’s approval.”
So the five men left and came to Laish, where they saw that the people were living in safety, like the Sidonians, at peace and secure. And since their land lacked nothing, they were prosperous. Also, they lived a long way from the Sidonians and had no relationship with anyone else.
When they returned to Zorah and Eshtaol, their fellow Danites asked them, “How did you find things?”
They answered, “Come on, let’s attack them! We have seen the land, and it is very good. Aren’t you going to do something? Don’t hesitate to go there and take it over. When you get there, you will find an unsuspecting people and a spacious land that God has put into your hands, a land that lacks nothing whatever.”
Then six hundred men of the Danites, armed for battle, set out from Zorah and Eshtaol. On their way they set up camp near Kiriath Jearim in Judah. This is why the place west of Kiriath Jearim is called Mahaneh Dan to this day. From there they went on to the hill country of Ephraim and came to Micah’s house.
Then the five men who had spied out the land of Laish said to their fellow Danites, “Do you know that one of these houses has an ephod, some household gods and an image overlaid with silver? Now you know what to do.” So they turned in there and went to the house of the young Levite at Micah’s place and greeted him. The six hundred Danites, armed for battle, stood at the entrance of the gate. The five men who had spied out the land went inside and took the idol, the ephod and the household gods while the priest and the six hundred armed men stood at the entrance of the gate.
When the five men went into Micah’s house and took the idol, the ephod and the household gods, the priest said to them, “What are you doing?”
They answered him, “Be quiet! Don’t say a word. Come with us, and be our father and priest. Isn’t it better that you serve a tribe and clan in Israel as priest rather than just one man’s household?” The priest was very pleased. He took the ephod, the household gods and the idol and went along with the people. Putting their little children, their livestock and their possessions in front of them, they turned away and left.
When they had gone some distance from Micah’s house, the men who lived near Micah were called together and overtook the Danites. As they shouted after them, the Danites turned and said to Micah, “What’s the matter with you that you called out your men to fight?”
He replied, “You took the gods I made, and my priest, and went away. What else do I have? How can you ask, ‘What’s the matter with you?’”
The Danites answered, “Don’t argue with us, or some of the men may get angry and attack you, and you and your family will lose your lives.” So the Danites went their way, and Micah, seeing that they were too strong for him, turned around and went back home.
Then they took what Micah had made, and his priest, and went on to Laish, against a people at peace and secure. They attacked them with the sword and burned down their city. There was no one to rescue them because they lived a long way from Sidon and had no relationship with anyone else. The city was in a valley near Beth Rehob.
The Danites rebuilt the city and settled there. They named it Dan after their ancestor Dan, who was born to Israel—though the city used to be called Laish. There the Danites set up for themselves the idol, and 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. They continued to use the idol Micah had made, all the time the house of God was in Shiloh.

  • Judges 18:1-31

Noted Biblical Scholars, Teachers, and Preachers Comments

Judges 17:1 ‘The Judges Epilogue – Depravity’: “Chapters 17-21 give miscellaneous appendixes to illustrate the pervasively depraved conditions in the era of the judges.”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Judges 17:5 ‘Micah had a shrine’: “A counterfeit shrine and personal idols with a private priest is set up within the tribe of Ephraim (v. 1), whereas God’s priests were of the tribe of Levi (cf. v. 13). The defection is one example of personal and family idolatry.”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Judges 17:6 ‘Everyone did … own eyes’: “This is a general characterization of the time, and of sinful behavior in all times. This attitude had been mentioned much earlier in Israel’s history (cf. 21:25; Deut. 12:8).”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Judges 17:7-13 ‘a Levite’: “This Levite compromised in departing from one of the forty-eight cities God gave for Levite service to Israel (Josh. 21). Then he sinned grossly by prostituting himself as a priest in a private idolatry.”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Judges 18:1-10 ‘the contamination of human sin’: “Dan’s failure to conquer their allotment is, in terms of the book’s ideology, a demonstration of lack of faith and covenant disobedience.  Furthermore, since they are aggressively seeking other lands, not specifically assigned to them by God’s covenant, their expansionistic efforts fall under God’s condemnation (cf. Amos 1:13). All the Danite clans are represented in the hunt for a new location (18: 1-10).
“The Danite scouts make their way north and find themselves at Micah’s house. A familiar voice catches the attention of the spies. The focus of this section is the complacent, uncritical acceptance of the idolatry and syncretism of Micah’s shrine. The Danites feel no embarrassment at inquiring of Yahweh in this context of blatant disobedience to God’s Law. Nor does the Levite hesitate to speak for Yahweh out of such a context.
“Moving northward, the Danite scouts find a confident, apparently secure, Sidonian colony at Laish which is actually more vulnerable to attack than the Danites’ southern neighbors. This colony may represent an abortive attempt at inland colonization by the coastal seafaring Phoenicians. For the most part, Phoenician colonization extended westward on the coasts of the Mediterranean. Eastern Phoenician influence was typically by political alliance rather than colonization. The time was inopportune for inland colonies; the political chaos of the age presented a threat to them as this account illustrates.
“When the Danite spies return home they give their recommendations to their fellow tribesmen. This tribal conference is governed by greed and opportunism covered by a thin veneer of ignorant piety. It is easy and convenient to rationalize selfish desires by saying that the opportunity to fulfill them is God’s guidance to do so.”

  • Walter A. Elwell, editor, Baker Commentary on the Bible

Judges 18:2 ‘tribal migration’: “On the migration by the tribe of Dan to a new territory, … Dan was an example of tribal idolatry.”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Judges 18:5 ‘Please inquire of God’: “The passage does not say if the Levite did in fact seek God’s counsel before giving reassurance (v. 6); the Danites should have prayed to seek God’s counsel before (1) making this trip and (2) consulting a disobedient priest as one would an oracle.”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Judges 18:7 ‘Laish – isolated, quiet, no liaisons with strong neighbors’: “The tribe of Dan sent a small body of men to spy out the land. These spies came to a place called Laish, which they found to be inhabited by people who dwelt there in supposed security. The tribe of Dan attacked without any notice and took their territory. I do not, in the least degree, commend the action of these people. Those living at Laish were probably originally a colony of Sidonians, and they had settled in a fat, fertile valley that had everything. They kept no guard or watch, for although they knew that, in common with all the other inhabitants of the land of Canaan, they had been doomed to fall by the sword of Israel, the Israelites had been slow in conquering the country. [ED: Christians can sometimes fall into such a condition of ‘carnal security.’] Consider someone who is a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. He struggled hard to get his feet on the Rock of ages, and at last he obtained a firm footing and there stood in blessed security. Perhaps even for years he has been free from all doubts and fears—and also free from all internal struggles and conflicts. He almost thinks the devil is dead—at least in him—that sin will never rise again or cause him trouble. ln the course of time, the dry rot of self-satisfaction may begin to show itself. His sin remains in him. No longer tossed on the waves, he makes little or no progress toward the heavenly haven. God save the one to whom a calm becomes more dangerous than a tempest. May we never get beyond spiritual conflicts, beyond striving against our corruptions, beyond hating the garment spotted by the flesh. May we never get beyond a holy filial fear and a grave anxiety, so that in all we do we may be pleasing and acceptable in the sight of God. If not, we may get to be like these people dwelling carelessly in their city of Laish, and one of these days destruction may enter our gates when we little expect it.”

  • Charles H. Spurgeon, from sermon notes

Judges 18:11-26 ‘The seizing of false gods’: “The strength of Dan may be approximated by the number of men who move northward (18:11-26). Six hundred men may represent most of the strength of a weaker tribe. As the expedition moves northward, leaving their name at a site in Judah (v. 12), another opportunity presents itself. The five spies indicate that there are gods available for the seizing. The casualness of this decision to steal Micah’s gods stands out. None of the religious restraints of pure Yahwism deter the Danites from their scheme. There is no feeling that a god who can be stolen is, for that reason, undesirable. The spies simply go in and steal gods for their tribe.
“Micah’s Levite has no moral qualms about changing his loyalties. Brute power and superstitious religious syncretism are the realities of his life. It would be more prestigious, and probably more remunerative, to serve a whole tribe even if it is a weak tribe on the move.
“Micah and his neighbors arm themselves to seize back their gods. The response of the Danites amounts to blatant extortion. Once again, moral principle is irrelevant; the Danites possess the power to enforce their theft if necessary and make no attempt to be subtle in their threat to use this force. Covenant disobedience, religious syncretism, and social anarchy go hand in hand.”

  • Walter A. Elwell, editor, Baker Commentary on the Bible

Judges 18:14-26 ‘Micah’s idols’: “The Danites seized the idols of Micah by force, probably because they believed those false idols were the source of power to give them the land they had found. The apostate Levite who had served Micah as priest sold out again to be a priest for the Danites (vv. 18-20, 30), who were not bothered by his defection, but rather believed in his spiritual power.”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Judges 18:27-31 ‘Laish is conquered’: “The Danites move northward, massacre the people of Laish, and seize their land (18:27-31). From this time on, Dan, as long as it existed as a recognizable tribal entity, was located in the north. The historical significance of the event is twofold: first, it accounts for the presence of the Danites in the north; and second, it accounts for the presence of a significant but illegal shrine in the north. For the theology of Judges, this account underscores the insecurity, violence, and anarchy of life lived in disobedience to God’s covenant.
“It is not necessary to date this episode in the second generation from Moses since the phrase son of Gershom (v. 30) is more likely to indicate clan membership than immediate paternity. The ‘captivity’ (v. 30) was an early, local tragedy that probably occurred during the time of the judges.”

  • Walter A. Elwell, editor, Baker Commentary on the Bible

Judges 18:29 ‘name of the city Dan’: “This was in the northernmost extremity of the land of Canaan, hence the origin of the phrase, ‘from Dan to Beersheba,’ as indicating the land from north to south (cf. 20:1).”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Judges 18:30 ‘the son of Manasseh’: “Some manuscripts say ‘son of Manasseh,’ others ‘son of Moses,’ which may be more probable as Gershom was a son of Moses (Ex. 2:22; 18:3). This idolatrous priestly service continued until the captivity. This is most likely (1) the captivity of Israel by Assyria in 722 B.C. (2 Kin. 15:29; 17:1-6) or, if not, (2) the Philistine captivity of the ark from Shiloh (see Judg. 18:31) in 1 Samuel 4:11.”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Judges 18:31 ‘the house of God was in Shiloh’: “The ark of God was far away from them, so they justified their idolatry by their distance from the rest of Israel. This caused perpetual idolatry for many generations.”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)


My Thoughts

I struggled on whether to make this study cover the last five chapters or just these two chapters.  These first two chapters relate to one another.  The last three chapters relate to one another.  There will, however, be few scholarly comments next week.

Rev. MacArthur speaks of the last five chapters being an illustration of the total depravity of the Israelites during the time of the Judges.  He also refers, by means of a broad heading, that these chapters are an epilogue.  I have read some novels that have multiple chaptered epilogues, but they are rare.

Usually epilogues are the “living happily ever after” part of the story.  This ending of Judges is about as far away from a happy ending as you can get.  In the way that this is an epilogue, it shows the natural result of a total rebellion against God.  We can see those same elements in our world today.  With governments encouraging a reversal from Biblical teaching, we are catching up with the Israelites and passing them at lightning speed.

The key is that the cycle of sin, oppression, repentance, and rescue by means of a judge is over.  Eli, with all his faults in 1 Samuel was considered a judge as was Samuel, but they represented a priestly presence in the midst of the depravity rather than a leader to rid the nation of the oppression, probably because there was no repentance.

First, the story of Micah shows a man building false gods, then getting a corrupt Levite to be his priest.  Do not get thrown off by the name, Micah.  The Micah who had the idols lived more than 300 years before the prophet Micah.

Micah first does something bad, then good.  He steals his mother’s money.  Then he returns it.  It is the mother who “dedicates the money” so that he can make false gods.  This, to someone who understands the Law of Moses, seems upside down, but there is much in this world that is opposite of how God wishes it to be.  We are to not conform to this world.  If we do, there will be many opportunities to become depraved.

The story of Micah ties in with the next tale of the tiny tribe of Dan in that Dan had no trouble being the bully.

The Baker Commentary portrays Dan as being a small tribe, but in the census in Numbers 1 and the second census in Numbers 26, they are only second in population to Judah.  But one interesting point might be made in those two censuses.  In their time in the wilderness, they grew very little in numbers while other tribes increased much more.  In fact, the second census only showed Issachar one hundred men behind.  Was their lack of population growth an indicator that they did not have as much faith in God as did the other tribes?

Note on a census:  The census in Biblical times was a means to determine how many fighting men were available.  Counting men in a census is not a male-centric method of diminishing a woman’s role.  Yet, it does point to why David’s census of 2 Samuel 24 was such an egregious sin.  For a moment of weakness, David took his eyes off God and relied on strength in numbers instead of strength in God alone.

Yet, all the maps of the apportion of land to the tribes shows Dan not occupying much space.  The book of Judges practically begins and ends with the tribe of Dan not doing what God wanted them to do.  In Judges 1:34, the Danites are trapped in the hills, because the Amorites occupied the plain.  It was the duty of the Danites to conquer them and God would have done the conquering if the Danites had faith.  But in Judges 18, the tribe of Dan conquers a peaceful city and its surrounding land, Laish.  They sent their scouting party to find the weakest neighbor and they attacked.  If these people in Laish were Sidonians, Sidon was the firstborn of Canaan.  But they conquered Laish by their own power, the bully on the block.  I have seen older siblings who were probably bullied at school come home to bully their younger siblings.  It shows a weakness in character, and if the Danites had anything in abundance, it was weakness.

To prove their rebellion against God, they steal Micah’s false gods and enlist Micah’s corrupt ‘priest’ in the process.  They were the epitome of the ABC people of today, but instead of Anything-But-Christ (Christianity, Christians, etc.), it should be ABG (Anything but God).

But then, Rev. MacArthur points out that in Dan moving to the north, it leads to an often-used expression.  The phrase “from Dan to Beersheba” appears nine times, the first time in Judges 20.  This expression was used to include all of Israel, from the northern point of Dan to the southern point in Judah, near Beersheba.  If you looked at the Joshua apportionment, Dan was a thin sliver of land just north of Judah.  The phrase from Dan to Beersheba, at that point, would eliminate three quarters of the tribes of Israel.

Some Serendipitous Reflections

Micah’s false gods, Judges 17: 1. ls this a story of ‘honesty pays’? ‘Spare the rod, spoil the child’? ’I’ve got the priest in my pocket’? Or what?
“2. Were you ever ‘rewarded’ for your honesty? How so?
“3. If you were to create God in your own image, what five qualities would you include? And exclude? How might you be doing this very thing now?
the Danites move north, Judges 18: 1. When it comes to job-hunting and career changes, in what sense are you like this young Levite: (a) Selling your services short? (b) Eager for advancement? (c) Other: ____? Explain.
“2. What do you like about your current job? What is difficult for you on the job? When a new job offer comes your way, what things will you take into consideration? How can group members pray for you in this area?
“3. List some of your prized possessions. Which, if any, might you be holding too tightly? Which may be hindering your relationship with God?
“4. Chapters 17-18 demonstrate what happened ‘in those days [when] Israel had no king.’ What does that imply for you these days? What difference has the presence or absence of a (divine) King made in your life?”

  • Lyman Coleman, et al, The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups

There is one set of questions for each chapter.

Substitute whatever group for any reference to a small group or ask who could come to your aid.

The first question might be something I would think of, a bit flippant.  A follow up for the second question might be: In what ways have you been passed over for the reward because of your honesty?  In business, I have seen not being rewarded for honesty much more often than anyone rewarded for honesty.  Awarded for dishonesty?  Now, that I have seen often.

The first two questions for Judges 18 seem to miss the point.  The Danites were unfaithful, and they did not rid their land of the Amorites.  Then, it is thought, they entered into business relations with the Phoenicians (explaining being near ships and not helping Deborah), which may not have worked well for them.  This saga of the tribe of Dan through the book of Judges is a series of “easy way out” and “avoiding their duty to God” rather than a job opportunity.  But in combining the two: Have you ever changed jobs to find an easy way out of a bad situation?  Have you changed jobs to find a means of avoiding God’s perfect will in your life?  But do these alternate questions become too personal to talk about in a group discussion?

If you like these Thursday morning Bible studies, but you think you missed a few, you can use this LINK. I have set up a page off the home page for links to these Thursday morning posts. I will continue to modify the page as I add more.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: