Judges 18

The Word Made Fresh

1Isael had no king back then, and the tribe of Dan was looking for a place to settle. No territory had as yet been assigned to them. 2They sent five brave Danite soldiers from Zorah and Eshtaol to explore the land here and there. They went into the hill country of Ephraim, and when they came to the house of Micah they stayed for the night. 3While they were there they recognized the young Levite’s voice, and they asked him, “How did you come to be here?”

4He told them, “Micah took me in, and hired me to be his priest.”

5They asked him to inquire of the LORD for them, to know if their mission would be successful.

6He replied, “Go in peace. The LORD is keeping an eye on you.”

7The five Danite soldiers resumed their search. At Laish they saw that the people living there were related to the Sidonians. They were peaceful and unwary and prosperous, but they lived a long way from the Sidonians and seemed to have no dealings with anyone.

8The soldiers returned home to Zorah and Eshtaol and were asked what they had found. 9They said, “Let’s go up there. We have seen how things are, and it’s there for the taking. What are you waiting for? Get up! Let’s go! 10They don’t suspect a thing, and it is a good land. God has given it to us! There’s nothing lacking there!”

11So, six hundred men from the tribe of Dan armed themselves for war and set out from Zorah and Eshtaol. 12They camped west of Keriath-Jearim in Judah and that place has been known as the Danite camp ever since. 13From there they moved on to the hill country of Ephraim where they came to Micah’s settlement.

14The five men who had been there earlier told them, “In this settlement there are sacred vestments, a silver idol and religious things. What do you think?” 15So, they went to Micah’s settlement and greeted the young Levite where he was staying. 16The six hundred soldiers waited at the gate with him 17while the five men who had been there before went in and took the idol, the vestments and the other religious items.

18When the five men entered Micah’s property to take the religious items the priest said, “What are you doing?”

19They said, “Be quiet, and come with us. You can be our father and our priest. Would you rather be a priest to one man’s household, or to a whole tribe in Israel?” 20So, the priest took the sacred items and left with the Danites.

21They continued their march, putting the children, livestock and goods in front of them. 22They had gone some distance when they were overtaken by Micah and the men he had called together. 23They yelled out to the Danites, who turned and said to Micah, “What do you mean by this?”

24He said, “You’ve stolen my gods and my priest, and you ask me what I mean by this?”

25The Danites said, “You’d better hold your tongue unless you want some of us to be angry and attack you and kill you and your family.” 26Then they turned and left, and Micah, seeing that he had no chance against them, went back home.

27So, they took Micah’s things and his priest and marched against the peaceful and unsuspecting people of Laish. They attacked and set the city on fire. 28The city of Laish was in the valley Beth Rehob, and the people of Laish were far from Sidon, and had no other allies, and were defeated.

The Danites rebuilt the city and lived there. 29They renamed the city Dan, after their ancestor who was one of the twelve sons of Israel. 30They set up their idols, and Jonathan (the son of Gershom the son of Manasseh), and his sons were priests for the tribe of Dan until the land was conquered. 31And they continued to revere the idols Micah had made, even though at that time the house of God was in Shiloh.

Commentary

1-6: The story of the resettlement of the tribe of Dan fleshes out in more detail what we were already told in Joshua 19:40-47. There, the name of the city they took over was Leshem; here it is Laish, but obviously the same place is meant. It is not that Dan has no allotment of territory. Rather, they are chased out of the territory they are allotted (see Judges 1:34-35) by the Amorites. As in the pre-conquest stories, spies are sent out to reconnoiter the land. In the hills of Ephraim they happen upon the house of Micah and meet his young Levite priest. They ask him to inquire of the Lord as to whether their mission will be successful. He gives them an ambiguous answer: their mission is “under the eye of the LORD.” As the story unfolds, we will wonder if God could have blessed such a thing, but the Levite’s apparent stamp of approval (do you think they slipped him a few silver coins?) is good enough for the spies.

7-10: The five spies move on to Laish, and observe a peaceful and largely undefended territory. They return and counsel their tribe to attack and conquer.

11-20: Six hundred Danite soldiers then set out to invade Laish. They camp in Judah, then move on to Ephraim, and come to the house of Micah. The spies tell them about the young Levite, and with the soldiers standing guard, they go into Micah’s house and steal the religious objects (idol, teraphim, and ephod). The young Levite is easily persuaded to keep quiet, and being willing to sell his services to the highest bidder, is also persuaded to leave Micah’s employment and accompany the Danite unit.

21-26: Micah discovers the theft and mobilizes what force he can, but is no match for the six hundred armed Danites, so he reluctantly gives up the pursuit and returns home empty-handed.

27-31: An indefensible slaughter of the people of Laish ensues. The inhabitants are killed, the city is burned, then rebuilt and renamed Dan. The tribe of Dan now worships Micah’s idol, and apparently maintains their separate religion for quite some time – at least as long as the tabernacle is at Shiloh, which will be until the Philistines capture it during the time of Samuel (1 Samuel 3 & 4).

Takeaway

The pagan shrine in Dan is an example of what has been happening throughout Israel. In Dan they are worshiping a silver idol and smaller teraphim as gods, all under the guidance of a Levitical priest, which they apparently think lends an air of authenticity to their cult. Later, in 1 Kings, we will see that the shrine in Dan comes to be associated with the worship of the golden calf Moses shattered in the wilderness. People today sometimes worship things that have no eternal value. Don’t be seduced by the lure of lesser ‘gods.’