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Bible Commentaries
Judges 18

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries



The significance of this chapter is very great. “In the Danite migration, the apostasy of Micah was expanded to the tribal heresy of Dan, and the establishment of a Danite city (and its illegal shrine) in the northern border of Israel provided the framework for the apostasy of the entire Northern Israel under Jeroboam I, whose idolatrous golden calves were no doubt welcomed in Dan.”(F1) Furthermore, that renegade Levite, Jonathan, a grandson or great-grandson of Moses himself, led the whole tribe of Dan and later the nation of Northern Israel into a syncretistic worship of Jehovah, contrary to all that God through Moses had revealed to Israel. It required the ability of God Himself to redeem the Chosen People from the apostasy which came so near to swallowing them completely.

The date of the events recorded in this chapter, “In all probability took place SHORTLY AFTER the death of Joshua, as we may infer from Judges 18:30.”(F2)

Verses 1-6


“In those days there was no king in Israel: and in those days the tribe of the Danites sought them an inheritance to dwell in; for unto that day their inheritance had not fallen unto them among the tribes of Israel. And the children of Dan sent of their family five men from their whole number, men of valor, from Zorah, and from Eshtaol, to spy out the land, and to search it; and they said unto them, Go, search the land. And they came to the hill-country of Ephraim, unto the house of Micah, and lodged there. When they were by the house of Micah, they knew the voice of the young man, the Levite; and they turned aside thither, and said unto him, Who brought thee hither? and what doest thou in this place? and what hast thou here? And he said unto them, Thus and thus hath Micah dealt with me, and he hired me, and I am become his priest. And they said unto him, Ask counsel, we pray thee, of God, that we may know whether our way which we shall go shall be prosperous. And the priest said unto them, Go in peace: before Jehovah is your way wherein ye go”

“The Danites sought them an inheritance” The Danites indeed had been allotted their inheritance in Canaan, but their distress was due to the encroachment against their territory: (1) first by the Amorites (Joshua 3:10 and (2) also by the Philistines (Judges 13:1; Judges 13:5; Judges 14:4; and Judges 15:11). It is a mistake to hold the Danites guiltless in this situation. “Their failure to drive out the Amorites was not due to lack of power, but to lack of faith. The Danites had two choices:

(1) to repent of their unbelief and claim God’s promise as they fought against their enemies; or

(2) to look for new territory where the occupants would be helpless and unprepared to resist.

The Danites chose the easy way, but it was not the way of faith.”(F3)

The migration of the Danites is placed shortly after the death of Joshua in the writings of Josephus,(F4) and many conservative scholars agree that this is probably correct.

We should not be misled by the relatively small number who took part in this first northward excursion, which seems to have numbered about 2,000, including the 600 fighting men, their wives, and families. Dan was a numerous tribe numbering no less than, “Sixty-four thousand men twenty years of age and upward,” according to the census mentioned in Numbers 26:43. Therefore, we suppose that this first migration recorded in this chapter was followed by many other Danites who later joined them.

“They came unto the house of Micah, and lodged there” This indicates that Micah extended the hospitality of his establishment to aid his fellow Israelites in their search. His generous hospitality was treacherously betrayed by the Danites.

“They knew the voice of the young man the Levite” “The most natural explanation of these words is that the Danites had previously known the young man, and it is by no means impossible that the author of this story meant to be so understood.”(F5) There is no hint in the text of where that acquaintance had taken place, but the fact of this young man’s having been a grandson, great grandson, or a descendant of Moses himself, suggests that he might possibly have been rather widely known throughout Israel.

“What doest thou in this place” Apparently, Micah had not shared with the spies whom he entertained in his home the existence of that shrine. We do not know why he seems to have made no mention of it, but the fact appears in the evident surprise of the spies who received all the details, not from Micah, but from the Levite. Perhaps Micah did not altogether trust his visitors.

“Ask counsel of God, we pray thee” The spies should have sought God’s counsel before leaving on their journey, but finding it so convenient to do so here, they asked the Levite to seek an answer from God as to whether their journey would be successful.

“Go in peace” Whether the Levite had a genuine answer from the Lord or not, he told the spies what they wanted to hear, and they took that assurance with them on their mission.

Verses 7-10


“Then the five men departed, and came to Laish, and saw the people that were therein, how they dwelt in security, after the manner of the Sidonians, quiet and secure; for there was none in the land possessing authority, that might put them to shame in anything; and they were far from the Sidonians, and had no dealings with any man. And they came unto their brethren to Zorah and Eshtaol: and their brethren said unto them, What say ye? And they said, Arise, and let us go up against them; for we have seen the land, and behold, it is very good: and are ye still? be not slothful to go and to enter in to possess the land. When ye go, ye shall come unto a people secure, and the land is large; for our God hath given it into your hand, a place where there is no want of anything that is in the earth”

“The five men… came to Laish” “Laish, mentioned in Joshua 19:47 as Leshem, is the same as the modern Tell el Qadi, some 26 air-miles due east of Tyre.”(F6) “One of the largest fountains in the world, called El Leddan, which, according to Josephus, is the source of the lesser Jordan, is at Laish.”(F7) Also, Campbell, a frequent visitor to this area, gave this quotation from a fellow visitor: “Water comes from every rock and hill, pouring down from the nearby mountains of Lebanon. Like Scotland, this part of Galilee is green and overgrown with all forms of vegetation. The tribe of Dan had seized upon a veritable paradise on earth.”(F8)

“They dwelt in security, quiet and secure” Despite the obscurity and difficulty of the text which seems to be somewhat damaged here, it is clear enough that the citizens were a peaceable, prosperous, quiet and non-violent people, occupying what they no doubt considered to be an isolated part of the earth where no one would bother them.

We must remark here that God did not authorize the brutal and murderous assault of the Danites against this helpless village. God had given them their land in another part of Canaan, and the false words of the idolatrous Levite assuring the Danites that God was with them cannot take away the shame of this merciless land-grab on the part of the Danites.

“The land is large… God has given it into your hand” The spies probably based this claim upon the words of “the Levite,” but we are not at liberty to believe that his words were the truth, despite their turning out to be accurate in the events which followed.

Verses 11-13


“And there set forth from thence of the family of the Danites, out of Zorah and out of Eshtaol, six hundred men girt with the weapons of war. And they went up and camped in Kiriath-Jearim in Judah: wherefore they called the place Mahanehdan unto this day; behold, it is behind Kiriath-Jearim. And they passed thence unto the hill-country of Ephraim, and came unto the house of Micah”

“Six hundred men girt with the weapons of war” We later learn that the wives and families of these six hundred men accompanied them, also their cattle and livestock. In all, it must have been a company of two thousand or more. The fact of that place where this company camped behind Kiriath-Jearim being named MahanehDAN would seem to indicate that the Danites might have stayed there for a considerable period of time.

“They… came unto the house of Micah” This time, they would rob Micah of his “gods” and threaten to exterminate him and his whole family if he decided to resist their depredations against their former host and benefactor. In the list of the redeemed from each of the “Twelve Tribes of Israel,” mentioned in Revelation 7, it appears as a mystery that the name of Dan is conspicuously omitted from that sacred list. We cannot resist the thought that that omission might have something to do with what is recorded here.

Verses 14-20


“Then answered the five men that went to spy out the country of Laish, and said unto their brethren, Do ye know that there is in these houses an ephod, and a teraphim, and a graven image, and a molten image? now therefore consider what ye have to do. And they turned aside thither, and came to the house of the young man the Levite, even unto the house of Micah, and asked him of his welfare. And the six hundred men girt with their weapons of war, who were of the children of Dan, stood by the entrance of the gate. And the five men who went to spy out the land went up, and came in thither, and took the graven image, and the ephod, and the teraphim, and the molten image: and the priest stood by the entrance of the gate with the six hundred men girt with weapons of war. And when these went into Micah’s house, and fetched the graven image, and the ephod, and the teraphim, and the molten image, the priest said unto them, What do ye? And they said unto him, Hold thy peace, lay thy hand upon thy mouth, and go with us, and be to us a father and a priest: is it better for thee to be a priest unto the house of one man, or to be priest unto a tribe and a family in Israel? And the priest’s heart was glad, and he took the ephod, and the teraphim, and the graven image, and went in the midst of the people”

This remarkable description of the outrageous robbery of Micah is its own commentary. The intimidating presence of six hundred armed men at the gate of Micah’s compound, the bold raid of the five spies to carry off the sacred loot, the timid question of the young man the Levite, the order of six hundred armed men for him to keep his mouth shut, their offer to him of permanent employment as their priest, the evident fact that Micah was not present, being perhaps in the fields with his men, or, if aware of what was happening afraid to interfere, and the departure of the six hundred armed men, carrying away not only all the sacred articles of Micah’s shrine, but the happy young priest also, who was delighted with his “promotion”! - what a thumbnail picture we have here of the whole raid!

The fact that Micah himself was a gross impenitent sinner does not mitigate the unscrupulous transgression by the Danites of all the laws of hospitality and brotherhood as exhibited in this selfish looting of Micah’s illegal shrine.

It is significant that in this account, there does indeed seem to be both a graven image and a molten image, which might be explained by the supposition that, in the meanwhile, Micah’s mother had deceased, leaving all of that silver to Micah, and that he had completed what was probably the original plan of making two images, not merely one.

“And the priest took the ephod, and the teraphim, and the graven image, and went in the midst of the people” Judges 18:17-18 declare that the religious items were taken by the five former spies, but the statement here that the priest “took them” does not contradict that. The five took them from Micah’s house of gods, and the priest took them from the Danites when he accepted their invitation to go with them as their priest.

Verses 21-26


“So they turned and departed, and put the little ones and the cattle and the goods before them. When they were a good way from the house of Micah, the men that were in the houses near to Micah’s house were gathered together, and overtook the children of Dan. And they cried unto the children of Dan. And they turned their faces, and said unto Micah, What aileth thee, that thou comest with such a company? And he said, Ye have taken away my gods, which I made, and the priest, and are gone away, and what have I more? and how then say ye unto me, What aileth thee? And the children of Dan said unto him, Let not thy voice be heard among us, lest angry fellows fall upon you, and thou lose thy life, with the lives of thy household. And the children of Dan went their way: and when Micah saw that they were too strong for him, he turned and went back into his house”

“They put the little ones and the cattle and the goods before them” This meant that the six hundred armed men provided the rear-guard, indicating that they expected Micah to pursue them and that they were determined to fight him if he did so.

“They were a good way from the house of Micah” It had taken Micah some time to round up all of his neighbors and put together a company for the pursuit of the Danites, but the Danites were easily overtaken due to the nature of their group, which included wives, little children, cattle, baggage, etc.

“Ye have taken away the gods which I made” “How sad that an Israelite should assume that he could make a god; and how strange that a man should have to rescue his god! How deplorable that Micah’s life was so wrapped up in his so-called gods that he considered that he had nothing left when they were taken away from him.”(F9)

“Let not thy voice be heard among us” This was indeed a brutal answer. What the Danites said, if we may paraphrase it, was, “Look, Bud, you had better keep your mouth shut and quit crying after us, and if you don’t, we shall simply knock you down and kill you and then return to your residence and exterminate your whole generation!”

“Micah realized his helplessness against an armed force of six hundred fighting men; and with a heavy heart he returned to his empty house and empty life. He was a disillusioned and misguided Israelite who had forsaken the faith of his fathers and justly suffered the consequences of his grievous apostasy.”(F10)

“Lest angry fellows fall upon you” “In the Hebrew, the literal words from which the words angry fellows are translated are literally, `men of acid temper.’ It is suicidal folly to provoke such men.”(F11)

“And thou lose thy life, with the lives of thy household” “Literally (from the Hebrew) this reads `You will gather in your life and the lives of your household,’ the same being the equivalent of, `you will cash in your chips.’“(F12)

The shameful deeds of the Danites here exactly fulfilled Jacob’s prophecy when he bestowed this blessing upon him:

“Dan shall judge his people,

As one of the tribes of Israel.

Dan shall be a serpent in the way,

An adder in the path,

That biteth the horse’s heels,

So that his rider falleth backward.

I have waited for thy salvation, O Jehovah.” (Genesis 49:16-18)

Paraphrasing this “blessing,” we read the prophecy of Jacob as a declaration that Dan would not only be a snake, but a POISONOUS one at that, who would bring disaster to those whom he might encounter, concluding that Jacob had prayed and waited for God to bring salvation to Dan.

“This blessing of Jacob is the mirror image of this prose account (in Judges) of Dan’s instrumentality in heaven’s justice for Micah, on the way to Dan’s own treacherous achievements elsewhere.”(F13)

Verses 27-31


“And they took that which Micah had made, and the priest whom he had, and came to Laish, unto a people quiet and secure, and smote them with the edge of the sword; and they burnt the city with fire. And there was no deliverer, because it was far from Sidon, and they had no dealings with any man; and it was in the valley that lieth by Beth-rehob. And they built the city and dwelt therein. And they called the name of the city Dan, their father, who was born unto Israel: howbeit the name of the city was Laish at the first. And the children of Dan set up for themselves the graven image; and Jonathan the son of Gershom, the son of Moses, he and his sons were the priests to the tribe of the Danites until the day of the captivity of the land. So they set them up Micah’s graven image which he made, all the time that the house of God was in Shiloh”

“They… smote them with the edge of the sword” This is a reference to the wholesale slaughter of men, women, children and infants, and the burning of the city with fire might also have been an instrument in the annihilation of the population of that quiet and peaceful little city.

“They had no dealings with any man” The citizens of that quiet little city had not made any treaties or alliances with others who might have been able to help them in such a disaster. “There was no deliverer.”

“It was in the valley… by Beth-rehob” This place was the northern limit of the penetration of Canaan by the twelve spies sent out by Moses (Numbers 13:21).

“And they called the name of the city Dan” They built their city on the ruins of the destroyed Laish. Note that Dan is referred to here as “their father,” meaning their “ancestor.” The proverbial expression, “From Dan to Beersheba,” carried the meaning of, “from one end of Israel to the other.”

“Jonathan… son of Gershom, son of Moses, he and his sons were priests to… the Danites” The apostasy of this grandson of Moses (the same word, [~ben], means great grandson) was an embarrassment to the Jews, and they wrote the word “Manasseh” above the word Moses but did not change the text, so that in reading it aloud they did not have to mention this shameful development in the posterity of Moses.(F14) Of course, the connection of the distinguished family of Moses with this apostate shrine in Dan added to its prestige and acceptance by the Israelites.

“Until the day of the captivity of the land” It is amazing to this writer that the same radical scholars who can find thirty `interpolations’ or `glosses’ in a single chapter are absolutely blind to such a thing when they actually encounter one. That there are indeed editorial additions to the sacred text here and there cannot be denied, as for example in those places where the sacred writer’s death and burial are recorded. An example is found in Joshua 24:29-30, and another is in Deuteronomy 34:5-8).

The phrase noted here is possibly an editorial addition at a later time than that of Samuel’s narration. If these words mean “after the Assyrian captivity,” then Samuel who died centuries earlier could not have written them. Baigent stated that, “`Until the day of the captivity’ is a later editorial insertion, and the date indicated here is probably that of the fall of the Northern Israel (circa 721 B.C.).”(F15) Furthermore, this appears to mean that the apostasy of Dan was never healed but continued until the Assyrians captured and depopulated Northern Israel.

“During the time that the house of God was in Shiloh” The continuity of that particular installation of Micah’s `god’ in Dan did not last until the Assyrian invasion in 722 B.C., because Judges 18:31 indicates that it continued only “during the time that the house of God” remained in Shiloh. “The sanctuary at Shiloh was destroyed in 1050 B.C.”(F16) If Samuel had written the words indicating the use of that shrine “until the captivity of the land,” then the words, “all the time that the house of God was in Shiloh” would have been robbed of their meaning. For this reason, we receive the words “until the time of the captivity” as possibly an editorial insertion, true indeed as for their intended meaning, but nevertheless confusing in the text as they stand.

“Until the days of the captivity of the land” Keil did not accept the view that this is an editorial insertion, but accepted it as a legitimate part of the text. Keil also refused to apply the words either to the Assyrian captivity in 721 B.C. or to the Babylonian captivity later, basing that conclusion on the basis that, “If that Danite shrine had still existed in the days of Jeroboam I, that monarch would certainly not have established a second worship in Dan of the same kind under a priesthood that was not Levitical… The words, therefore, can only refer to some event that took place in the last years of Samuel, or the first part of the reign of Saul.”(F17) We accept this alternative explanation as absolutely satisfactory and as also avoiding the allegation of an “editorial comment.” The only problem with it is the fact that the Bible does not reveal any “captivity of the land” until a time long afterward. Even this, however, is not a fatal objection to Keil’s explanation, because there are many, many things which happened in the history of Israel that are NOT recorded.

“Archaeological excavations in 1826 and 1928 show that there was an extensive settlement in Shiloh in the twelfth and early eleventh centuries B.C. until its destruction circa 1050 B.C.”(F18) Of course, there could well have been at that time a “captivity of the land,” which was left unmentioned in the sacred text.

Hervey also pointed out that, “The original image made by Micah may have been destroyed by Saul or David… Others think that `the captivity of the land’ is a reference to some deportation of the Danites by the Syrians or other neighboring enemies not recorded in the Bible. This would enable us to give what is surely the natural meaning to the words, `the captivity of the land.’“(F19)

However one may interpret this difficult passage, there is certainly nothing in it that contradicts the probability of Samuel’s authorship of Judges. Again, from Hervey, “Certainty regarding the interpretation here cannot be arrived at without more actual knowledge.”(F20)

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Judges 18". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/judges-18.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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