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Bible Commentaries
Judges 17

Layman's Bible CommentaryLayman's Bible Commentary



Judges 17:1 to Judges 21:25

The Migration of Dan and the Story of Its Sanctuary


The history of the tribe of Dan is one of the obscure problems of the early period. It is clear from Joshua 19:40-46 that the Danites once lived in the south of Canaan in land which later was assigned to Judah (see Joshua 15:33; Joshua 15:45; Joshua 15:56). Yet they must have moved from this location to their northern home quite early, for the Song of Deborah places them in the north (Judges 5:17). It is true that there is an enigmatic reference to Dan in the Samson story (Judges 13:25; Judges 18:12) which suggests a southern location, but the "Camp of Dan" may refer to a pocket of Danites left behind after the northward migration. Evidently Amorite pressure early forced the tribe out of its own home, and thus the story in this appendix is chronologically prior to many of the judgeships recorded before it.

Actually these two chapters are mainly concerned with the history of the famous sanctuary which the Danites built in their new city of Dan in the north. We are dealing here with an old tradition and a period when imageless worship was not universally accepted. The story is valuable for its insight into early Israelite religious practice and also into the beginnings of a Hebrew priesthood.

Verses 1-6

Micah and His Image (17:1-6)

Micah was a countryman dwelling in the hill country of Ephraim to the north of Jerusalem. He had stolen some silver from his mother, and was moved to confess his crime when he heard her curse against the thief. Hebrew words spoken with high seriousness were thought of in an objective sense.

Scholars have found some difficulty with the arrangement of the text in verses 2 and 3, and the usual interpretation is that Micah’s mother, prior to his theft of the silver, had already dedicated it to the Lord, so that the curse on the thief was particularly virulent since he had taken what by right belonged to God. This means that we should read the second part of verse 3 into verse 2, as a part of Micah’s recital of what has already happened. We can understand the fear of Micah himself and his return of the silver, for money vowed to the Lord was under a taboo. Indeed, the curse may not have been so much in what the mother said as implicitly in the fact that what was taken was vowed to God. The curse could not be taken back, so the mother neutralized it with a blessing, and the restored silver was made into "a graven image and a molten image" by a silversmith. The duplication here may imply only one image, since "graven image" could be used in a general way and mean simply "idol." Micah apparently possessed a small shrine in which he housed this image along with an ephod and teraphim. The latter were small images. The ephod has already been discussed. It may have been either an image or a priestly vestment with pockets for the sacred dice used in oracular consultations. In any case this is not imageless worship. It may be that Micah worshiped the Lord in and through the images, or it may be that these were lesser and subservient deities associated with his family and his agricultural environment.

At this point, we see the attitude of the editor to the religious disorder of those days. Micah needed a priest for his shrine, so he appointed one of his sons to that office, an impossibility in the later days of the kingship when the priests formed a hereditary caste. The editor suggests that because there was no kingship in those days, every man acted according to his own light and within the pressure of tribal custom.

Verses 7-13

Micah’s Levitical Priest (17:7-13)

Micah was apparently concerned to have a proper priest. The confusion of the times may be seen in the appointment of his son to priestly office, but apparently there was already a group of men, the Levites, who were regarded as specially fitted for the priestly function. The name Levite may, at this stage, refer rather to priestly status than to tribal origin, although the young man is specifically defined as a Judahite and historically the remnants of the Levites seem to have been absorbed within the tribe of Judah at the time of the Conquest. It may well be that these remnants early sought to perpetuate their tribal status by taking on priestly functions, although the term Levite seems to be more embracing than a mere tribal reference would suggest. Evidently others, like Micah’s son, could be priests too, but the Levites were now making an exclusive bid for priestly office. Micah felt the necessity to have a priest who by training and background was able to consult the divine oracle efficiently and to direct the ritual of the shrine in proper manner. He naively believed that with such a Levite as his priest, God would favor him. The young man was offered the position of "father" as well as priest, but the word "father" here is an honorific title (vs. 10).

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Judges 17". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/judges-17.html.
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