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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Judges 18

Verse 1

THE DANITE CONQUESTS IN THE NORTH, Judges 18:1-31.

1. The Danites sought them an inheritance The Danites were the last of the tribes to receive their portion of the Promised Land, but, according to Joshua 19:47, their coast “went out too little for them.” Their lot fell in the rich and fertile plain of northern Philistia. but, according to Judges 1:34, “the Amorites forced the children of Dan into the mountain; for they would not suffer them to come down into the valley.” Being thus shut in among the hills about Zorah and Eshtaol, they felt the necessity of seeking an addition to their inheritance, and, finding themselves unable to drive out the inhabitants of the neighbouring valley, they sent an exploring party northward to spy the land.

Verse 3

3. They knew the voice of the young man They overheard his conversation, and, looking upon him, they at once recognised him as an old acquaintance. Most commentators understand that the Danites knew by his dialect or mode of pronunciation that he was not an Ephraimite, but the words they knew the voice are not adapted to convey such an idea, and the questions, Who brought thee hither? etc., are the natural language of old acquaintances that have unexpectedly met. And if this Levite was a grandson or great grandson of Moses, the lawgiver of Israel, as appears from Judges 18:30, it is not strange at all that he was personally known to these Danites.

Verse 5

5. Ask counsel By means of the urim on the ephod which Micah had made for his sanctuary and priest. Judges 17:5. It was a common custom in Israel thus to inquire of the Lord. Comp. Judges 1:1; Jdg 20:18 ; 1 Samuel 23:1; 1 Samuel 4:9-12.

Verse 6

6. Before the Lord is your way That is, ordered of him, and acceptable in his sight. The Danites requested him to inquire of God; he reports a favourable response from Jehovah, and in this interchange of the names Elohim and Jehovah some find that Micah’s illegally constituted priest had purer notions of religion than these Danites. They speak more like idolaters, he like a true prophet. But did Jehovah really answer through the medium of this illegal priest? Why should he not? Did he never use for communication of his will any medium but that of a person altogether pure and good and conformed to his law? Or is it clear that a refusal to answer through this Levite would, in this case, have been wiser, or accomplished a better purpose, than the answer that was given? God winked at (Acts 17:30) the darkness and ignorance of those times, and we do wrong to judge those ancient characters and facts by the standard of New Testament ethics. Micah and his priest had certainly turned aside from the exact regulations of the law of Moses, but everything recorded of them shows an earnest purpose to serve and please Jehovah. Their fault was largely excused by the circumstances of their age, and the response which Jehovah gave this inquiring Levite is a representative of the ten thousand instances in which his blessings have come to devout worshippers through systems and forms of religion far from pure.

Verse 7

7. Laish Called Leshem in Joshua 19:47, and afterwards Dan. Judges 18:29, where see note.

Manner of the Zidonians That is, as explained in the immediate context, careless, quiet, and secure. The inhabitants of Zidon lived by commerce, and took no interest in war and conquest. They consequently took no thought of danger from armed forces; and in their more peaceful pursuits enriched themselves, while other nations weakened and impoverished themselves by constant wars. It is commonly supposed that these people of Laish were originally a colony of the Zidonians, and hence the resemblance named.

No magistrate in the land, that might put them to shame in any thing A very difficult passage, finding little agreement among critics as to its meaning. The versions all vary, and give little help. Bertheau, as usual, supposes an error in the text, and suggests that possibly the reading מכלים originated in overlooking the letters חסור , which, being restored, give, by dropping the ending ים , the reading in Judges 18:10, no want of any thing. Furst proposes to amend מכלים דבר by joining the מ to the following word, מכליא , a hinderance. He also gives עצר a cognate sense with מחסור , want, of Judges 18:10, and, repeating אין from the preceding clause, would read, There was no hinderance to any thing in the land; no one had need: (literally, no possessor of want.) But such emendations are not to be followed, except as a last resort. Keil renders it, No one who seized the government to himself did any harm to them in the land; Cassel, No hereditary ruler was in the land, who in any way oppressed. The main difficulty attaches to the word עצר , which occurs here only. Furst, as we have seen, renders it need; Gesenius renders it wealth, riches, after the Septuagint. But the verbal root, עצר , often means to be able, to have strength or power, and hence we incline to substantially the meaning which our common version, and Keil and Cassel, put upon the noun, עצר , namely, power, dominion, rule. The Hebrew text, without any alteration, would then literally read, No one harming a thing in the land a possessor of power; and the meaning, as we take it, is, No possessor of power that is, no neighbouring king, prince, or ruler of any kind, for a ruler or magistrate may aptly be called a possessor of power disturbed or injured any thing in the country belonging to Laish. They acknowledged no allegiance and paid no tribute to any government, nor did any government meddle with any thing in their land. The statements which immediately follow confirm this view of the passage. They were far from the Zidonians, the only people who might lawfully claim allegiance and tribute from them; and because of this their remoteness from Zidon, whence they had originally emigrated as a colony, they were, on the one hand, quietly ignored by the ruling powers of the home government, and could, on the other, expect no help from them in case of danger. Compare Judges 18:28.

Had no business with any man Not only were they thus separated from the Zidonians, but they formed no alliances with any other people. Hence it was, as stated above, that no possessor of power meddled with them to the injury of a thing in their land.

Verse 11

11. Six hundred men So confident were they of victory that they took along with them, as appears from Judges 18:21, their little ones, and their cattle and precious things. This entire expedition was a fulfilling of Jacob’s prophetic words: “Dan shall be a serpent by the way, an adder in the path, that biteth the horse’s heels, so that his rider shall fall backward.” Genesis 49:17. So, too, Moses likens Dan to a young lion of Bashan that leaps forth suddenly from his ambush upon the prey. Deuteronomy 33:22.

Verse 12

12. Kirjath-jearim Identified by Dr. Robinson with the modern Kuriet el-Enab, which lies about ten miles northeast of Zorah and five northwest of Jerusalem. See on Joshua 9:17. They pitched in Kirjath does not mean that they encamped within the city of this name, but, as the context shows, in the open country behind the city.

Called that place The place where they encamped, not the city Kirjath-jearim.

Mahaneh-dan That is, the camp of Dan. It probably lay some distance west or southwest of the city of Kirjath, and hence is said to be behind it. Compare note on Judges 13:25.

Verse 14

14. The five men They had spied the land, and acted now as guides to the six hundred.

Consider what ye have to do They meant more than they said, but their meaning was well understood: Let us not miss this opportunity of supplying ourselves with sacred images and a priest for our new settlement.

Verse 16

16. Stood by the entering of the gate The gate or doorway that led to Micah’s sanctuary is meant. By this the six hundred stationed themselves to prevent any one from hindering the five men as they took possession of Micah’s gods.

Verse 17

17. Went up, and came in thither That is, in Micah’s sanctuary. The images, etc., seem to have been kept in an upper chamber. Comp. 2 Kings 23:12; Jeremiah 19:13.

The priest stood in… the gate Having saluted him, (Judges 18:15,) the six hundred detained him at the door while the five spies brought out the sacred images and the ephod.

Verse 19

19. Lay thine hand upon thy mouth A proverbial expression for maintaining utter silence.

Better for thee “Almost in the same words was the like bribe offered by one of the greatest religious houses of England to the monk who guarded the shrine of one of the most sacred relics in the ancient cathedral of Canterbury: ‘Give us the portion of St. Thomas’ skull which is in thy custody and thou shalt be Abbot of St. Augustine’s.’ As Roger accepted the bait in the twelfth century after the Christian era, so did the Levite in the fifteenth century before it.” Stanley.

Verse 20

20. The priest’s heart was glad It was an honourable promotion, as they suggested, to be advanced from being a priest unto one man to that of a tribe in Israel, and he who had sold his service to Micah for little more than his food and clothes (Judges 17:10) would surely be happy in the change.

Verse 21

21. Little ones They had taken their families with them. See note on Judges 18:11.

The carriage The baggage, consisting of their valuables. This sense of the English word carriage has become obsolete.

Before them They anticipated pursuit and trouble from Micah, whom they had so lawlessly robbed, and therefore set their families, cattle, and other possessions in front.

Verse 22

22. The men that were in… houses near to Micah’s house These neighbours of Micah probably had an interest in his sanctuary and priest, and felt it no small blessing to have a Levitical minister and worship so near them. Hence their readiness to go with Micah to recover his gods and priest.

Verse 24

24. My gods This language of Micah shows that, however earnest and deep was his desire to serve and please Jehovah, his sanctuary and images had already carried him far towards idolatry.

Verse 28

28. Because it was far from Zidon The Zidonians were the only people likely to give them assistance at such a time of disaster, for they originally belonged to Zidon. See note on Judges 18:7.

No business with any man No alliance with nearer governments. from whom, in such case, they might have received help.

Beth-rehob Dr. Robinson is inclined to identify this place with Hunin, an ancient fortress several miles southwest of Dan, and commanding a fine prospect of the plain of the Huleh. With him agrees J.L. Porter, who says: “The site is most commanding a terrace on the steep mountain side, a thousand feet above the plain of Dan. Facing it, on the opposite range of Hermon, I saw the ruins of Caesarea Philippi. The sacred writer, in telling the story of the capture of Laish by the Danites, says it was situated in the valley that lieth by Beth-rehob. There was the valley before me, and yonder little rounded hill in the midst of it is the site of Laish.” It was an important stronghold, and was occupied, in the time of David, by the Syrians. 2 Samuel 10:6. It is not to be confounded with the Rehob in the tribe of Asher, further west. Judges 1:31; Joshua 19:28.

Verse 29

29. Called the name of the city Dan It henceforth became the northern limit of the land of Israel, and the formula “from Dan to Beer-sheba” is of frequent occurrence throughout the historical books. Compare Judges 20:1. This city is mentioned as early as the time of Abram. Genesis 14:14. It was situated about twelve miles north of the waters of Merom, on a circular hill, (the modern Tell el-Kady,) half a mile in circumference, and nearly eighty feet above the level of the surrounding plain. The chief ruins are on the southern declivity of the hill, but “not one solitary habitation is there. The fountain at the base of the hill pours forth its river of delicious water, but herds of black buffaloes wash and wallow in its crystal pools. You cannot even examine the site with satisfaction, so dense is the jungle of briers, thorns, and thistles which have over-spread it.” Thomson. The top of the hill commands a wide and beautiful prospect. “Often,” says the writer just quoted, “have I sat under its great oak and gazed in dreamy delight upon the luxuriant plain of the Huleh. No wonder the spies exclaimed, (Judges 18:9-10,) ‘We have seen the land, and, behold, it is very good: a place where there is no want of any thing there is in the earth.’”

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Verse 30

30. Jonathan, the son of Gershom Here, at length, comes out the name of the Levite of whom already we have heard so much.

Son of Manasseh But Gershom was the son of Moses, (Exodus 2:22; Exodus 18:3; 1 Chronicles 23:15,) not of Manasseh; and son of Moses is the reading of some Hebrews MSS. of the Vulgate, and of some codices of the Septuagint. The Masoretic text has מנשׂה with a hanging נ , and one of the Rabbins says: “The prophet studiously avoided calling Gershom the son of Moses, because it would have been ignominious to Moses to have had an ungodly son; but he calls him the son of Manasseh, raising the nun, however, above the line, to show that it might either be inserted or omitted, and that he was the son of Manasseh through imitating his impiety, (2 Kings 21:1-16,) of Moses by descent.” Here, then, has doubtless been a wilful corruption of the sacred text, made with the pious design of shielding the venerable name and character of Moses. Jewish zeal thought it detrimental to Moses to have a near descendant so far gone aside from the Law as this Levite was, and therefore attempted to substitute the hated name of Manasseh, the idolatrous son of Hezekiah. As the Levite was a young man, (Judges 18:3-15,) it is probable that he was not strictly the grandson of Moses, but a near descendant, probably a great-grandson, for the word בן , son, is often used in this sense. Such a near descendant of Moses would very naturally be widely known in Israel, and hence his recognition by the Danites. Judges 18:3. But such was the looseness of the age, and the want of a powerful central government, that this descendant of the great Lawgiver was a homeless wanderer, and became one of the first ministers of an illegal sanctuary service.

The day of the captivity of the land That Philistine captivity which reached its darkest night of horror when the ark was captured, (1 Samuel 4:11,) and Jehovah “forsook the tabernacle of Shiloh, and delivered his strength into captivity, and his glory into the enemies’ hand.” Psalms 78:61. Houbigant and others propose to read הארון , the ark, instead of הארצ , the land; but this is unnecessary, for we may well believe that the terrible calamity of the nation in the loss of the ark was regarded by the sacred writer as a most wretched captivity of the whole land. See note on 1 Samuel 2:32. Many interpreters have thought that the reference here was to the Assyrian captivity under Tiglath-pileser. 2 Kings 15:29. But it is hardly credible that the image worship and illegal service of these Danites were tolerated all through the reigns of David and Solomon, especially after the latter built the temple, and gathered all the tribes to Jerusalem to witness its dedication as the central seat of the national worship. Nor would Jeroboam have been likely to set up one of his golden calves at Dan (1 Kings 12:29) had this illegal worship been still existing there.

Verse 31

31. All the time that the house of God was in Shiloh This statement confirms our view in the last note, that the captivity of the land was that which followed the capture of the ark, and the consequent desolation of Shiloh. About the same time, it would seem, the Danite sanctuary in which the sons of Jonathan the Levite ministered was also made desolate. It had probably stood more than a hundred years.

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Judges 18". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/judges-18.html. 1874-1909.