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Bible Commentaries

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical
Judges 18

 

 

Verses 1-13

The tribe of Daniel, desirous of more room, despatches explorers. These, after spending a night near Micah’s religious establishment, become aware of its existence, and consult its oracle. Proceeding, they find at Laish an inviting place, easy of conquest. They return home, and a colony of six hundred families is sent out

Judges 18:1-13.

1In 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 all their [no] inheritance[FN1] had not [omit: not] fallen unto them among the tribes of Israel 2 And the children [sons] of Dan sent of their family five men from their coasts [of their whole number], men of valour, from Zorah, and from Eshtaol, to spy out the land, and to search it; and they said unto them, Go, search the land: who when [and] they came to mount Ephraim, to [as far as] the house of Micah, [and] they 3 lodged there. When they were by the house of Micah, they knew the voice[FN2] of the young man the Levite: and they turned in thither, and said unto him, Who brought thee hither? and what makest [doest] thou in this place? and what hast thou here? 4And he said unto them, Thus and thus dealeth Micah with me, and hath [he] hired me, and I am [became] his priest 5 And they said unto him, Ask counsel, we pray thee, of God, that we may know whether our way which we go shall be prosperous 6 And the priest said unto them, Go in peace: before the Lord7[Jehovah] is your way wherein ye go. Then the five men departed, and came to Laish, and saw the people that were therein, how they dwelt[FN3] careless [securely], after the manner of the Zidonians, quiet and secure; and there was no magistrate [potentate] in the land, that might put them to shame [injure them] in any thing and they were far from the Zidonians, and had no business with any man [had no intercourse with other men]. 8And they came unto their brethren to Zorah and Eshtaol: and their brethren said unto them, What say ye? 9And they said, Arise, that we may [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 [come] to possess the land 10 When ye go, ye shall come unto a people secure, and to a large land: for God hath given it into your hands; a place where there is no want of any thing that is in the earth [land]. 11And there went from thence of the family of the Danites, out of Zorah and out of Eshtaol, six hundred men appointed [girded] with weapons of war 12 And they went up, and pitched [encamped] in Kirjath-jearim, in Judah: wherefore they called [call] that place Mahaneh-dan [Camp of Dan] unto this day: behold, it is behind Kirjath-jearim 13 And they passed thence unto mount Ephraim, and came unto [as far as] the house of Micah.

TEXTUAL AND GRAMMATICAL

1 Judges 18:1.—בְּנַחֲלָה properly means: “in the character of an inheritance, as an inheritance,” cf. Numbers 26:53, etc. The nominative to לאֹ־נָפְלָה is to be supplied from the thought of the preceding clause, either in the form of נַחֲלָה or, better, in the more general form of אֶרֶץץ, land. The writer probably intended to introduce the subject after the verb, but as he proceeded his attention was diverted by subordinate clauses, and so he ended with an anacoluthon.—Tr.]

2 Judges 18:3.—קוֹל. Dr. Cassel renders “sound,” see his explanation below. Keil and others understand it of dialectic pronunciation or other peculiarities of speech. Bertheau thinks that inasmuch as the envoys had to “turn aside” from their way in order to get to Micah’s temple, they could not have been near enough to hear the Levite’s voice or note his pronunciation. He therefore assumes that what they recognized was the “tidings” that were told them of the sanctuary near by. But why not take the words in the sense in which any man would naturally take them at the first reading? The Levite had been a wanderer; some one (or more) of the five envoys had met with him, and now recognizes his voice, as they lie encamped near by. The conversation that ensues when they meet with him is certainly exactly such as would be expected under such circumstances; and the account which Micah gives of his personal affairs ( Judges 18:4), can scarcely be explained on any other supposition.—Tr.]

3 Judges 18:7.—יוֹשֶׁבֶת is predicate to אֶת־הָעָם, and as such ought to be masculine. The feminine is accounted for on the principle that the writer’s imagination identifies the people with the city in which they live, and so speaks of them as feminine, of Ewald, Lehrb. 174 b; Green, Gram. 275, 2, b. The appositional masculine participles שׂקֵט וּבֹטֵחַ only show that this identification is no longer in the mind of the writer.—Tr.]

EXEGETICAL AND DOCTRINAL

Judges 18:1. In those days there was no king in Israel. This is repeated in order to intimate that the author does not approve of what he is about to relate concerning the Danites. Such a piratical expedition was possible only when there was no organic national authority to guard the public peace and watch over the enforcement of law. The kingly office is a guaranty of the safety of property and of the continuance of public peace, and does not permit adventurous expeditions, undertaken for the injury of others. These very evils, however, were prevalent in Germany, notwithstanding imperial rule; and that not only in the Middle Ages. It was a matter of great difficulty, in the fourteenth century, to bring about the formation of local peace-compacts; and even then they had inserted in them the clause of the West-phalian treaty of1371, according to which a city or lord was only forbidden to engage in hostilities without a previous declaration of war. Even this principle would have condemned the Danites, it is true, but the organic government in the interests of peace and order which Israel understood by מַלכוּת, kingdom, royal dominion, had no existence in Germany, even until after the thirty years’ war.

For that unto that day no inheritance had fallen unto them. These words do not express the view of the narrator, but rehearse the complaint of the Danites, which was causeless however. Dan had certainly received an inheritance; and in proof of it is the fact that even at this time the tribe dwelt in the district of Zorah and Eshtaol. Its territory extended over Timnah and Ekron, as far as Joppa on the coast ( Joshua 19:41-46); but it had been crowded into the mountains by the Amorites ( Judges 1:34), and had failed to dispossess the Philistines of the plain along the sea-coast. On this account the tribe might indeed have too narrow bounds; but instead of enlarging their borders by making war on their heathen neighbors, they complained. If they had not been lacking in the true enthusiasm of faith in Jehovah, their onsets of irresistible prowess would not have failed to win the territory allotted to them. But it was easier, it must be allowed, to surprise undefended houses and lands, than to contend with the five princes of the Philistines, and their numerous armies. The words before us are only the subterfuge with which Dan defended the unusual resolution it had taken before the other tribes.

Judges 18:2. And the sons of Dan sent of their family five men. Only in Israel was it an unusual thing to look about for other possessions than those which had been assigned. Among other nations, the reduction of a too numerous population by means of colonization, was a matter of frequent occurrence (cf. Movers, Phönizier, iii5, etc.). In the case of Daniel, however, the resolution to look about for new territory was not arrived at by a few adventurers, who unceremoniously cut themselves loose from their people, but by the whole community. The commissioners and envoys to whom the promotion of the scheme was entrusted, were elected from among the whole (מִקְצוֹתָם) and were not ordinary spies, but chosen men (אַנְשֵׁי חַיִל), upon whom the matter naturally devolved. (Compare the Roman plan of appointing commissioners to supervise the establishment of a colony.) The express statement that they were told “Go, explore the land,” is added, in order to relieve them from every appearance of having acted only on their own responsibility.

Judges 18:3-4. There, near the house of Micah, they recognized the sound. “There” (שָׁם),[FN4]i. e., in the vicinity of the “temple-house,” which is here, in a special sense, called the “house of Micah.” When they were near this house (עִם־בֵּית), they heard the “sound (קוֹל) of the young Levite.” This has been curiously enough understood of the voice of the Levite. But how could the Danites tell by the voice that it belonged to a Levite? The statement, however, becomes instructive, when we call to mind what is written in Exodus 28:35. The Levite in Micah’s House wore the priestly dress, which was provided with bells, in order “that their sound may be heard (נִשְׁמַע קוֹלוֹ) when he enters into and comes out of the Holy Place.” The Danites, having passed the night (וַיָּלִינוּ), heard, in the morning, the bells of the officiating priest, and thus learned, to their astonishment, that there was a Levite there.

Judges 18:5-6. Inquire, we pray thee, of God (Elohim). The Danites, it is evident from all they do, are not steadfast in their faith in Jehovah. Hence, also, they find no fault with the Levite for having “hired” himself to Micah; nor do they hesitate, when they learn that he has an ephod and teraphim ( Judges 18:14), to consult his oracle about the success of their undertaking; but that Jehovah was worshipped here, did not appear to them to be the case. The narrator indicates this very delicately, by making them say, “Inquire of Elohim,” although the Levite, in the account he gave of himself, had used the name Jehovah, for to his service Micah’s House was nominally devoted. The Levite’s response is oracular, i. e., thoroughly ambiguous: “Go in peace: נֹכַח יְהוָֹה דַּרְכְּכֶם.” נֹכַח is simply equivalent to coram; no such accessory idea as “favorable,” lies in the words. “Your way is before Jehovah”—an answer unquestionably correct. The Danites probably explained it in a favorable sense, on account of the “go in peace” which preceded it.

Judges 18:7. And the five went, and came to Laish. Since the city was afterwards called Daniel, whose name and situation at one of the sources of the Jordan (and that not the spring at Bâniâs), was known in the time of Josephus, Robinson was doubtless right in saying (B. R. iii392), that “of the identity of its situation and that of Tell el-Kâdy there can be no question.” Ritter (xv217) even communicates Wilson’s observation, according to which the name Daniel, i. e., Judges, survives by translation in Kâdy, the surname of the Tell Laish, however, lay “in the valley that leads to Beth-rehob” ( Judges 18:28). This valley can scarcely be any other than the present Wady et-Teim, the great longitudinal valley which extends from the plain of Lake Hûleh upward to Râsheiya. Through this valley and the Buka’a runs the direct road from the sources of the Jordan to Hamath (Rob. iii371). The spies of Moses explored the land as far as Rehob, where the road leads to Hamath ( Numbers 13:21). Rehob (prop. Rechob) is a name suggested by topographical characteristics, and recurs therefore in various places. It always presupposes the presence of a plain or level surface.[FN5] It is to be noted that Scripture itself does not speak of either Dan or Laish, as situated at the sources of the Jordan. We may, nevertheless, venture the conjecture that this situation may be found indicated in the name Laish (לַיִשׁ). Laish signifies a lion; and ancient, originally Egyptian, symbology, has made the lion the sign of flowing stream-sources. For as soon as the sun enters his sign in the zodiac, the sources of the Nile begin to rise. Hence, says Horapollo, the mouths of fountains are provided with the figures of lions. This also accounts for the statement of Pollux, that the lion is called κρηνοφύλαξ, “guardian of springs,” and for the wide-extended usage of setting up figures of the lion near springs. The place of the source of the Orontes is named Lebweh, which also means lion. The river which rises near Baalbek-Heliopolis was called Leontes (at present Lîtâny); and the lion himself, as Egyptian symbol, signified “House of the Sun.” On the front-side of a building over the spring of Ain ’Anûb there are found figures of animals, considered to be either lions or dogs (Ritter, xvii676). The name Laish may be supposed to indicate in a similar manner the fountain, “one of the largest in the world,” which leaps down in an “immense stream” from Tell el-Kâdy (Rob. iii390). We are reminded by it of the blessing of Moses ( Deuteronomy 33:22): “And of Dan he said, Dan is a גּו̇ר אַרְיֵה (lion’s whelp); he leaps forth from Bashan.” The attribute thus expressed corresponds, as it were, to that indicated in the name Laish. Leshem, the name under which the place appears in Joshua 19:47, gives literal expression, perhaps, to the same idea which was figuratively indicated by Laish. The verb לָשַׁע, to break through (of a spring), to flow, belongs to an ancient and widely diffused root. Hence, as the source of the Jordan was called לֶשֶׁם, so the warm springs near the Dead Sea were called לֶשַׁע, Lesha, changed afterwards into Callirrhoë (cf. lehhan, Licus, Lech, Celtic, Leis, Lias, and numerous similar river names).

Judges 18:7. There was no hereditary potentate in the land, to oppress them in any respect. The observations of the five envoys are remarkable. They find the city, as a colony of Sidon, quietly devoted to industrial arts, after the manner of the mother city. It had not entered into relations for mutual protection with other cities, probably on the ground of its being a colony. That notwithstanding this, it could feel itself secure, and live without much warlike vigilance, although Sidon was so far away, evinces the very peaceful condition of the Syria of that day. The envoys observe also, that “there is no יוֹרֵשׁ עֶצֶר in the land.” The expression is obscure by reasou of its uncommonness. It seems to me, that it can only be understood in this way: The Danite envoys, during their stay in Laish, investigate particularly the ability of the city to defend itself. In this investigation they find not only that the people are engaged in peaceful industry (שֹׁקֵט), while their natural allies are far away, but also that there is no יוֹרֵשׁ עֶצֶר, i. e., no dynast or tyrant, in the land, with armed troops in his pay, ready for war. The presence of such a one would make it necessary to anticipate serious and ready resistance. Hence, the Persians, when they took possession of Ionia, deposed the tyrants and instituted popular governments everywhere (Herod, vi43). Under the יוֹרֵשׁ עֶצֶר of our passage, we are to understand what the Greeks called dynasts, hereditary despots, who exercised supreme control in the city. There is no thought here of a king or of suffetes, but of a tyrannical oppressor, who without consent of the inhabitants has become their master, and who surrounds himself with armed troops, in order, as instances in both Greek and Phœnician islands and cities sufficiently prove, to preserve the succession to this sort of government in his own family by means of force. In this explanation, עֶצֶר may either be taken as the object after יוֹרֵשׁ, in the sense of enforced supremacy,—in which case 1 Samuel 9:17 may be compared, for עָצַר is indeed, both in letter and sense, the Latin arcere, and sometimes also equivalent to coercere; or it may be regarded as standing in subjective opposition to יו̇רֵשׁ and be compared with אֵסַר=אֲצַר, lord, commander (cf. the Sanskrit çira), in the Aramaic names Nebuchadnezzar and Esarhaddon (cf. my Ortsnamen, i118). Since such a Joresh-etser wields his power by violence and without the consent of his subjects, it is not said that none such “reigns” in the land, but אֵין־מַכְלִים, none such “injures, oppresses.”[FN6] But for defense against attacks from without, such a ruler is undoubtedly well adapted, as may be seen in the instance of Polycrates. The envoys, therefore, are right, when they consider the absence of such a commander, where powerful friends are far away, and military activity is altogether wanting, as favorable to the success of an assailant.

Judges 18:8-10. And they said, Arise, and let us go up against them. The narrative allows ancient manners to speak for themselves in a very delicate way. The five envoys, on their arrival at home, keep quiet, until they are asked, What have ye? Then, however, they are the ones who stimulate the irresolute and doubtful: “why are you silent? be not slothful לָלֶכֶת,לָבוֹא,לָרֶשֶׁת;” for to go, to come, and to have what you desire, is one and the same thing. You will find an attractive country without defense, a large land, to which nothing (either of wealth or attractiveness) is wanting. This representation was not extravagant. Laish was situated in the valley, perhaps on the same spot afterwards occupied by the Daphne mentioned by Josephus; which name, in the Hellenistic period, was only given to attractively situated places. Accordingly, Josephus himself also speaks of his Daphne as a delicious place, rich in water-springs (Wars, iv1, 1). The tract of land in which it lay, is still called Ard Difneh, and is covered with glorious wheat-fields and noble old trees (Rob. iii394). The emigrating Messenians were in similar manner invited by Anaxilaus of Rhegium to make themselves masters of Zankle in Sicily, being told that it was a blessed land, and in a fine part of the island (Paus. iv23). Seneca remarks (Consolatio ad Helviam matrem, cap6.), that many emigrants have been deceived by unmeasured praises of the fertile territory.

The envoys, in order to strengthen their people add that “Elohim has given the land into their hands,” referring probably to the response of the Levite’s oracle.

Judges 18:11. And there broke up from thence six hundred men, girded with weapons of war. Six hundred families either volunteered, or were selected. The number may correspond with ancient usage. Livy relates that the Romans, when engaged in a colonizing enterprise, in the year197 before Christ, sent out three hundred families into each several city (xxxii29). The Danites, like Greek and Roman colonies, set out as if for war, with banners, arms, and means of subsistence ( Judges 18:21). In a speech of Demosthenes it is said: ’Ελάμβανον πεμπόμενοι ὅπλα ἐκ τοῦ δημοσίου καὶ ἐφόδια (cf. Hermann, Griech. staatsalterthümer, § 75, 2).

Judges 18:12. Wherefore that place is called “Camp of Daniel,” unto this day: behold, it is behind Kirjath-jearim. The expedition was at that time an extraordinary event. It seemed to renew the old marches of Israel in the desert, for the conquest of Canaan. There doubtless existed notices concerning the various stations which they made on the journey. It seems, however, that only three of the stations are known to us. The first was the “Machaneh Daniel,” with which the first awakening of Samson to his life of heroism was connected ( Judges 13:25). It lay between Zorah and Eshtaol, and was therefore doubtless the place of rendezvous for the expedition, which came for the most part from those cities ( Judges 18:11, cf. Judges 18:2). This cannot be the same with the Machaneh Dan near Kirjath-jearim, in the tribe of Judah, of which mention is here made. The researches of Robinson enable us to locate the latter near the modern Kuryet el-’Enab, whence the high road appears to have gone over the mountains of Ephraim. The third is the sanctuary of Micah, where likewise the “camping-place of Dan” was probably long remembered. At all events, the remark, that since this expedition the name Machaneh Dan existed, shows that the event took place before the days of Samson (during which Dan appears also to have been in an enfeebled condition), and is therefore to be put between Gideon and Samson.

Footnotes:

FN#1 - Judges 18:1.—בְּנַחֲלָה properly means: “in the character of an inheritance, as an inheritance,” cf. Numbers 26:53, etc. The nominative to לאֹ־נָפְלָה is to be supplied from the thought of the preceding clause, either in the form of נַחֲלָה or, better, in the more general form of אֶרֶץץ, land. The writer probably intended to introduce the subject after the verb, but as he proceeded his attention was diverted by subordinate clauses, and so he ended with an anacoluthon.—Tr.]

FN#2 - Judges 18:3.—קוֹל. Dr. Cassel renders “sound,” see his explanation below. Keil and others understand it of dialectic pronunciation or other peculiarities of speech. Bertheau thinks that inasmuch as the envoys had to “turn aside” from their way in order to get to Micah’s temple, they could not have been near enough to hear the Levite’s voice or note his pronunciation. He therefore assumes that what they recognized was the “tidings” that were told them of the sanctuary near by. But why not take the words in the sense in which any man would naturally take them at the first reading? The Levite had been a wanderer; some one (or more) of the five envoys had met with him, and now recognizes his voice, as they lie encamped near by. The conversation that ensues when they meet with him is certainly exactly such as would be expected under such circumstances; and the account which Micah gives of his personal affairs ( Judges 18:4), can scarcely be explained on any other supposition.—Tr.]

FN#3 - Judges 18:7.—יוֹשֶׁבֶת is predicate to אֶת־הָעָם, and as such ought to be masculine. The feminine is accounted for on the principle that the writer’s imagination identifies the people with the city in which they live, and so speaks of them as feminine, of Ewald, Lehrb. 174 b; Green, Gram. 275, 2, b. The appositional masculine participles שׂקֵט וּבֹטֵחַ only show that this identification is no longer in the mind of the writer.—Tr.]

FN#4 - Our author, both in his version of the Hebrew text and here, transfers שָׁם from the end of one verse to the beginning of another, but without good reason.—Tr.]

FN#5 - On Rehob, equivalent to Paltos, compare above, on Judges 1:31.

FN#6 - Keil’s explanation of this passage is in all essential points very similar, except that he defines יוֹרֵשׁ עֶצֶר is “one who seizes on power,” and derives (rightly, no doubt) יוֹרֵשׁ from יָרַשׁ in the sense of seizing, and not as our author does, in the sense of “inheriting,” or rather, perhaps, in both senses at the same time.—Tr.]


Verses 14-31

The Danites, on the way to Laish, pillage the sanctuary of Micah, and persuade his priest to go with them. Micah pursues, but finding the robbers too strong, turns back. The conquest and destruction of Laish, and the building of Dan.

Judges 18:14-31

14Then 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 teraphim, and a graven image, and a molten image? now therefore consider what ye have to do 15 And they turned thitherward, and came to the house of the young man the Levite, even unto [omit: unto] the house of Micah, and saluted him 16 And the six hundred men appointed [girded] with their weapons of war, which were of the children [sons] of Daniel, 7 stood by the entering of the gate 17 And the five men that went to spy out the land went up, and came in thither [entered the “house”], and took the graven image, and the ephod, and the teraphim, and the molten image: and the priest stood in the entering of the gate with the six hundred men that were appointed [girded] with weapons of war 18 And these went [when these had gone] into Micah’s house, and fetched the carved image, the ephod, and the teraphim, and the molten image. [,] Then [then] said the priest unto them, What do ye? 19And they said unto him, Hold thy peace, lay thine 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 Prayer of Manasseh, or that thou be a priest unto a tribe and a family in Israel? 20And 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 21 So they turned and departed, and put the little ones, and the cattle, and 22 the carriage [baggage] before them. And when they were a good way from the house of Micah,[FN8] the men that were in the houses near to Micah’s house were gathered together, and overtook the children [sons] of Daniel 23And they cried [called out] unto the children [sons] of Dan. And they turned their faces, and said unto Micah, What aileth [What is the matter with] thee, that thou comest with such a company? 24And he said, Ye have taken away my gods which I made, and the priest, and ye are gone away: and what have I more? and what is this that ye say unto me, What aileth [is the matter with] thee? 25And the children [sons] of Dan said unto him, Let not thy voice be heard among us, lest angry fellows [men fierce of spirit] run [fall] upon thee, and thou lose [destroy] thy life, with [and] the lives of thy household [house]. 26And the children [sons] of Dan went their way: and when [omit: when] Micah saw that they were too strong for him [stronger than he], [and] he turned and went back unto his house 27 And they took the things which Micah had made, and the priest which he had, and came unto [upon] Laish, unto [upon] a people that were at [omit: that were at] quiet and secure: and they smote them with the edge of the sword, and burnt the 28 city with fire. And there was no deliverer, because it [i. e., the city,] was far from Zidon, and they had no business with any man [ i. e., no intercourse with other people]; and it [the city] was in the valley that lieth by [extends to] Beth-rehob. And they built a [the] city, and dwelt therein 29 And they called the name of the city Daniel, after the name of Dan their father, who was born unto Israel: howbeit the name of the city was Laish at the first 30 And the children [sons] of Dan set up the graven image [for themselves]: and Jonathan, the son of Gershom, the son of Manasseh [Moses], he and his sons were priests to the tribe of Dan until the day of the captivity of the land.[FN9] 31And they set them up Micah’s graven image which he made, all the time that the house of God was in Shiloh.

TEXTUAL AND GRAMMATICAL

1 Judges 18:16.—אֲשֶׁר מִבְּנֵי דָן. The unusual position of this clause, separated from the words to which it belongs, may be explained by supposing that at the end of the sentence it occurred to the author that his language might possibly be understood of six hundred men stationing themselves to guard the temple, and prohibit the approach of the Danites, and that he obviates this by adding the present clause. The E. V. places the words where according to the sense they belong.—Tr.]

2 Judges 18:22.—הֵמָּה הִרְחִיקוּ מִבֵּית מִיכָה: “they had just withdrawn from the house of Micah, when the men,” etc. So Dr. Cassel, but not so well as the E. V. The verb הִרְחִיקוּ properly requires a complemental infinitive, לָלֶכֶת, cf. Exodus 8:24, but is frequently also, as here, used without it.—Tr.]

3 Judges 18:30.—Dr. Cassel adopts here the conjectural reading “ark” instead of “land;” and it certainly seems that if criticism is ever justified in resorting to conjecture, it is so in this passage. See the discussion below.—Tr.]

EXEGETICAL AND DOCTRINAL

Judges 18:14. Do ye know that there is in these houses an ephod, teraphim, and image and cast-work? The five men who had reconnoitered Laish, accompany the colony, and form the soul of the whole undertaking. This is manifestly not conceived and carried out in the spirit of the God of Israel. The Danites present us with a military expedition, reckless and violent, such as the history of migrations and conquests is full of. Their road leads them over the mountains, and past the House of Micah. What houses are those? ask the Danites. And their guides inform them (וַיַּעֲנוּ, for the question is only presupposed), that here there is a private sanctuary, fully provided with everything necessary to such an institution. No Roman colony was sent forth without the authority of taking auspices, or without an attendant pullarius. The Danite envoys had asked the priest concerning the mind of Elohim, and had communicated his favorable answer to their brethren. The need of an oracle of their own becomes strongly felt by these warriors, who take the field from wholly subjective motives. The people have not left their hereditary landed possessions in order to lose themselves in a strange land, but to preserve their tribe-consciousness. This consciousness was alive in them, however, only so far as its national character went. They remember Daniel, their ancestor, but not Jehovah, their God. They were not unbelieving, but superstitious; and superstition is subjective. It desires to be helped by Elohim, but it has no penitence, so as to serve Jehovah. The Danites desire to have a deity of their own, to direct them by his responses; and think that they can steal him, as gold and property may be stolen. Before Jehovah they could not stand with the thoughts of robbery and death that fill their hearts; but in these houses, they hear, there is an image and cast-work, ephod and teraphim. They conclude to conquer for their future city its appropriate temple service also.

Judges 18:15-20. And they came to the house of the young man the Levite, the house of Micah. The manner in which the robbery is accomplished is vividly and beautifully portrayed. The five leaders are, of course, acquainted with the Levite from their former visit. They were also acquainted with the situation. They go to him, and greet him. The priest recognizes them, and permits them, the five, to enter the sanctuary. He himself remains at the gate, where the six hundred, in their warlike array, have placed themselves, while the families, the cattle, and the rest of the train, are already moving off. The five, being alone in the temple, take all its treasures, image and image adornments, ephod and teraphim (another proof that the latter were small), and bring them forth ( Judges 18:18), when the priest addresses them: “What do ye?” Even at this stage, the narrative does not conceal the lukewarmness of the priest. He was not watchful when the people came, sent no information of anything to Micah, and even now raised no alarm to prevent the theft which he could not but know was in progress. He was just an hireling. Hence, when the five propose to him to be priest to them, a whole tribe, rather than to a mere individual, but in that case to keep still, and come along with the idols, without making a noise,—he accepts the offer with joy, takes the idols into his priestly hands, and is for security inclosed in the midst of the warriors. What a strange thing is superstition! This priest has first of all betrayed his God and his office for money, has by his name as priest led many astray, and now, from mere vanity, abandons his benefactor, who has treated him as a son ( Judges 17:11), and leaves him in the lurch; and yet he is eagerly snatched up as something valuable, and it is considered a great point gained when such hands as his carry gods who allow themselves to be taken off by robbers, and to be honored and praised by traitors. It is worthy of notice, that, according to Judges 18:20, the priest when he joins the warriors, regains custody only of the “ephod, teraphim, and image:” the massekah, the ornament of the image, containing its gold value, the Danites do not trust out of their own hands.

Judges 18:21-26. They had just departed from the house of Micah. The Danites show themselves well versed in the arts of freebooters. They assume that they may be pursued. Accordingly, they cause everything that cannot defend itself or is difficult of transportation, to proceed in advance of them. (The term כְּבוּדָּה, from כָּבֵד, heavy, must here undoubtedly be taken of what, like cattle, admits of only slow transportation;[FN10] for many valuables the Danites can scarcely have had with them. Moreover—and this is important here—the meaning “valuable,” in this word, is only a derivative one from “heavy.”) Thus they march along—behind their children, sheep, and beasts of burden—ready for instant action. Meanwhile, information of the theft had reached Micah. About his sanctuary a little village had formed itself. The people are quickly collected. They pursue. But there was no Abraham here, who with three hundred and eighteen men smote great armies. Neither Abraham’s faith, nor Abraham’s good cause were here. The Danites, when they hear the outcries of the pursuers, act at first as if nothing had happened. But when by Micah’s anger they perceive that he knows all, they—probably the five leaders—tell him that it were better for him to be quiet—he might otherwise lose more; for the people there, whom he sees, are fierce of disposition, and know no mercy. And Micah was obliged to yield to superior power. The narrative shows strikingly how men, when excited about their property, show their true faces. Micah, who has always talked of Jehovah, as he who did him good, now, forgetting himself entirely, calls out to the Danites: “Ye have taken the gods which I made.” For, of course, only “gods” can be taken away, not Jehovah; and his right to them, is based on the fact that he made them. Strictly speaking, he cannot complain. He had taken, and others have taken from him. He had committed treason, and he has been forsaken. He sees now what sort of fortune the priest and idolatry brought him. That which Micah had set up to lead others astray, became the occasion in consequence of which he was robbed. He carried sorrow back with him into his house; his return was desolate,—without gold, but with the judgment of his conscience. If he was led thereby to repentance, we may be sure that he soon found the Eternal God again, who pardons sinners, even though they have fallen seven and seventy times.

Judges 18:27-29. And they called the name of the city Dan. As the Messenians changed the name of the city Zankle into Messene, so the Joktanides, who migrated from Yemen into Central Arabia, gave their tribe name to the possessions they conquered, as is proved by the kingdom of the Ghassanides on the borders of Syria (cf. Ritter, xii86). It has been the general and constantly recurring usage of all migrating nations. The strange country was embellished with homelike names. It was the opinion of ancient thinkers, that, as Seneca wrote to his mother, the best consolation in exile and emigration was to take along what one had been accustomed to (natura communis), as also one’s peculiar gift (propria virtus). The Danites did this. They held their ground in the new Daniel, whose fame had wholly eclipsed that of the old home, had not Samson subsequently arisen in Zorah. But though the new Dan never overshadowed the old, the name certainly took firm root in the North, and in the expression “from Dan to Beer-sheba,” indicated the northern extremity of the actual possessions of the twelve tribes, although the Mosaic boundaries, and sometimes (as under David) even temporary occupation, extended beyond this point.

Nevertheless, whenever the history of Israel was rightly apprehended, in its properly spiritual character, the usurpation of Laish was never approved or justified. It was an arbitrary breaking in upon the given order, and upon the claims of another tribe; for the new Dan settled itself in districts which formed part of the original territories of the Northern tribes, particularly of Naphtali (who, it is true, had also failed to drive out the inhabitants of Beth-anath, i. e., Paneas, cf. ch. i33). The new possession was associated with no other memories than such as conflicted with the true service of God: it was dedicated with the idolatrous image of Micah, and it was destroyed with the Calf of Jeroboam.[FN11] The usurpation, it should be carefully observed, proceeded not from individuals, but from the common will of the whole tribe. The division of Manasseh was contemplated in the plan of the lawgiver; but the self-division of Dan was a sin against the organic constitution of the nation. Hence, when the emigrants, who speak of themselves as a “tribe” and “family” in Israel ( Judges 18:19), succeed in grafting the tribe name, Daniel, 12on the conquered territory, although the larger part of the tribe remained behind, the result Isaiah, that, after the career of Samson, the name became wholly lost from its old home. Even in Samson’s day, the Danites, as such, are no longer spoken of. The tribe Judah already attracts everything to itself. The very remembrance of the families of Dan perished, for which reason we find no lists of them in the Books of Chronicles, while the families of Simeon, whose possessions were also inclosed by those of Judah, are nevertheless dull enumerated ( 1 Chronicles 4:24 ff.). By appropriating to himself that which did not belong to him Dan lost even that which he had. It is on such spiritual grounds as these, that among the twelve tribes of the Apocalypse ( Judges 7), Dan finds no place. For of this tribe alone do we find such a notice as the following:

Judges 18:30-31. And the sons of Dan set up the graven image for themselves; and Jonathan, the son of Gershom, the son of Moses, he and his sons, were priests to the tribe. Even as late as the last century, expositors (as Lilienthal, Commentat. Critica, p192) have defended the reading Prayer of Manasseh, despite its suspended נ, and found approval in so doing (cf. Ernesti, Theol. Bibliothek, 1771, p112). Whoever is able to form a conception of the exegetical scrupulousness of the Jewish transcribers, will readily perceive that if משה had not stood in the MSS, that reading could never have been introduced. The Talmudic teachers admit this (Baba bathra, 109 a), and ascribe the circumstance that Moses could have such a descendant, to his wife (cf. Jalkut, n72). Now, although it be touching to observe the reverential piety which could not bear to have the name of Moses connected with that of an idolatrous priest, and which, therefore, without altering the Hebrew text itself, as early as the time of the Talmudical teachers, read the suspended נ in מנשה, the proceeding stands nevertheless in striking contrast with the admirable frankness of Biblical writers, who without regard to men state facts as they are, and direct the confidence of the faithful people, away from mortals, to the living God alone. The priest would not have been named at all, but for the wish to point out the contrast between his descent from the lawgiver who, in the name of God, condemned all idolatry as mortal sin, and his official position as priest at the shrine of an image. To this contrast alone, Jonathan owes it that his name was not forgotten. Sad, undoubtedly, beyond most similar cases, is this instance of degeneracy. But Scripture, which does not conceal the human weakness of even Moses himself, humbles herewith all vanity based on ancestors and descent. It avails nothing to be a descendant of Moses, if there be no personal worth; and the incomparable greatness and legal purity of the ancestor, give no guaranty that his descendants shall not become apostates. The fate of Moses, in this respect, was equally that of Abraham and Jacob, from whom Dan was descended. Many have called themselves children of Christ, who acted as Micah did. It Isaiah, no doubt, remarkable, that while Micah’s priest was a descendant of Moses, he himself was an Ephraimite, consequently of the same tribe with Joshua. The priest is called Jonathan, the son of Gershom, the son of Moses, not as if he were the immediate son of Gershom, but as being descended from Moses through Gershom. The significance of the statement lies in the contrast between descendant and ancestor. It is this also that is made prominent by the Talmudists, when in connection with the change of Moses into Prayer of Manasseh, they associate the latter name with the idolatrous king of Judah. Since Prayer of Manasseh, the progenitor of the tribe of the same name, was not a Levite, they could not think of him, as but far this we might suppose.[FN13]

Until the day of the exile of the ark (land). The words עַד־יוֹם גְּלוֹת הָאָרֶץ have acquired extraordinary importance for the criticism of the Book of Judges. Had the passage been found less peculiarly adapted to prove the late composition of our Book, bringing it down to a time after the exile under Shalmaneser, the attention of critics would doubtless have been arrested by the singularity of the expression עַד גְּלוֹת הָאָרֶץ, “unto the captivity of the land.” For, properly speaking, there was no such thing as a “captivity of the land.” A captivity of Jerusalem ( Jeremiah 1:3), of Judah ( Jeremiah 40:1), of Samaria (cf. 2 Kings 17:28, מִשֹּׁמְרוֹן), of Jehoiachin ( 2 Kings 25:27), of Cush ( Isaiah 20:4), is indeed spoken of, for these are historical names, representative of historical nations that were carried into exile. But erets, land, is not an historical, but only a natural name. A “captivity of Canaan” would be intelligible, but not a “captivity of the land.” Moreover, there were no other “captivities” than those of Israel and Judah. Now, since only the former could be intended, and since a definition of time is to be given, we should expect to find it definitely connected either with Samaria or Israel (cf. 2 Kings 17:23, וַיִּגֶל יִשְׂרַאֵל; cf. 2 Kings 15:29; 2 Kings 18:11). Nor does the verb הִגְלָה,גָּלָה, to take into exile or captivity, or its cognate nouns, ever occur in connection with אֶרֶץ (land) alone, while in 2 Kings 24:15 we find the entirely intelligible expression: הָאָרֶץ וַיֶּגֶל אֵת אֵילֵי “he carried away the nobles of the land.”

The linguistic improbability of the assumption that the narrator wrote הָאָרֶץ, the land, is reinforced by even stronger historical considerations. In the first place, there would arise an irremovable contradiction between Judges 18:30-31, if according to the one the cultus of the image at Dan continued until the exile of Israel, while according to the other it endured only to—say the death of Eli. For Bertheau’s endeavor to show that no such contradiction arises, cannot stand examination. The descendants of Jonathan are spoken of, not as having been priests in general, but most definitely as having served the פֶּסֶל, image, of the tribe of Dan. For this reason, the setting up of the image (וַיָּקִימוּ,) and the appointment to its priesthood, are first spoken of, in Judges 18:30, while its permanent preservation and maintenance (וַיָּשִׁימוּ are set forth in Judges 18:31. This was already seen by Jewish expositors, who were not influenced by what Bertheau calls “pet ideas” of modern times. R. Jesaia says: The exile of Sanherib, cannot be meant; for the time during which the House of God was at Shiloh is spoken of. It must also be considered quite improbable that this separatistic idolatrous worship in Dan should have been allowed to exist unmolested during the time of Samuel, David, and Solomon. The story of Micah’s image is introduced with the words, “in those days there was no king in Israel,” in order to explain the possibility of such an occurrence. Could the author have written thus, if the history of the kings, from Jeroboam to Prayer of Manasseh, had already been before him? And was not David just such a king as there was not in the time of Micah? Read the history of the first years of Song of Solomon, the eighth chapter of the first Book of Kings among others, and consider whether it seem possible to receive the existence at that time of a separate idolatrous worship in Daniel, with a priestly family of its own. And, certainly, if such a worship had still existed when Jeroboam cut himself loose from the house of David, he would not have found it necessary to institute in that very place the new cultus of the calf. Not upon him, would the burden of this sin have rested in that case (cf. 1 Kings 14:16). Nor, if in his time there had been a family of Levitical priests in Daniel, would he have needed to look for others, “who were not of the sons of Levi” ( 1 Kings 12:31).

If what has here been briefly[FN14] stated be duly considered, it will be felt to be necessary to substitute חָאָרוֹן, the ark of the covenant, for הָאָרֶץ, the land. This departure from the letter of Scripture is demanded by true reverence for its spirit. It is no wonder, therefore, that even the positive expositors among the Jews maintained that הָאָרֶץ must be explained as הָאָרוֹן, although naturally they do not speak of another reading. Thus Kimchi: חוא יום שגלה הארון. Abarbanel takes it in a similar manner.[FN15] It was probably under the influence of similar considerations that Houbigant conjecturally read הָאָרוֹן, to which Bleek (Einleitung, p347) and Ewald (Alterthümer, p258, 2d ed.) are likewise strongly inclined. The conjecture is so clear and easy, that the refusal to entertain it may well be met with the saying, “the letter killeth.” The statement intended to be made Isaiah, that the priests in Dan served at the shrine of the idol until the exile of the ark. It is precisely the Book of Samuel, in which the capture of the ark is related, that uses the word גָּלָה more frequently than any other historical book. The wife of the slain priest cries out, while she gives birth to a child, and dies: יִשְׂרָאֵל גָּלָה כָבוֹד, “gone is glory from Israel”[FN16] ( 1 Samuel 4:21); and hence, the son whom she bore was called “Ichabod: where is the glory.” The very same word is here used. Now, the removal of the ark, and the death of the sons of Eli, were matters of extraordinary importance, not for the people only, but more especially for the priests. Their pride and sinfulness had been previously delineated by the narrative. They had thought, without repentance, to conquer with the sacred ark. The humiliation touched them with peculiar force. Eli dies from dismay; his sons are slain by the enemy; the ark of the covenant, the precious jewel of the priestly charge, falls into the hands of the heathen. The moral degeneracy of the priestly family is already indicated in the election of Samuel. Hebrews, too, was an Ephraimite, but one of a different stamp from Micah. Now, however, the whole fabric of priestly pride falls into ruins, and under the leadership of Samuel, the era of repentance begins. It is only when all this is taken into consideration, that the parallelism of Judges 18:30-31 stands out in unexpected light. Jonathan and his descendants, sons of Levi and of Moses, continued to officiate as priests in Daniel, until the ark went into exile. After this great national calamity, a reformation ensued, including both the head and the members. The priests were terrified, and repented; their vainglorious assumption that wherever they were there the worship of God was also, was thoroughly overthrown, and they retired from the theatre of their evil doing. For this reason it is said of Jonathan and his successors, that “they were priests עַד־גְּלוֹת הָאָרוֹן, until the exile of the ark.” And as in Judges 18:30 the duration of their priestly activity corresponds with the time that intervened until the fall of the ark, so in Judges 18:31, the idolatrous House of Micah stands in contrast with the House of the true God in Shiloh. The same point of time is indicated in both verses. For with the removal of the ark, the significance of Shiloh ceased. Where the ark was, there God could be inquired of.[FN17] With the fall of the ark, the priests in Dan ceased; when the true sanctuary in Shiloh was broken up, the spurious sanctuary of Micah also was no longer esteemed. The lesson conveyed Isaiah, that if the true spirit of devotion to Jehovah had been preserved in connection with Shiloh and the ark of the covenant, such things as were done by Micah and in Dan would have been morally impossible. The priesthood must suffer and repent, before idolatry could be removed. It is true, that while the House of Micah was formerly spoken of as a Beth Elohim, a term applicable to every heathen temple as well, the House at Shiloh is here called Beth ha-Elohim, House of the true and real God; but it is nevertheless very significant that it is not called Beth Jehovah. During Shiloh’s existence, the glory of the Levites had become greatly tarnished. The descendants of Aaron—as witness the sons of Eli—had desecrated their office; the descendants of Moses served the idol in Dan. But when with the fall of the ark the time of repentance had come for the priests of Aaron’s tribe, the sin of the children of Moses also came to an end. Repentance leads the children back to their fathers.

In this way, the necessity of finding in our text a reference to the removal of the ark demonstrates itself both externally and internally. The fact that this exposition is not found indicated in the Masora, is to be explained from the fidelity with which every letter was preserved, but especially from the circumstance that during the exile of the people, the minds of the writers and readers of the ancient manuscripts were naturally full of that sad event, while the historical fact of the exile of the ark of the covenant belonged to the hoary past. In exile, Israel read and found this fate on every page. To their thoughts, “the land,” which they had left, was ever present. The banished reads “home,” in every thing.

Footnotes:

FN#7 - Judges 18:16.—אֲשֶׁר מִבְּנֵי דָן. The unusual position of this clause, separated from the words to which it belongs, may be explained by supposing that at the end of the sentence it occurred to the author that his language might possibly be understood of six hundred men stationing themselves to guard the temple, and prohibit the approach of the Danites, and that he obviates this by adding the present clause. The E. V. places the words where according to the sense they belong.—Tr.]

FN#8 - Judges 18:22.—הֵמָּה הִרְחִיקוּ מִבֵּית מִיכָה: “they had just withdrawn from the house of Micah, when the men,” etc. So Dr. Cassel, but not so well as the E. V. The verb הִרְחִיקוּ properly requires a complemental infinitive, לָלֶכֶת, cf. Exodus 8:24, but is frequently also, as here, used without it.—Tr.]

FN#9 - Judges 18:30.—Dr. Cassel adopts here the conjectural reading “ark” instead of “land;” and it certainly seems that if criticism is ever justified in resorting to conjecture, it is so in this passage. See the discussion below.—Tr.]

FN#10 - R. Judah Hallevi, Kusari, iv3, explains it to mean “retinue,” such as comports with the honor of a king.

FN#11 - Cf. Amos 8:14, and Talmud, Sabbat, 67 b.

FN#12 - And that not with the prefix “New” with which, for instance, Carthago Nova took the name of the mother city.

FN#13 - Keil has the following note on this subject: “The Talmud remarks, Baba bathra, f109 b: An Gersom filius Menassis fuit, et non potius Mosis? sicut scriptum est. Filii Mosis fuerunt Gersom et Elieser ( 1 Chronicles 23:14), sed propterea quod fecit opera Menassis (the idolatrous son of Hezekiah, 2 Kings 21.), appendit eum scriptura familiœ Manassis. On this Rabba bar Channa observes: prophetam (i. e., the author of the Book of Judges) studio noluisse Gersonum appellare filium Mosis quia ignominiosum fuisset id Mosi, habuisse filium impium, sed vocat eum filium Menassis, litera tamen נ sursum elevata, in signum eam adesse vel abesse posse, et sit filius מְנַשֶּׁה Menassis vel משֶׁה Mosis; Menassis, studio et imitatione impietatis, Mosis, prosapia. Cf. Buxtorff, Tiber. p171. Later Rabbins say the same thing. R. Tanchum calls the writing מנשה with נ suspended, a תִּקּוּן סוֹפְרִים, and speaks of בן משה as Kethibh, and ofבן מנשה, on the other hand, as Keri. According to this, ben Mosheh is certainly the original reading, albeit the reading ben Menashsheh is also very old, seeing that it was read by the Targum, the Peshito, and the Septuagint, although in a few codices of the latter the reading υἱοῦ Μωϋσῆ is still found, cf. Kennic. Dissert. Gener. in V. T. § 21. Jerome also has filii Moysi.”—Tr.]

FN#14 - For much of it was long since strongly brought forward (cf. Keil in loco). [Keil, it may be proper to remark, does not propose to change the reading, but quotes approvingly Hengstenberg’s explanation of it, as indicated in the following words: “The historian considers the whole land as carried away into captivity in its sanctuary, which, as it were, formed its kernel and essence” (Pent. i191, Ryland’s edit.).—Tr.]

FN#15 - אבל אמרו על הזמן שבו גלה הארון, ed. Lips. p67.

FN#16 - The great significance of the exile of the ark of the covenant, was still fully felt when Psalm 78. was written, compare18:60-61: “He rejected the tabernacle of Shiloh,” and “He delivered his strength (glory)into captivity.” The whole bearing of the psalm forbids the supposition of a sanctuary in Shiloh until the Assyrian period (Delitzsch, on Psalm 78:60 ff.).

FN#17 - This is also clearly proved by Judges 20:27 : “And the sons of Israel inquired of Jehovah; for the ark of the covenant of God was there in those days

 


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Bibliography Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Judges 18:4". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lcc/judges-18.html. 1857-84.

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Friday, August 23rd, 2019
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20
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