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Deeper Commentary


Jdg 18:1 In those days there was no king in Israel-
This seems to repeat Jud. 17:6 "In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes".  
This implies that the book of Judges as we have it was edited, under Divine inspiration, some time after Israel began to have kings. Perhaps during the exile, when again they had no king; and therefore the book becomes a warning to the exiles about likely apostacy. The lament may be that there was no authority, no teacher, no modelling of Godly living; because every man did what was right in his own eyes, rather than doing what was right in the eyes of Yahweh. For so often we read of Israel being condemned for doing what was wrong in His eyes. This is clear enough evidence that 'just follow your heart' is poor advice. For what is right in our own eyes results in the Godless confusion of what we find now at the time of the Judges. However it could be argued that having no human king was a good thing; for God didn't want them to have one. And therefore a situation where everyone judges things by their own judgment is in fact good; the problem was that the people didn't base their view upon God's word, His "eyes" or perspective, but solely upon their own unenlightened opinions. 

And at that time the tribe of the Danites looked for a place to live in, because up until then they had not come into their inheritance among the tribes of Israel-
Even when God punished Israel, He seems to later almost take the blame for their judgments; thus He says that He left some of the Canaanite nations in the land to teach Israel battle experience (Jud. 3:2 NIV). His grace is so positive about them in the way He writes about them. Yet elsewhere the presence of those remaining nations is clearly linked to Israel's faithlessness, and their survival in the land was actually part of God's punishment of Israel. Likewise "the coast of the children of Dan went out too little for them" (Josh. 19:47), although actually "The Amorites forced the children of Dan into the mountain: for they would not suffer them to come down to the valley" (Jud. 1:34). When Dan fought against Leshem, this one act of obedience is so magnified in Josh. 19:47 to sound as if in their zeal to inherit their territory they actually found they had too little land and therefore attacked Leshem. But actually it was already part of their allotted inheritance. Yet God graciously comments: "all their inheritance had not fallen unto them among the tribes of Israel" (Jud. 18:1). In similar vein, He almost excuses Israel's apostasy by saying that they had not seen the great miracles of the Exodus (Jud. 2:7). "The portion of the children of Judah was too much for them" (Josh. 19:9) almost implies God made an error in allocating them too much; when actually the problem was that they lacked the faith to drive out the tribes living there.

Jdg 18:2 The children of Dan sent five men of their family, men of valour, from Zorah and from Eshtaol, to spy out the land and to search it, and they said to them, Go, explore the land! They came to the hill country of Ephraim, to the house of Micah, and lodged there-
Zorah was Samson's hometown, and I suggested on Jud. 17:1 that Jud. 17-21 is further background about Samson. We see then that Samson's people had not inherited the land intended because they had not driven out the local inhabitants as God intended, and as was therefore potentially possible. And therefore they were looking to get more living space by settling another area which was easier to take over, taking a short cut to the Kingdom. The invasion of Laish (:7) was because "The children of Dan did not drive out the Amorite who afflicted them in the mountain; and the Amorite would not suffer them to come down into the valley, but they forcibly took from them the border of their portion" (Josh. 19:47 LXX).

Jdg 18:3 When they were near the house of Micah they recognized the voice of the young Levite, so they went in there and said to him, Who brought you here? What are you doing in this place? Why are you here?-
"Regarded the voice" may mean they noted that he had a different accent, and this corroborates with the way Ephraimites had a different accent to other Israelites (Jud. 12:6). Such internal harmony within the Biblical records is to me the clearest evidence of Divine inspiration.

Jdg 18:4 He said to them, This is what Micah has done with me, and he has hired me to be his priest-
This presumably implies that he showed them the ephod and other imitations of the tabernacle which Micah had made.

Jdg 18:5 They said to him, Please enquire of God to find out whether our journey will be successful-
We see again the deep religious conscience within these men of Dan, although it was so misplaced and mixed with idolatry.

Jdg 18:6 The priest said to them, Go in peace. Your way has the approval of Yahweh-
We get the impression that he just said this without making any semblance of looking at the mock ephod and urim and thummim which Micah had made. To claim to give Yahweh's approval in such an arbitrary way was really quite blasphemous. 

Jdg 18:7 Then the five men departed and came to Laish. They saw that the people there lived in security like the Sidonians, quiet and unsuspecting, and they were prosperous, lacking nothing-
See on :2. 2 Chron. 2:14 says "Hiram" was "son of a woman of the daughters of Dan", whereas 1 King 7:14 says he was "the son of a widow of the tribe of Naphtali". Dan may refer to the town called Dan or Laish which was in the territory of Naphtali, but inhabited by Danites (Josh. 18:27; 19:47; Jud. 18:7). Here we see how an apparent discrepancy on a surface level reveals a deep evidence of the way the records do not contradict but dovetail perfectly, as we would expect of a Divinely inspired writing. But this is only apparent to those who respectfully search the entire scriptures, rather than bandying around a surface level contradiction with an eagerness which speaks more of their own fears the Bible is inspired than of deep factual persuasion. 

Also they were far from the Sidonians and had no dealings with anyone else-
"With anyone else" could be "with Syria". They were on the very border of Syria. The idea would be that they were too far from Sidon to be helped by them, and had nothing to do with Syria over the border. This change to "Syria" requires only a 'daleph' and 'resh' to be confused in the Hebrew alphabet; and these letters have only a miniscule difference which in early printed form is often obscure. This would be an example of the Divinely inspired Bible being infallible apart from having some errors caused by copyists.

Jdg 18:8 The men returned to their brothers to Zorah and Eshtaol, and their brothers asked them, What did you find?-
The business of sending out spies, who return with a good report which is eagerly believed by their brethren, all has a kind of similarity to the spying out of the land of Canaan at the conquest. LXX "what did ye bring back?" recalls the fruit of the land being brought back to show the Israelites by Joshua and Caleb. And so is developed the theme of misplaced idealism. For they ought to have taken the land allotment which God gave them. But they didn't and sought an easier way, by attacking softer targets elsewhere. Samson himself continued this mixture of spirituality and human thinking.

Jdg 18:9 They said, Come on, let us go up against them, because we have seen the land, and it is very good. Do you doubt? Don’t hesitate; go in to take possession of the land-
As discussed on :2,8, they are mixing the flesh and the Spirit. They quote the words of Moses and Joshua about the land of Israel being a good land, and urge each other to take possess "of the land". But they had ignored that commandment and had not taken possession of "the land". Instead they were using those words to encourage themselves to massacre a group of unsuspecting people in a very limited "land". 

Jdg 18:10 When you get there, you will find an unsuspecting people, and the land is large. God has given it to you, a place where there is no lack of anything that is in the earth-
The men of Dan here quote the words of Dt. 8:9, but out of context. Those words were true of the entire land promised to Abraham. But the men of Dan didn't drive out the tribes from the land. Instead, they applied these words to a tiny, remote part of it in Laish, and encouraged themselves on the basis of these words to go and massacre a group of unsuspecting people and take their land- with the blessing of Micah's false gods.

Jdg 18:11 Six hundred armed men of the family of the Danites set out from there, out of Zorah and out of Eshtaol-
I have noted on previous verses that the Danites were liking to imagine that they were as Israel going up from Egypt to inherit the land of Canaan. In fact, they were leaving the area in the land they had been faithless to inherit, and were going to inherit just a tiny area where the people were weak. But they encourage themselves by alluding to the words of Joshua and Moses about inheriting the entire land. We therefore note that the 600 men "armed" or 'in ranks' may be seen as intended to imitate the six hundred thousand 'men in ranks' of Israel as they marched toward Canaan (Num. 11:21). However, a group of "six hundred men" is found so often in the records that we suspect that it may not be literal, but rather refer to a military unit or subdivision (Jud. 3:31; 18:11; 20:47; 1 Sam. 13:15; 14:2; 23:13; 27:2;30:9; 2 Sam. 15:18).

Jdg 18:12 They went up and encamped in Kiriath Jearim in Judah. That is why they called that place The Camp of Dan, to this day; it is behind Kiriath Jearim-
I would consider the book of Joshua to have largely been written by Joshua, under Divine inspiration, although edited [again under Divine inspiration] for the exiles. And the book of Judges likewise. For the exiles too were set to reestablish God's Kingdom in the land and to inherit it again as the Israelites first did. The phrase "to this day" occurs several times in Joshua / Judges, and appears to have different points of historical reference (Josh. 4:9; 5:9; 6:25; 7:26; 8:28,29; 9:27; 10:27; 13:13; 14:14; 15:63; 16:10; 22:3; 23:8,9; Jud. 1:26; 6:24; 10:4; 15:19; 18:12). I would explain this by saying that the book was edited a number of times and the remains of those edits remain in the text. For God's word is living and made relevant by Him to every generation.

Jdg 18:13 They went from there to the hill country of Ephraim, and came to the house of Micah-
For 600 men to visit Micah would suggest that he was a well known leader in the area. We noted earlier that his mother gave him 1100 shekels of silver at a time when a good salary was 10 shekels / year. 

Jdg 18:14 Then the five men who went to spy out the country of Laish said to their brothers, Do you know that there is in these houses an ephod and household gods, an engraved image and a molten image? Now therefore consider what you have to do-
The five spies had come to Micah for blessing on their journey, and obviously thought that Micah's set up of false gods modelled around imitations of Yahweh's sanctuary, along with a Levite for a priest, was all pretty cool. And they coveted it all for themselves. As in :25, they speak of their criminal and violent intents in an indirect way.

Jdg 18:15 They turned in there and came to the house of the young Levite, to the house of Micah, and asked him how he was-
They focus upon the Levite; he was clearly aware of their intentions, and was eventually not against them, as he saw he would get more income from being a spiritual father to a larger group. The landless Levite labourer who had come looking for work with Micah... became covetous and ended up with an excellent income.

Jdg 18:16 The six hundred armed men of Dan stood by the entrance of the gate-
They clearly so coveted Yahweh's supposed presence and help through the idols that they were willing to steal and kidnap to get it. They show the mixture of flesh and Spirit, of misplaced ideals, which were so typical of Samson their judge.

Jdg 18:17 The five men who had gone to spy out the land went in there and took the engraved image, the ephod, the household gods and the molten image; and the priest stood by the entrance of the gate with the six hundred armed men-
The idol paraphernalia required five men to carry it. It was not therefore huge.

Jdg 18:18 When these men went into Micah’s house and fetched the engraved image, the ephod, the household gods and the molten image-
The ephod was an imitation of the high priestly breastplate. The Hebrew reads strangely, as if the engraved image was the ephod, or closely associated with it. We fear that they had actually made an idolatrous image of Yahweh, exactly what he had forbidden. And they were worshipping the Baals in the name of Yahweh worship.

The priest said to them, What are you doing?-
The Levite was initially shocked, but soon went along with their evil plans. Although effectively they kidnapped him (:19).

Jdg 18:19 They said to him, Keep quiet, put your hand on your mouth and go with us, and be unto us a father and a priest. Is it better for you to be priest to the house of one man, or to be priest to a tribe and a family in Israel-
See on Jud. 17:11. Micah had asked the young Levite, who was “unto him as one of his sons”, to “be unto me a father and a priest” (Jud. 17:10,11- note the paradox), resulting in others likewise asking him to “be unto us a father and a priest” (Jud. 18:19). The point is, no matter how unqualified a person may be for the job, they may be pressed into being leaders because that’s what nominally religious people so desperately need. They need someone to call 'father'; and it seems Pharaoh treated Joseph in the same way (Gen. 45:8). It is very noticeable amongst those who are themselves senior or heads of some kind of group, be it domestically or in the workplace. The way the Lord forbad this (Mt. 23:9) was therefore tantamount to disallowing any merely 'religious' approach to God. He personally was to be understood as Father, and a personal relationship developed with Him. 

Jdg 18:20 The priest’s heart was glad, and he took the ephod, the household gods and the engraved image, and went with the people-
Why was he glad? Probably his motives were mixed, for that is the theme of this history of the tribe of Dan at this time. He was glad he could 'serve' more people, in his mixed up way, even though he was an idolater; and also glad at the offer, presumably, of more money than he was previously earning.

Jdg 18:21 So they turned and departed, putting the little ones, the livestock and the goods in front of them-
Fearful that Micah would chase after them and attack them from the rear. Although Micah was outnumbered, he was so passionate about his idols and his priest that he was deemed capable of a very vicious attack upon them. Again we see the mixed motives of men at this time, burning down one side for Yahweh, and down the other for the flesh and idolatry. 

Jdg 18:22 When they were a good way from the house of Micah, the men who were in the houses near to Micah’s house were gathered together and overtook the Danites-
Not only Micah but the folks in his village were passionately devoted to those idols. It wasn't a case of just making some more, but rather were they very deeply devoted to them. Again we see the mixed motives in them all.

Jdg 18:23 They shouted after the Danites, who turned round and said to Micah, What is the matter with you that you come with such a company?-
Although they were just presumably a few houses, all the men must have armed themselves and charged out against this far superior force. As noted on :22, they were so passionate about their idols.

Jdg 18:24 He said, You have taken away my gods which I made, and the priest, and have gone away, and what else do I have? How then can you say to me, ‘What is the matter with you?’-
Despite his wealth and position within society, Micah told the truth when he said that his own little religion, paganic and perverting of Yahweh worship as it was, was everything to him. "What else do I have?" he dolefully and truthfully lamented. And we see this attitude in so many people. Their religion is by far the most powerful passion in their lives. But this doesn't thereby justify them as true believers, for Micah was far away from true worship of Yahweh.

Jdg 18:25 The Danites said to him, Don’t argue with us, or angry fellows might attack you, and you will lose your life, with the lives of your household-
As in :14, they speak of their criminal and violent intents in an indirect way. They speak as typical criminals. 'You might just get attacked by a bunch of angry yobbos around here, you know. Best to go home, or else such a gang might not only kill you, but go to your houses and then murder all your families'. And yet they made this threat because they were so desperate to have those idols, which they thought meant Yahweh's blessing upon them. Again, we see how hopelessly mixed were their motives.

Jdg 18:26 The Danites went on their way, and when Micah saw that they were too strong for him, he turned and went back to his house-
Micah was willing to fight for his idols, such was his passion. But he realized he was outnumbered. A true believer in Yahweh would have believed that one in covenant with Yahweh could chase a thousand; and Judges has several examples of small groups defeating much larger armies. But Micah, for all his professed belief in Yahweh, was not a true believer, and assessed things in purely secular terms.

Jdg 18:27 They took what Micah had made and his priest and came to Laish, to a people unsuspecting and secure, and attacked them with the sword, and they burnt the city with fire-
Although Micah had paid for some of his idol paraphernalia to be made by others, he was ultimately the maker of it. The stress is that these things were what his hand had made. And there is an intended juxtaposition between their having the idols and the priest with them, and then slaying unsuspecting people without giving them the chance to first make peace and accept the God of Israel, as required in the law of Moses. They burnt the city with fire as if they were replicating Joshua's conquest of the land, again reflecting their terrible mixture of motives and desire to just take bits and pieces from Yahweh's ways and ignore the rest. Just as many do today. See on :28.

Jdg 18:28 There was no deliverer, because it was far from Sidon and they had no dealings with anyone else-
See on :7, probably "with Syria", the neighbouring power just over the border.

It was in the valley that lies by Beth Rehob. They built the city and lived there-
If they intended to live there, we enquire why their first burnt the city and then rebuilt it- when they could have lived in the houses already standing. I suggest that they burnt it because they wanted to appear to be following the law about devoting a city to Yahweh, and copying Joshua's example of burning some of the cities he took. But as explained in :27, they were utterly oblivious to whole masses of basic Mosaic teaching. Like many today, they thought that just obeying a few out of context Biblical principles would justify them living like any other unbeliever.

Jdg 18:29 They called the city Dan, after the name of Dan their father, who was born to Israel, but the name of the city before was Laish-
Unlike Israel very often did, they didn't allow the old names to remain, but renamed this after their ancestor Dan, meaning 'judgment'. Again we see an attempt to follow the culture of their Israelite religion on a surface level, when their hearts were far from it. 

Jdg 18:30 The Danites set up for themselves the engraved image, and Jonathan the son of Gershom the son of Moses and his sons were priests to the tribe of the Danites until the time of the captivity of the land-
Jud. 17-21 contain various pictures of and insights into the apostacy of the tribe of Dan, providing the backdrop for a character study of Samson. These chapters seem chronologically out of place; they belong before the Samson story. Here, Jud. 18:30 speaks of Jonathan the grandson of Moses, and Jud. 20:28 of Phinehas the grandson of Aaron (cp. Num. 25:11), which would place these events at the beginning of the period of the Judges, once Israel had first settled in the land. Dan's apostacy is suggested by the way in which he is omitted from the tribes of the new Israel in Rev. 7.

"The land" is "the ark" in some manuscripts. See on :31. But I see no reason why the Assyrian or Babylonian captivities are not in view; for Judges was rewritten or edited under Divine inspiration during the captivity. This would mean that the Danites in this peripheral location on the very borders of the land quietly continued their apostacy all through the various reforms of the kings, as well as the time of David. And this is really what we understand from the many laments that Israel had persistently and consistently worshipped idols throughout their generations.

Jdg 18:31 So they set up for themselves Micah’s engraved image which he had made, using it all the time that God’s house was in Shiloh-
Here and :30 emphasize the "engraved image", and I suggested on :18 that this could have been an image of Yahweh- exactly what was prohibited so strongly. Clearly they didn't bother going to the sanctuary because they considered that they had their own absolutely legitimate sanctuary to Yahweh, replete with a direct descendant of Moses as priest. Even though he would not therefore have been a Levite. And they worshipped an image for Yahweh.

It is tempting to think that "until the captivity" in :30 is effectively parallel with 'the time God's house was in Shiloh'. I noted on :30 that the captivity in view may have been of the ark, and not of the people to Babylon or Assyria. The house or sanctuary of God was in Shiloh only until the time of Saul. When the ark went into captivity with the Philistines, and the sanctuary moved to Nob and then to Gibeon in the time of David, the time period in view may have finished. However I suggest that out of the three recorded places where the sanctuary was located (Shiloh, Nob and Gibeon), Shiloh was the nearest of them to Dan. The idea may therefore be that even when the sanctuary was relatively near them, they didn't go to it. They had their own sanctuary right in their own town. We note again the description of the sanctuary as "the house", even though no temple was then built- another reminder that these records were rewritten after the temple had been built, probably during the exile.