The book of Judges spans about three hundred years – about twice what we covered in our family tree in the previous study. The events describe what was going on in different parts of the country. Although the narrative in the book make the events appear consecutive, some of these events actually took place at the same time. Also the last three chapters speak of events which occurred early on in this period – we’ll look at them first because it gives a flavour of the way the people were living.
Read Judges 17:1-13
1 Now a man named Micah from the hill country of Ephraim 2 said to his mother, ‘The eleven hundred shekels of silver that were taken from you and about which I heard you utter a curse – I have that silver with me; I took it.’
Then his mother said, ‘The Lord bless you, my son!’
3 When he returned the eleven hundred shekels of silver to his mother, she said, ‘I solemnly consecrate my silver to the Lord for my son to make an image overlaid with silver. I will give it back to you.’
4 So after he returned the silver to his mother, she took two hundred shekels of silver and gave them to a silversmith, who used them to make the idol. And it was put in Micah’s house.
5 Now this man Micah had a shrine, and he made an ephod and some household gods and installed one of his sons as his priest. 6 In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.
7 A young Levite from Bethlehem in Judah, who had been living within the clan of Judah, 8 left that town in search of some other place to stay. On his way he came to Micah’s house in the hill country of Ephraim.
9 Micah asked him, ‘Where are you from?’
‘I’m a Levite from Bethlehem in Judah,’ he said, ‘and I’m looking for a place to stay.’
10 Then Micah said to him, ‘Live with me and be my father and priest, and I’ll give you ten shekels of silver a year, your clothes and your food.’ 11 So the Levite agreed to live with him, and the young man became like one of his sons to him. 12 Then Micah installed the Levite, and the young man became his priest and lived in his house. 13 And Micah said, ‘Now I know that the Lord will be good to me, since this Levite has become my priest.’
What struck you as we read that passage?
v3: image and idol.
v5: shrine, ephod, son as priest
v6: Actually the point was that Israel had a king, but they ignored him.
v7: Levites were employed in the service of the Tabernacle at Shiloh (not far from Bethlehem) – why was he looking for ‘some other place to stay’?
When the census was taken before the tribes crossed the Jordan (Numbers 26), the Levites were not counted, but the number of men in each tribe varied from 22,200 to 76,500 so there could well have been around 40,000 of them. Only Levites from the descendants of Aaron were actually priests, the other Levites’ duties were to dismantle, carry, and re-assemble the Tabernacle.
We are also told in 18:30 that he was ‘Jonathan son of Gershom, the son of Moses’ - not a son of Aaron, and therefore although a Levite, he was not a priest.
As the Tabernacle was now in a fixed location, apart from maintenance and security duties, there was little for any of these Levites to do. Probably they had arranged a rota system and perhaps drew lots within that to see who got any of the available work – compare with the arrangement for priests in Luke 1:8-9.
Now we’ll look at the tribe of Dan.
Read Judges 18:1
1 In those days Israel had no king.
Is that an excuse for what follows?
And in those days the tribe of the Danites was seeking a place of their own where they might settle, because they had not yet come into an inheritance among the tribes of Israel.
What was their problem? Had they been left out in the distribution of land?
No, but the Philistines on the coast seemed too powerful, so they went looking for somewhere easier to settle.
Was that what they had been told by God to do? (Deuteronomy 9:1-3)
Read Judges 18:2-6
2 So the Danites sent five of their leading men from Zorah and Eshtaol to spy out the land and explore it.
Where were Zorah and Eshtaol? Two towns near each other, on land allocated to them between Benjamin, Judah and the coast; as close to the Philistines as they dared get.
These men represented all the Danites. They told them, ‘Go, explore the land.’
So they entered the hill country of Ephraim and came to the house of Micah, where they spent the night.
Probably not in his house, but in his town – in those days, in that climate, travellers would have been well equipped to sleep outdoors.
3 When they were near Micah’s house, they recognised the voice of the young Levite; so they turned in there and asked him, ‘Who brought you here? What are you doing in this place? Why are you here?’
(Obviously Levites had a recognisable accent, or a way of singing religious songs)
4 He told them what Micah had done for him, and said, ‘He has hired me and I am his priest.’
5 Then they said to him, ‘Please enquire of God to learn whether our journey will be successful.’
6 The priest answered them, ‘Go in peace. Your journey has the Lord’s approval.’
Did he ‘enquire of God’ (v5)?
Had God got the Danite’s inheritance wrong and had now changed his mind?
Would it have been better for the future of the Israelites if the Danites had trusted God and attacked the Philistines?
Read Judges 18:7
7 So the five men left and came to Laish, where they saw that the people were living in safety, like the Sidonians, at peace and secure. And since their land lacked nothing, they were prosperous. Also, they lived a long way from the Sidonians and had no relationship with anyone else.
They looked like a pushover.
Where was Laish?
About 25 miles north of the sea of Galilee on the Jordan (It might be a good idea to show Laish on a map).
Read Judges 18:8-13
8 When they returned to Zorah and Eshtaol, their fellow Danites asked them, ‘How did you find things?’
9 They answered, ‘Come on, let’s attack them! We have seen the land, and it is very good. Aren’t you going to do something? Don’t hesitate to go there and take it over. 10 When you get there, you will find an unsuspecting people and a spacious land that God has put into your hands, a land that lacks nothing whatever.’
11 Then six hundred men of the Danites, armed for battle, set out from Zorah and Eshtaol. 12 On their way they set up camp near Kiriath Jearim in Judah. This is why the place west of Kiriath Jearim is called Mahaneh Dan to this day. 13 From there they went on to the hill country of Ephraim and came to Micah’s house.
Laish was a peaceful rural town with no known enemies for miles around, so even a small army of six hundred men would be able to bring complete devastation.
The spies had been well received at Mica’s town so it was an obvious stopover for the army travelling north.
Read Judges 18:14-21
14 Then the five men who had spied out the land of Laish said to their fellow Danites, ‘Do you know that one of these houses has an ephod, some household gods and an image overlaid with silver? Now you know what to do.’ 15 So they turned in there and went to the house of the young Levite at Micah’s place and greeted him. 16 The six hundred Danites, armed for battle, stood at the entrance of the gate. 17 The five men who had spied out the land went inside and took the idol, the ephod and the household gods while the priest and the six hundred armed men stood at the entrance of the gate.
18 When the five men went into Micah’s house and took the idol, the ephod and the household gods, the priest said to them, ‘What are you doing?’
19 They answered him, ‘Be quiet! Don’t say a word. Come with us, and be our father and priest. Isn’t it better that you serve a tribe and clan in Israel as priest rather than just one man’s household?’ 20 The priest was very pleased. He took the ephod, the household gods and the idol and went along with the people. 21 Putting their little children, their livestock and their possessions in front of them, they turned away and left.
What was more important, what did they take first?
‘the idol, the ephod and the household gods’
Read Judges 18:22-26
22 When they had gone some distance from Micah’s house, the men who lived near Micah were called together and overtook the Danites. 23 As they shouted after them, the Danites turned and said to Micah, ‘What’s the matter with you that you called out your men to fight?’
24 He replied, ‘You took the gods I made, and my priest, and went away. What else do I have? How can you ask, “What’s the matter with you?”‘
25 The Danites answered, ‘Don’t argue with us, or some of the men may get angry and attack you, and you and your family will lose your lives.’ 26 So the Danites went their way, and Micah, seeing that they were too strong for him, turned round and went back home.
Again, notice the order: ‘the gods I made, and my priest’
Read Judges 18:27-28a
27 Then they took what Micah had made, and his priest, and went on to Laish, against a people at peace and secure. They attacked them with the sword and burned down their city. 28 There was no one to rescue them because they lived a long way from Sidon and had no relationship with anyone else. The city was in a valley near Beth Rehob.
It appears that the army was large enough to destroy the people of Laish, and it seems that they did it all without God’s help.
Read Judges 18:28b-31
The Danites rebuilt the city and settled there. 29 They named it Dan after their ancestor Dan, who was born to Israel – though the city used to be called Laish. 30 There the Danites set up for themselves the idol, and Jonathan son of Gershom, the son of Moses and his sons were priests for the tribe of Dan until the time of the captivity of the land. 31 They continued to use the idol Micah had made, all the time the house of God was in Shiloh.
Notice the odd detail in verse 30 ‘until the time of the captivity of the land.’ The Tribe of Dan were consistent in their idolatry, and were happy to accept the golden calf idol that Jeroboam installed when the nation was divided (1 Kings 12:26-30). It seems that they never repented and turned back to the Lord.
Notably it was the sin of turning from God to the worship of other gods and idols that eventually led to Israel’s captivity and deportation.
Dan was recognised as the most Northerly boundary of Israel, Beersheba the most southerly. When the Assyrians swept into Israel from the north, the Danites were the first to be captured (2 Kings 15:29), and significantly when representatives from the Tribes of Israel are gathered in Revelation 7:5-8, the tribe of Dan is omitted.
But they will not be rejected for ever. In Ezekiel’s prophecy of a new land, Dan is the first tribe to receive their inheritance (Ezekiel 48:1), and in Romans 11:26-27 we read:
26 and in this way all Israel will be saved. As it is written:
‘The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob.
27 And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins.’