Judges 18 – Micah’s Idolatry and the Migration of the Tribe of Dan
A. Dan spies out Laish.
1. (1-2) The tribe of Dan sends spies to look for land to take among the people of Israel.
In those days there was no king in Israel. And in those days the tribe of the Danites was seeking an inheritance for itself to dwell in; for until that day their inheritance among the tribes of Israel had not fallen to them. So the children of Dan sent five men of their family from their territory, men of valor from Zorah and Eshtaol, to spy out the land and search it. They said to them, “Go, search the land.” So they went to the mountains of Ephraim, to the house of Micah, and lodged there.
a. For until that day their inheritance among the tribes of Israel had not fallen to them: The tribe of Dan had land apportioned to them, but they found their own land too hard to conquer.
i. Judges 17 was the story of compromise and self-willed carnality in the lives of a few individuals. Judges 18 shows how these individual sins made entire tribes wicked and rebellious against God.
b. So they went to the mountains of Ephraim: Looking for easier land to conquer and make their own, the Danites came to the land of the tribe of Ephraim and the house of Micah.
2. (3-6) The Danites meet with Micah’s Levite.
While they were at the house of Micah, they recognized the voice of the young Levite. They turned aside and said to him, “Who brought you here? What are you doing in this place? What do you have here?” He said to them, “Thus and so Micah did for me. He has hired me, and I have become his priest.” So they said to him, “Please inquire of God, that we may know whether the journey on which we go will be prosperous.” And the priest said to them, “Go in peace. The presence of the LORD be with you on your way.”
a. The recognized the voice of the young Levite: It may be that the spies from the tribe of Dan knew the renegade Levite personally. It is also possible that they simply recognized his accent as being from the southern part of Judea.
b. Please inquire of God, that we may know whether the journey on which we go will be prosperous: This shows what a spiritually confused time this was in Israel. These Danites on a sinful mission met with a sinful Levite and wanted to know from a righteous God if their mission would be successful. Then the sinful Levite sent the sinning men on their way with God’s blessing.
3. (7-10) The Danites choose a city for expansion: Laish.
So the five men departed and went to Laish. They saw the people who were there, how they dwelt safely, in the manner of the Sidonians, quiet and secure. There were no rulers in the land who might put them to shame for anything. They were far from the Sidonians, and they had no ties with anyone. Then the spies came back to their brethren at Zorah and Eshtaol, and their brethren said to them, “What is your report?” So they said, “Arise, let us go up against them. For we have seen the land, and indeed it is very good. Would you do nothing? Do not hesitate to go, and enter to possess the land. When you go, you will come to a secure people and a large land. For God has given it into your hands, a place where there is no lack of anything that is on the earth.”
a. They dwelt safely, in the manner of the Sidonians: The Danites found a city nearby that was not occupied by Israelites, but by a colony of the Sidonians. This was a group that God told Israel to drive out of the land of Canaan (Joshua 13:4).
i. In his sermon titled The Danger of Carnal Security, Charles Spurgeon used the description of the Sidonians in Judges 18:7, 27-28 as a description of the false security of the carnal believer. They are, like the Sidonians:
· Free from all internal struggles or conflicts.
· Free from rulers such as the governor of conscience.
· Free from ties and concerns to other people.
· Free from the fear of invasion.
b. For we have seen the land, and indeed it is very good: Seeing that the land was good, and the city was not heavily defended, the Danites believed this would be a good city to conquer and take as their own territory.
4. (11-13) They assemble an army of 600 to take possession of Laish.
And six hundred men of the family of the Danites went from there, from Zorah and Eshtaol, armed with weapons of war. Then they went up and encamped in Kirjath Jearim in Judah. (Therefore they call that place Mahaneh Dan to this day. There it is, west of Kirjath Jearim.) And they passed from there to the mountains of Ephraim, and came to the house of Micah.
a. Six hundred men… armed with weapons of war: Curiously, they assembled an army of 600 men to fight for the city of Laish in the land of the tribe of Ephraim; yet they could not fight for the land of their own tribal allotment. For some reason (to them and often to us) a distant battle seemed easier than a close battle.
B. The tribe of Dan adopts Micah’s idolatry.
1. (14-18a) On their way to Laish, the army of 600 men take Micah’s shrine for themselves.
Then the five men who had gone to spy out the country of Laish answered and said to their brethren, “Do you know that there are in these houses an ephod, household idols, a carved image, and a molded image? Now therefore, consider what you should do.” So they turned aside there, and came to the house of the young Levite man; to the house of Micah; and greeted him. The six hundred men armed with their weapons of war, who were of the children of Dan, stood by the entrance of the gate. Then the five men who had gone to spy out the land went up. Entering there, they took the carved image, the ephod, the household idols, and the molded image. The priest stood at the entrance of the gate with the six hundred men who were armed with weapons of war. When these went into Micah’s house and took the carved image, the ephod, the household idols, and the molded image,
a. Entering there, they took the carved image, the ephod, the household idols, and the molded image: This was a strange combination of low morality and strong religious feeling. It was as if someone really wanted to study the Bible – therefore they stole several Bibles.
i. There are many examples in history of people satisfying a religious impulse in a completely immoral way. In Europe in the 14th century unemployed soldiers often became small armies of bandits and robbed and burned and killed and raped towns and villages all over Europe. These brutal criminals often negotiated with a town before attacking it. If the town agreed to give the brutes a large amount of money, the army left the city alone. If the town refused to give the money or could not give the money, they attacked. These were done with formal negotiations and contracts. The have discovered that when these horrible men came to a monastery, they insisted on money as well – but they also demanded that the priests of the monastery give them a written document saying that all their sins were forgiven.
b. Took the carved image, the ephod, the household idols, and the molded image: They used violence and theft to supposedly advance a religious cause, and the priest allowed them by standing aside as they did so.
i. During the Los Angeles riots in the 1990’s, a reporter came across three looters leaving a store. He asked them what they took, and the first two told him off with profanity. But the third man said, “I got some gospel music. I love Jesus!”
2. (18b-21) The Levite goes with the army from the tribe of Dan.
The priest said to them, “What are you doing?” And they said to him, “Be quiet, put your hand over your mouth, and come with us; be a father and a priest to us. Is it better for you to be a priest to the household of one man, or that you be a priest to a tribe and a family in Israel?” So the priest’s heart was glad; and he took the ephod, the household idols, and the carved image, and took his place among the people. Then they turned and departed, and put the little ones, the livestock, and the goods in front of them.
a. Put your hand over your mouth: This was a threat. They commanded the Levite to stop objecting or be attacked.
b. So the priest’s heart was glad: His heart was glad because he was filled with mercenary ambition. The Levite did not care about Micah, only for the pay and status that he might get by being the priest for a whole tribe instead of a mere family.
3. (22-24) Micah’s foolish idolatry comes to nothing.
When they were a good way from the house of Micah, the men who were in the houses near Micah’s house gathered together and overtook the children of Dan. And they called out to the children of Dan. So they turned around and said to Micah, “What ails you, that you have gathered such a company?” So he said, “You have taken away my gods which I made, and the priest, and you have gone away. Now what more do I have? How can you say to me, ‘What ails you?’”
a. You have taken away my gods which I made: This is powerful irony. Micah had to rescue his own gods. Obviously, his gods should be able to care for themselves. We wonder if Micah saw the foolishness of this.
i. We each either worship a god of our own making or we worship the true God who made us. But the gods we make are always less than we are. Idol worship is just another way of worshipping self.
ii. And the priest: Micah was foolish enough to have a priest who could be taken away, and it reminds us of how wonderful it is to have a High Priest who cannot change, and who can never be taken away from us. As F.B. Meyer wrote, “Whatever can be taken from us has the mark and signature of man upon it.” Yet Jesus Christ, our High Priest, can never change; will never leave us out of a concern for someone else; and our sins and failures cannot rob us of Him.
b. Now what more do I have: This shows how empty Micah’s idolatry was. His false gods didn’t bring him any lasting good.
4. (25-26) The army of the tribe of Dan refuses to give Micah his god back, so Micah goes home empty handed.
And the children of Dan said to him, “Do not let your voice be heard among us, lest angry men fall upon you, and you lose your life, with the lives of your household!” Then the children of Dan went their way. And when Micah saw that they were too strong for him, he turned and went back to his house.
a. Lest angry men fall upon you, and you lose your life: This event and these words illustrate the general lawlessness in Israel during this long period of the Judges. The children of Dan stole Micah’s idol simply under the principle of “might makes right.”
b. When Micah saw that they were too strong for him: They were too strong for both Micah and his gods. One should never have a god that needs protection.
5. (27-29) The army from the tribe of Dan conquers the city of Laish and rename it Dan.
So they took the things Micah had made, and the priest who had belonged to him, and went to Laish, to a people quiet and secure; and they struck them with the edge of the sword and burned the city with fire. There was no deliverer, because it was far from Sidon, and they had no ties with anyone. It was in the valley that belongs to Beth Rehob. So they rebuilt the city and dwelt there. And they called the name of the city Dan, after the name of Dan their father, who was born to Israel. However, the name of the city formerly was Laish.
a. To Laish, to a people quiet and secure… There was no deliverer: This is written in a way meant to make us at least a little sympathetic for the people of Laish. The people of Israel were instructed to take the land from the Canaanites, but this seemed like an unprincipled attack from wicked men of the tribe of Dan.
b. And they called the name of the city Dan: The city of Dan will become the most prominent northern city in Israel. The phrase “from Dan to Beersheba” (Judges 20:1, 1 Samuel 3:20) will become an expression meaning, “from the north to the south of Israel” indicating all of Israel.
6. (30-31) The tribe of Dan officially adopts the idolatry that began with Micah.
Then the children of Dan set up for themselves the carved image; and Jonathan the son of Gershom, the son of Manasseh, and his sons were priests to the tribe of Dan until the day of the captivity of the land. So they set up for themselves Micah’s carved image which he made, all the time that the house of God was in Shiloh.
a. The children of Dan set up for themselves the carved image: This was the beginning of established idolatry in Israel in the Promised Land. There was individual idolatry in Israel long before this, but this is official idolatry.
i. Through a strange chain of events, this began with a son stealing 1,100 shekels from his mother (Judges 17:1-2). It ended with an entire tribe of Israel led into established idolatry.
b. So they set up for themselves Micah’s carved image: We can suppose that Micah had no idea how far-reaching the effects of his sin would become. His personal idolatry became the idolatry of an entire tribe, setting up a rival center of worship to the house of God… in Shiloh.
i. “Whether intentionally on the part of the writer or no, there is a touch of satire in this declaration. There, at Shiloh, was the true centre of the national life, the house of God… Nevertheless, at Dan they gathered about the false, and rendered a worship which was destructive.” (Morgan)
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission