In Chapter 17, we began the story of Micah the Ephraimite who had set up a house of gods and took in a wandering Levite to be his priest. Chapter 18 continues with the reminder that “In those days there was no king in Israel”.
The tribe of Dan had not yet had their inheritance allotted, which means this story probably occurred later in Joshua’s life.
47 And the coast of the children of Dan went out too little for them: therefore the children of Dan went up to fight against Leshem, and took it, and smote it with the edge of the sword, and possessed it, and dwelt therein, and called Leshem, Dan, after the name of Dan their father.
48 This is the inheritance of the tribe of the children of Dan according to their families, these cities with their villages.
EW Bullinger says that “Laish” in Judges 18 and “Lashem” in Joshua 19 are the same city.
So, Dan sends five men to scout out the land, when they stumble upon the house of Micah.
3 When they were by the house of Micah, they knew the voice of the young man the Levite: and they turned in thither, and said unto him, Who brought thee hither? and what makest thou in this place? and what hast thou here?
~ Jdg 18:3
“They knew the voice” doesn’t necessarily mean they knew the young man, but rather it is likely they recognized the accent and/or dialect.
3 While at Micah’s house, they recognized the young Levite’s accent, so they went over and asked him, “Who brought you here, and what are you doing in this place? Why are you here?”
~ ibid. (NLT)
The Levite recounts how Micah had hired him on as priest, and so they ask him to inquire of God whether or not they will prosper. Even early on, we see a general lack of discernment amongst Israel. Both the Levite and the Danites bandy around “God” and “the LORD”, but neither stop to consider the hypocrisy of using His name around a house of idols, nor do they consider the fact that this “priest” is not from the line of Aaron. Micah wasn’t the only one who viewed God in a superstitious manner.
The priest assures them they will prosper, and so they depart to Laish and find a city easy for the pickings. So, the reconnaissance team returns and gives their report. The Danites decide to go up and invade.
It should be noted that Dan had territory to the west of Ephraim, which is how they were travelling through it (see map at Bible-History.com). Laish, however, is far to the north. Considering that Ashdod and Ashkelon are along the sea, why didn’t they just drive out the Philistines in those cities if they didn’t have enough room? We see a failure to take over the land God had given them, and we now see them taking over land that might never have been intended for them.
Dan sends 600 men to take over Laish. They again pass by Micah’s house.
13 And they passed thence unto mount Ephraim, and came unto the house of Micah.
14 Then 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.
This is at least interesting wording. Some translations say “what you should do”. Do they know what they “should” or “must” or “have to” do? What is compelling them to do anything at all?
15 And they turned thitherward, and came to the house of the young man the Levite, even unto the house of Micah, and saluted him.
16 And the six hundred men appointed with their weapons of war, which were of the children of Dan, 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, 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 with weapons of war.
Apparently, they felt they “must” steal someone else’s possessions. Note that they are not fighting idolatry, but rather they themselves are partaking in it and adding violence to their actions to boot.
But that is not all they will take that day.
18 And these went into Micah’s house, and fetched the carved image, the ephod, and the teraphim, and the molten image. Then said the priest unto them, What do ye?
19 And 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 man, or that thou be a priest unto a tribe and a family in Israel?
20 And 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 the carriage before them.
OK, there is so much wrong here. For beginners, the “priest’s heart was glad”. He was getting an immediate and unexpected promotion! He had no remorse at all, nor did he apparently have any sense of obligation or loyalty to Micah. Not only that, but he helps the Danites steal from Micah.
The “carriage” was probably full of booty. It “and the cattle” and “the little ones” went before them. What cattle? What little ones? Well, it quickly becomes obvious that this isn’t an army but a gang of thugs and thieves.
Worse, where are the weak, the “little ones”, usually put? In front where they are likely to be attacked? No, they usually are behind where the least likely attack will take place. That is why God was so angry with the Amalekites. They attacked the weaker Israelites in the rear (Dt 25:17-19). Here, Dan is putting the cattle and weaker ones in front.
Like most thugs, they were cowards at heart.
Micah gathers whatever men are left and pursues Dan. The Danites more or less ask him, “What’s your problem?”
24 And 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 thee?
Just reading this, it comes across more like whining than a confrontation, and it certainly appears that it did not intimidate the Danites at all. They simply threaten him and his household with their lives, and then they turn and go away. Micah does not even follow.
The Danites come to Laish, kill them and burn it to the ground, even though there is no evidence they had an army or a means of defense. This is in violation of God’s commandment.
10 When thou comest nigh unto a city to fight against it, then proclaim peace unto it.
11 And it shall be, if it make thee answer of peace, and open unto thee, then it shall be, that all the people that is found therein shall be tributaries unto thee, and they shall serve thee.
12 And if it will make no peace with thee, but will make war against thee, then thou shalt besiege it:
13 And when the LORD thy God hath delivered it into thine hands, thou shalt smite every male thereof with the edge of the sword:
14 But the women, and the little ones, and the cattle, and all that is in the city, even all the spoil thereof, shalt thou take unto thyself; and thou shalt eat the spoil of thine enemies, which the LORD thy God hath given thee.
The land was unprotected, and they were far away from their central government. Dan overtook them anyhow and burned the city to the ground. They then renamed it Dan, as they had a tendency to do.
They then set up the idols to worship them. It says Jonathan the grandson of “Manasseh” and his sons were priests to the tribe of Dan, but this appears to be an alteration of the text. EW Bullinger wrote that Manasseh in this verse “is one of the four that have a suspended letter.” According to the Talmud, this was done to munge the name “Moses” so as to not add dishonor to his name. Therefore, Jonathan, who became an idolatrous priest to Dan, was the grandson of Moses!
This also dates the story as early on in Israel’s development as a nation.
This idolatry became a snare even up until they went into captivity.
Go on to Chapter 19 here.