Notes on Judges 18, verses 1-7
by Jonathan Spurlock
(Holts Summit, MO)
Judges 18:1, KJV: In 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) inheritance had not fallen unto them among the tribes of Israel.
The tribe of Dan had received their original inheritance during Joshua’s time. They were given the land around Zorah, Eshtaol, even Ekron and other places (Joshua 19:40-46). They later attacked Leshem, the same as Laish in this chapter, conquered it, and some, at least of the Danites moved to the northernmost regions of Israel. A one-verse summary of this chapter, Judges 18, is found in Joshua 19:47.
2 And the children of Dan sent of their family five men from their coasts, 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 they came to mount Ephraim, to the house of Micah, they lodged there.
Zorah was the area where Samson’s father, Manoah, had lived (Judges 13:2.) Later, Samson was buried between Zorah and Eshtaol, ironically the same places where Samson had been moved by the Spirit of the LORD before he began to “judge” Israel (compare Judges 13:25 with 16:31).
The Danites seem to have followed, partly, the lead of Ephraim and Manasseh, who complained to Joshua that they didn’t have enough land for their people. Joshua instructed them what to do and apparently they took part of his advice, namely clearing out the forest, but there is no record that either tribe did anything to the Canaanites except put them under tribute or forced labor (compare Joshua 17:14-18 with Judges 1:27-29).
The people of Dan, in contrast, sent five scouts to search the land. This seems odd since the land of Israel had already been “searched” twice before; once, when the Twelve Spies searched out the land in Moses’ time (Numbers 13) and later during Joshua’s time, when seven of the tribes had not yet received their inheritance (Joshua 18). Of note is that there is no mention of seeking the LORD or His guidance in this matter.
Ephraim’s territory bordered Dan’s on the west and northwest. It is not specified why the men of Dan chose that direction. Micah’s house must have had some kind of draw, recognition, influence or other attraction because the five scouts from Dan found it, They lodged there, perhaps for the night, but the text does not say how long they stayed there.
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?
How these men of
Dan recognized the Levite’s voice is unclear. This Levite had originally lived in Bethlehem-Judah (Judges 17:7), which is a good distance from Ephraim’s territory. Had he wandered through the land of Dan before this time?
Once they found him, they began asking him questions: who brought you here, what are you making here (there was no tabernacle nearby, apparently) and what do you have here?4 And he said unto them, Thus and thus dealeth Micah with me, and hath hired me, and I am his priest.
The text does not record the Levite’s direct answers to the questions he was asked. He must have raised their eyebrows when he declared he was Micah’s priest: first, priests were only to be direct descendants of Aaron (Exod. 29:9); second, as a Levite, he should have been ministering at the tabernacle in some capacity (Numbers 1:50): Levites were either descended from Levi himself through one of his three sons, Gershom, Kohath, and Merari (Numbers 3:17) and each of these families had various duties (Numbers 3 explains which family did what for the tabernacle). 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.
Regardless of the fact that the Levite was not doing the right things in the right place, the men of Dan still asked him to see if God would prosper their mission, to search out the land. Why they didn’t ask of God themselves, before they even started on their journey, is an unanswered question.6 And the priest said unto them, Go in peace: before the LORD (is) your way wherein ye go.
The priest gave them a word of confidence but there is no record that he ever actually prayed. He may have indeed asked of the True God; or, he could have made inquiry of one of Micah’s idols; or, he may have just “gone through the motions”, pretending to ask of God but never really doing anything.7 Then the five men departed, and came to Laish, and saw the people that (were) therein, how they dwelt careless, after the manner of the Zidonians, quiet and secure; and (there was) no magistrate in the land, that might put (them) to shame in (any) thing; and they (were) far from the Zidonians, and had no business with (any) man.
The people of Laish (“Leshem” in Joshua 19:47) were apparently living a basically carefree lifestyle. “Careless” here may mean “carefree”. Note that the writer mentions there was no magistrate, which may indicate a ruler of any kind. Could this have been a true democracy or theocracy—no human governor or leader, except priests (not mentioned here), to “put them to shame in (any)thing”?
Scripture quotations taken from the King James Version of the Bible (KJV).