Judges 18 – “The Danites Do As They Please”

Hebrew-English Text
I. Summary
The Danites, who cannot find a place to live, migrate northward. They abduct Micah’s priest and seize his religious objects. They also massacre the people of Laish and set up a new religious center for themselves.

II. Photo
The people of Dan do as they please: “The six hundred Danite men, girt with their weapons of war, stood at the entrance of the gate, while the five men who had gone to spy out the land went inside and took the sculptured image, the ephod, the teraphim, and the molten image.” (vv. 16-17a)

III. Important Verses
1: In those days there was no king in Israel, and in those days the tribe of Dan was seeking a territory in which to settle; for to that day no territory had fallen to their lot among the tribes of Israel.
2-4: The Danites sent out five of their number, from their clan seat at Zorah and Eshtaol — valiant men — to spy out the land and explore it. “Go,” they told them, “and explore the land.” When they had advanced into the hill country of Ephraim as far as the house of Micah, they stopped there for the night. While in the vicinity of Micah’s house, they recognized the speech of the young Levite, so they went over and asked him, “Who brought you to these parts? What are you doing in this place? What is your business here?” He replied, “Thus and thus Micah did for me — he hired me and I became his priest.”
7: The five men went on and came to Laish. They observed the people in it dwelling carefree, after the manner of the Sidonians, a tranquil and unsuspecting people, with no one in the land to molest them and with no hereditary ruler. Moreover, they were distant from the Sidonians and had no dealings with anybody.
11: They departed from there, from the clan seat of the Danites, from Zorah and Eshtaol, six hundred strong, girt with weapons of war.
16-17: The six hundred Danite men, girt with their weapons of war, stood at the entrance of the gate, while the five men who had gone to spy out the land went inside and took the sculptured image, the ephod, the teraphim, and the molten image. The priest was standing at the entrance of the gate, and the six hundred men girt with their weapons of war
22-27a: They had already gone some distance from Micah’s house, when the men in the houses near Micah’s mustered and caught up with the Danites. They called out to the Danites, who turned around and said to Micah, “What’s the matter? Why have you mustered?” He said, “You have taken my priest and the gods that I made, and walked off! What do I have left? How can you ask, ‘What’s the matter’?” But the Danites replied, “Don’t do any shouting at us, or some desperate men might attack you, and you and your family would lose your lives.” So Micah, realizing that they were stronger than he, turned back and went home; and the Danites went on their way, taking the things Micah had made and the priest he had acquired.

IV. Outline
1-2. The Danites send spies
3-6. The spies meet Micah’s priest
7. The spies are intrigued by Laish
8-12. The tribe decides to move
13-27a. The Danites seize Micah’s priest and cultic objects
27b-29. The Danites conquer Laish
30-31. The Danite religious centers

V. Comment
Chapter 18 tells the story of the Danite’s violent migration. The fully armed tribe robs Micah’s religious center and massacres the people of Laish. Collins writes: “According to Josh 19:40-48, the original territory of the Danites included the city of Ekron, which is known to have become part of the Philistine confederacy, and stretched northward to Joppa. But ‘when the territory of the Danites was lost to them, the Danites went up and fought against Leshem,’ which they captured and renamed Dan. Samson was a Danite, and he is located in proximity to the Philistines. According to Jud 1:34, the Amorites repelled the Danite and would not let them come down into the plain. In Judges 18 the Danites are still seeking a territory to live in. This time the place they find is called Laish, at the northern extremity of Israel. Laish and Leshem are presumably tvariant names for the same place.” (213)

It is interesting to note that the city of Dan was the location of one of King Jeroboam’s two temples: “Jeroboam said to himself, ‘Now the kingdom may well return to the House of David. If these people still go up to offer sacrifices at the House of the LORD in Jerusalem, the heart of these people will turn back to their master, King Rehoboam of Judah; they will kill me and go back to King Rehoboam of Judah.’ So the king took counsel and made two golden calves. He said to the people, ‘You have been going up to Jerusalem long enough. This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!’ He set up one in Bethel and placed the other in Dan.” (1 Kgs 12:26-29) Because of this fact, Collins writes: “Even though the mission of the Danites is portrayed in terms that recall the initial conquest by Joshua (especially in the matter of spying out the land), we are told twice that the people of Laish were ‘quiet and unsuspecting.’ The naked aggression of the Danites is not disguised. Moreover, the cult of [the Lord] that is established at Dan is of questionable origin. It involves idols that were stolen from the house of Micah in Ephraim, and a Levite who is portrayed as a rather mercenary character. The use of household idols seems to have been a normal part of early Israelite religion, but it was counter to [Torah] law. Nonetheless, the story is told without much editorial comment. Readers are free to see for themselves how things were in Israel when there was no king.” (213)

VI. Works Used
(see “Commentaries” page)
Trent C. Butler, “Judges” (Word Biblical Commentary vol. 8; Nashville: Nelson, 2009).
Collins, John J. “Introduction to the Hebrew Bible,” Word Biblical Commentary vol. 15 (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004).
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