Bible Commentaries

The People's Bible by Joseph Parker

Judges 18

Verses 1-31

Judges 18 (Annotated)

Judges 18

1. In those days there was no king in Israel: and in those days the tribe [may mean a tribe, or the division of a tribe] of the Danites sought them an inheritance to dwell in; for unto that day all their inheritance [a description of their inheritance is given in Joshua 19:40-46] had not fallen unto them among the tribes of Israel.

2. And the Children of Dan sent of their family five men from their coast [their lords], men of valour [sons of force], from Zorah, and from Eshtaol, to spy out the land, and to search it; and they said unto them, Go, search the land: and when they came to mount Ephraim, to the house of Micah, they lodged there [Pythias was rich enough to entertain the whole army of Xerxes, a million men, yet he died a beggar].

3. When they were by the house of Micah, they knew the voice [perhaps by its dialect He had lived in Bethlehem] of the young man the Levite: and they turned in thither [into the room where he was officiating], and said unto him, Who brought thee hither? and what makest thou in this place? and what hast thou here?

4. And he said unto them, Thus and thus [according to this and according to that] dealeth Micah with me, and hath hired me, and I am his priest [because of the dearth of priests, Jeroboam made priests of the lowest of the people].

5. And they said unto him [having seen glittering ephods], Ask counsel, we pray thee, of God [for censure upon such inquiry, see Isaiah 30:4; Hosea 4:12], that we may know whether our way which we go shall be prosperous.

6. And the priest said unto them, Go in peace: before the Lord is your way wherein you go [carefully ambiguous].

7. Then the five men departed, and came to Laish [the mound of the judge], and saw the people that were therein, how they dwelt careless, after the manner of the Zidonians [they were supposed to be a colony from Zidon], 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 [some read—they had no business with Syria].

8. And they came unto their brethren to Zorah and Eshtaol: and their brethren said unto them, What say ye?

9. And they said, Arise, that we may go up against them: for we have seen the land, and, behold, it is very good [ Numbers 14:7; Joshua 2:23-24]: and are ye still? be not slothful to go, and to enter to possess the land.

10. When ye go, ye shall come unto a people secure, and to a large land [wide on both hands]: for God hath given it into your hands; a place where there is no want of any thing that is in the earth.

11. And there went from thence of the family of the Danites, out of Zorah and out of Eshtaol, six hundred men appointed [girded] with weapons of war.

12. And they went up, and pitched in Kirjath-jearim [city of forests: nine miles from Jerusalem] in Judah: wherefore they called that place Mahaneh-dan [camp of Dan] unto this day: behold, it is behind [to the west of] Kirjath-jearim.

13. And they passed thence unto mount Ephraim, and came into the house of Micah [or precincts of the god-house].

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 [whether, and how, you would possess yourself of them].

15. And they turned thitherward, and came to the house of the young man [Jonathan] the Levite, even unto the house of Micah, and saluted him ["won with an apple, lost with a nut"].

16. And the six hundred men appointed with their weapons of war, which were of the children of Daniel, 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 [having been inveigled thither to talk to the six hundred men] with the six hundred men that were appointed with weapons of war.

18. And these went into Micah"s house, and fetched the carved image, the ephod, and the teraphim, and the molten image [not to destroy but to worship]. Then said the priest unto them, What do ye?

19. And they said unto him, Hold thy peace, lay thine hand upon thy mouth [finger on the lip, is the altitude of the Egyptian god of silence], 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 Prayer of Manasseh, or that thou be a priest unto a tribe and a family in Israel [the papists offered Luther the cardinalate to be quiet]?

20. And the priest"s heart was glad [and this was a grandson of Moses], and he took the ephod, and the teraphim, and the graven image, and went in the midst of the people [where he was well guarded].

21. So they turned and departed, and put the little ones [so it was a regular migration] and the cattle and the carriage [the baggage] before them [expecting to be pursued].

22. And when they were a good way from the house of Micah, the men that were in the houses near to Micah"s house were gathered together, and overtook the children of Dan.

23. And they cried unto the children of Dan. And they turned their faces, and said unto Micah, What aileth thee, that thou comest with such a company [the grim humour of a tribe like a serpent on the way, an adder in the path, Genesis 49:17]?

24. And he said, Ye have taken away my gods [remember Laban, Genesis 30:31] 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?

25. And the children of Dan said unto him, Let not thy voice be heard among us, lest angry fellows [men bitter of soul] run upon thee, and thou lose thy life, with the lives of thy household.

26. And the children of Dan went their way: and when Micah saw that they were too strong for him, he turned and went back unto his house.

27. And they took the things which Micah had made, and the priest which he had, and came unto Laish, unto a people that were at quiet and secure: and they smote them with the edge of the sword, and burnt the city with fire [" Dan was no gainer. His name disappears from the records of 1 Chronicles 4:1, and he is not mentioned among the elected tribes in Rev. vii."].

28. And there was no deliverer, because it was far from Zidon, and they had no business with any man; and it was in the valley that lieth by Beth-rehob [at the foot of the lowest range of Lebanon]. And they built a city, and dwelt therein.

29. And they called the name of the city Daniel, after the name of Dan their father, who was born unto Israel; howbeit the name of the city was Laish at the first.

30. And the children of Dan set up the graven image [some say it was in the form of a calf]; and Jonathan [the name has been withheld until this moment], the son of Gershom, the son of Prayer of Manasseh, he and his sons were priests to the tribe of Dan until the day of the captivity of the land [probably the Philistine captivity].

31. And they set them up Micah"s graven image, which he made, all the time that the house of God was in Shiloh.

Micah"s Sorrow

WE now reach a very disturbed state of the history of Israel. All is anarchy. We have thus an opportunity of seeing what men will do when they are left to themselves without government, discipline, sense of social or natural responsibility. We shall see what the bridge is when the keystone has dropped out of it. We are told again and again in these latter chapters that "there was no king in Israel," so "every man did that which was right in his own eyes." What is the meaning of this? The meaning goes further back than the mere letter; there was no king in Israel, because in Israel there was no God. The Lord is King. You cannot have a king if you have not a God. There was no nominal renunciation of God, no public and blatant atheism, no boastful impiety; there was a deadlier heresy—namely, keeping God as a sign but paying no tribute to him as a King, worshipping him possibly in outward form but knowing nothing of the subduing and directing power of godliness. That is more to be dreaded than any intellectual difficulty of a theological kind. Intellectual heresies can do but little to impede the progress of the kingdom of truth; but dead consciences, prayerless prayers, mechanical formalities—these are the impediments which overturn for a time the chariot of Progress. This was the case in Israel. Where God is the king is. Not in any limited and measurable sense, as a man with a crown on, constituted of so much gold and so many precious stones; but a king in the sense of kingliness, sovereignty, authority, rule—the spirit of obligation and responsibility. You may have a king under any form of government. Republicanism itself is monarchical. You find the monarch everywhere—the right monarch where you find the right God. Herein is the utility of spreading far and wide right conceptions of the divine Being, as Sovereign, Father, Shepherd, Judge; let such conceptions be received into the mind; let them constitute part of the very substance of life, and you need not exhort men to keep correct weights and measures, and to pay the wages of the hireling; where the sovereign idea is right, and the supreme and dominating conviction is pure and noble, every finger of the hands serves the living God, and the whole breath is a continual sacrifice upon the altar of Righteousness. Song of Solomon, without going into narrow definitions of terms, we rest on the broad philosophy and reason that a right conception of God means a right conception of Man; a true, deep, complete love of God means an equal love of one"s neighbour; a true theology, properly understood, is the uppermost side of a true morality.

Every man was king in the anarchical days of Israel. What does anarchy do for society? Anarchy and society are irreconcilable terms. Where Self is king there can be no society; the ghastly image of it must be symbolical of injustice. The illustration and proof are found in this very chapter. Dan went out to see what could be had:—

"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" ( Judges 18:2).

In other words: Let us see what can be done. They followed the good old rule, the simple plan,—Let those take who have the power; Let those keep who can. This is the history of anarchy in a couplet: the strongest is the wisest, might is right, usurpation is justice. Things are turned upside down in their moral relations and applications when the great central thought is destroyed. Here a curious incident occurred. Daniel, searching out the land and seeing what could be done, "knew the voice of the young man the Levite" in the house of Micah; "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?"—( Judges 18:3). Such are the coincidences of life—the little points at which Song of Solomon -called providences are created by selfishness and injustice. Singular chances arise, and we construe these into visitations of Heaven, made directly on our behalf. The young man explained his circumstances; and the children of Dan said unto him: "Ask counsel, we pray thee, of God, that we may know whether our way which we go shall be prosperous" ( Judges 18:5). Here you have social injustice connected with the holiest names. It is sad to see how religion has been abused. It is mysterious, beyond all other mystery, to note how men, given up to injustice, usurpation, and plunder, must now and again be religious. Thieves go to church as well as honest men. Again and again it strikes the roughest mind and the most ill-treated conscience that another attempt at prayer may be an excellent investment. For irony, look to the history of the human conscience; read the history of the Christian Church. Men have thought they could build their way half up to heaven with stones taken by unjust hands out of the quarries of earth. Men "have stolen the livery of the court of heaven to serve the devil in." Men, who would not for a moment deny God in words, have denied and rejected him in action. We should analyse our prayers, and cross-examine ourselves at the altar, and keep a strict watch upon ourselves at the holy board,—even there the whole nature should undergo a species of vivisection, that out of its agony we may extort the truth.

The seventh verse presents a picture of the dangers of solitariness and self-security:—

"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."

These circumstances have a wide application. They must not be limited by geographical lines, for they apply to the history of civilisation and to the position of every man in human society. There is a solitariness which means weakness; there is a "care lessness" which amounts to a temptation to those who behold it. Is this not so with regard to mind? Are there not persons who have intellectually no commerce with the world?—they read no books, they hear no discourses, they listen not to the voice of education or of progress; they live retrospectively; they live upon themselves, and are in a sense suicides. This intellectual solitariness is often but another name for weakness. We should know all men, all nations, all languages; all civilisations should be familiar to us. Without such large commerce with the world we shall become little and less and less, day by day, falling swiftly backward to the vanishing point. We should travel more; otherwise we shall think that one country is the world, and be amused with a fool"s merriment when we hear of what is being done, in some distant kind of way, by nations which we are conceited enough to pronounce "foreign." There should be no "foreign" nations now. Modern civilisation should have rendered that an impossibility. Every language should be a man"s mother-tongue—in the ideal of it, in the innermost meaning of it; not that it is possible literally and mechanically, but perfectly possible sympathetically and philanthropically. It is sad to see people dwelling within their own little sect, wondering how other persons can have the "audacity" to differ from them—forgetting that they themselves have the "audacity" to differ from other people. Why this fear of man? We should be familiar with the history of barbarism, so far as it may be said to have a history; or we should construct a history out of what we know concerning it, and out of the history extract a philosophy. This is the way to rebuke our own mind, to humble our own ambition, and to have our asperities struck off or smoothed down, by a large and continuous friction. So it should be in Christian culture. All Christian communions should intermingle. They would do one another good. They can never be constituted into one mechanical society, because of temperament, but they can realise a common brotherhood, because they may be stronger at the point of agreement than they are at the point of difference. What havoc the enemy makes upon solitary Christians! Sympathy is strength. Little trust is little support. No one Church can be the whole Church of the living God. But who does not like to live "quietly," and "carelessly"—that Isaiah, without care, not indifference—at home, sitting, as we say, under his own vine and fig-tree? If there is a pitiable sight on the whole earth today, it is to see a man sitting under his own vine and fig-tree, when the rest of the world is in poverty, weakness, or necessity. Times there will be, sabbatic and sacred, when there will be sense of home, sense of security, sense of the blessedness of having a vine and fig-tree; but that should never be the dominating feeling in the Christian breast; the dominating feeling should rather be one of large-heartedness, spreading a table for every Prayer of Manasseh, asking a blessing in every language, and preaching a gospel to every creature. This was Christ"s life; this was Christ"s philosophy; this was Christ"s practice. Let us be followers together of Christ, of God, "as dear children."

The history having advanced so far, and the men of Dan having reported that they had found in certain houses "an ephod, and teraphim, and a graven image, and a molten image," a singular transaction took place:—

"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" ( Judges 18:17).

This was a capture of shrines and images. Rather than not have a god they thought it better to steal one; and having stolen the gods, of course they stole the priest. They put a case to him, saying: "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 Prayer of Manasseh, or that thou be a priest unto a tribe and a family in Israel?"—( Judges 18:19). It was an appeal to ambition. That was offering the man a "larger sphere of usefulness." We have seen what his salary was in the house of Micah—namely, twenty-five shillings a year, a suit of clothes, and his victuals. Now comes a "call of Providence." Woe be unto us when we receive intimations of Providence through the lips of thieves! Distrust the devil even when he preaches a good doctrine; repel him even when he quotes Scripture by chapter and verse. What was the answer of the grandson of Moses? "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"—( Judges 18:20). To trust a thievish priest one would say would be impossible. But such contradictions are repeated in human history. The children of Dan knew that all had been stolen, including the priest himself, and yet they had some kind of grim trust in all this wild arrangement. Truly, there was no king in Israel; truly, there was no God in Israel! We should simplify our relations to great central truths. We have managed, by some process not to be explained in words, to turn religion into a great complication, so that, not understanding it, we often pervert it. To what humiliation may the human intellect and conscience be reduced! To think that stolen images could do any good! On the other hand, to suppose that the gods stolen should consent to be the protecting divinities of thieves! Yet this is the danger of every day"s religious experience—namely, the danger of a perverted conscience, an unbalanced judgment, a blurred confusion as to moral relations and obligations, so that having brought ourselves into intellectual and spiritual tumult, we justify our bad conduct by our bad metaphysics! Men may steal a god, but they cannot steal a character. They may take away a whole house of gods—as Micah"s building was called—and yet have no living temple, no inner sanctuary, in which to worship and to love.

Micah"s part in the matter is singularly illustrative of much that is taking place today. Micah having discovered the theft,

"overtook the children of Dan. And they cried unto the children of Dan. And they turned their faces, and said unto Micah, What aileth thee, that thou comest with such a company? 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?" ( Judges 18:22-24).

The process of deprivation went on quickly. Having stolen a god, the thieves next stole a city; having corrupted a priest, they debased a memory; and they called the name of the stolen city Daniel, "after the name of Dan their father." So swiftly may men run on the smooth road to hell! Once get the hand well into wickedness, and the rest comes by daily custom and practice. We sanctify our bad deeds by attaching to some of them the names of illustrious ancestors. How deceitful is the heart and desperately wicked! What a mixture is life! what lines of various hue are shot through and through this fabric of being! Here are men stealing gods, and asking counsel of Heaven; stealing a priest and all the shrines they could lay hold of, and then justifying themselves thereby in taking a city; seizing a city occupied by inoffensive people, burning it, building another upon its ashes, and calling it by the name of a dead man. Who can analyse human life? Who can really take to pieces the mystery of human action? The whole history is not bad; certainly the whole history is not good. This, indeed, is the summary of life. Where is there a man—speaking only now of the individual—who is all bad? Surely there is not one; surely the drunkard sometimes pauses in his madness to think some good thought of the days of long ago when he tried to pray; surely even the thief does not take everything, and partly excuses himself for having taken something by saying that he has left something untaken; surely the liar sometimes strikes some note of truth; surely the unjust man has a sudden impulse upon him which leads him to do not only justly but generously. And where is the man who is all good, without stain or taint or flaw or drawback? Where? Song of Solomon, on the one hand, we have some reason for hope; on the other, much reason for humility and continual self-examination. But the time of judgment is not yet. God will judge us all, and he will find out the supreme motive of life, and by that he will determine everything. This is a gospel, and yet it is a judgment terrible to hear. Blessed be God, we stand in this conviction—namely, "God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth." God dwelleth in the humble heart and contrite spirit. God cannot be stolen, though his image and symbol may. Blessed are they who have passed beyond the letter into the meaning of the spirit of things, knowing somewhat of God"s own heart and entering sympathetically into God"s own purpose; then though the literal Bible be burned, revelation remains untouched; though the church built with hands—"the sacrifice in stone"—is demolished, the temple indestructible is in the heart; though forms and ceremonies are unremembered things, the soul goes up in continual aspiration, seeking the living God and desiring only to be found in the living Christ.

Selected Note

The worship in Micah"s house, in its object and intention, was the worship of Jehovah. Both mother and son did what they did "to the Lord." Their "gods," as they are called—their "images," "teraphim"—were set up for the purpose of a service which was meant to honour" the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob."... They were significant emblems, something having a sacred meaning, which embodied religious ideas, and were to be used as a help in approaching God. They were visible types of spiritual things; material representations of what was unseen; vehicles, so to speak, by which the mind could be aided in rising upwards towards heaven, and through which divine virtue could flow down to man upon earth. It was the same with Aaron"s golden calf and the calves set up by Jeroboam. In each case the professed object of the service was Jehovah. The visible things were not to be worshipped; God was to be worshipped through them. "But the thing that was done displeased the Lord." All such unauthorised attempts to aid devotion through "the likeness of anything in the heaven above or in the earth beneath" were rejected and stigmatised as sinful. Whenever employed, they "became a snare," and "caused Israel to sin."

Micah was, in his way, very religious. He was not pre-eminently honest; he had but a slight sense of relative duty, and cannot be supposed to have known much of personal moral culture. It is possible, indeed, that he stole his mother"s property with the pious intention of making it into images for "the honour of God." His religion consisted in a blind and superstitious veneration for the outward and visible in divine worship, and in depending for spiritual grace (if ever he thought of that) on ceremony and ritual. Hence his anxiety to have "a father and a priest," that the priest should be consecrated, that he should minister in the proper sacerdotal robe, and especially that he should be of the sacred tribe, and belong to the legitimate Levitical succession. His highest expectations were founded on this; not on character, either in the Levite or himself; not on intelligence and capacity to edify and instruct; simply on the fact that "he had a Levite for his priest."

—Thomas Binney.

Verse 26

"Handfuls of Purpose"

For All Gleaners

"When Micah saw that they were too strong for him, he turned."Judges 18:26.

Different estimates of strength.—Men are tested by circumstances.—If the pursuers had been fewer, Micah would have summoned up courage and acted differently.—He gave way. as men are now doing, to the force of numbers.—"Follow not a multitude to do evil."—The lesson is repeated in the experience of many; as, for example, in the experience of the young man who explains his conduct by saying that all his companions are pressing in one direction, and that it would be folly for him to attempt to resist them.—It applies also to the custom or fashion of the day.—Men say, As well be out of the world as be out of the fashion. When they see that the customs of society are too strong for them, they themselves turn, sophistically and foolishly arguing that it is in vain for one man to suppose that he can turn back the tide of public opinion or the flood of universally-established custom.—All history proves that solitary men have often been stronger than multitudes.—The only counting which we should permit ourselves to adopt is a reckoning as to the presence of God with us in our enterprises; assured that he goes forth with us, we have nothing to do with any other arithmetic.—Though an host should encamp against us, God will be our confidence, and will bring in our judgment and triumph.—Always ask on which side is God, on which side is Jesus Christ, on which side is conscience: and, having ascertained that side, there need be no further enumeration of forces.—The good man always says, and in saying it redoubles his courage, They that be for me are more than those that be against me.

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Bibliographical Information
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Judges 18". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://beta.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jpb/judges-18.html. 1885-95.