The Danites’ Promised Land (Judges 17-18)Related Media
We have come to the third and concluding section of the Book of Judges. The first section of the book is a dual or two-part introduction (1:1—2:5; 2:6—3:41). The main section (3:5—16:31) deals with the life and times of some of the judges who ruled during this period of time. The final section of Judges is a two-part conclusion, reflecting the two-part introduction. Our text for this message (17:1—18:31) is the first part of the two-part conclusion. The second part is found in chapters 19-21.
There are some unique features that can and should be noted in chapters 17-21. These would include the following:
- No foreign oppressor is identified in the conclusion to the Book of Judges. Earlier in the book, we are told of the oppression of Mesopotamia (3:8ff.), of Moab (3:12ff.), of Jabin the Canaanite king and his commander, Sisera (4:2ff.), of the Midianites and Amalekites (6:2ff.), of the Philistines (10:7ff.), and others. No such foreign oppressor is named in the conclusion. The enemy here is within, not without.
- The Israelites are not accused of worshipping any foreign gods in this section of Judges, as had been the case earlier in the book (e.g., 10:6). In general, they are worshipping God in an improper (pagan) way. They employ idols or forbidden images, but they seem to believe that they are worshipping Yahweh when they employ them in worship. This is much like the Israelites worshipping Yahweh by means of the golden calf in Exodus 32.2
- No judges are named or described in this closing section of the book. That was subject matter of the main section of the book.
- The reader is repeatedly reminded that during this period, there was “no king in Israel,” and that “every man did what was right in his own eyes” (see 17:6; 18:1; 19:1, 21:25). This statement is found only in the conclusion of the Book of Judges and not earlier in the book (although it should be evident to the reader that this statement was true of the Israelites throughout the period of the judges).
- In our text (chapters 17 and 18), the author withholds certain crucial information until the very end of chapter 18 (verses 30-31).
- While there is more than ample opportunity for the author to specifically identify the sins which are committed in our text, he tends to minimize editorial comment, leaving a good part of the burden of interpretation on the reader.
If the author has avoided making editorial comments about what he describes, how is the reader to understand and interpret this text? The first thing the reader must do is pay careful attention to the author’s obvious comments, such as, “in those days there was no king in Israel. . . .” The second thing the reader should do is to be on the lookout for the author’s more subtle indicators of wrong doing.3 Third, the reader should keep in mind the history of the Israelites as recorded in the Pentateuch4 and Joshua. Fourth, the reader should draw heavily from the teaching of the Law as found in Exodus 20ff. and Deuteronomy 5ff. Specifically, the reader should give careful attention to Deuteronomy 12:1-19, 28 and Deuteronomy 27:15. The author of Judges expects his readers to be familiar with the Old Testament, and especially those books which precede Judges.
Have It Your Way, Micah
1 There was a man named Micah from the Ephraimite hill country. 2 He said to his mother, “You know the eleven hundred pieces of silver which were stolen from you, about which I heard you pronounce a curse? Look here, I have the silver. I stole it, but now I am giving it back to you.” His mother said, “May the Lord reward you, my son!” 3 When he gave back to his mother the eleven hundred pieces of silver, his mother said, “I solemnly dedicate this silver to the Lord. It will be for my son’s benefit. We will use it to make a carved image and a metal image.” 4 When he gave the silver back to his mother, she took two hundred pieces of silver to a silversmith, who made them into a carved image and a metal image. She then put them in Micah’s house. 5 Now this man Micah owned a shrine. He made an ephod and some personal idols and hired one of his sons to serve as a priest. 6 In those days Israel had no king. Each man did what he considered to be right.
7 There was a young man from Bethlehem in Judah. He was a Levite who had been temporarily residing among the tribe of Judah. 8 This man left the town of Bethlehem in Judah to find another place to live. He came to the Ephraimite hill country and made his way to Micah’s house. 9 Micah said to him, “Where do you come from?” He replied, “I am a Levite from Bethlehem in Judah. I am looking for a new place to live.” 10 Micah said to him, “Stay with me. Become my adviser and priest. I will give you ten pieces of silver per year, plus clothes and food.” 11 So the Levite agreed to stay with the man; the young man was like a son to Micah. 12 Micah paid the Levite; the young man became his priest and lived in Micah’s house. 13 Micah said, “Now I know God will make me rich, because I have this Levite as my priest” (Judges 17:1-13).5
We are introduced to a man named Micah from the hill country of Ephraim. Micah was not the model son, but then neither was his mother a “Proverbs 31 kind of woman.” Micah had stolen 1100 pieces of silver from her,6 and she had pronounced a curse on the thief in his hearing. (One has to wonder if she knew – or at least suspected – that it was her son who was the culprit.) It seems to have been the curse which prompted Micah to confess, and not his conscience. This does not appear to be a biblical curse, but something that came from “the dark side.” How different this mother’s curse was from the “curses” God had the Israelites repeat from Mount Ebal, the first of which went like this:
“‘Cursed is the one who makes a carved or metal image – something abhorrent to the Lord, the work of the craftsman – and sets it up in a secret place.’ Then all the people will say, ‘Amen!’” (Deuteronomy 27:15)
The important thing to Micah’s mother was that the curse seemed to work. Micah confessed, and his mother’s problem now was to somehow reverse the curse. She attempts to do so by pronouncing a blessing upon her son, a blessing invoked in the name of Yahweh. When Micah returned the stolen silver, his mother dedicated a portion of it (200 pieces of the silver) to the Lord (Yahweh) so that with it her son could make two idols. Ironically, the two terms she employs to refer to these idols are the same terms contained in the curse of Deuteronomy 27:15, referring to idols that the Israelites must never make. So far, neither Micah nor his mother is looking godly.
Micah’s mother takes the 200 pieces of silver to a silversmith to fashion two forbidden images. When these images were completed, they were placed in the house of Micah. We should not think that these are the first and only idols Micah owned. From verse 5, we learn that Micah had a “house of gods,” which included an ephod and “household gods.” We have already read of Gideon’s idolatrous ephod in Judges 8:27. The “household gods” would be similar to those Rachel stole from Laban’s house.7 These were the sort of personalized idols that were kept in many heathen homes.
So Micah is already an idolater, and also a thief, but thanks to his “confession” and his mother’s blessing, he now has an even more complete collection of gods. With such a collection, Micah will need a priest, and so he dedicates one of his sons to carry out this family function. Here is a truly dysfunctional family. And so our author makes a statement for the first time in Judges that we will see several times in his conclusion to this book:
In those days Israel had no king. Each man did what he considered to be right (Judges 17:6).
It should not take the reader long to discern the meaning of these words. In Deuteronomy 12, God clearly explains the meaning of these words by contrasting them with another statement:
“You are not to do as we are doing here today; everyone is doing whatever seems right in his own eyes” (Deuteronomy 12:8, CSB; emphasis mine).
“Be careful to obey all these things I command you, so that you and your children after you may prosper forever, because you will be doing what is good and right in the sight of the LORD your God” (Deuteronomy 12:28, CSB; emphasis mine).
Doing “what is right in your own eyes” is living according to your own personal standards. Doing what “is right in the sight of the LORD your God” is doing what God has declared to be right in His Word. Clearly, Micah and his mother were not living according to God’s commandments; they were living in accordance with their own corrupt value system. This does not bode well.
Micah now has his own “homemade religion.” He has a shrine containing various pieces of forbidden religious hardware and a son who is set apart to serve as his priest. But there is something less than authentic in having one’s son be the family priest. After all, he is not a Levite.
How fortunate, how providential (to use a more pious sounding term), it must have seemed to Micah when a young, unemployed, Levite happened his way. This young Levite had come from Bethlehem in Judah where he had sojourned for some time. Remember that the Levites did not have an allotted inheritance as did the other tribes. They were to live off of the tithes and support of their fellow Israelites. There were a few cities in Israel that were set apart for the Levites, as well as some surrounding farmland.8 Given the spiritual state of the nation, it is almost certain that this command was being ignored:
Be careful not to overlook the Levites as long as you live in the land (Deuteronomy 12:19).
The Levites suffered from unemployment, and thus they traveled about the nation seeking a roof over their heads and food on their table. The young Levite in our text had not found “a place” in Bethlehem and had made his way to the hill country of Ephraim, where he encountered Micah’s “bed and breakfast.”9 Micah asked the Levite where he had come from and, by inference, what his business was in passing by his house. The young man may not be handing Micah his resume, but he does tell him that he is a Levite and that he is looking for a job and a place to stay. In effect, he tells Micah that he is open to any kind of employment he can find.
This resonates with Micah. Just think of it; he could hire this young man and have a genuine Levite as his priest, rather than one of his sons. This would greatly enhance his religious status. Micah offers him a good salary, a car allowance, excellent health insurance, and a retirement program. Okay, so I’ve paraphrased a bit, but hopefully I’ve made the author’s point more pointed (so far as our day and times are concerned). The young Levite was willing to prostitute his calling to be a private priest for Micah the idolater, with the tools of his trade being those forbidden idols housed in his sacred shrine. Over time, a close bond developed between these two so that the Levite was treated like a son. Things could hardly be better for Micah and for his new priest – or so it seemed. Micah was sure that things were going to be even better for him, because now he had a Levite as his personal priest. Things were about to change, however, and not for the better, so far as Micah assessed success.
The Danites’ Promised Land
1 In those days Israel had no king. And in those days the Danite tribe was looking for a place to settle, because at that time they did not yet have a place to call their own among the tribes of Israel. 2 The Danites sent out from their whole tribe five representatives, capable men from Zorah and Eshtaol, to spy out the land and explore it. They said to them, “Go, explore the land.” They came to the Ephraimite hill country and spent the night at Micah’s house. 3 As they approached Micah’s house, they recognized the accent of the young Levite. So they stopped there and said to him, “Who brought you here? What are you doing in this place? What is your business here?” 4 He told them what Micah had done for him, saying, “He hired me and I became his priest.” 5 They said to him, “Seek a divine oracle for us, so we can know if we will be successful on our mission.” 6 The priest said to them, “Go with confidence. The Lord will be with you on your mission.”
7 So the five men journeyed on and arrived in Laish. They noticed that the people there were living securely, like the Sidonians do, undisturbed and unsuspecting. No conqueror was troubling them in any way. They lived far from the Sidonians and had no dealings with anyone. 8 When the Danites returned to their tribe in Zorah and Eshtaol, their kinsmen asked them, “How did it go?” 9 They said, “Come on, let’s attack them, for we saw their land and it is very good. You seem lethargic, but don’t hesitate to invade and conquer the land. 10 When you invade, you will encounter unsuspecting people. The land is wide! God is handing it over to you – a place that lacks nothing on earth!”
11 So six hundred Danites, fully armed, set out from Zorah and Eshtaol. 12 They went up and camped in Kiriath Jearim in Judah. (To this day that place is called Camp of Dan. It is west of Kiriath Jearim.) 13 From there they traveled through the Ephraimite hill country and arrived at Micah’s house. 14 The five men who had gone to spy out the land of Laish said to their kinsmen, “Do you realize that inside these houses are an ephod, some personal idols, a carved image, and a metal image? Decide now what you want to do.” 15 They stopped there, went inside the young Levite’s house (which belonged to Micah), and asked him how he was doing. 16 Meanwhile the six hundred Danites, fully armed, stood at the entrance to the gate. 17 The five men who had gone to spy out the land broke in and stole the carved image, the ephod, the personal idols, and the metal image, while the priest was standing at the entrance to the gate with the six hundred fully armed men. 18 When these men broke into Micah’s house and stole the carved image, the ephod, the personal idols, and the metal image, the priest said to them, “What are you doing?” 19 They said to him, “Shut up! Put your hand over your mouth and come with us! You can be our adviser and priest. Wouldn’t it be better to be a priest for a whole Israelite tribe than for just one man’s family?” 20 The priest was happy. He took the ephod, the personal idols, and the carved image and joined the group.
21 They turned and went on their way, but they walked behind the children, the cattle, and their possessions. 22 After they had gone a good distance from Micah’s house, Micah’s neighbors gathered together and caught up with the Danites. 23 When they called out to the Danites, the Danites turned around and said to Micah, “Why have you gathered together?” 24 He said, “You stole my gods that I made, as well as this priest, and then went away. What do I have left? How can you have the audacity to say to me, ‘What do you want?’” 25 The Danites said to him, “Don’t say another word to us, or some very angry men will attack you, and you and your family will die.” 26 The Danites went on their way; when Micah realized they were too strong to resist, he turned around and went home.
27 Now the Danites took what Micah had made, as well as his priest, and came to Laish, where the people were undisturbed and unsuspecting. They struck them down with the sword and burned the city. 28 No one came to the rescue because the city was far from Sidon and they had no dealings with anyone. The city was in a valley near Beth Rehob. The Danites rebuilt the city and occupied it. 29 They named it Dan after their ancestor, who was one of Israel’s sons. But the city’s name used to be Laish. 30 The Danites worshiped the carved image. Jonathan, descendant of Gershom, son of Moses, and his descendants served as priests for the tribe of Dan until the time of the exile. 31 They worshiped Micah’s carved image the whole time God’s authorized shrine was in Shiloh (Judges 18:1-31).
There are three vitally important items of information that are crucial to the correct interpretation of this chapter. We should not be surprised to learn that these are conveyed by earlier events, described in earlier texts of Scripture. First of all, we have already been given the reason why the Danites had not fully possessed the inheritance that was allotted to them by Joshua.
In those days Israel had no king. And in those days the Danite tribe was looking for a place to settle, because at that time they did not yet have a place to call their own among the tribes of Israel (Judges 18:1).
I believe that the sense of this verse is best conveyed by the Holman Christian Standard Bible (CSB):
In those days, there was no king in Israel, and the Danite tribe was looking for territory to occupy. Up to that time no territory had been captured by them among the tribes of Israel (Judges 18:1, CSB; emphasis mine).
This is completely consistent with what we read in Joshua and Judges:
40 The seventh lot belonged to the tribe of Dan by its clans. 41 Their assigned land included Zorah, Eshtaol, Ir Shemesh, 42 Shaalabbin, Aijalon, Ithlah, 43 Elon, Timnah, Ekron, 44 Eltekeh, Gibbethon, Baalath, 45 Jehud, Bene Berak, Gath Rimmon,46 the waters of Jarkon, and Rakkon, including the territory in front of Joppa. 47 (The Danites failed to conquer their territory, so they went up and fought with Leshem10 and captured it. They put the sword to it, took possession of it, and lived in it. They renamed it Dan after their ancestor.) 48 This was the land assigned to the tribe of Dan by its clans, including these cities and their towns (Joshua 19:40-48, emphasis mine).
The Amorites forced the people of Dan to live in the hill country. They did not allow them to live in the coastal plain (Judges 1:34).
So here is the situation. The Danites were one of the least successful tribes in all of Israel when it came to taking possession of their allotted inheritance. The Amorites kept them at bay so that they did not possess the lowlands of their inheritance. They were forced to live in the hill country. Thus, they were prevented from farming to the extent they required. It would seem that Samson, a Danite,11 had done his tribe little good in terms of possessing their inheritance.12 He was too busy chasing the Philistine girls and killing Philistine men. We have little choice but to conclude that the Danites’ failure was due to their lack of faith and obedience. What they are looking for when they send out their five spies is someplace that is prosperous and yet poorly defended, so that it might be easily conquered.
The second important piece of background information is the stories of the sending out of the spies to spy out the land of Canaan. The first (12) spies were sent out by Moses, and we know how that came out. Ten spies argued that while the land was fruitful, it could not be conquered because of the giants and the heavily fortified Canaanite cities.13 Only two spies – Joshua and Caleb – believed God would grant them victory over the Canaanites. Later on, two spies were sent out by Joshua, as we read in Joshua 2. I am convinced our author is contrasting the story of the Danite spies with the earlier accounts in Numbers and Joshua. The ten spies in Numbers are fearful because of the strength of the Canaanite soldiers and their cities. The two spies with a positive report do not minimize the strength of the opposition, but take courage from the strength of their God. The five Danite spies are full of confidence, but it is because they perceive their opponents to be weak and vulnerable – easy pickings.
Third, the land the Danites possess in our text was not part of the territory allotted to them by Joshua. The boundaries of the Danites’ inheritance are set forth in Joshua 19:40-48 (see above). When you look on a Bible map, you will see that their territory lay beside the territory of Judah, to the west, extending to the Mediterranean Sea. The territory they will possess in our text is far to the north and east, approximately 30 miles north of the Sea of Galilee. Thus, taking possession of this territory raises all kinds of issues. Were the inhabitants of that place actually Canaanites who should have been exterminated, or were they people who were far enough removed from Canaan that they should have been given the opportunity to peacefully surrender?14 If this is Israelite territory – territory allotted to one of the Israelite tribes – then to which tribe was it allotted, and why have they not taken possession of such a vulnerable (and yet prosperous) place? Furthermore, if this is Israelite territory, then one must assume that the Danites have stolen it from their fellow-Israelites. In the end, what is clear, I believe, is that these Danites were taking the “path of least resistance,” rather than taking possession of the territory allotted to them.
With these things in the back of our minds, let us see how our author develops the story of the Danite spies in chapter 18. Seeking to expand their territory, yet without the need for long-term warfare, the Danites send five men to spy out the land and find them a place to settle. They end up at “Micah’s Bed and Breakfast.” Noting the Levite’s accent, they ask him what he is doing there. The Levite should have asked them the same question. Both would have been good questions. The Levite answers that he is a Levite who has hired out his services to Micah. Hearing this, the Danite spies seek the benefit of his services. While he is at it, would he mind inquiring of God (Elohim, the more generic term for “god” or God) regarding the success of their mission? Are they going to find a favorable place for the Danites to settle?
The author promptly reports the priest’s favorable answer without telling us how he arrived at it. He may have used the “tools” at his disposal – the ephod, for example – to discern some kind of divine guidance. Going through some elaborate ritual may have served to impress his guests, and perhaps. gained him a healthy fee for his services. On the other hand, he may have given a more “off the cuff” blessing. He at least succeeded in giving the five spies the impression that God was with them in their endeavor.15
The spies went on their way, encouraged by the Levite’s blessing. When they arrived at Laish, they assured their brethren that the land was good, that the people did not have any powerful allies, that they seemed to feel so secure that they were not on military alert, and (thanks to the Levite’s words) “God had given this place into their hands” (18:10).
How different this report of these five spies is from the report of ten of the twelve Israelite spies initially sent by Moses to spy out the land of Canaan.16 Both reports were positive regarding the fruitfulness of the land, but the ten spies came back with a very negative report based upon the military strength of the Canaanites. The result is that the Israelites are not willing to risk trying to take the land, even though God had promised to give the Canaanites into their hands. These five Danite spies had a completely positive report. Not only was the land fruitful, but the people of Laish could be easily defeated and destroyed. They seem to rebuke their fellow-Danites for not quickly setting out to seize their new “promised land.”
Six hundred armed men, including the five spies, make their way toward Laish, setting up camp near Kiriath Jearim, and then finding their way to the house of Micah. The five spies informed the larger group that Micah had a “house of gods” containing the various god hardware he had accumulated. They did everything but clearly say that they should steal Micah’s gods and make them their own. The armed men did not fail to get the point, and so they kept the priest (and Micah?) busy at the entrance of the gate while others began to remove Micah’s idols. When the priest saw what was happening, he asked them what they were doing. They encouraged him to remain silent, offering him better employment serving their clan as a priest. In today’s terms, they would have offered him: (a) a bigger congregation; (b) a higher salary; (and c) a better benefit package (better hours, a longer vacation, excellent health insurance, and an attractive retirement program). It didn’t take this young Levite long to discern “divine guidance.” He happily accompanied the Danites, with Micah’s idols safely in his keeping. So much for being like a son to Micah.
The Danites may have expected some resistance. When they left Micah’s house, they placed their children, their livestock, and their valuables in front of them. This way if Micah and his neighbors came in hot pursuit, they would face the Danite warriors first. Micah’s neighbors were not willing to stand idly by, watching as Micah’s “gods” were hauled off. (Was it possible that these gods were used by the community, as Gideon’s father’s idols had been to his neighbors?17) They pursued the Danites, calling after them.
Micah was among those in pursuit of the Danites, and when he was challenged by them to explain his “act of aggression,” he responded,
“You stole my gods that I made, as well as this priest, and then went away. What do I have left? How can you have the audacity to say to me, ‘What do you want?’” (Judges 18:24)
What a confession this is! Micah admits that these are gods of his making. Micah, the man who stole from his mother, now protests when his gods are stolen from him. In addition, Micah complains that since his gods have been taken, he has nothing left. Micah’s gods mean everything to him, and he finds it difficult to think of life without them. These are the gods in which he has put his trust, and yet these same gods can do nothing to protect him, even as he helplessly watches others carry them off. A sober word of warning from the Danites sends Micah and his neighbors home empty-handed.
Micah is a tragic example of the person who has placed their trust in a false religion. During the good times, they feel as though their religion is the cause of their prosperity. And then, suddenly, disaster comes their way which their gods are powerless to prevent. They are left with nothing other than a feeling of emptiness and helplessness. For some, this realization comes without any repentance and faith. But there are others whom God graciously brings to the end of themselves so that they will repent and embrace God’s only means of salvation.
The Danites, along with Micah’s god’s and his Levite-for-hire, continue on to Laish, where they find this place just as the five spies had described it. The people of Laish are peaceable and unsuspecting. In short, they are vulnerable and easily overtaken, which is exactly what the 600 armed Danites did. They killed the people of Laish and burned down the city, after which they rebuilt it and named it Dan, after their tribal head. Then they took Micah’s gods and set them up for worship, much as Micah had done.
Here is the point at which the author discloses something he has been holding back from the reader until just the right moment:
30 The Danites worshiped the carved image. Jonathan, descendant of Gershom, son of Moses, and his descendants served as priests for the tribe of Dan until the time of the exile. 31 They worshiped Micah’s carved image the whole time God’s authorized shrine was in Shiloh (Judges 18:30-31).
Until now the Levite has been known to us only as a young Levite. Now, at the end of this account, we are told his name – Jonathan. Even more significant than this, we are informed that this “Jonathan” is the “son of Gershom, son of Moses.”18 Wow! A not-too-distant heir of Moses is now serving as a priest for hire, and the tools of his trade are idols. His place of ministry is not Shiloh – where the house of God was19 – but Dan, located in Israel’s far north. He ministers not to the nation as a whole, but to one tribe, or rather a portion of one tribe. How quickly Israel has fallen, and how far.
I have just referred to the second revelation our author has withheld until the end of this account: the authorized shrine was in Shiloh, which is located in the hill country of Ephraim. We don’t know the name of the town or city where Micah lived, though we can fairly safely infer that it lay along a well-traveled north/south commercial route.20 My point is this: Both Shiloh and Micah’s “house of gods” were located in the hill country of Ephraim, and my guess is that they were not all that distant from each other. So, Micah has his house of gods, his private priest, and his private religion in the shadow of Shiloh, where the Ark of the Covenant was kept, where the priests should have been serving, and where God was to be worshipped. It wasn’t that the proper place of worship was so distant that Micah and others had to make other arrangements; it was because Micah, Jonathan, and Israel were doing what was right in their own eyes, and thus they were worshipping “their way,” rather than God’s way. If these folks were living today, their number one worship “hymn” would be “I Did It My Way.”
As we conclude, I will pose several questions and suggest some answers from our text.
First, why has the author been so reluctant to plainly and emphatically tell the reader what is wrong as he relates this account? The first thing I would say is that the author has certainly exposed wrong-doing in general terms. That is why he repeats the statement, “In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes.” Now, going back to Deuteronomy 12, we can see just what the author meant by these words:
8 You must not do like we are doing here today, with everyone doing what seems best to him, 9 for you have not yet come to the final stop and inheritance the Lord your God is giving you. 10 When you do go across the Jordan River and settle in the land he is granting you as an inheritance and you find relief from all the enemies who surround you, you will live in safety. 11 Then you must come to the place the Lord your God chooses for his name to reside, bringing everything I am commanding you – your burnt offerings, sacrifices, tithes, the personal offerings you have prepared, and all your choice votive offerings which you devote to him. 12 You shall rejoice in the presence of the Lord your God, along with your sons, daughters, male and female servants, and the Levites in your villages (since they have no allotment or inheritance with you). 13 Make sure you do not offer burnt offerings in any place you wish, 14 for you may do so only in the place the Lord chooses in one of your tribal areas – there you may do everything I am commanding you.
15 On the other hand, you may slaughter and eat meat as you please when the Lord your God blesses you in all your villages. Both the ritually pure and impure may eat it, whether it is a gazelle or an ibex. 16 However, you must not eat blood – pour it out on the ground like water. 17 You will not be allowed to eat in your villages your tithe of grain, new wine, olive oil, the firstborn of your herd and flock, any votive offerings you have vowed, or your freewill and personal offerings. 18 Only in the presence of the Lord your God may you eat these, in the place he chooses. This applies to you, your son, your daughter, your male and female servants, and the Levites in your villages. In that place you will rejoice before the Lord your God in all the output of your labor. 19 Be careful not to overlook the Levites as long as you live in the land.
20 When the Lord your God extends your borders as he said he would do and you say, “I want to eat meat just as I please,” you may do so as you wish. 21 If the place he chooses to locate his name is too far for you, you may slaughter any of your herd and flock he has given you just as I have stipulated; you may eat them in your villages just as you wish. 22 Like you eat the gazelle or ibex, so you may eat these; the ritually impure and pure alike may eat them. 23 However, by no means eat the blood, for the blood is life itself – you must not eat the life with the meat! 24 You must not eat it! You must pour it out on the ground like water. 25 You must not eat it so that it may go well with you and your children after you; you will be doing what is right in the Lord’s sight (Deuteronomy 12:8-25, emphasis mine).
Doing what is right in one’s own eyes is living by one’s own assessment of good and evil, of what is right and what is wrong. Doing what is right in God’s eyes is living in obedience to God’s revealed Word. The Israelites, much like men and women today, were “doing their own thing.” If one reads our text in Judges with God’s law (as revealed in the Pentateuch) in mind, it is obvious what evils are being committed – by Micah, by Jonathan, by the Danites, and (by inference) by virtually all of the Israelites.
The author’s method of teaching is not like that of many teachers today. They supply all the answers, and then expect the audience to write them down and carry them out. When our Lord Jesus taught, people went away scratching their heads. They had a lot of mental homework to do before they got the message. Many – indeed most – never got the message. Jesus was very clear in telling His disciples that He would send His Holy Spirit, and He would not only bring His teaching to mind; He would enable true believers to understand it.21
Our author does not do all his readers’ thinking for them. He gives them the general lay of the land and then expects them to reflect and meditate on what he has written. He expects his readers to be familiar with the rest of the Bible. He expects his readers to grasp biblical truth in some kind of theological structure. He writes in a way that encourages his audience to pray for the illumination of the Holy Spirit, so that they may understand and apply the teaching of God’s Word.
What is clear from the Book of Judges is that the Israelites failed to live in accordance with God’s law. What we need to remember is that the law was not given to save men, but to show man his desperate need of salvation, not through law-keeping, but through the shed blood of Jesus Christ on the sinner’s behalf.
19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For no one is declared righteous before him by the works of the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin. 21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God (which is attested by the law and the prophets) has been disclosed – 22 namely, the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. 24 But they are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. 25 God publicly displayed him at his death as the mercy seat accessible through faith. This was to demonstrate his righteousness, because God in his forbearance had passed over the sins previously committed. 26 This was also to demonstrate his righteousness in the present time, so that he would be just and the justifier of the one who lives because of Jesus’ faithfulness (Romans 3:19-26).
Thank God for the New Covenant which was inaugurated by the shed blood of Jesus. Under the New Covenant, God gives lost men and women – who have hearts of stone – new hearts, hearts of flesh.
2 You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone, 3 revealing that you are a letter of Christ, delivered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on stone tablets but on tablets of human hearts.
4 Now we have such confidence in God through Christ. 5 Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as if it were coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, 6 who made us adequate to be servants of a new covenant not based on the letter but on the Spirit, for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
7 But if the ministry that produced death – carved in letters on stone tablets – came with glory, so that the Israelites could not keep their eyes fixed on the face of Moses because of the glory of his face (a glory which was made ineffective), 8 how much more glorious will the ministry of the Spirit be? 9 For if there was glory in the ministry that produced condemnation, how much more does the ministry that produces righteousness excel in glory! 10 For indeed, what had been glorious now has no glory because of the tremendously greater glory of what replaced it. 11 For if what was made ineffective came with glory, how much more has what remains come in glory! (2 Corinthians 3:2-11)
The only thing the law can do is to reveal God’s righteousness to us, while at the same time revealing to us the magnitude of our sin. When our Lord Jesus took on human flesh at His incarnation, He fulfilled all of the requirements of the law, proving His righteousness, and establishing that He alone is qualified to die in the sinner’s place. That’s exactly what He did. Jesus died on the cross of Calvary, bearing the penalty for our sins. Everyone who acknowledges their sin and who clings to the work of Christ accomplished on their behalf is assured of the forgiveness of their sins and the gift of eternal life.
Perhaps you have been like Micah, trusting in gods of your own making, rather than in the God who made you, and who sent His Son to die in your place. Forsake your false religion, and cling to Jesus.
Second, what can we learn about discerning the will of God from our text? The sense I get when I read this text is that the characters (Micah’s mother, Micah, and the Danites) embraced as God’s will (or God’s work) anything that contributed to or confirmed their fleshly desires. Micah’s mother got her silver back from her sticky-fingered son, and so she praised God (Yahweh) and then commissioned the making of idols with some of the returned silver. Micah viewed the arrival of the young Levite as a providential indication of God’s provision of a private priest. The Danites interpreted their discovery of Micah’s gods and his personal priest as a divinely provided opportunity to confiscate these for their own benefit.
First and foremost, God’s will is revealed in His Word. It is sin to fashion idols. Levites are to serve in the way God appointed and not on the basis of “the best offer.” When the Danites finally figured out that Micah was an idolater (not to mention his Levite for hire), the Scriptures make it clear that the guilty parties should have been put to death and their town destroyed.22
All too often people discern God’s will by what they want. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard someone practicing adultery or immorality seek to justify their sin with the statement, “I know that God wants me to be happy. . . .” Thus, even though the Bible explicitly forbids sexual immorality, some practice it anyway, convinced that God looks on them with favor. God’s Word is the basis for discerning God’s will. When favorable circumstances accompany clear biblical approval, then we can rejoice. But when circumstances are favorable and the Scriptures are not, we must go with what the Scriptures say, not what circumstances permit.
Third, why the emphasis on Israel’s need for a king? We must begin by considering the nature of man. Is man born good, and only later corrupted by his environment, or is man born a sinner? The Scriptures are clear on this matter:
1 And although you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you formerly lived according to this world’s present path, according to the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the ruler of the spirit that is now energizing the sons of disobedience, 3 among whom all of us also formerly lived out our lives in the cravings of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath even as the rest. . . (Ephesians 2:1-3, emphasis mine).
Since man is sinful, then when left to himself he will choose to do wrong when it appears to serve his own interests. Men need external motivation to avoid evil and to promote that which is good. One such external motivation comes from civil government:
1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except by God’s appointment, and the authorities that exist have been instituted by God. 2 So the person who resists such authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will incur judgment 3 (for rulers cause no fear for good conduct but for bad). Do you desire not to fear authority? Do good and you will receive its commendation, 4 for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be in fear, for it does not bear the sword in vain. It is God’s servant to administer retribution on the wrongdoer (Romans 13:1-4).
A godly king is a blessing to a people because he will oppose wickedness and promote righteousness.
13 The fear of the Lord is to hate evil;
I hate arrogant pride and the evil way
and perverse utterances.
14 Counsel and sound wisdom belong to me;
I possess understanding and might.
15 Kings reign by means of me,
and potentates decree righteousness (Proverbs 8:13-15).
The king shows favor to a wise servant,
but his wrath falls on one who acts shamefully (Proverbs 14:35).
12 Doing wickedness is an abomination to kings,
because a throne is established in righteousness.
13 The delight of kings is righteous counsel,
and they love the one who speaks uprightly (Proverbs 16:12-13).
A king sitting on the throne to judge
separates out all evil with his eyes (Proverbs 20:8).
A wise king separates out the wicked;
he turns the threshing wheel over them (Proverbs 20:26).
Loyal love and truth preserve a king,
and his throne is upheld by loyal love (Proverbs 20:28).
The one who loves a pure heart
and whose speech is gracious – the king will be his friend (Proverbs 22:11).
Remove the wicked from before the king,
and his throne will be established in righteousness (Proverbs 25:5).
A king brings stability to a land by justice,
but one who exacts tribute tears it down (Proverbs 29:4).
14 If a king judges the poor in truth,
his throne will be established forever (Proverbs 29:14).
It would not be far from the truth to say that Israel was nearly in a state of anarchy, because everyone was acting as though they were the highest authority. When men “do what is right in their own eyes,” it is because they think that they are the best judge of good and evil. A godly king was to be a man who was a student of God’s Word, and thus he held himself and his kingdom accountable to God’s Word:
18 When he sits on his royal throne he must make a copy of this law on a scroll given to him by the Levitical priests. 19 It must be with him constantly and he must read it as long as he lives, so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and observe all the words of this law and these statutes and carry them out. 20 Then he will not exalt himself above his fellow citizens or turn from the commandments to the right or left, and he and his descendants will enjoy many years ruling over his kingdom in Israel (Deuteronomy 17:18-20).
We know, of course, that even godly kings like David and Solomon failed badly, sometimes using (or abusing) their power to satisfy their own sinful desires. The only king who will be able to establish a godly kingdom will be the King of Kings, our Lord Jesus Christ. The failure of men in Judges demonstrates man’s desperate need for this King. And the ungodly men in Judges provide a dark backdrop against which the excellencies of our King are exhibited.
The last series that I taught was on the Book of Hebrews. There, the author set out to extol the virtues and supremacy of Christ over the best of men. The revelation of our Lord is superior to that which came before.23 He is superior to the angels.24 Our Lord is superior to Moses, that great man of God with feet of clay.25 He is superior to Aaron, Israel’s high priest, and to all the Old Testament priests.26
If Jesus is superior to the best men the Old Testament (or the New) sets before us, then how much better is He when compared to worst of men? Jonathan, the priest for hire, is a tragic failure, regardless of his glorious lineage. The failures of men in the Book of Judges creates a yearning in the reader for the Perfect Man who is to come as God’s King over all creation.
As I read Judges, I am convinced that the same kinds of evil which plagued the Israelites (and all the rest of mankind) in the period of the judges exist today. The Book of Judges prepares the reader for the coming of David, God’s King. What a blessing he was to Israel. Even better, the circumstances of Judges are very similar to those which preceded the first coming of our Great King, Jesus. I believe that we see similar circumstances today and that inclines me to think that the second coming of our King is near. What a day that will be!
Fourth, what is the great evil in our text about which we should be warned? We need to remember that the threat in our text comes from within Israel, not from without. There is no external power (Philistines, Ammonites, etc.) that is oppressing Israel here. And no foreign deity (e.g., Baal) is being worshipped. Yahweh is being worshipped, but in a way that is contrary to God’s Word, in a way that is patterned after pagan religions (thus the idols). The danger in our text is not that of Israel blatantly rejecting God (Yahweh) and turning to pagan gods; it is syncretism – the blending of true worship with that which is false.
Something similar has already happened in Israel:
1 When the people saw that Moses delayed in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said to him, “Get up, make us gods that will go before us. As for this fellow Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him!” 2 So Aaron said to them, “Break off the gold earrings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” 3 So all the people broke off the gold earrings that were on their ears and brought them to Aaron. 4 He accepted the gold from them, fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made a molten calf. Then they said, “These are your gods,27 O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” 5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it, and Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow will be a feast to the Lord.” 6 So they got up early on the next day and offered up burnt offerings and brought peace offerings, and the people sat down to eat and drink, and they rose up to play (Exodus 32:1-6, emphasis mine).
I do not believe that the Israelites so quickly forsook God altogether in Moses’ absence. I believe that the Israelites chose to worship the “God who brought them up out of Egypt” in their own way, in a way that was familiar to them because of their idolatrous past. Thus, Yahweh, the God of Israel, the God who delivered Israel from Egyptian bondage, is represented by a golden calf. They are worshipping God like heathen.
I believe we see something similar in the New Testament in the church at Corinth. In chapters 8-10, the Apostle Paul (the author of 1 Corinthians) dealt with the question of whether or not Christians should eat meats offered to idols. It becomes apparent in chapter 10 that some of the saints were participating at two “tables” – the Lord’s Table and the “table of demons.”28 The heathen sacrificial worship of the Corinthian gods would have been characterized by fleshly indulgence and the casting aside of all self-control. After clearly prohibiting participation in these heathen rituals, Paul moves on in chapter 11 to correct misconduct that was taking place around the Lord’s Table. It is my opinion that the Corinthians were worshipping our Lord in the same manner that the Corinthian heathen worshipped their gods. Thus, there was a blending, a syncretism, that was evident in the worship of our Lord in the church at Corinth.
Syncretism occurs today as well. While I do not agree completely with everything the authors set forth in the book, Pagan Christianity,29 they do demonstrate that much of what is seen and done in Protestant (and Catholic) churches has its origin in pagan practices, rather than in the Scriptures. That is why Paul’s description of the meeting of the church in 1 Corinthians 11-14 seems so foreign to Christians today.
I believe we are far too inclined to set aside some of the biblical instructions regarding the way we are to do church, as though they were only applicable to certain people at a certain time and place. That is not the way Paul presents his teaching to the Corinthians at all:
16 I encourage you, then, be imitators of me. 17 For this reason, I have sent Timothy to you, who is my dear and faithful son in the Lord. He will remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church (1 Corinthians 4:16-17, emphasis mine).
Nevertheless, as the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each person, so must he live. I give this sort of direction in all the churches (1 Corinthians 7:17, emphasis mine).
If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, so that when you assemble it does not lead to judgment. I will give directions about other matters when I come (1 Corinthians 11:34).
33 for God is not characterized by disorder but by peace. As in all the churches of the saints, 34 the women should be silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak. Rather, let them be in submission, as in fact the law says (1 Corinthians 14:33-34, emphasis mine).
With regard to the collection for the saints, please follow the directions that I gave to the churches of Galatia (1 Corinthians 16:1, emphasis mine).
I believe there are certain principles and instructions in the New Testament which cannot be set aside, no matter what the time or the culture. While there is room for a good deal of freedom in what is taught in the New Testament, there is not as much freedom as some would indicate. Some of those who conducted themselves in an unworthy manner in the church gathering at Corinth were sick, and some died because of their conduct.30 How we go about our worship matters to God. Therefore, we had better not be careless about obeying God’s instructions to the church.
There are other areas where syncretism can and has infected the church. One area of danger is that of psychology. Not all psychology is wrong, but some of it is. The self-esteem movement was baptized into the church (in preaching and in counseling) so that people were given the idea that our main problem is thinking too little of ourselves, when the Bible teaches that our problem stems from thinking too highly of ourselves.31 Christians were told to work harder at loving themselves and taking care of themselves first of all. All of this is to say that we dare not allow psychological theories (or even claims to truth) to take precedence over Scripture.
Another area of danger can be found in church management, church growth, and fund raising. All too often secular systems are embraced on the level of Scriptural truth. The church of Jesus Christ turned the world upside down in the Book of Acts, not because they did things the way unbelievers did, but because they did things God’s way, and God miraculously empowered His people to do the impossible.
Finally, there are many who seek to maintain labels like “conservative,” “Bible-believing,” “orthodox,” “evangelical,” and “Christian” when the substance of their beliefs and practices is otherwise. Movements like the Emergent Church Movement are rapidly setting aside the teaching and practices of the Scriptures for something more politically correct, something more culturally appealing. Let us not become syncretistic about our faith, but let us be uniquely Christian, and uniquely biblical, following Jesus by obeying His Word.
Copyright © 2009 by Robert L. Deffinbaugh. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 16 in the series, The Dark Days of Israel’s Judges, prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on December 6, 2009. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with or without credit.
1 Some differ here, seeing the second part of the two-part introduction ending at 3:6, rather than 3:4.
2 Notice especially verse 4.
3 Dale Ralph Davis does an excellent job of pointing out some of the author’s more subtle means of passing judgment on the events he describes. See Dale Ralph Davis, Such a Great Salvation: Expositions of the Book of Judges (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1990), pp. 199-205.
4 Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.
5 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: .
6 It is interesting that the amount stolen (1100 pieces of silver) is the same amount promised Delilah by each of the five Philistine lords if she would extract from Samson the secret of his strength (see Judges 16:5).
7 See Genesis 31:19, where the same word is employed by Moses.
8 See Deuteronomy 14:27-29; 26:10-13; Joshua 14:3-4; 18:7; 21.
9 For whatever reason, Micah’s house seems to be situated in such a way that strangers pass by it, so that not only the young Levite stops to talk with Micah, but also the five Danite spies end up there as well.
10 Another name for Laish.
11 Notice that Samson’s father was a Danite from Zorah (13:2) and that Samson was buried between Zorah and Eshtaol (16:31). This was Samson’s turf.
12 This assumes that the account of Samson in chapters 13-16 actually precedes the account of chapter 18 chronologically, something which is not entirely certain. See K. Lawson Younger Jr., Judges and Ruth (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2002), p. 343.
13 See Numbers 13 and 14.
14 It is an important distinction, as we can see from Deuteronomy 20:10-18. One only needs to read Joshua 9 concerning the residents of Gibeon to see why this is true. In his commentary, Block more than once refers to the people of Laish as Canaanites, but I have not yet found any biblical confirmation of this. See, for example, Daniel I. Block, Judges, Ruth (NAC 6; Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1999), p. 510. Even so, Block (p. 510) finds that the author has written this account in such a way that his readers empathize with the people of Laish.
15 Block rather persuasively argues that the Levite’s “blessing” is deliberately general and vague. I’m inclined to be persuaded by his argument. See Daniel I. Block, Judges, Ruth, p. 498.
16 See Numbers 13.
17 See Judges 6:25-32.
18 Two things need to be said here. First, the NET Bible translates in a way that views Jonathan as a descendant of Moses, rather than as a son. The term more literally means son, which is the way the same term is rendered with respect to Moses. Thus, literally we would read, “Jonathan, son of Gershom, son of Moses.” In genealogies the term may mean descendant when every descendant of a particular line is not named. There is a reason why the distinction is important here. If Jonathan were actually the son of Gershom, then this event would have happened early in the period of the judges, rather than late (as the placement of this account would suggest to western readers, who tend to look at things chronologically). See Younger, p. 343, as mentioned above.
The other thing that should be pointed out (which is evident in the various translations) is that some manuscripts have the Hebrew word Manasseh (see KJV, NKJV, NASB95) rather than Moses (CSB, ESV, NIV, NET Bible). The difference is the Hebrew letter nun (“n”) which is added to “Moses” (Hebrew Mosheh) resulting in “Manasseh.” Block explains: “But it is the reference to Moses that catches the reader off guard. Indeed the rabbinic scribes found the present association of Moses’ name with such abominable idolatrous behavior so objectionable they refused to accept the statement and inserted a superscripted nun between the first two consonants, transforming unpointed mšh, “Moses,” into mnšh, “Manasseh.” Daniel I. Block, Judges, Ruth, p. 512.
19 Judges 18:31.
20 This would explain how Jonathan, the five spies, and eventually the Danite army passed by Micah’s house.
21 See John 14:25-26; 16:12-13; 1 Corinthians 2:6-16.
22 See Deuteronomy 13, especially verses 12-17.
23 See Hebrews 1:1-3; 2:1-4.
24 Hebrews 1:4ff.
25 Hebrews 3.
26 Hebrews 5:1ff.
27 While “gods” (plural) is technically correct, I would prefer the rendering of the CSB: “Israel, this is your God, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!”
28 See 1 Corinthians 10:14-22, especially verse 21.
29 Frank Viola and George Barna, Pagan Christianity?: Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices. Tyndale House Publishers, 2008.
30 1 Corinthians 11:30.
31 See Philippians 2:1-11.