Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke, , at sacred-texts.com
Some Danites, seeking an inheritance, send five men to search the land, who arrive at the house of Micah, Jdg 18:1, Jdg 18:2. They employ the Levite, who served to his house as priest, to ask counsel for them of God, Jdg 18:3-5. He inquires, and promises them success, Jdg 18:6. They depart, and go to Laish, and find the inhabitants secure, Jdg 18:7. They return to their brethren, and encourage them to attempt the conquest of the place, Jdg 18:8-10. They send six hundred men, who, coming to the place where Micah dwelt, enter the house, and carry off the priest and his consecrated things, Jdg 18:11-21. Micah and his friends pursue them; but, being threatened, are obliged to return, Jdg 18:22-26. The Danites come to Laish, and smite it, and build a city there, which they call Dan, Jdg 18:27-29. They make the Levite their priest, and set up the images at this new city, Jdg 18:30, Jdg 18:31.
There was no king in Israel - See Jdg 17:6 (note). The circumstances related here show that this must have happened about the time of the preceding transactions.
The tribe of the Danites - That is, a part of this tribe; some families of it.
All their inheritance - That is, they had not got an extent of country sufficient for them. Some families were still unprovided for, or had not sufficient territory; for we find from Jos 19:40, etc., that, although the tribe of Dan did receive their inheritance with the rest of the tribes of Israel, yet their coasts went out too little for them, and they went and fought against Leshem, (called here Laish), and took it, etc. This circumstance is marked here more particularly than in the book of Joshua. See on Jos 19:47 (note).
Five men - men of valor - The Hebrew word חיל chayil has been applied to personal prowess, to mental energy, and to earthly possessions. They sent those in whose courage, judgment, and prudence, they could safely confide.
They knew the voice of the young man - They knew, by his dialect or mode of pronunciation, that he was not an Ephraimite. We have already seen (Jdg 12:6 (note)) that the Ephraimites could not pronounce certain letters.
Ask counsel - of God - As the Danites use the word אלהים Elohim here for God, we are necessarily led to believe that they meant the true God; especially as the Levite answers, Jdg 18:6, Before the Lord (יהוה Yehovah) is your way. Though the former word may be sometimes applied to idols, whom their votaries clothed with the attributes of God; yet the latter is never applied but to the true God alone. As the Danites succeeded according to the oracle delivered by the Levite, it is a strong presumption that the worship established by Micah was not of an idolatrous kind. It is really begging the question to assert, as many commentators have done, that the answer was either a trick of the Levite, or suggested by the devil; and that the success of the Danites was merely accidental. This is taking the thing by the worst handle, to support an hypothesis, and to serve a system. See the end of the preceding chapter, Jdg 17:13 (note).
After the manner of the Zidonians - Probably the people of Laish or Leshem were originally a colony of the Sidonians, who, it appears, were an opulent people; and, being in possession of a strong city, lived in a state of security, not being afraid of their neighbors. In this the Leshemites imitated them, though the sequel proves they had not the same reason for their confidence.
They were far from the Zidonians - Being, as above supposed, a Sidonian colony, they might naturally expect help from their countrymen; but, as they dwelt a considerable distance from Sidon, the Danites saw that they could strike the blow before the news of invasion could reach Sidon; and, consequently, before the people of Laish could receive any succours from that city.
And had no business with any man - In the most correct copies of the Septuagint, this clause is thus translated: Και λογος ουκ ην αυτοις μετα Συριας; and they had no transactions with Syria. Now it is most evident that, instead of אדם adam, Man, they read ארם aram, Syria; words which are so nearly similar that the difference which exists is only between the ר resh and ד daleth, and this, both in MSS. and printed books, is often indiscernible. This reading is found in the Codex Alexandrinus, in the Complutensian Polyglot, in the Spanish Polyglot, and in the edition of the Septuagint published by Aldus. It may be proper to observe, that Laish was on the frontiers of Syria; but as they had no intercourse with the Syrians, from whom they might have received the promptest assistance, this was an additional reason why the Danites might expect success.
Arise, etc. - This is a very plain and nervous address; full of good sense, and well adapted to the purpose. It seems to have produced an instantaneous effect.
Six hundred men - These were not the whole, for we find they had children, etc., Jdg 18:21; but these appear to have been six hundred armed men.
Mahaneh-dan - "The camp of Dan;" so called from the circumstance of this armament encamping there. See Jdg 13:25 (note), which affords some proof that this transaction was previous to the days of Samson.
Consider what ye have to do - They probably had formed the design to carry off the priest and his sacred utensils.
These went unto Micah's house - The five men went in, while the six hundred armed men stood at the gate.
Lay thine hand upon thy mouth - This was the token of silence. The god of silence, Harpocrates, is represented on ancient statues with his finger pressed on his lips.
Went to the midst of the people - He was glad to be employed by the Danites; and went into the crowd, that he might not be discovered by Micah or his family.
The little ones and the cattle, etc. - These men were so confident of success that they removed their whole families, household goods, cattle, and all.
And the carriage - כבודה kebudah, their substance, precious things, or valuables; omne quod erat pretiosum, Vulgate: or rather the luggage or baggage; what Caesar calls in his commentaries impedimenta; and what the Septuagint here translate βαρος, weight or baggage. We are not to suppose that any wheel carriage is meant.
Ye have taken away my gods - As Micah was a worshipper of the true God, as we have seen, he cannot mean any kind of idols by the word אלהי elohai here used. He undoubtedly means those representations of Divine things, and symbols of the Divine presence such as the teraphim, ephod, etc.; for they are all evidently included under the word elohai, which we translate my gods.
And thou lose thy life - This was argumentum ad hominem; he must put up with the loss of his substance, or else lose his life! It was the mere language of a modern highwayman: Your life or your money.
Unto a people - at quiet and secure - They found the report given by the spies to be correct. The people were apprehensive of no danger, and were unprepared for resistance; hence they were all put to the sword, and their city burnt up.
There was no deliverer - They had no succor, because the Sidonians, from whom they might have expected it, were at too great a distance.
Called the name of the city Dan - This city was afterwards very remarkable as one of the extremities of the promised land. The extent of the Jewish territories was generally expressed by the phrase, From Dan to Beer-Sheba; that is, From the most northern to the southern extremity.
The children of Dan set up the graven image - They erected a chapel, or temple, among themselves, as Micah had done before; having the same implements and the same priest.
And Jonathan the son of Gershom - Either this was the name of the young Levite; or they had turned him off, and got this Jonathan in his place.
The son Manasseh - Who this Manasseh was, none can tell; nor does the reading appear to be genuine. He could not be Manasseh the son of Joseph, for he had no son called Gershom nor could it be Manasseh king of Israel, for he lived eight hundred years afterwards. Instead of מנשה Manasseh, the word should be read משה Mosheh, Moses, as it is found in some MSS., in the Vulgate, and in the concessions of the most intelligent Jews. The Jews, as R. D. Kimchi acknowledges, have suspended the letter: נ nun, over the word משה, thus,
which, by the addition of the points, they have changed into Manasseh, because they think it would be a great reproach to their legislator to have had a grandson who was an idolater. That Gershom the son of Moses is here intended, is very probable. See the arguments urged by Dr. Kennicott, Dissertation I., p. 55, etc.; and see the Var. Lect. of De Rossi on this place.
Until the day of the captivity of the land - Calmet observes, "The posterity of this Jonathan executed the office of priest in the city of Dan, all the time that the idol of Micah (the teraphim, ephod, etc). was there. But this was only while the house of the Lord was at Shiloh; and, consequently, the sons of Jonathan were priests at Dan only till the time in which the ark was taken by the Philistines, which was the last year of Eli, the high priest; for after that the ark no more returned to Shiloh." This is evident; and on this very ground Houbigant contends that, instead of הארץ haarets, the Land, we should read הארן haaron, the Ark; for nothing is easier than the ו vau and final nun to be mistaken for the ץ final tsade, which is the only difference between the captivity of the Land and the captivity of the Ark. And this conjecture is the more likely, because the next verse tells us that Micah's graven image, etc., continued at Dan all the time that the house of God was at Shiloh; which was, till the ark was taken by the Philistines. Those who wish to see more on this subject may consult Calmet, and the writers in Pool's Synopsis. This chapter is an important supplement to the conclusion of the 19th chapter of Joshua, on which it casts considerable light.
The Danites were properly the first dissenters from the public established worship of the Jews; but they seem to have departed as little as possible from the Jewish forms, their worship being conducted in the same way, but not in the same place. Surely it was better to have had this, allowing it to be unconstitutional worship, than to have been wholly destitute of the ordinances of God. I think we have not sufficient ground from the text to call these persons idolaters; I believe they worshipped the true God according to their light and circumstances, from a conviction that they could not prosper without his approbation, and that they could not expect that approbation if they did not offer to him a religious worship. They endeavored to please him, though the means they adopted were not the most proper.