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Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at

Judges Chapter 18


jdg 18:0

The Image-Worship Removed to Laish-Dan. - Jdg 18:1-10. Spies sent out by the tribe of Dan, to seek for a place suitable for a settlement, and their success.

Judges 18:1

jdg 18:1

This took place at a time when Israel had no king, and the tribe of the Danites sought an inheritance for themselves to dwell in, because until that day no such portion had fallen to them among the tribes as an inheritance. To the expression נפלה לא (had not fallen) we must supply נחלה as the subject from the previous clause; and בּנחלה signifies in the character of a nachalah, i.e., of a possession that could be transmitted as hereditary property from father to son. נפל, to fall, is used with reference to the falling of the lot (vid., Num 34:2; Jos 13:6, etc.). The general statement, that as yet no inheritance had fallen to the tribe of Dan by lot, has its limitation in the context. As the Danites, according to Jdg 18:2, sent out five men from Zorea and Eshtaol, and, according to Jdg 18:11, six hundred men equipped for fight went out to Laish, which the spies had discovered to be a place well fitted for a settlement, and had settled there, it is very evident from this that the Danites were not absolutely without an inheritance, but that hitherto they had not received one sufficient for their wants. The emigrants themselves were already settled in Zorea and Eshtaol, two of the towns that had fallen to the tribe of Dan by lot (Jos 19:41). Moreover, the six hundred equipped Danites, who went out of these towns, were only a very small part of the tribe of Danites, which numbered 64,400 males of twenty years old and upwards at the last census (Num 26:43). For a tribe of this size the land assigned by Joshua to the tribe of Dan, with all the towns that it contained, was amply sufficient. But from Jdg 1:34 we learn that the Amorites forced the Danites into the mountains, and would not allow them to come down into the plain. Consequently they were confined to a few towns situated upon the sides or tops of the mountains, which did not supply all the room they required. Feeling themselves too weak to force back the Canaanites and exterminate them, one portion of the Danites preferred to seek an inheritance for themselves somewhere else in the land. This enterprise and emigration are described in Jdg 18:2. The time cannot be determined with perfect certainty, as all that can be clearly inferred from Jdg 18:12, as compared with Jdg 13:25, is, that it took place some time before the days of Samson. Many expositors have therefore assigned it to the period immediately following the defeat of Jabin by Barak (Jdg 4:24), because it was not till after the overthrow of this powerful king of the Canaanites that conquests were possible in the north of Canaan, and the tribe of Dan at that time still remained in ships (Jdg 5:17), so that it had not yet left the territory assigned it by the sea-shore (Josh 19). But these arguments have neither of them any force; for there is nothing surprising in the fact that Danites should still be found by the sea-shore in the time of Deborah, even if Danite families from Zorea and Eshtaol had settled in Laish long before, seeing that these emigrants formed but a small fraction of the whole tribe, and the rest remained in the possessions assigned them by Joshua. Moreover, the strengthening of the force of the Canaanites, and the extension of their dominion in the north, did not take place till 150 years after Joshua, in the days of Jabin; so that long before Jabin the town of Laish may have been conquered by the Danites, and taken possession of by them. In all probability this took place shortly after the death of Joshua, as we may infer from Jdg 18:30 (see the exposition of this verse).

Judges 18:2

jdg 18:2

To spy out and explore the land for the object mentioned, the Danites sent out five brave men "out of their (the Danites') ends," i.e., from their whole body (vid., Kg1 12:31; Kg1 13:33, and the commentary on Gen 19:4). They came up to the mountains of Ephraim, and as far as Micah's house, where they passed the night.

Judges 18:3

jdg 18:3

When they were at Micah's house and recognised the voice of the young Levite, i.e., heard his voice, and perceived form his dialect that he was not a native of these mountains, they turned aside there, sc., from the road into the house, near to which they rested, and asked him, "Who brought thee hither, and what doest thou at this place? what hast thou to do here?" When he told them his history ("thus and thus," lit. according to this and that; cf. Sa2 11:25; Kg1 14:5), they said to him, "Ask God, we pray thee, that we may learn whether our way will be prosperous." בּאלהים שׁאל, used for asking the will of God, as in Jdg 1:1, except that here the inquiry was made through the medium of the imitation of the ephod and the worship of an image. And he said to them, sc., after making inquiry of the divine oracle, "Go in peace; straight before Jehovah is your way," i.e., it is known and well-pleasing to Him (vid., Pro 5:21; Jer 17:16).

Judges 18:7

jdg 18:7

Thus the five men proceeded to Laish, which is called Leshem in Jos 19:47, and was named Dan after the conquest by the Danites-a place on the central source of the Jordan, the present Tell el Kadi (see at Jos 19:47)-and saw the people of the town dwelling securely after the manner of the Sidonians, who lived by trade and commerce, and did not go out to war. יושׁבת is the predicate to את־העם, and the feminine is to be explained from the fact that the writer had the population before his mind (see Ewald, 174, b.); and the use of the masculine in the following words וּבטח שׁקט, which are in apposition, is not at variance with this. The connection of יושׁבת with בּקרבּהּ, which Bertheau revives from the earlier commentators, is opposed to the genius of the Hebrew language. וּבטח שׁקט, "living quietly and safely there." וגו ואין־מכלים, "and no one who seized the government to himself did any harm to them in the land." הכלים, to shame, then to do an injury (Sa1 25:7). דּבר מכלים, shaming with regard to a thing, i.e., doing any kind of injury. עצר, dominion, namely tyrannical rule, from עצר, imperio coercere. The rendering "riches" (θησαυρός, lxx), which some give to this word, is founded simply upon a confounding of עצר with אוצר. ירשׁ does not mean "to possess," but "to take possession of," and that by force (as in Kg1 21:18). "And they were far from the Sidonians," so that in the event of a hostile invasion they could not obtain any assistance from this powerful city. Grotius draws the very probable conclusion from these words, that Laish may have been a colony of the Sidonians. "And they had nothing to do with (other) men," i.e., they did not live in any close association with the inhabitants of other towns, so as to be able to obtain assistance from any other quarter.

Judges 18:8

jdg 18:8

On their return, the spies said to their fellow-citizens, in reply to the question אתּם מה, "What have you accomplished?" "Up, let us go up against them (the inhabitants of Laish), for the land is very good, and ye are silent," i.e., standing inactive (Kg1 22:3; Kg2 7:9). "Be not slothful to go (to proceed thither), to come and take possession of the land!"

Judges 18:10

jdg 18:10

"When ye arrive, ye will come to a secure people (i.e., a people living in careless security, and therefore very easy to overcome); and the land is broad on both sides (i.e., furnishes space to dwell in, and also to extend: vid., Gen 34:21; Ch1 4:40); for God has given it into your hand." They infer this from the oracular reply they had received from the Levite (Jdg 18:6). "A place where there is no want of anything that is in the land (of Canaan)."

Judges 18:11

jdg 18:11

Removal of Six Hundred Danites to Laish - Robbery of Micah's Images - Conquest of Laish, and Settlement There. - Jdg 18:11, Jdg 18:12. In consequence of the favourable account of the spies who returned, certain Danites departed from Zorea and Eshtaol, to the number of 600 men, accoutred with weapons of war, with their families and their possessions in cattle and goods (see Jdg 18:21), and encamped by the way at Kirjath-jearim (i.e., Kuriyet Enab; see Jos 9:17), in the tribe territory of Judah, at a place which received the permanent name of Mahaneh Dan (camp of Dan) from that circumstance, and was situated behind, i.e., to the west of, Kirjath-jearim (see at Jdg 13:25). The fact that this locality received a standing name from the circumstance described, compels us to assume that the Danites had encamped there for a considerable time, for reasons which we cannot determine from our want of other information. The emigrants may possibly have first of all assembled here, and prepared and equipped themselves for their further march.

Judges 18:13

jdg 18:13

From this point they went across to the mountains of Ephraim, and came to Micah's house, i.e., to a place near it.

Judges 18:14

jdg 18:14

Then the five men who had explored the land, viz., Laish (Laish is in apposition to הארץ, the land), said to their brethren (tribe-mates), "Know ye that in these houses (the village or place where Micah dwelt) there are an ephod and teraphim, and image and molten work (see at Jdg 17:4-5)? and now know what ye will do." The meaning of these last words is very easily explained: do not lose this opportunity of obtaining a worship of our own for our new settlement.

Judges 18:15

jdg 18:15

Then they turned from the road thither, and went to the house of the young Levite, the house of Micah, and asked him (the Levite) concerning his health, i.e., saluted him in a friendly manner (see Gen 43:27; Exo 18:7, etc.).

Judges 18:16

jdg 18:16

The 600 men, however, placed themselves before the door.

Judges 18:17

jdg 18:17

Then the five spies went up, sc., into Micah's house of God, which must therefore have been in an upper room of the building (see Kg2 23:12; Jer 19:13), and took the image, ephod, etc., whilst the priest stood before the door with the 600 armed men. With the words וגו בּאוּ the narrative passes from the aorist or historical tense ויּעלוּ into the perfect. "The perfects do not denote the coming and taking on the part of the five men as a continuation of the previous account, but place the coming and taking in the same sphere of time as that to which the following clause, 'and the priest stood,' etc., belongs" (Bertheau). But in order to explain what appears very surprising, viz., that the priest should have stood before the gate whilst his house of God was being robbed, the course which the affair took is explained more clearly afterwards in Jdg 18:18, Jdg 18:19, in the form of a circumstantial clause. Consequently the verbs in these verses ought to be rendered as pluperfects, and the different clauses comprised in one period, Jdg 18:18 forming the protasis, and Jdg 18:19 the apodosis. "Namely, when those (five) men had come into Micah's house, and had taken the image of the ephod, etc., and the priest had said to them, What are ye doing? they had said to him, Be silent, lay thy hand upon thy mouth and go with us, and become a father and priest to us (see Jdg 17:10). Is it better to be a priest to the house of a single man, or to a tribe and family in Israel?" The combination האפוד פּסל (the ephod-pesel), i.e., the image belonging to the ephod, may be explained on the ground, that the use of the ephod as a means of ascertaining the will of God presupposes the existence of an image of Jehovah, and does not prove that the ephod served as a covering for the Pesel. The priest put on the ephod when he was about to inquire of God. The או in the second question is different from אם, and signifies "or rather" (see Gen 24:55), indicating an improvement upon the first question (see Ewald, 352, a.). Consequently it is not a sign of a later usage of speech, as Bertheau supposes. The word וּלמשׁפּחה (unto a family) serves as a more minute definition or limitation of לשׁבט (to a tribe).

Judges 18:20

jdg 18:20

Then was the priest's heart glad (merry; cf. Jdg 19:6, Jdg 19:9; Rut 3:7), and he took the ephod, etc., and came amongst the people (the Danites). The first clause of this verse is attached to the supplementary statement in Jdg 18:18, Jdg 18:19, for the purpose of linking on the further progress of the affair, which is given in the second clause; for, according to Jdg 18:17, the priest could only receive the ephod, etc., into his charge from the hands of the Danites, since they had taken them out of Micah's God's house.

Judges 18:21

jdg 18:21

The 600 Danites then set out upon their road again and went away; and they put the children, the cattle, and the valuable possessions in front, because they were afraid of being attacked by Micah and his people from behind. הטּף, "the little ones," includes both women and children, as the members of the family who were in need of protection (see at Exo 12:37). כבוּדה is literally an adjective, signifying splendid; but here it is a neuter substantive: the valuables, not the heavy baggage. The 600 men had emigrated with their families and possessions.

Judges 18:22

jdg 18:22

The two clauses of Jdg 18:22 are circumstantial clauses: "When they (the 600) had got to some distance from Micah's house, and the men who were in the houses by Micah's house were called together, and had overtaken the Danites, they (i.e., Micah and his people, whom he had called together from the neighbourhood to pursue the emigrants) called to the Danites; and they turned their faces, and said to Micah, What is to thee (what is the matter), that thou hast gathered together?"

Judges 18:24

jdg 18:24

And when he replied, "Ye have taken away my gods which I made, and the priest, and have departed; what is there still to me (what have I left)? and how can ye say to me, What is to thee?" they ordered him to be silent, lest he should forfeit his life: "Let not thy voice be heard among us, lest men of savage disposition (נפשׁ מרי as in Sa2 17:8) should fall upon thee (vid., Jdg 15:12; Jdg 8:21, etc.), and thou shouldst not save thy life and that of thy household," i.e., shouldst bring death upon thyself and thy family. ואספתּה is also dependent upon פּן.

Judges 18:26

jdg 18:26

Then the Danites went their way; but Micah, seeing that they were stronger than he, turned back and returned home.

Judges 18:27

jdg 18:27

And they (the Danites) had taken what Micah had made, i.e., his idols and his priest, and they fell upon Laish (על כּוא, to come over a person, to fall upon him, as in Gen 34:25), a people living quietly and free from care (vid., Jdg 18:7), smote them with the edge of the sword (see at Gen 34:26), and burned down the city (cf. Jos 6:24), as it had no deliverer in its isolated condition (Jdg 18:28; cf. Jdg 18:7). It was situated "in the valley which stretches to Beth-rehob." This valley is the upper part of the Huleh lowland, through which the central source of the Jordan (Leddan) flows, and by which Laish-Dan, the present Tell el Kadi, stood (see at Jos 19:47). Beth-rehob is most probably the same place as the Rehob mentioned in Num 13:21, and the Beth-rehob of Sa2 10:6, which is there used to designate a part of Syria, and for which Rehob only is also used in Jdg 18:8. Robinson (Bibl. Res. pp. 371ff.) supposes it to be the castle of Hunin or Honin, on the south-west of Tell el Kadi; but this is hardly correct (see the remarks on Num 13:21, Pent. p. 709). The city, which lay in ashes, was afterwards rebuilt by the Danites, and called Dan, from the name of the founder of their tribe; and the ruins are still to be seen, as already affirmed, on the southern slope of the Tell el Kadi (see Rob. Bibl. Res. pp. 391-2, and the comm. on Jos 19:47).

Judges 18:30

jdg 18:30

Establishment of the Image-worship in Dan. - After the rebuilding of Laish under the name of Dan, the Danites set up the pesel or image of Jehovah, which they had taken with them out of Micah's house of God. "And Jehonathan, the son of Gershom, the son of Moses, he and his sons were priests to the tribe of the Danites till the day of the captivity of the land." As the Danites had taken the Levite whom Micah had engaged for his private worship with them to Dan, and had promised him the priesthood (Jdg 18:19 and Jdg 18:27), Jehonathan can hardly be any other than this Levite. He was a son of Gershom, the son of Moses (Exo 2:22; Exo 18:3; Ch1 23:14-15). Instead of בּן־משׁה, our Masoretic text has בּן־מנשּׁה with a hanging נ. With regard to this reading, the Talmud (Baba bathr.f. 109b) observes: "Was he a son of Gershom, or was he not rather a son of Moses? as it is written, the sons of Moses were Gershom and Eliezer (Ch1 23:14), but because he did the deeds of Manasseh (the idolatrous son of Hezekiah, 2 Kings 21) the Scripture assigns him to the family of Manasseh." On this Rabbabar bar Channa observes, that "the prophet (i.e., the author of our book) studiously avoided calling Gershom the son of Moses, because it would have been ignominious to Moses to have had an ungodly son; but he calls him the son of Manasseh, raising the n, however, above the line, to show that it might either be inserted or omitted, and that he was the son of either מנשּׁה (Manasseh) or משׁה (Moses), - of Manasseh through imitating his impiety, of Moses by descent" (cf. Buxtorfi Tiber. p. 171). Later Rabbins say just the same. R. Tanchum calls the writing Menasseh, with a hanging nun, a סופרים תקּוּן, and speaks of ben Mosheh as Kethibh, and ben Menasseh as Keri. Ben Mosheh is therefore unquestionably the original reading, although the other reading ben Menasseh is also very old, as it is to be found in the Targums and the Syriac and Sept. versions, although some Codd. of the lxx have the reading uhiou' Moou'see' (vid., Kennic. dissert. gener. in V. T. 21).

(Note: These two readings of the lxx seem to be fused together in the text given by Theodoret (quaest. xxvi.): Ἰωνάθαν γάρ φησίν υἱὸς Μανασσῆ, υἱοῦ Γερσὼμ υἱοῦ Μωσῆ)

Jerome also has filii Moysi. At the same time, it does not follow with certainty from the reading ben Gershom that Jehonathan was actually a son of Gershom, as ben frequently denotes a grandson in such genealogical accounts, unknown fathers being passed over in the genealogies. There is very little probability of his having been a son, for the simple reason, that if Jehonathan was the same person as Micah's high priest - and there is no ground for doubting this - he is described as נער in Jdg 17:7; Jdg 18:3, Jdg 18:15, and therefore was at any rate a young man, whereas the son of Gershom and grandson of Moses would certainly have passed the age of youth by a few years after the death of Joshua. This Jehonathan and his sons performed the duties of the priesthood at Dan הארץ גּלות עד־יום. This statement is obscure. הארץ .eru גּלות can hardly mean anything else than the carrying away of the people of the land into exile, that is to say, of the inhabitants of Dan and the neighbourhood at least, since גּלה is the standing expression for this. Most of the commentators suppose the allusion to be to the Assyrian captivity, or primarily to the carrying away by Tiglath-Pileser of the northern tribes of Israel, viz., the population of Gilead, Galilee, and the tribe of Naphtali, in the midst of which Laish-Dan was situated (Kg2 15:29). But the statement in Jdg 18:31, "And they set them up Micah's graven image, which he made, all the time that the house of God was in Shiloh," is by no means reconcilable with such a conclusion. We find the house of God, i.e., the Mosaic tabernacle, which the congregation had erected at Shiloh in the days of Joshua (Jos 18:1), still standing there in the time of Eli and Samuel (Sa1 1:3., Jdg 3:21; Jdg 4:3); but in the time of Saul it was at Nob (Sa1 21:1-15), and during the reign of David at Gibeon (Ch1 16:39; Ch1 21:29). Consequently "the house of God" only stood in Shiloh till the reign of Saul, and was never taken there again. If therefore Micah's image, which the Danites set up in Dan, remained there as long as the house of God was at Shiloh, Jonathan's sons can only have been there till Saul's time at the longest, and certainly cannot have been priests at this sanctuary in Dan till the time of the Assyrian captivity.

(Note: The impossibility of reconciling the statement as to time in Jdg 18:31 with the idea that "the captivity of the land" refers to the Assyrian captivity, is admitted even by Bleek (Einl. p. 349), who adopts Houbigant's conjecture, viz., הארון גּלות, "the carrying away of the ark.")

There are also other historical facts to be considered, which render the continuance of this Danite image-worship until the Assyrian captivity extremely improbable, or rather preclude it altogether. Even if we should not lay any stress upon the fact that the Israelites under Samuel put away the Baalim and Astartes in consequence of his appeal to them to turn to the Lord (Sa1 7:4), it is hardly credible that in the time of David the image-worship should have continued at Dan by the side of the lawful worship of Jehovah which he restored and organized, and should not have been observed and suppressed by this king, who carried on repeated wars in the northern part of his kingdom. Still more incredible would the continuance of this image-worship appear after the erection of Solomon's temple, when all the men of Israel, and all the elders and heads of tribes, came to Jerusalem, at the summons of Solomon, to celebrate the consecration of this splendid national sanctuary (1 Kings 5-7). Lastly, the supposition that the image-worship established by the Danites at Dan still continued to exist, is thoroughly irreconcilable with the fact, that when Jeroboam established the kingdom of the ten tribes he had two golden calves made as images of Jehovah for the subjects of his kingdom, and set up one of them at Dan, and appointed priests out of the whole nation who were not of the sons of Levi. If an image-worship of Jehovah had been still in existence in Dan, and conducted by Levitical priests. Jeroboam would certainly not have established a second worship of the same kind under priests who were not Levitical. All these difficulties preclude our explaining the expression, "the day of the captivity of the land," as referring to either the Assyrian or Babylonian captivity. It can only refer to some event which took place in the last years of Samuel, or the first part of the reign of Saul. David Kimchi and many others have interpreted the expression as relating to the carrying away of the ark by the Philistines, for which the words מיּשׂראל כבוד גּלה are used in Sa1 4:21-22 (e.g., Hengstenberg, Beitr. vol. ii. pp. 153ff.; Hvernick, Einl. ii. 1, p. 109; O. v. Gerlach, and others). With the carrying away of the ark of the covenant, the tabernacle lost its significance as a sanctuary of Jehovah. We learn from Psa 78:59-64 how the godly in Israel regarded that event. They not only looked upon it as a casting away of the dwelling-lace of God at Shiloh; but in the fact that Jehovah gave up His might and glory (i.e., the ark) into captivity, they discerned a surrender of the nation into the full power of its foes which resembled a carrying away into captivity. For, apart altogether form the description in Psa 78:62-64, we may infer with certainty from the account of the tyranny which these foes still exercised over the Israelites in the time of Saul (Sa1 13:19-23), that, after this victory, the Philistines may have completely subjugated the Israelites, and treated them as their prisoners. We may therefore affirm with Hengstenberg, that "the author looked upon the whole land as carried away into captivity in its sanctuary, which formed as it were its kernel and essence." If, however, this figurative explanation of הארץ גּלות should not be accepted, there is no valid objection to our concluding that the words refer to some event with which we have no further acquaintance, in which the city of Dan was conquered by the neighbouring Syrians, and the inhabitants carried away into captivity. For it is evident enough from the fact of the kings of Zoba being mentioned, in Sa1 14:47, among the different enemies of Israel against whom Saul carried on war, that the Syrians also invaded Israel in the tie of the Philistine supremacy, and carried Israelites away out of the conquered towns and districts. The Danite image-worship, however, was probably suppressed and abolished when Samuel purified the land and people from idolatry, after the ark had been brought back by the Philistines (1 Sam. 2 ff.).

Next: Judges Chapter 19