What is found in the previous chapter with the Levite, we will see in this chapter with an entire tribe. The Levite searched in good luck for a place where he can go, without wondering what the LORD wants. Just like the other tribes, the tribe of Dan was given an inheritance, but did not take possession of it due to unfaithfulness. Now they are also in good luck looking for a place where they can settle. In this chapter they meet each other. The sin of the individual becomes the sin of an entire tribe.
1 - 2 Seeking an Inheritance
1 In those days there was no king of Israel; and in those days the tribe of the Danites was seeking an inheritance for themselves to live in, for until that day an inheritance had not been allotted to them as a possession among the tribes of Israel. 2 So the sons of Dan sent from their family five men out of their whole number, valiant men from Zorah and Eshtaol, to spy out the land and to search it; and they said to them, “Go, search the land.” And they came to the hill country of Ephraim, to the house of Micah, and lodged there.
The tribe of Dan has proven to be the weakest tribe when conquering the land. We have seen this in Judges 1 (Jdg 1:34). They lacked the strength to take possession of the inheritance allotted to them. In the days when there is no king in Israel, they wander around looking for an inheritance. If there is no looking upward to God and no attentive ear for His directions, the result is disobedience and doing one’s own will. This is indicative of the lack of strength.
In Joshua 19 God has given a clear description of the area He has reserved for the Danites (Jos 19:40-46). However, they avoid the enemy, who they let live on their allotted inheritance and now go in search for an easier prey. The spies who are sent out come from the same area where Samson grew up (Jdg 13:25).
Sending spies is reminiscent of what Moses did (Num 13:2). This was done at the request of the people (Deu 1:22). It is not proof of simple trust in what the LORD has said. Why should spies be sent out when God has made promises?
With the tribe of Dan everything happens from their own reasoning. Faith is nowhere to be discovered. But what about us? God has also given us our own inheritance. What do we do with that? If we do not take possession of that, we will focus on something else. The tribe of Dan is here a picture of God’s people seeking a place on earth because taking possession of the heavenly inheritance demands too much of them.
If we refuse God’s choice for us, we search for ourselves, but then we are not in God’s way. We finally arrive at the house and religion of Micah. The sequel shows that Micah’s religion fits seamlessly with the Danites’ mindset.
3 - 4 Question and Answer
3 When they were near the house of Micah, they recognized the voice of the young man, the Levite; and they turned aside there and said to him, “Who brought you here? And what are you doing in this [place]? And what do you have here?” 4 He said to them, “Thus and so has Micah done to me, and he has hired me and I have become his priest.”
When the Danites come to Micah’s house, the Levite stands out by his way of talking. Apparently he doesn’t belong here. To satisfy their curiosity, they ask him a few questions. These questions could have opened the Levite’s eyes to the wrong he did and the false position he is in.
At question one, the honest answer should have been that his own will had brought him here. But that question is not answered. The other two questions are answered correctly. He exercises the priesthood for Micah, who gives him money for it and allows him to enjoy other benefits as well (Jdg 17:10). The Levite is a by men ordained priest and must do what Micah expects of him.
We know this phenomenon today. In 2 Timothy 4 it says that there will be a time when people will “[wanting] to have their ears tickled, … accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires” (2Tim 4:3). In that time we live. For practicing their religion, people are looking for people who can speak nice and good, as long as their conscience is set aside. They have to talk about the pleasant things of life. They may quote the Bible, as long as they explain it in the way they like. What is said must not be allowed to condemn them, because then they choose another preacher. The norms and values given by God in the Bible should not be too clear.
As a result, Christianity today shows no other image than the time we have before us in the book of Judges. The introduction of a clergy into Christianity began very early. It has been forgotten that it is not men who can appoint someone to a particular service, but that the Lord Jesus Himself has given gifts to His ‘body’, that is the church. We read “and He gave some [as]” (Eph 4:11), and “but now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired” (1Cor 12:18). This does not involve negotiations on employment conditions, as is currently the case with the clergy.
The gifts are for the whole church, not for a separate group. No group can claim a gift for itself. By the willful actions of man this is denied and pushed aside. Each group has its own prominent leaders. Also in this respect there is nothing new under the sun. This evil is already found in the church in Corinth. The apostle Paul addresses this matter in his first letter to them directly in the first chapter (1Cor 1:10-13).
5 - 6 Again Question and Answer
5 They said to him, “Inquire of God, please, that we may know whether our way on which we are going will be prosperous.” 6 The priest said to them, “Go in peace; your way in which you are going has the LORD’s approval.”
Apparently convinced by the answers the Levite gave to their questions, the Danites see in him someone through whom they can ask the will of God. God is involved, but only to serve as a kind of stamp of approval on their actions. They ask the way of someone who has departed from God himself. By asking such a man the will of God, the tribe of Dan betrays his own spiritual condition. They do not wonder whether the position of the Levite has any right of existence for God. He presents himself as a clergy man, holds that position with Micah and so he is acceptable to the Danites.
They get the answer they want to hear. They flatter him by acknowledging him in his position. He flatters them by giving them the answer they want to hear. He doesn’t have to think about this answer for a second. There is no indication whatsoever that he is really engaging God. He tells them that they can go in peace, indicating that they will triumph over their enemies.
7 A Prosperous Journey
7 Then the five men departed and came to Laish and saw the people who were in it living in security, after the manner of the Sidonians, quiet and secure; for there was no ruler humiliating [them] for anything in the land, and they were far from the Sidonians and had no dealings with anyone.
What the Levite predicted comes true. They arrive in an area that meets all their desires of laziness and selfishness. The people who live there, live withdrawn, do not care about anything and have nothing to do with anyone. It is a people who live lawless: “There was no ruler.” They are not accountable to anyone.
Lawlessness does not necessarily mean all kinds of atrocities. Lawlessness is to live without regard to the authority that is set above us. For every human being this is in any case the authority of God. We can say that in 1 John 3 we have the definition of sin: “Sin is lawlessness” (1Jn 3:4b).
The people discovered by the Danites are not people of what we would call great sinners. They live neatly and peacefully. Yet they are not less sinners because of that. This is also shown by the fact that they live “after the manner of the Sidonians”. What the Sidonians propose, we saw during the discussion of Judges 3 (Jdg 3:3). There we saw that the Sidonians are people characterized by greed. They have an insatiable hunger for money. In the same way the people that the Danites find in that place live.
We can compare them to people who work hard and live soberly, but only do so to hoard. They count, so to speak, their money every day and conclude with pleasure that again it is slightly more than the previous day. The possession of money is their everything. Giving something away is the worst thought that might come to mind. They live for themselves and do not want to have anything to do with anyone; that would only be difficult because it could cost money. The Danites want to take over this place and position. The area is attractive to them. The discovery of this area seems to be an affirmative answer to their question to God through the Levite.
This is a lesson for us that an answer we receive, which is to our liking, does not always mean that we are in the Lord’s way. It is important in what mind we have prayed. Sometimes God allows us to get what we ask for because He sees that we are determined in our own will. Such a thing always causes horrible damage: “So He gave them their request, But sent a wasting disease among them” (Psa 106:15).
Asking for the will of God presupposes sincerity toward Him and the awareness that He really knows what is best. Paul encourages us: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Phil 4:6). Then he does not say that we will also receive what we have asked for, but: “the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:7). By bringing everything to the Lord and entrusting ourselves to Him, we keep peace and rest in our hearts. Suffering spiritual poverty is not an issue then.
8 - 10 The Report of the Spies
8 When they came back to their brothers at Zorah and Eshtaol, their brothers said to them, “What [do] you [report]?” 9 They said, “Arise, and let us go up against them; for we have seen the land, and behold, it is very good. And will you sit still? Do not delay to go, to enter, to possess the land. 10 When you enter, you will come to a secure people with a spacious land; for God has given it into your hand, a place where there is no lack of anything that is on the earth.”
The tribe mates are very curious about the findings of the spies. They report enthusiastically and insist on immediate action. What they have seen exceeds the wildest expectations. In their passionate story there is even room for God. Here too God is ‘called in’ to put the stamp of approval on their report.
Nobody wonders if this is the land God has thought good for them. After all, all the circumstances already make it clear that God has given this land into their hands, don’t they? With the same eyes and mindset, Lot used to look at the region of Sodom and Gomorrah. It looked “like the garden of the LORD” (Gen 13:10), a jewel of a place to dwell. Lot did not wonder what the LORD wanted. He followed with his heart what his eyes saw. We read in Genesis 19 about the misfortune that this brought to him and his family (Gen 19:1-38). The Danites possess exactly such a spirit as Lot.
11 - 21 The Promotion of Micah’s Priest
11 Then from the family of the Danites, from Zorah and from Eshtaol, six hundred men armed with weapons of war set out. 12 They went up and camped at Kiriath-jearim in Judah. Therefore they called that place Mahaneh-dan to this day; behold, it is west of Kiriath-jearim. 13 They passed from there to the hill country of Ephraim and came to the house of Micah. 14 Then the five men who went to spy out the country of Laish said to their kinsmen, “Do you know that there are in these houses an ephod and household idols and a graven image and a molten image? Now therefore, consider what you should do.” 15 They turned aside there and came to the house of the young man, the Levite, to the house of Micah, and asked him of his welfare. 16 The six hundred men armed with their weapons of war, who were of the sons of Dan, stood by the entrance of the gate. 17 Now the five men who went to spy out the land went up [and] entered there, [and] took the graven image and the ephod and household idols and the molten image, while the priest stood by the entrance of the gate with the six hundred men armed with weapons of war. 18 When these went into Micah’s house and took the graven image, the ephod and household idols and the molten image, the priest said to them, “What are you doing?” 19 They said to him, “Be silent, put your hand over your mouth and come with us, and be to us a father and a priest. Is it better for you to be a priest to the house of one man, or to be priest to a tribe and a family in Israel?” 20 The priest’s heart was glad, and he took the ephod and household idols and the graven image and went among the people. 21 Then they turned and departed, and put the little ones and the livestock and the valuables in front of them.
The call of the spies is answered. An army of six hundred men sets out to take possession of ‘the promised land’. Via Kiriath-jearim they reach the house of Micah. Then follows a remarkably detailed and vivid description of the way in which the Levite of Micah is taken over by the tribe of Dan.
The five men of the first mission lead the six hundred. Five is the number of responsibilities. Just as they are responsible for recommending the tribe’s new home area, so they are also responsible for the way this expedition is conducted. They take the floor and the initiative. Obviously, before taking possession of the area in question, they had planned to recruit the Levite as a tribal priest. After all, he made them hear a very favorable statement from God, which has come true. They can use such a man in their tribe very well.
They also tell their contemporaries of the other discovery they made, of the idols in the houses of Micah. They don’t have to explain what they mean. Their tribesmen have the same spiritual mindset as they.
When they arrive at the house, the five men first enter the house, while the others wait at the gate. The five take away the idols. If the priest sees this, he objects. However, that does not impress in any way. A self-willed priesthood is nothing. It serves only to satisfy religious feelings. The tribe of Dan is looking for this. Therefore, the Levite is silenced without pardon and they make him an enticing proposal.
The priest’s mood changes immediately when he hears what is promised. This proposal means an important improvement in his position and a larger circle within which he can exert his influence. The whole thing is so attractive, that he doesn’t even think about his obligations towards Micah anymore. He packs his things and goes with the Danites. The thought of asking about God’s will does not arise in him at all.
This kind of thing is not strange to us. Although we may not be asked, we are all sensitive to spiritual promotion. Imagine that we can choose from two occasions where we can tell something about the Lord Jesus. On one occasion we can expect a few hundred people, while on the other we can be happy when twenty people come up. What opportunity would we prefer? Isn’t it to that place where we can tell hundreds of people something about the Lord Jesus? It is to be desired that we first speak to the Lord about it. Then He will make it clear where we have to go.
The point is, that we are naturally inclined to look at what see, isn’t it? Let us be honest. What the Levite does is in our blood. The only thing that can preserve us from such human and carnal motives is a sincere questioning of the will of God. Let us not lose sight of the danger of the financial aspect either. The temptation to be guided by this is at least as great as the size of the hearing. Places where they reward a spiritual service well are more popular than those where they don’t rattle with the moneybag.
Anyone who may do a service for the Lord must take such dangers into account. We can learn this from the negotiations between the Danites and the Levite. The only client must be the Lord. Our only motive must be to serve Him. Everything else we can leave to Him.
22 - 26 Micah’s Protest
22 When they had gone some distance from the house of Micah, the men who [were] in the houses near Micah’s house assembled and overtook the sons of Dan. 23 They cried to the sons of Dan, who turned around and said to Micah, “What is [the matter] with you, that you have assembled together?” 24 He said, “You have taken away my gods which I made, and the priest, and have gone away, and what do I have besides? So how can you say to me, ‘What is [the matter] with you?’” 25 The sons of Dan said to him, “Do not let your voice be heard among us, or else fierce men will fall upon you and you will lose your life, with the lives of your household.” 26 So the sons of Dan went on their way; and when Micah saw that they were too strong for him, he turned and went back to his house.
Then Micah comes to the discovery that his house gods and his priest are lost, consequently, he drums up his men and starts the chase. After they have overtaken the Danites, the deeply sad testimony of Micah follows. Now that his idol and his priest are gone, he has nothing left. He feels he has been robbed of all spiritual support. Because a simple calculation teaches him that he with his small army can never take on the Danites, he goes home like a beaten dog. Apparently it does not occur to him to ask for the true God. So great is the spiritual decay in the people of Israel.
The Danites, however, are not better. Without a trace of pity they snarl poor Micah, despite the fact that he is a fellow countryman of them. When the true God no longer has His unifying place among His people, it is done with the unity of that people. There is therefore no respect for each other anymore. The following chapters will prove this abundantly.
Micah is not a man of faith. He relies on external things. The grip of his life is anchored in what is tangible. If that is taken away from him, he is adrift. How many Christians have not unconsciously relied on the certainties with which they have surrounded themselves? For us, an idol is something that separates us from God, something that makes us independent of Him in our actions. Those who rely only on their driving abilities in traffic and not on the preservation of God, have made these abilities an idol. That is what he admires, without including God who gave him those capacities. Those who rely solely on their insurance policies in case of setbacks and keep God out of those setbacks, have given their insurance the status of idolatry.
A man of faith may well possess certain external things, but his faith does not rely on them. It is the state of his heart towards God that is decisive, and in that mind he also looks at all kinds of external things. This is missing with Micah.
What Micah does and says here reminds us of what his ancestor Abraham once did, but in all respects in the greatest possible contrast with Micah. Abraham also chases with a small army of three hundred and eighteen men a large army (Gen 14:10-16). He does not do this to bring back idols, but to free his deviated brother Lot. He does not negotiate, but defeats the united armies of no less than five kings and frees his brother and nephew Lot.
It is not for nothing that Abraham is called “the father of the believers”. In him we see a shining example of how faith in God works. From him we can learn how to do it and from Micah how not to do it.
27 - 31 The Conquest of Laish
27 Then they took what Micah had made and the priest who had belonged to him, and came to Laish, to a people quiet and secure, and struck them with the edge of the sword; and they burned the city with fire. 28 And there was no one to deliver [them], because it was far from Sidon and they had no dealings with anyone, and it was in the valley which is near Beth-rehob. And they rebuilt the city and lived in it. 29 They called the name of the city Dan, after the name of Dan their father who was born in Israel; however, the name of the city formerly was Laish. 30 The sons of Dan set up for themselves the graven image; and Jonathan, the son of Gershom, the son of Manasseh, he and his sons were priests to the tribe of the Danites until the day of the captivity of the land. 31 So they set up for themselves Micah’s graven image which he had made, all the time that the house of God was at Shiloh.
The idols and the priest of Micah are taken away by the Danites as a kind of mascot. It will certainly ensure success in the assignment for which they are on the road. And so it happens. Laish offers no opposition. Because of their secluded position, there is no one around to catch a possible emergency signal and come to their aid.
God uses the tribe of Dan to judge them for their selfish, money-minded lifestyle. The fact that the tribe of Dan itself can be condemned does not prevent God from using them to punish others. Several histories in this book are proof of this. All the nations used by God to judge His people for their unfaithfulness are nations that must be judged themselves. That has happened, or will happen.
The Levite Jonathan seems to be a grandson of Moses (Exo 2:22). It is assumed that here in verse 30 it should be read for Manasseh Moses. There is only one letter difference in Hebrew between the words Manasseh and Moses. It is shocking to see that someone from his descendants, and already so soon, officially gives idolatry within a tribe of Israel a right of existence. This is yet another proof that godliness and grace are not inheritances. Both the history of Israel and that of Christianity provide blatant examples of this. We also see it in families of faithful believers.
The history of Micah, the Levite and the tribe of Dan ends with the mention of the two religious systems that exist side by side: the man-made religion and the place where God in that time has His house, Shiloh. In the eyes of men, the two may be able to go together, but in the eyes of God that is impossible.
The service in Shiloh will end. This happens when Hophni and Phinehas, two ungodly priests, take the ark as a mascot and it is captured by the Philistines (1Sam 4:10-11). But as long as the tabernacle is still there, it is possible for people like the God-fearing Hannah in Shiloh to meet the LORD (1Sam 1:9-11).