This is the written transcript of the sermon preached at Albemarle Reformed Church on August 18, 2013. The audio portion can be heard here.
The Beginning of the End
This morning we are to take a look at the entire 18th chapter of Judges. It stretches 31 verses, and it is not my usual habit to expound upon an entire chapter. But having read it through several times I saw no reason to split it up, as it all sums well together.
The last five chapters of Judges, 17-21, is the summation of a nation quickly forgetting its roots. The book opens with Israel conquering the surrounding nation under Joshua’s leadership. Each tribe is given an inheritance of its own; they are to go in and take possession of the land that the LORD had given them. However, we read several times in the first chapter that they did not drive out all the inhabitants of the land (1:21, 27, 29). This would be the start of the downfall of Israel. These three verses specifically name the tribes of Benjamin, Mannaseh, and Ephraim, respectively. When we come to chapter 18 we read that the tribe of Dan was still seeking their own inheritance. Some of the land had been settled, as we see further in this chapter that they are already settled in Zorah and Eshtaol, Samon’s home towns. But we also read in Judges 1:34 that the Danites were defeated by the Amorties and forced back into the hill country.
Dan is the tribe that the author hones us in on in this chapter. And it appears, by reading through the entire chapter, that the tribe of Dan is one of the major causes of the beginning of the end for the nation as a whole. “Why?” you may ask. It appears that the Danites introduced idol worship to the tribe. We are told in the text two things: (1) that the Danites eventually conquer the town of Laish, and (2) that Shiloh is the capitol of Israel during this time. When viewing a map, Shiloh is a good distance from Laish and one commentator hones in on the fact that because of its distance it would have been easy to engage in idolatry without the rest of then nation being privy to this.iWhether this is conjecture or not is not known, but it does make sense seeing as how those who desire to do evil, at the first do it in secret and then slowly introduce it to the rest of the people. Nevertheless, the actions of the Danites lead to unintended consequences for the entire nation.
The incident that occurs here gives way for the events of the next chapters. It is this episode that launches the Benjamin tragedy, which ensues in a battle of all Israel against one tribe. It is this very incident that marks an almost utter loss of the smallest of the nation and causes the totality of the people to grieve. As Moses had warned the people before his death, be sure your sin will find you out (Num 3:23). It is the beginning of the end for the nation of Israel when Dan re-introduces idolatry to their brothers.
vv.1-2 The Danites’ Mission. We first read here that the Danites were seeking an inheritance in the land. This may seem a bit confusing as we are at the end of the book of Judges and the inheritance was given at the beginning. But as has been pointed out previously, the book of Judges is not chronological. John Gill places this incident after the death of Joshua but before the first judge, Othniel. These final chapters are an appendix of sorts to show what kind of state Israel was in and their continual depravity into idolatry. We read at the first, “In those days, there was no king in Israel.”This signifies the lack of leadership among the nation. Joshua is dead, and unlike the death of Moses, God does not intervene to appoint a new leader. The people are left without human rule and as people without rule will do, they do what they think best, as the book has stated so many previous times before.
The Danites send out five men from their home-bases in the towns of Zorah and Eshtaol. It appears that the author appending this incident right after Samson’s life is no accident, as the audience would be familiar with the places mentioned in the text. We must not think this strange at all as we consider that even the ancients had their own style of writing to trigger queues to their audiences. As the explorers journey the author skilfully ties in chapter 17 with chapter 18. We read that the men came upon the house of Micah and were offered lodging there.
vv.3-7 The Oracle of the Priest. Something quite odd happens at this juncture: we are told that the Danites recognize the voice of the Levite priest. Many commentators (Barnes, Gill, K & D) try to explain that the accent, and not the voice, was what was recognize. However, it is important to remember the narrative given to us from chapter 17, that this Levite had been a wandering Levite. It is not unimaginable to think that he had once resided within the tribe of Dan and had even been in the company of the same men that were now present there. John Lange agrees, and commenting on this text says,
Dr. Cassel renders “sound,” see his explanation below. Keil and others understand it of dialectic pronunciation or other peculiarities of speech. Bertheau thinks that inasmuch as the envoys had to “turn aside” from their way in order to get to Micah’s temple, they could not have been near enough to hear the Levite’s voice or note his pronunciation. He therefore assumes that what they recognized was the “tidings” that were told them of the sanctuary near by. But why not take the words in the sense in which any man would naturally take them at the first reading? The Levite had been a wanderer; some one (or more) of the five envoys had met with him, and now recognizes his voice, as they lie encamped near by.ii
The men question the Levite as to how he ended up at Micha’s home, and the Levite explains that he has been treated well and hired as the man’s priest. The Danites say nothing in reply but only ask the priest to inquire of the LORD whether their journey will be successful or not. Of course, we find further down in the text that they are simply masking their true motives.
We are next told that the five men leave and come across the town of Laish. It is a Sidonian. It is a town that is described as quiet and unsuspecting, lackingnothing that is in the earth and possessing wealth. These people basically had a good life. They had access to all the natural resources and lived comfortably within their borders. Of the location the author tells us that it lay far enough from the Sidonians so as not to arouse suspicions or calls for help when it was attacked. It lied in an area that was not easily journeyed to; in other word, it was kind of in the sticks! The Danites saw this and were about to make full use of its advantage.
vv.8-12 Preparing for War.The Danites return to their homeland and make a report to the elders there that the town can be taken easily enough. The tribe rally 600 fighting men together and begin their journey. Not much of importance is expounded upon in this section. They camp at Kirath Jeraim the first day, and we read that by the second day they encounter the same house, and not by accident, as assumed, of Micah and the priest.
vv.13-25. The Beginning of the End.The next seven verses I view as the solidifying of idolatry in the nation of Israel. The five men inform their brothers about the idols within the house of Micah. Their statement, consider what you will do, is in essence telling them that they must seize advantage of the opportunity. One might question their motives behind this until he calls to remembrance that Israel is in the midst of a leaderless, human or theocratic, society and must do what they deem necessary to ensure their future. To the Danites, their mission was critical, for they could not all dwell in the small area that they were presently in. It only made sense that they have some kind of divine power to assist them, whether it be Yahweh or the false Canaanite deities. It only seems reasonable to them that they should now possess that which will give them victory over their enemies. And while they may be superstitious it is also important to keep in mind that the nation as a whole is not steeped fully into idolatrous worship as of yet. Yet these few verses will lend their telling of what is to come.
The five spies enter the house while the rest of the armed men remain at the gate. Upon entering the house they find the priest and ask him about his welfare. The Hebrew, Sha’al shalomseems to indicate that they are genuinely concerned for the well-being of the Levite, as the word ‘shalom’ was used as the totality of a person’s life. The LXX translates the Hebrew as και ηρώτησαν αυτόν εις ειρήνη: and they interrogated him about his peace. The LXX substitutes the word ‘shalom’ with the word ‘erenes,’ peace, which is the equivalent.
After they inquire of the Levite they proceed to take the household gods. Upon doing this the Levite asks their motives and is rebuked to remain silent. The question is then proposed to him a second time, as was the case upon first coming to Micha’s house: come with us and be to us a father and a priest. Their reasoning is that it is better for one to be priest to an entire tribe than the household of one man. And whether the Levite was not content to stay with Micah or that there was some conflict there is unknown. But the author tells us that the man was glad and willfully went with them. Micah and his men come out to meet them, as it seems to stop them. The Danites threaten Micah, in so many words and Micah, knowing that he does not have the strength to overpower them returns home.
vv.26-31. The Idolatrous Priest.And so the Danites continue on to Laish and conquer it, and burn it, and rebuild it, and rename it Dan, after their patriarch. And the conclusion of this chapter sets up for us the depravity into which the entire nation would be subjected to. We are told that the Danites set up the gods and the ephod and for the first time we are introduced to the name of this previously unnamed Levite. We discover that he is Johnathan, a descendent of Moses. There are some commentators who doubt that the named priest is the same as the priest named here, but most agree that he is. It certainly would make no sense that the author would, at the end of this chapter, introduce suddenly another character, who just also happened to be a Levite. And J. E. Cook, one of the contributors to The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Collegesspeculates that for us that then entire chapter may built upon this very thing:
The object of the whole story has been to trace the origin of the famous sanctuary at Dan. In this and the next verse the setting up of Micah’s image is told twice over, and a double note of time is given. The repetition suggests that we have here the two conclusions of the two narratives which have been woven together in the story. Moore thinks that Jdg 18:30belongs to the narrative which alludes to the man—the Levite—the priest (Jdg 17:8; Jdg 17:11a, Jdg 18:12b, Jdg 18:3b, Jdg 18:4-6; Jdg 18:18b etc.), whose name now turns out to have been Jonathan, a grandson of Moses, and that Jdg 18:31closes the other document, of which a characteristic feature is the young Levite (Jdg 17:7; Jdg 17:11b, 12a, Jdg 18:3; Jdg 18:15etc.).iii
This idolatry is carried out, as we see, until the captivity of the land. Again, I must make a side-note that most commentators do not believe this captivity to be the Assyrian invasion, but rather the captivity referred to is that of 1 Samuel 4:1-11, where the Philistines conquer the Israelites and the ark of God is carried away.
It is not really important to which captivity the author is pointing. But the important thing to note is that this Levite, who was supposed to be a spiritual leader of Israel was now introducing idolatry for the second time—and not just to a family, as at the first, but now to an entire tribe. What is sadder still is that this young man had such a rich, spiritual heritage in his grandfather Moses. Cooke adds this about the fact that this Levite is the grandson of Moses:
The Levite and his descendants, the priests of Dan, claimed descent from Moses. The margin notes another reading; in the Hebr. text the letter n is ‘suspended,’ or inserted above the line, thus turning Mosheh (משה) into Manasseh (מנשה). The Jews admit that the text was altered in order to repudiate the Levite’s claim; he acted, not like a son of Moses, but like the impious king Manasseh, to whom the Rabbis apply the principle, ‘every corruption is fastened upon (i.e. is named after) him who started it’; Talm. Bab. Baba Bathra 109biv
How sad the plight of this Levite! Twice, opportunity gave him a chance to do right and twice he squandered it. But sadder still, will be the fate of the nation as we will read in the last three chapters. Their sin and depravity will only be outmatched by Sodom and Gomorrah. And the people of God, those who were supposed to possess and understand the Law of God turned completely away from their Redeemer.
As God’s people we are given opportunities everyday to represent Him to the “Canaanites” in our lives. The Levite priest had a marvelous opportunity but compromised for the sake of comfort and acceptance. Instead of leading Dan into true worship he indulged their need to run after false deities. As priests in the Kingdom of God, it is every believer’s privilege and honor lead these Canaanites into worship of the true God and His Son, Jesus Christ. He had redeemed us through His blood on the cross in order to make us His people; He has been resurrected from the dead in order to secure our justification; and He has sanctioned us with the high and holy calling of proclaiming His Word throughout the world in order that His sheep might hear, come, and be saved. Like the Levite in this story we are faced with the decision of compromising our duty of pointing them to the Savior by giving in to the comforts of this world, or going against the tide of ease and being counted as faithful stewards of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
i Jamieson, Robert, Andrew Robert Fausset, and David Brown. A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments, vol 1, pg. 171. S.S. Scranton & Company.
ii Lange, John Peter. Commentary on the Holy Scriptures, vol 4, pg 232.. Scribner.
iii Barnes, W. E. Judges Contributor, Cook, J. E. Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges The Book of Judges, pg 170. CUP Archive, n.d.