6 June Judges 18:1-31

6 June. The tribe of Dan captures Laish

“At that time Israel did not have a king. And at that time the tribe of Dan was still looking for a land where they could live, a land of their own. The Danites had not yet been given their own land among the tribes of Israel.”

“So, from their family groups, they chose five soldiers from the cities of Zorah and Eshtaol to spy out and explore the land. They were told, ‘Go, explore the land!’”

“They came to the mountains of Ephraim, to Micah’s house, where they spent the night. When they came near Micah’s house, they recognised the voice of the young Levite. So they stopped there and asked him, ‘Who brought you here? What are you doing here? Why are you here?’”

“He told them what Micah had done for him, saying, ‘He hired me. I am his priest.’ They said to him, ‘Please ask God if our journey will be successful.’ The priest said to them, ‘Go in peace. The LORD is pleased with your journey.’”

“So the five men left. When they came to the city of Laish, they saw that the people there lived in safety, like the people of Sidon. They thought they were safe and had plenty of everything…”

“When the five men returned to Zorah and Eshtaol, their relatives asked them, ‘What did you find?’ They answered, ‘We have seen the land, and it is very good. We should attack them. Aren’t you going to do something? Don’t wait! Let’s go and take that land! ... Surely God has handed that land over to us!’”

“So 600 Danites left Zorah and Eshtaol ready for war. On their way they set up camp near the city of Kiriath Jearim [to the north west of Jerusalem] in Judah. That is why the place west of Kiriath Jearim is named Mahaneh Dan [meaning ‘the camp of Dan’] to this day. From there they travelled on to the mountains of Ephraim. Then they came to Micah’s house…”

“The 600 Danites stood at the entrance gate, wearing their weapons of war. The five spies went into the house and took the idol, the holy robe, the household idols and the statue. When the spies went into Micah’s house … the priest asked them, ‘What are you doing?’ They answered, ‘Be quiet! Don’t say a word. Come with us and be our father and priest. Is it better for you to be a priest for one man’s house or for a tribe and family group in Israel?’ This made the priest happy. So he took the holy robe, the household idols and the idol and went with the Danites…”

“When they had gone a little way from Micah’s house, the men who lived near Micah were called out and caught up with them… Micah answered, ‘You took my gods that I made and my priest. What do I have left? ... The Danites answered, ‘You should not argue with us. Some of our angry men might attack you, killing you and your family.’”

“Then the Danites went on their way. Micah knew they were too strong for him, so he turned and went back home. Then the Danites took what Micah had made and his priest and went on to Laish. They attacked those peaceful people and killed them with their swords and then burned the city.”

“There was no one to save the people of Laish. They lived too far from Sidon, and they had no dealings with anyone else. Laish was in a valley near Beth Rehob.”

“The people of Dan rebuilt the city and lived there. They changed the name of Laish to Dan, naming it after their ancestor Dan, one of the sons of Israel.”

“The people of Dan set up the idols in the city of Dan. Jonathan son of Gershom, Moses’ son, and his sons served as priests for the tribe of Dan until the land was captured. The people of Dan set up the idols Micah had made as long as the Holy Tent of God was in Shiloh.”

          (Judges 18:1-31)



In yesterday’s reading from Judges 17:1-13, Micah - an Israelite living in the hill country of Ephraim to the north of Jerusalem - had a number of pagan idols made from silver. He employed a young Levite from Bethlehem in Judah to be his ‘holy man’ or ‘priest’.

In today’s sequel, five Israelite spies from the tribe of Dan - from Samson’s home area further south between Zorah and Eshtaol - arrived at Micah’s house and asked the ‘priest’ whether the LORD would bless their proposed conquest of Laish in the north of Canaan, inland from Sidon (see 12 on the map on 10 May). On receiving a positive response, they returned home to report back to their tribal elders.

Six hundred armed men from the tribe of Dan then set off from Zorah and Eshtaol (see 11 on the map) to conquer Laish. They travelled north and camped en route at Mahaneh Dan (‘Dan’s Camp’) near Kiriath Jearim, to the north west of Jerusalem. On arriving at Micah’s house, they stole the silver idols and the household gods and set off with his priest.

On arriving at Laish, they attacked the city and destroyed it, before later re-building the settlement and calling it Dan. The silver idols were then set up in a ‘high place’ or cultic centre at Laish in direct competition to the worship of the God of Israel based around the tent of the Lord’s presence at Shiloh (see 13 on the map).

The conquest of Laish by the tribe of Dan took place within about fifty years of the initial conquest of Canaan by Joshua (i.e. between c.1400 and c.1350BC). We know this because the first priest of the newly renamed city of Dan was Jonathan, the grandson of Moses and son of Gershom (who was born some years before the Exodus from Egypt in c.1447BC) (see Judges 18:30).

Following the Israelite invasion of Canaan in c.1406 BC, the southern coastal plain was allocated to the tribe of Dan (see Joshua 19:40-46). However, due to the superior weaponry of the Philistines, who used iron chariots to defend their cities, the Danites were unable to conquer this territory (see Judges 1:19).

While a few Danites (such as Samson’s parents) remained in the south (see Judges 13:2), most of the tribe turned their attention to the far north of the country and seized the Canaanite city of Leshem or Laish, renaming it Dan (see Joshua 19:47 & Judges 18:1-31). As Dan was the most northerly city conquered by the Israelites, Israel stretched “from Dan to Beersheba” (see Judges 20:1 & 2 Samuel 24:2).

Extensive remains of the ancient Canaanite and Israelite cities have been excavated at Tell el-Qadi (Tel Dan) at the foot of Mount Hermon near the largest of the four sources of the River Jordan. A huge man-made rampart encircled the Canaanite city, which was entered by a mud-brick arched gateway on the eastern side. Abraham passed this Canaanite city in c.1833 BC when he rescued Lot and his family from the four kings of Mesopotamia (see Genesis 14:14).

On top of the remains of the earlier Canaanite fortifications, excavations have revealed a later city wall erected by the Israelites, together with a huge monumental stone gateway complex on the south side of the city. As at Jerusalem in the time of King Josiah (see 2 Kings 23:8), five upright standing stones (‘matzevot’) outside the gateway marked Dan as a pagan religious cultic centre or ‘high place’.

The story of Micah’s idols appears to be a later explanation of why Dan became a cultic ‘high place’ of pagan worship “before Israel had a king” (a phrase employed in Judges 18:1 to mean ‘before King David unified Israel and Judah in 1004BC and restored Yahweh worship as the national religion’). The use of this phrase also confirms that the last five chapters of Judges were not written and then added as an appendix to the original manuscript until after King David became King of the joint kingdom of Israel and Judah in 1004BC.

The photo (by Buzzard525) shows part of the ruins of the city of Dan.

You can read more about the excavation of the pagan ‘high place’ at Dan @ https://www.thebiblejourney.org/biblejourney2/28-the-israelites-face-continuing-opposition/the-conquest-of-laish/

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