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(MT versing)
Danites Seek Territory Danites Adopt Micah's Idolatry The Failures of the Israelite Tribes
Micah and the Tribe of Dan The Danites in Search of a Territory
The Migration of the Tribe of Dan
18:1-6 18:1-6 18:1-6 18:1-3 18:1-6
18:7-10 18:7-10 18:7-10 18:7-10 18:7
The Migration of the Danites
18:11-13 18:11-13 18:11-13 18:11-13 18:11-13
Danites Take Micah's Idols
18:14-20 18:14-21 18:14-20 18:14-17 18:14
18:21-26 18:21-26 18:21-23 18:21-26
Danites Settle in Laish 18:25-26 Capture of Laish;
Foundation of Dan and the Sanctuary There
18:27-31 18:27-29 18:27-31 18:27-31 18:27-31

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Bible Interpretation Seminar")


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

  1. First paragraph
  2. Second paragraph
  3. Etc.


1In 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. 2So 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. 3When 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?" 4He said to them, "Thus and so has Micah done to me, and he has hired me and I have become his priest." 5They said to him, "Inquire of God, please, that we may know whether our way on which we are going will be prosperous." 6The priest said to them, "Go in peace; your way in which you are going has the Lord's approval."

18:1 "there was no king of Israel" This is the recurrent phrase of Judges 17-21.

▣ "in those days" This refers to the period before there was a king (i.e., Saul). Another historical marker (Jdgs. 18:30) shows this was written or edited by later generations.

  1. period of monarchy
  2. period of Assyrian exile

▣ "the tribe of the Danites" Dan was allotted land in the south (cf. Jos. 19:41-46; Jdgs. 1:34-36), but pressure from the Amorites and Philistines caused them to seek another inheritance (cf. Jos. 19:47). The unsettled condition is reflected in the phrase "camp of Dan" (cf. Jdgs. 13:25; 18:12).

▣ "for until that day an inheritance had not been allotted to them as a possession among the tribes of Israel" This is a strange statement in light of Jos. 19:40-46.

However, Jos. 19:47 mentions a city called "Leshem," which most scholars think is the "Laish" of Jdgs. 18:7, 29. If this is so, then Joshua, in its final form, had to be written after the relocation of Dan to the north.

The other option is to translate this phrase as "the Danite tribe was looking for a place to settle because at that time they did not yet have a place to call their own among the tribes of Israel" (NET Bible).

18:2 "valiant men" This could refer to

  1. nobility (i.e., social rank)
  2. military ability
  3. courage

See full note at Jdgs. 6:12.

18:3 "they recognized the voice" They recognized either his accent (Judah) or his specialized vocabulary (i.e., Levite).

18:5-6 The five spies recognized this private shrine as a valid worship site of YHWH. They fully accepted this Levite's ability to communicate with YHWH.

NASB  "Your way in which you are going has the Lord's approval"
NKJV  "May the presence of the Lord be with you on your way"
NRSV, MT  "The mission you are on is under the eye of the Lord"
NJB  "YHWH is watching over your journey"
JPSOA  "The Lord views with favor the mission you are going on"
LXX  "Your journey that on which you are going, is before the Lord"
Peshitta  "May the Lord prosper the errand on which you go"

18:6 Notice the liturgical use of YHWH. In Jdgs. 18:31 the shrine is called "the house of Elohim." This Levite was asserting his credentials as a true priest of YHWH. He was a grandson of Moses.


7Then 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. 8When they came back to their brothers at Zorah and Eshtaol, their brothers said to them, "What do you report?" 9They 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. 10When 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."

18:7 "Laish" It (BDB 539 II) is also known as "Leshem" (BDB 546, cf. Jos. 18:47) and "Lus" in Egyptian texts. It is north of Hazor and north of Kedesh on the eastern side of Jordan.

▣ "living in security" This means in an isolated spot. The closest national power was the Phoenicians (i.e., Sidonians).

The people are characterized as:

  1. quiet ‒ BDB 1052, KB 1641, Qal ACTIVE PARTICIPLE; this root is used several times in Judges
    1. of the land ‒ Jdgs. 3:11, 30; 5:31; 8:28; 18:7, 27; Jos. 11:23; 14:15; 2 Chr. 14:1, 5, 6
    2. of a city ‒ 2 Kgs. 11:20; 2 Chr. 23:21
  2. secure ‒ BDB 105, KB 120, Qal ACTIVE PARTICIPLE
    1. the VERB can mean "trust," cf. Jdgs. 9:26
    2. the VERB can mean "rely," cf. 2 Kgs. 18:20, 21, 24
    3. the NOUN means "secure," cf. Jdgs. 8:11; 18:7; Deut. 12:10; 33:12, 28; 1 Sam. 12:11; 1 Kgs. 5:4; Ps. 16:9 (sometimes translated in NASB as "unsuspecting")
NASB, NKJV, JPSOA, Peshitta  "anyone"
NRSV  "Aram"
NJB, REB  "Aramaeans"

The MT has "adam" (BDB 9), which means "mankind" (i.e., NASB, "anyone"). There is often a confusion between the "d" in Hebrew and the "r." The same textual question is in Jdgs. 18:28.

The UBS Text Project, p. 118, gives "anyone" a "C" rating (considerable doubt).

The end of this verse is uncertain. It depends on how one translates "ruler" (UBS Text Project, pp. 116-117, "power-holder").

18:8 "Zorah and Eshtaol" These are cities west of Jerusalem on the coastal plain in the original allocation given to Dan.

18:9 This is similar to the report of the twelve spies in Numbers 13-14. Here, however, the tribe of Dan responds with confidence that YHWH is with them (Jdgs. 18:6,10).

  1. arise ‒ BDB 877, KB 1086, Qal PARTICIPLE
  2. let us go up against them ‒ BDB 748, KB 828, Qal IMPERFECT used in a COHORTATIVE sense
  3. do not delay ‒ BDB 782, KB 868, Niphal IMPERFECT used in a JUSSIVE sense
    1. to go ‒ BDB 229, KB 246, Qal INFINITIVE CONSTRUCT
    2. to enter ‒ BDB 97, KB 112, Qal INFINITIVE CONSTRUCT
    3. to possess the land ‒ BDB 439, KB 441, Qal INFINITIVE CONSTRUCT

18:10 "a spacious land" The ADJECTIVE (BDB 932) basically means "wide" or "broad." It is not describing a large land but a land of freedom. In Hebrew thought that which is narrow or tight describes difficulties, but that which is broad describes freedom, joy, lack of restraint.

▣ "for God has given it into your hand" This is the message of the five spies based on the Levite's words in Jdgs. 18:6.


▣ "a place where there is no lack of anything that is on the earth" This is theologically parallel to "it certainly does flow with milk and honey," cf. Num. 13:27. It was an abundantly fertile place (possibly reflecting Deut. 8:9).

11Then from the family of the Danites, from Zorah and from Eshtaol, six hundred men armed with weapons of war set out. 12They 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. 13They passed from there to the hill country of Ephraim and came to the house of Micah.

18:11 "six hundred men" This number of military personnel shows that the entire tribe of Dan was on the move north (cf. Jdgs. 18:21).

18:12 "Mahaneh-dan" This name (BDB 334) means "camp of Dan" and is used in Jdgs. 13:25 to show that the tribe of Dan had not possessed its tribal allocation from Joshua.

14Then 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." 15They 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. 16The six hundred men armed with their weapons of war, who were of the sons of Dan, stood by the entrance of the gate. 17Now 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. 18When 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?" 19They 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?" 20The priest's heart was glad, and he took the ephod and household idols and the graven image and went among the people.

18:14 Notice the cultic items mentioned (cf. Jdgs. 18:17-18).

  1. an ephod ‒ see note at Jdgs. 17:5
  2. teraphim ‒ see note at Jdgs. 17:5
  3. a graven image ‒ see note at Jdgs. 17:4
  4. a molten image ‒ see note at Jdgs. 17:4

18:19-20 Notice the four IMPERATIVES.

  1. be silent ‒ BDB 361, KB 357, Hiphil
  2. put your hand over your mouth ‒ BDB 962, KB 1321, Qal
  3. come with us ‒ BDB 229, KB 246, Qal
  4. be a father and a priest ‒ BDB 224, KB 243, Qal

The Danite military force of 600 men were saying, "You have no choice! We need a spiritual leader and cultic center for our new home!"

Remember, it was this Levite (Jdgs. 18:6) who took this idol with them. The Levite was excited to go!

21Then they turned and departed, and put the little ones and the livestock and the valuables in front of them. 22When 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. 23They cried to the sons of Dan, who turned around and said to Micah, "What is the matter with you, that you have assembled together?" 24He 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?'" 25The 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." 26So 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.

18:21 They expected trouble but in Jdgs. 18:23, they tried to act innocent!

The term "little ones" (BDB 381) would denote:

  1. children of all ages
  2. elderly
  3. infirm
  4. weak
  5. women folk

18:24 Micah is offended by their actions.

18:25 This reflects the attitude, "might is right." Micah is told to be silent, just like the Levite in Jdgs. 18:19.

▣ "you lose your life" This is the Hebrew word nephesh (BDB 659), which denotes the entire person; see full note online at Ezekiel 18:4.

27Then 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. 28And 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. 29They 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. 30The 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. 31So they set up for themselves Micah's graven image which he had made, all the time that the house of God was at Shiloh.

18:28 "Beth-rehob" It means "house of open space" (BDB 112, cf. Num. 13:21). This was the most northern area seen by Moses' spies. Its location is unknown (cf. 2 Sam. 10:6).

18:29 The Canaanite city of Laish (or Leshem of Jos. 19:47) becomes the namesake of the tribe—"Dan" (BDB 192; Dan means "judge").

18:30 "Gershom" Many scholars believe this name (BDB 177) was mentioned earlier in Jdgs. 17:7 (see notes there). This list of ancestors was an attempt to justify or legitimize this northern shrine and its priest, as opposed to sites in the south.

The name "Gershom" is first mentioned in Exod. 2:22.

▣ "Manasseh" The original text has "Moses" (UBS Text Project, p. 120, gives it an "A" rating, NRSV, TEV, NJB, REB), but the rabbis inserted a "suspended nun" to show their horror at the Levite's actions.

The MT even inserted the vowels for Manasseh. The LXX has "Manasseh."

The Levite's name was "Jonathan" (BDB 220).

▣ "until the day of the captivity of the land" This is a reference to (1) exile by Tiglath-pileser II in 733 B.C. (cf. 2 Kgs. 15:29) or (2) Sargon II's exile in 722 B.C. This shows that Judges was compiled by an editor, not one eyewitness author.

▣ "the house of God at Shiloh" This dates the book's original production in the time of Samuel (cf. 1 Samuel 1).

Shiloh (ABD, vol. 5, pp. 1213-1215) became a central worship site (cf. Jos. 19:51; Jdgs. 21:12-21; 1 Sam. 1:3). It was later abandoned (cf. Ps. 78:60; Jer. 7:12-15; 26:6-9). The priestly line of Eli will be rejected!


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

  1. Why are chapters 17-21 included in Judges?
  2. How is this section supportive of a strong central government?
  3. Are all the characters of this account presented in a poor light? If so, why?

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