Idolatry and the Danites

A Long-Standing Error

“And they set them up Micah’s graven image, which he made, all the time that the house of God was in Shiloh” (Judges 18:31).

by David Rice

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After the narrative about Samson, the book of Judges appends three narratives that do not pertain to any particular judge. These narratives occurred earlier in the sequence of Judges, before Samson. However, they are appended at the end of the book, followed by the story of Ruth, before proceeding on to the books of Samuel.

Judges 17-18 explains how the tribe of Dan went into idolatry, from which they did not recover.  Judges 19-21 explains how the tribe of Benjamin was nearly destroyed for a sin in their midst that they would not confront. The story of Ruth follows Judges, but pertains to the period of Judges, and explains the history of the great-grandmother of King David. All three narratives relate in some way to Bethlehem, and are sometimes referred to as the Bethlehem Trilogy.

In this article, we focus on Judges chapters 17 and 18, concerning the tribe of Dan.

1100 Pieces of Silver

A man named Micah, of the tribe of Ephraim, absconded with 1100 pieces of silver from his mother, but later confessed and restored it to her. His mother, however, had poor intentions for the money. She had “wholly dedicated the silver unto Jehovah” (Judges 17:3), to be made into an image. This reminds us of
the calf that Aaron formed in Exodus 32:4.  That image also was to represent Jehovah, as Exodus 32:5 shows. But worshipping Jehovah in the form of an image was directly prohibited by the second of the Ten Commandments. “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image or any likeness” for the purpose of worshiping (Exodus 20:4).

This also was the sin of Jeroboam, the first king of the separated 10 tribe kingdom of Israel (1 Kings 12:28, where “gods,” elohim, can as well be “god,” singular, as in the Holman Christian Standard Bible).

Micah’s mother took 200 shekels to a founder, or metal worker, to produce a suitable image for her. He did so, and her son Micah formalized a worship around this idol. He “made an ephod, and teraphim, and consecrated one of his sons, who became his priest.”

Evidently, Micah supposed that this form of outward respect would garner him favors from Jehovah ( Judges 17:13). But it was all illicit, contrary to the Law; so Micah was greatly in error. Judges 17:6 adds, “In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” Certainly, the knowledge of what was right was available. The Ten Commandments were brief enough for the memory of anyone devotedly sincere about keeping them.

Similarly, if we claim to follow God and His son, our Lord Jesus Christ, but express by our conduct or demeanor, or both, that we do not value even the simple, memorable words of the Sermon on the Mount, then we err as did Micah. Micah took pains to imitate something he knew about the Levitical priesthood but grossly erred in the whole concept of his conduct.  Might we carefully construct an image of godliness, but miss the simple precepts at the root of our faith?

This might occur if we mimic Christian standards in our meetings, but take little care for them in secular affairs during the week. Or it might apply if we mimic the teachings of others, but exhibit little of the spirit of Christ in doing so. When Jesus stood before Caiaphas, the latter made the pretense of caring for the sanctity of God but displayed little character other than anger. Jesus, who stood silently before his judge, meanwhile showed character in restraint, and character in the temper of his words when adjured to respond.

Let us not forsake the simple precepts of Christ, in the pretense of saying or doing something sacred.

A Levite

Judges 17:7-18:31 describes how at about this time a young Levite from Bethlehem of Judah journeyed into the region. When Micah realized this, he saw an opportunity to augment his form of sanctity by replacing his son as priest, with a genuine Levite. “Now know I that Jehovah will do me good, seeing I have a Levite to my priest” (Judges 17:13).

It is evident both to the narrator, and any reader, that nothing about this was sanctified.  At issue still was idolatry — worshipping God in the form of an idol. John the Apostle took this issue to a higher level when he advised us, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (1John 5:21). Anything that we put before our worship of God, our Heavenly Father, becomes an idol and should be removed from its revered place. The sweet principles of right, just, kind, Christian conduct should have first place. To do this is within the province of even the humblest brother or sister in Christ.

How the Danites Became Involved

Thus far, the sin of Micah had been contained to himself and his family. His interest was not true godliness but mundane gain, by adopting trappings that would imitate godliness. It would not work, for “God is not mocked,” and no true blessings would come from these illicit efforts (Galatians 6:7).

At this time, however, five representatives from the tribe of Dan passed by. They were not of the noble spirit of Samson, also a Danite, who remained in the tribal lot given to Dan by God’s providence when Joshua divided the land. These Danites were different. They tired of obtaining their God-allotted lands, “and sought them an inheritance to dwell in” (Judges 18:1-2). In this search they traveled northward, ultimately finding a lush area far north in Israel, removed from their original inheritance. Thus came to be the expression, “from Dan even to Beersheba” — the extremities of Israel, north to south (1 Samuel 3:20).

They observed the Levite, serving the house of Micah, and the image and the accouterments, and they were impressed. But they passed by and proceeded to the northern city of Laish, where they determined that they could obtain this area of land — contrary to the allotment God had given them through Joshua. Therefore they returned to the other Danites and gathered a company of 600 men for the conquest.

It Is About Us

The symbolism of this narrative is evidently about ourselves, the prospective members of the Church of Christ. Five is a number that pertains to the Church, as for example the Five wise virgins, and their companions, the Great Company class, the Five foolish virgins. The number 600 carries a negative connotation, as in the number 666 of Revelation 13:18, or more precisely, the 600 men that rode with Saul (1 Samuel 13:15, 14:2), or the 600 shekel weight of Goliath’s spear (1 Samuel 17:7).  Six is the number deficient from the complete number seven and indicates something sinful or fallen or short of what is right.

In these Danites, neglecting what God provided them, we have a picture of spiritual Israelites who might forsake the inheritance we have, perhaps because of the difficulty of defeating our spiritual foes — the world, the flesh, and the  devil. Instead, we might seek some lush earthly portion, easier to conquer — but not what God has set aside for us.

If we persist in this, we will lose our spiritual privileges, our spiritual inheritance, and our spiritual life. It is noteworthy that among the tribes of spiritual Israel in Revelation chapter seven, Dan is missing. Dan represents those once called to heavenly glory, who draw back and fail to obtain. Not those of the Great Company class, but those who fail to obtain altogether. (This is consistent with Jacob’s words
about Dan in Genesis 49:17.)

The Six Hundred Men

The six hundred men seized their northern conquest and later passing by Micah’s home again, they persuaded the Levite to join them, and serve their tribe — rather than merely Micah’s
household — as a priest with the image, ephod, and artifacts. The Levite saw an opportunity and was now glad to join them. Micah, later, protested to the Danites, but outnumbered and threatened, he could only return to his home empty-handed.

The 600 men returned to Laish, which they had conquered, renamed it Dan, and established the idolatrous worship of the Levite and Micah’s image. “The children of Dan set up the graven image: and Jonathan, the son of Gershom, the son of Manasseh, he and his sons were priests to the tribe of Dan until the day of the captivity of the land” (Judges 18:30).

Thus Dan went into idolatry and remained there. This tribe is a fit picture of those who turn into spiritual idolatry, appreciate some earthly good things, and lose their heavenly prospects.

This Levite brings the lesson close to us. The RV, Rotherham, NIV, and the Companion Bible give his descent as “Jonathan son of Gershom, the son of Moses.” The young Levite was a grandson of Moses himself (evidently modified to “Manasseh” in ancient times to mask the dishonor to Moses of what his grandson did). Even if we are associated with the most godly brethren or family, a wayward spirit can come to us. We can fall away. Therefore we should keep our affections on heavenly things.  “Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth” (Colossians 3:2).

Let us heed the lesson. Let us follow the simple, easily-understood precepts of the Sermon on the Mount. Let us be humble, meek, thirsting for what is right, merciful, pure in
heart, peacemakers, suffering persecution when necessary (Matthew 5:3-12). There is nothing here mentally challenging or difficult to understand. These sweet graces of the Spirit we intuitively recognize as proper to follow. But success here requires focus, care, and self-examination.  Without focus, we might drift, and we might offend.

Let us fight a noble warfare against our spiritual enemies. We are not called to fight individuals or to fight with brethren or to pretend, as Caiaphas, righteous indignation. Instead, we are to resist the influences of the world, our own selfish propensities, and the allurements of the adversary. In these issues, we may bend all our energies, to great advantage.

 

 

 

 

 

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