As already has been pointed out, the age of the judges was characterized by lawlessness. In these final chapters, the sacred writer tells us over and over that every man did that which was right in his own eyes, and the reason he gives is, that there was no king in Israel. The final section of the book of Judges is formed of examples of such lawlessness to the number of three and the second of these is the exploration of the tribe of Dan, the first one being that of Micah’s spurious sanctuary, which has already been dealt with. The history of this exploration is so closely interwoven with the narrative of the idolatrous doing of Micah, that the two form one connected whole.
The sacred writer prefaces also his narration of the doing of the tribe of Dan with the assertion that “in those days there was no king in Israel,” because he wants his readers to know that he frowns upon what he is about to relate of this tribe. In those days the tribe of Dan, so we are told, sought them an inheritance to dwell in, the reason being that unto “that day all their inheritance had not fallen unto them among the tribes of Israel. But they were at fault. For they had received an inheritance along with the other tribes and the proof of it is the fact that even at that time the tribe dwelt in the district of Zorah and Eshtaol. The territory that had been allotted to them, extended: over Timnah and Ekron, as far as Joppa on the coast (); but they had failed to dispossess the enemy from most of this territory, despite the fact that Jehovah had commanded. So, instead of enlarging their borders by making war on their heathen neighbors, they resorted to other means of relieving the congestion in their homeland. They surprise an undefended and peaceful people that dwelt in the extreme north of Canaan. What was lacking to them is the enthusiasm of faith in Jehovah. So they looked about for a possession that had not been assigned to them. This, to be sure, was an unusual thing in Israel. It was another outstanding example of the lawlessness of the times. The resolution of the Danites to look for new possessions seems not to have been hastily made. Certainly, it was not arrived at by a few adventurers, who cut themselves lose from their people but by the whole tribe. The envoys to whom the execution of the scheme was entrusted, were chosen from among the whole. They were selected men, famed for their valor and thus, doubtless, rulers among their people. The commission that the five of them received—for there were five—was “to spy out the land and to search it.” From the house that stood near by the place where, on the evening of their first day’s journey, they came to rest, came a voice, which they recognized as that of the young Levite, who had hired himself out to Micah. It shows that they knew the man. They turned in thither, and: said to him, “Who brought thee hither? and what makest thou in this place? And what hast thou here.” They were surprised to learn from the Levite’s answers that the house was a sanctuary and he its priest. But they were also pleased. He could consult his oracle about the success of their undertaking. For they were ill at ease, having addressed themselves to a forbidden task, and knowing, therefore, that the Lord was not with them in their venture. Yet they said to the Levite, “Ask counsel, we pray thee of God, that we may know whether our way which we go shall be prosperous.” Posing as the spokesman of God, the Levite framed the kind: of reply that he knew they wanted to hear. “Go in peace,” he said to them, “the way wherein ye go is before the Lord.” And the five went, strengthened in their purpose by the favorable sense in which they explained the communication. The capacity of sinful men for self-deception is great.
There is a different explanation from the one given above of the statement, “When they were by the house of Micah, they knew the voice of the young man the Levite.” It is this: The Levite in Micah’s house wore a priestly dress, which was provided—so the law required.—with bells, in order that their sound may be heard when he enters into and comes out of the holy place.” The Danites, having passed the night heard, in the morning, the bells of the officiating priest, and thus learned, to their astonishment, that there was a Levite there. If this is the right explanation, the question that the five put to the Levite, “What doest thou here,” has this in it, “Thou, a Levite, here in the temple of an idol.” If so, it is not likely that the cause of their surprise was their finding a Levite officiating in a spurious sanctuary.
Coming to Laish, the five did their work well. Their observations were remarkable. They find the city quietly devoted to industrial arts, after the manner of the Zidonians, from whom they had cut loose themselves. And; it felt itself secure, that is, imagined that it had nothing to fear from any of its far distant neighbors and therefore it had not entered into relations for mutual protection with other cities and lived in a state of complete military unpreparedness. Such, doubtless, is the thrust of the statement, that there was no magistrate among them. The word found; in the Hebrew text doubtless must be rendered not magistrate but tyrant, warlord, military chieftain, a man skilled in the arts of war, surrounded by armed troops. We are to think here of an oriental tyrant, who without the consent of the inhabitants had become their master. They lived without a despot to oppress them, “to put them to shame in anything”, in the language of the text.
But the sacred writer means to bring out that this had its advantages. They were without military leadership and therefore were doomed, should they be attacked from without. The spies observed this—observed that such a commander was absent, that powerful friends were far away and that military activity was altogether wanting. It was thus a gladdening report that they could submit to their brethren, so different from the report of the spies sent by Moses. They, too, had come to a good land; but to a land, whose people were strong, and whose cities were walled and great, a land peopled with giants even. But the five could report that the land to which they had come was occupied by an insignificant colony of defenseless Zidonians, without military leadership and without a single walled city, thus a people from which that good land could be freed with little effort. If ever men were bursting with good news, it was these five spies. Yet, on their arrival at home, they keep silence, until they are asked, “What have ye?” But once they were asked, they instantly replied, for their hearts were burning within them, as is evident from the glow of their words. They said, “Arise, that we may go up against them: for we have seen the land, and, behold, it is very good: and are ye still? be not slothful to go, and to enter to possess the land. When ye go, ye shall come unto a people secure, and to a large land: for God hath given it into your hands; a place where there is no want of anything that is in the earth.” Mark the statement, “For God hath given it into your hands.” Judging them by this statement, they were God-fearing men, who perceived and gladly confessed that the victory is God’s and that in His strength they must conquer and that credit is due to Him alone for success in arms. Judging them from this utterance, they placed their trust in the Lord and not in the arm of flesh, and believed that He would give victory. But these spies must be judged by their deeds, as here, too, deeds speak louder than words. If they were men who feared God and placed their confidence in Him, they would have remained at home and have done their fighting there, freeing through warfare their allotments from their heathen neighbors, as God had commanded them by the mouth of Moses and Joshua. But from that warfare they shrink, the reason being that the enemy at home was formed of strong people with walled cities and great. Though the Lord; had assured them victory, that warfare they dared not war, but they would unsheath the sword against a handful of defenseless people. These men did not fear God. They trusted not in Him but they trusted in their military might, which they knew, was far superior to that of the little colony of Zidonians in the extreme north of Canaan. This military might was their god. From this might and not from the mighty God of Israel, they expected victory. And this might, they knew, would not fail them. For the victory always goes to the superior might. So it was then. So it is today. So it always is. I speak now of man’s wars and not of the holy wars of God and His people. And the Danites were about to fight a man’s war. And because the god of the Danites was their superior military might, the five spies could assure them that god—the god in whom they trusted—would give victory. This god—the superior military might—always gives victory to his devotees, however godless and however godless the war. So it is well to judge these spies from their utterances, if only it be understood who that god was of whom they spake.
The Danites, having heard the report of the spies, took immediate action. Six hundred families either volunteered or were selected. “And there broke up from thence six hundred men, girded with weapons of war.” The expedition at that time was an unusual event. It reminded of the old marches of Israel in the dessert but differed radically from these. The remark that “they went up and pitched in Kirjathyearim, in Judah,” and that, on this account “they called the place Mahanneh-dan—meaning, the camp of Dan—unto this day,” tells us that the event took place before the days of Samson and is therefore to be put between Gideon and Samson. For the sacred writer, at, connects the first awakening of Samson to his life of deliverer with this place. The road that was taken went over the mountains of Ephraim and led to the house of Micah. The five spies accompanied the colony of migrating Danites and formed the soul of the undertaking. “What houses are those? ask the Danites. The spies inform them and “do you know” they said, “that there is in these houses an ephod, and teraphim, and a graven image, and a molten image,” in a word, that here there is a private sanctuary, fully provided with everything necessary to such an institution. “Now therefore consider what we have to do.”
The manner of speech of the spies is revealing. They did not tell their comrades just what had to be done. For they reasoned that it was too obvious to all that there was but one thing that had to be done. The apparatus of Micah’s temple had to be seized, the young Levite included. There was necessity. Hence, they had no choice. But why was there necessity? They had need of that Levite and his ephod and teraphim for learning God’s will in order to be directed thereby. But they lied. That necessity was one of their own creation. For they could have inquired in Jehovah’s temple in Shiloh. But before Jehovah they could not, stand, for their hearts were filled with thoughts of robbery and death. Besides, they desired a god and a priest to whom they could dictate the responses to their prayers for success in arms and in whose temple they could celebrate, by appropriate religious exercises, the victory granted. The Danites would not face the truth about themselves. And to justify their robbery, they made a necessity of their desire for an idol and reasoned that it is right to steal or to commit any crime, if only there is necessity. So, having learned what was to be had in yonder idol temple, they knew instantly what had to be done. Without further ado, they went thither. The six hundred, in their warlike array, took a position at the gate, while the families, the cattle, and the rest of the train moved off. The five leaders went to the Levite. They greeted him, and he permitted them to enter the sanctuary, while he remained at the gate. His lack of vigilance plainly reveals his lukewarmness. He was but a hireling. And his temple was but the temple of an idol, for which he could have no true affection. The five being alone in the temple, took all its treasures, image and image ornaments, ephod and teraphim and brought them forth, when the Levite addressed them, ”What do ye?” as if he would raise an alarm to prevent the theft. But they knew how to deal with the man. They proposed to him to the priest to them, a whole tribe rather than to a mere individual, but in that case to be still and to come along with the idols, without making a noise. And he accepted the offer with joy, took the idols in his priestly hands, and for security enclosed himself in the midst of the warriors. What a strange thing is sin. The priest had first betrayed his God, and now, from mere vanity, abandoned his benefactor, who had treated him as a son, and left him in the lurch and joined himself to his spoilers; and yet he is eagerly snatched up as something valuable, and it is considered a great point gained, when such hands as his carry gods who allow themselves to be taken by robbers.
The Danites assume that thy might be pursued. Accordingly they put everything that could not defend itself before them, their little ones and their cattle, and they march along ready for instant action. Meanwhile Micah had been told of the theft. About the sanctuary was a little village that had formed itself, and the people are soon collected. They pursue, but not in the faith of God-fearing men, nor with the cause of such men. The Danites, when they heard the cries of the pursuers, acted as if nothing had happened. Turning them about, they said to Micah, “What aileth thee, that thou earnest with such a company?” But when by Micah anger they perceive that he knows all, they tell him that it were better for him to bequiet—he might otherwise lose more; for the people there, whom he saw, were fierce men. And the Danites went their way, and Micah had to yield to superior power. Coming to Laish, the Danites smote them with the edge of the sword. And they built a city and called the name thereof Dan, after Dan their father. And they set up the graven image and the Levite, whose name was Jonathan, and the Levites sons were their priests all the time that the house of God was at Shiloh.