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Bible Commentaries

The Pulpit Commentaries

Judges 18

 

 

Verses 1-31

EXPOSITION

18:1

In those days, etc. See 17:6. The tribe of the Danites sought them an inheritance, etc. This does not mean that the whole tribe of Dan were still seeking their inheritance. The bulk of the tribe, as we read in Joshua 19:40-48, did receive their inheritance by lot before the death of Joshua (Joshua 19:49) and Eleazar (Joshua 19:51). But as long as any part of the tribe was not settled, the tribe as such, in its unity, was still seeking a settlement. The land for their inheritance had not yet fallen to the tribe in its integrity. This is in part accounted for by what we read 1:34, that the Amorites would not suffer the children of Dan to come down to the valley, so that those who could not get possession of their land there would be crowded into other parts of the tribal territory. These Danites, of whom we are here reading, were dwelling in Zorah and Eshtaol ( 13:1, 13:25), as we see by 1:2, 1:11. Unto that day, etc. Translate this clause, For unto that day the land (meaning the whole land) had not fallen unto them in the midst of the tribes of Israel for an inheritance. The words the land must be supplied after the analogy of Numbers 34:2. What follows in this chapter is a more detailed account of what was briefly mentioned in Joshua 19:47, where, however, the A.V. went out too little for them is not a translation of the Hebrew text, which is very difficult to explain. Houbigant, by an ingenious conjecture, gives the sense was too narrow for them. Prom the mention of this migration in the Book of Joshua, it is probable that it took place not many years after Joshua's death.

18:2

They came to Mount Ephraim ( 17:1, 17:8). The hill country of Ephraim would be on their way to the north from Eshtaol. They would naturally avoid the plain where the Amorites and Philistines were strong.

18:3

When. Rather, while. By the house. Rather, in or at the house. They knew the voice, having, as some think, known him before he left Bethlehem, or perceiving a southern accent. But it may merely mean that they discerned his voice as he was singing or reciting prayers in the house of God. Micah's house seems to have been a collection of houses (verses 14, 22), approached by one gateway (verse 16), in one of which the Levite dwelt. They turned in thither. This seems to have been next morning, when they were starting on their journey. Hearing the Levite's voice, they turned aside into his house. What makest thou, etc. Rather, What doest thou in this place? and what is thy business here?

18:4

And I am his priest, or, to be his priest.

18:5

Ask counsel of God, or simply Ask God, as the identical phrase is rendered in 1:2, where see note.

18:6

And the priest said, etc; having first, it is to be presumed, put on the ephod (see 8:26, 8:27, note; 17:5). Before the Lord is your way, i.e. he looks upon it with favour, has respect unto it, and will make it successful, as it is said in Psalms 34:15 : "The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous." "Whether," says Bishop Patrick, "he had any answer from the teraphim, or feigned it out of his own head, is uncertain.''

18:7

To Laish. Called in Joshua 19:47 Leshem, which is perhaps a corruption caused by the statement that they called it after the name (Ke-shem) of Dan, or it may be only another form. The name is strangely corrupted in the Septuagint of Joshua 19:29 of this chapter into Oulamais, and in Joshua 19:47 into Lesem-dan. St. Jerome, misled by the Septuagint, has Lesem Dan. Laish was situated four Roman miles from Bahias, on the road to. Tyre, on one of the sources of the Jordan. Robinson identifies it unhesitatingly with Tell-el-Kady, "the mount of the judge" (where Kady has the same meaning as Dan), close to the great fountain, "one of the largest fountains in the world," called el-Leddan, which is the source of the lesser Jordan (Josephus), and which may very possibly be the ultimate form of ed-Dan, corrupted into Eddan, el-Eddan, Led-dan, el-Leddan, by successive incorporations of the article el into the word itself, of which there are other examples. The remainder of this verse is exceedingly obscure; a probable translation is as follows: "And they saw the people that was in the midst of it dwelling in security after the manner of the Zidonians, 'quiet and secure, and none doing any injury to any one in the land, possessing wealth;' and they were far from the Zidonians, and had no business with any man." The words in italics are probably a poetical quotation, descriptive of the people of Laish, which would account for the peculiar diction and the grammatical changes; for whereas the word dwelling is in the feminine gender, agreeing with people, the words quiet and secure and possessing are in the masculine, which can be readily accounted for if they are a quotation. This would also account for the tautology, "dwelling in security," "quiet and secure," and for the poetical character of the phrase "possessing wealth," and for the unusual form of the word here rendered wealth ('etzer with an ain, instead of the usual otzar with an aleph), in accordance with the Septuagint and Vulgate and Gesenius, who derive the meaning of wealth from collecting, from which the common word atzereth derives its meaning of a collection or congregation of people.

18:9

To go, and to enter. The exact meaning is, Be not slothful to go (i.e. to go on your way from hence), so as to enter in and possess the land. This would be expressed by leaving out to before enter—to go and enter.

18:10

Translate, "When ye come, ye shall come unto a people secure; and the land is very large (for God hath given it into your hands), a place where there is no want," etc. The Hebrew of very large is, literally, wide on both hands. The parenthetic for God hath given it into your hands, merely explains why they speak so confidently about it (cf. Deuteronomy 8:9).

18:11

The family—meaning the tribe (see 13:2, note, and cf. Joshua 7:17). Possibly a reason for the use of the word family here and in 18:2, as applied to Dan, may be that there was only one family in the tribe of Dan, that of the Shuhamites (Numbers 26:42). Six hundred men. With their wives and sisters and children (see 18:21), the whole company, must have amounted to two or three thousand souls.

18:12

Kirjath-jearim (city of forests), otherwise called Kirjath-Baal and Baalah, in the hill country of Judah (Joshua 15:60). It, lay on the border of Benjamin (Joshua 18:14, Joshua 18:15). Its modern representative in all probability is Kurit-el-enab, nine miles from Jerusalem, on the road to Joppa. The district is still very woody. Mahaneh-dan, i.e. the camp of Dan (see 13:25). Behind, i.e. to the west of. The exact site of Mahaneh-dan has not been identified with certainty. Mr. Williams was shown a site called Beit-Mahanem in the Wady Ismail which answers well in position, but it has not been noticed by any other traveller ('Dictionary of Bible').

18:14

In these houses, showing that Beth-Micah, the house of Micah, was in fact a small village (see verse 22).

18:15

Even unto the house, etc. Rather, at Beth-Micah.

18:17

Went up, viz; into the upper chamber, where it appears the chapel wan So we read in 2 Kings 23:12 that there were altars on the roof of the upper chamber of Ahaz (cf. Jeremiah 19:13). And came up, and took. There is no and in the Hebrew, and the tense of the verb is changed. A fuller stop must be put after went up. And then the account proceeds, with a certain solemnity of diction, They came in thither; they took the graven image, and the ephod, and the teraphim, and the molten image (full stop). The narrative goes on, Now the priest was standing in the entering of the gate, etc. But these five went into Micah's house, etc; as just related, and of course brought them out to the gate where the priest was standing with the 600 Danites.

18:18

The carved image. It should be the graven image, as elsewhere. The Hebrew text here has the graven image of the ephod, as was noticed in 17:3, note. But it is very possible that the vav, and, has fallen out of the text by accident, and it does not seem likely that a different phrase should be adopted in this one place from that followed throughout in the enumeration of the articles in Micah's chapel, so that the A.V. is probably right. Then said the priest, etc. When he saw the idols and teraphim in the hands of the five men he cried out in alarm. It is remarkable that here and in the preceding verse he is styled the priest.

18:19

Lay thine hand upon thy mouth. Cf. Job 21:5; Job 29:9; Job 40:4. A father and a priest. See 17:10, note.

18:20

The priest's heart was glad, etc. The prospect of greater dignity and greater emolument stifled all sentiments of gratitude and loyalty to Micah, and made him cheerfully connive at an act of theft and sacrilege.

18:21

They turned, i.e. turned their backs upon Beth-Micah, and went on their way to the north. The little ones. The term necessarily includes the women of the emigrant party. Compare Jacob's care for his wives and children (Genesis 33:1-5); only Jacob expected an attack from Esau in front, the Danites an attack from Micah from behind. The carriage. It is the same word as is translated in Genesis 31:1 glory; it might be rendered valuables. It would no doubt include the precious images and ephod which they had just stolen.

18:22

The houses near to Micah's house. See verse 14, note. Year to, the same Hebrew word as is rendered by in verse 3, where see note.

18:23

That thou comest, etc.—literally, that thou art gathered together, the same word as in 18:22. It is the idea of the clan, or family, or tribe which causes the phrase. Just as Israel or Judah designates the whole nation, or the whole tribe, under the name of their patriarch, so here Micah would include all the clan who dwelt in Micah's house; and hence the Danites speak of Micah being gathered together.

18:24

My gods, or, as some render it, my god. But the plural is probably right, as Micah was thinking of the molten and graven images, and the teraphim, and called them gods, without perhaps meaning to imply that there was any God but Jehovah.

18:25

Run upon thee. Rather, run, or fall, upon you; it is the plural pronoun, comprehending the whole party. The argument of the Danites was the argument of the stronger.

18:26

The verse tells us what the two parties did, but not in the Order in which an English writer would express it; for no doubt the Danites, encumbered with their women, and children, and baggage, did not go on their way till Micah and his party had turned back, though in English the contrary order is rather implied. The Hebrew merely puts the actions side by side, and leaves the order to be inferred.

18:27

And they. In the Hebrew the they is emphatic. It would be better expressed in English by repeating The children of Dan. The repetition of the epithets quiet and secure, as applied to the people of Laish, rather seems to indicate the writer's reprobation of the deed as cruel, like that of Simeon and Levi in slaying Hamor and Shechem. They smote them with the edge of the sword—a phrase denoting an exterminating slaughter (Exodus 34:26; Joshua 19:47; 1 Samuel 15:8, etc.). And they burnt the city, etc. Perhaps they had made the people and city a cherem, a devoted thing, and therefore slew the one and burnt the other (cf. Numbers 21:3; Joshua 8:19; Joshua 11:11, etc.); or the burning of the city may have been one of the means by which they destroyed the people.

18:28

Because it was far, etc. He reverts again to the description given in 18:7. That lieth by Beth-Rehob. It is literally, which belongeth to Beth-Rehob, i.e. the valley here spoken of was part of the territory of the Syrians of Beth-Rehob in the time of David (and very likely earlier), as we read in 2 Samuel 10:6. It seems to have taken its name, House of Rehob, from Rehob the father of Hadadezer, king of Zobah (2 Samuel 8:12), and to have been called Beth-Rehob very much as Micah's settlement was called Beth-Micah. It was also called for shortness Rehob, as Numbers 13:21; 1:31; 2 Samuel 10:8. It was situated, as we learn from 1:31, in the bounds of the tribe of Asher, in the extreme north of the Holy Land, near the entering in of Hamath, the site of which, however, is unknown (see Numbers 13:21). The valley is that through which the Leddan fountain flows ( 1:7, note), and is the upper part of the plain called el-Hulleh, which is the northern continuation of the Jordan valley. They built a city. Rather, they rebuilt the city.

18:29

Howbeit Laish was the name, etc. The strange form here given in the Septuagint, Oulamais, arises from their having taken the Hebrew word for howbeit (oulam) as part of the name, and left out the L of Laish (see 18:7, note).

18:30, 18:31

And the children of Dan, etc. It was probably the long existence of this semi-idolatrous worship of the graven image at Dan that induced King Jeroboam to set up one of his golden calves at Dan, as we read 1 Kings 12:28-30. And Jonathan, the son of Gershom, the son of Manasseh. The Hebrew text really has the son of Moses. But a little n is written above the line between the M and the S of Moses (Mosheh), so as to be read Manasseh, as thus: MSH; so that they avoided the pain of reading aloud that the grandson or descendant of Moses was an idolatrous priest, without actually altering the written text. It is indeed most sad that it should have been so, though like examples are not wanting, as, e.g; the sons of Eli and of Samuel. For Gershom the son of Moses see Exodus 2:22; Exodus 18:3; 1 Chronicles 23:14-16. It does not follow that Jonathan, the priest of the Danites, was literally the son of Gershom. It may merely mean that he was of the family of which Gershom was the head. Until the day of the captivity of the land. There is great diversity of opinion as to the meaning of this phrase. Many understand it, as is the obvious meaning of the words, of the Assyrian captivity (2 Kings 15:29; 2 Kings 17:6). But some of the best commentators, as Kimchi among the Jews, and many moderns, think it refers to the taking captive of the ark by the Philistines in the days of Eli, because this is the time indicated in the next verse by the mention of the house of God in Shiloh. The ark of God never returned to Shiloh after it was taken thence (1 Samuel 4:3, 1 Samuel 4:4) and captured by the Philistines (ibid. 1 Chronicles 23:11). It is also noticed that the expression, The ark of God is gone into captivity (is taken, A.V.), occurs in 1 Samuel 4:21, 1 Samuel 4:22. It certainly would be strange that one verse (30) should speak of the worship of the graven image lasting till the Assyrian conquest of the land, and the next verse (31) limit it to the time that the house of God was in Shiloh, some 300 years earlier. At the same time it should be noticed that verse 30 speaks of the time that Jonathan's sons were priests to the tribe of Dan, and verse 31 of the worship of Micah's image. It is quite possible that the descendants of Jonathan may have been appointed priests at Dan to Jeroboam's golden-calf worship, though the original graven image of Micah may have been destroyed by Saul or David; and in the interval between such destruction of Micah's image and the setting up of Jeroboam's calves they may have been the priests of an irregular worship on a high place at Tell-el-Kady. And this would enable us to give what is certainly its natural meaning to the words, "the captivity of the land." But no certainty can be arrived at without more actual knowledge. Many commentators adopt Houbigant's conjecture to read ark for land at the end of verse 30 (aron for aretz). Others think that some deportation of the Danites by the Syrians or other neighbouring people not recorded in history is here spoken of. All the time the house of God, etc. This must have been written not earlier than the time of Samuel, and possibly much later. The house of God, i.e. the tabernacle, was in Shiloh from the days of Joshua (Joshua 18:1) till the days of Eli (1 Samuel 1:3), after which we have no account of where the house of God was till the ark was brought up to Jerusalem by King David from the house of Obed-edom the Gittite (2 Samuel 6:12), and placed in the tabernacle that David had pitched for it (2 Samuel 6:17); but whether this was the tabernacle that had been pitched at Shiloh or a new one does not appear. It is not improbable that Samuel may have moved the tabernacle from Shiloh to Ramah (1 Samuel 7:17). The ark had rested in the house of Abinadab at Baaleh or Kirjath-jearim for twenty years (1 Samuel 7:2) previous to its removal by David.

HOMILETICS

18:1-31

Society without a head ceasing to be society.

The writer of the five last chapters of the Book of Judges had a painful task to perform. Writing the history of his people, and they the people of God, he had to tell a tale of violence, plunder, bloodshed, brutality, civil war, and extermination, on the secular side, and of superstition, schism, and idolatry, on the religious side of his story. And we may observe, by the way, that we have a striking evidence of the truthfulness and impartiality of the narrator in this merciless exposure of the sins and misdeeds of his countrymen. Nor are we at a loss to draw the lesson which he intended us to draw from the account which he has given; for no fewer than four times in the course of his brief narrative does he impress upon the mind of his readers the fact that in the days when these shameful deeds were done "there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes" ( 17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25). No doubt the writer referred particularly to that government with which he was acquainted, the government of kings properly so called, of whom Saul was the first, and David and his long line were the successors. But when we remember that in its best days the Israelitish nation had no king but God, and was governed under him by such rulers as Moses, Joshua, Gideon, Samuel, and the other judges, we shall perceive that the lesson to be learnt is not so much that of the superiority of monarchy over other forms of government, as of the absolute necessity, for the religious and civil welfare of a people, that a firm government should exist, to control by the force of law the excesses of individual will, and to compel within certain limits the action of individuals for the sake of the public good. Looking at their several influences upon the body of the Israelite people, how pernicious was the theft by Micah of his mother's hoarded treasure; how injurious to the community was the idolatrous worship set up by Micah, and that for generation upon generation; how disastrous to the commonwealth of Israel was the brutal outrage of the men of Gibeah; how intolerable was the marauding expedition of the Danites, both to the quiet dwellers in the land and to peaceful neighbours beyond its border; and what a complete loosening of all the joints of social life do the several transactions display! Nowhere do we see any common aim for the common good, but each man's covetousness, superstition, lust, anger, cruelty, pursuing private objects at the expense of public interests. The ideas of a society, a commonwealth, a Church, a nation, were lost in individual selfishness. Now this was in a great measure due to the want of a central supreme authority to repress, to direct, and to overrule. Just as material nature, if the power of gravitation were removed, would fall to pieces, and all cohesion would be gone, so, without a common authority wielding the power of law, human society would fall to pieces, and be reduced to chaos. Men are blinded by their own passions; particular sections of society can see nothing but their own fancied interests; lawless violence would plunder here; impulsive zeal would rush onwards there; a fanatical superstition would set up its altars where it ought not; fierce rivalry would rise upon the ruins of its antagonist; revenge would glut itself with destruction; one trade would seek the suppression of all that stood in its way; one interest would devour another, one class supplant another, one rank tread down another. It is the business of law wielded by sovereign power to look with an equal eye upon all the different interests of the State, to favour all by favouring none at the expense of others, to repress all individual action which would hurt the whole, and to regulate all the separate forces which would be injurious to the whole. Law, like the eye of God, is impartial in its look-out; its end is to produce order, harmony, and peace. Under the even reign of law eccentric violence is unknown, and its steady but irresistible pressure gives consistency and strength to the whole fabric of society. Under its reign full scope is given to every energy for good, and all the scattered forces of the separate parts are concentrated for the benefit of the whole. Under its wholesome restraints the selfish passions of man are not allowed to injure themselves or others, and the folly of the foolish and the wickedness of the wicked are checked in their injurious courses. Not that which is right in his own eyes, and which self-will desires, but that which the law, the reflection of God's mind, commands, is the rule by which every man's actions must be squared. The perfection of a human polity is one in which wise laws govern the whole social movement as surely as the laws of nature govern the material world. It is the interest of all classes of the community to bow to this supremacy of law, and to unite in a firm compact to support the central authority in repressing every act of lawlessness, whether committed by an individual or by a company. It is only thus that social chaos can be avoided, and that civil cosmos, which alone is civilisation, can be maintained for the true liberty and welfare of mankind. It is just the same with the Church of God, which is the commonwealth of his saints. In it the word of God must reign supreme. In it individual opinions, sentiments, wishes, and feelings must all be subordinated to the Divine law. In it selfish eccentricities, ambitions, activities must all be restrained by a wise and even rule if the Church is to be the abode of order, peace, and love. In the surrender of individual will to the discipline of the supreme authority the sacred commonwealth finds its perfect balance, and each member is enabled to yield that service which indeed is perfect freedom; because the unchecked power to do that which is right in his own eyes is not a man's liberty, but his bondage. Self-will is set in motion by sin; but law is the fruit of wisdom and justice moving for the happiness of all, securing right, and stopping up the gangways of wrong. From the spirit of lawlessness deliver thy Church, O Lord!

HOMILIES BY A.F. MUIR

18:1-13

The history of a man-made ministry: 2. Its abuse.

A special instance of the manner in which it wrought mischief afforded in the migration of the Danites. The proximity of Micah's house to the great northern highway made it a natural resting-place for travellers, and so the spies find their way there. By them the young priest, who turns out to be a previous acquaintance, is recognised. The existence of the "house of gods" is thus made known, and they desire him to consult the oracle concerning their fortunes. Although their adventure was a wicked and unscrupulous one, they are told, "Go in peace: before the Lord is your way wherein ye go." The visit of the spies to Laish, their report to their brethren, and the setting out of the 600 Danites, who arrive in the first stage of their march once more at Micah's house, are then narrated. We see, therefore—

I. HOW A MERCENARY PRIESTHOOD AND SHRINE MAY BE PROSTITUTED TO BASE USES. The oracle at Shiloh was symbol and seal of the national, unity, and its priesthood represented the national conscience. It would have been impossible for them to sanction such a crime. But it was otherwise with Micah's priest and "house of gods." The latter was a mercantile speculation, a private enterprise, and was therefore obnoxious to any temptation like this. A striking parallel to this is afforded by the Church of Rome, with its sale of indulgences, etc.

II. HOW EAGER UNHOLY MEN ARE FOR RELIGIOUS SANCTIONS IN THEIR FRAUDULENT AND MURDEROUS DEEDS. When religion becomes a matter of money, and its advantages are sold to the highest bidder, it ceases to be the judge of right and wrong. The contradiction between the errand upon which they were sent and the spirit of God's revelation ought to have struck them. Yet this is but one instance of an all but universal error. They imagine that true religion can call evil good and good evil.

III. HOW THEREBY A TURBULENT TRIBE IS ENCOURAGED IN ITS DESIGNS UPON' A PEACEFUL DISTRICT, AND A PERMANENT WRONG IS INFLICTED. The moral latent in the incident is thereby sharply pointed. It must appear to all how mischievous, how subversive of human society and of religion, such an institution must be. The only safeguard against such evils is in the central authority at Shiloh being recognised, and that authority being enforced by a duly elected king.—M.

18:14-31

Its transfer and establishment in a lawless community.

The spies had evidently taken counsel with the 600, for the theft of the gods is done in a cool, business-like way; and they have evidently a settled design concerning them. Everything that would encumber or be detrimental to them is sent on in front. The real or feigned remonstrance of the priest, and his willing compliance with their desire, and the pursuit by Micah, are realistic touches that add greatly to the interest and naturalness of the narrative. That the slaughter, etc. at Laish was of the most horrible description is suggested—"There was no helper."

I. THOSE WHO SUBVERT THE PRINCIPLES OF MORALITY SHOULD NOT EXPECT TO BE TREATED ACCORDING TO THOSE PRINCIPLES.

II. HOWEVER APPARENTLY RELIGIOUS WRONG-DOERS ARE, THEIR CONDUCT DOES NOT LOSE ITS ESSENTIAL CHARACTER, AND WILL BE JUDGED. The record of the occurrence has preserved it for all time, and it is condemned before the bar of the righteous conscience.

III. THE GREATEST CARE SHOULD BE TAKEN AT THE FIRST INDICATION OF SCHISM OR ERROR, AS SUCH THINGS TEND TO PERPETUATE THEMSELVES. A regular priesthood is instituted, with its hereditary privileges and duties.

IV. THE REAL EFFECT OF SUCH RELIGIOUS MOVEMENTS IS TO THE DETRIMENT OF TRUE RELIGION. The "house of gods" at Laish is a rival to the "house of God" at Shiloh. During those early days of Hebrew nationalisation and religious training, the mischief and hindrance occasioned by it must have been enormous. True religion is ever opposed in the world. Its worst foes are those who most nearly resemble it in outward ceremony, but whose motives are impure.—M.

18:23, 18:24

The idolater's distress.

Micah has at one fell swoop lost gods and ephod and priest. As his chief gains and his fancied importance were derived from this source, he was desolate.

I. THOSE WHOSE TRUST IS IN OUTWARD THINGS, AND WHOSE HEART IS BOUND UP IN THEM, ARE EXPOSED TO GRAVE DANGERS AND DISADVANTAGES. The losses of life; the anxieties and dreads; bereavement. The religion of external details, how easily disarranged! The whole "establishment" may be swept away!

II. THE SPIRITUALLY-MINDED ARE FREED FROM THESE CARES, AND ALTHOUGH SUFFERING SIMILAR DEPRIVATIONS AND LOSSES, ARE NOT WITHOUT COMFORT. "God is a spirit, and they that worship him," etc. The heart that rests on Christ is secure against all outward perils. Forms, externals, etc. are not essential to true religion. The "means of grace" are not to become an end in themselves, and where the end is reached otherwise they can be dispensed with.—M.

HOMILIES BY W.F. ADENEY

18:5

The religion of convenience.

I. MEN WHO ARE UNWILLING TO DO THE WILL OF GOD ARE SOMETIMES ANXIOUS TO SECURE HIS HELP. These Danites are little better than freebooters; they are determined to go their own way; they have no wish to be guided by God; they simply wish to be assured of success. So there are many who have sufficient religious faith to desire the blessing of God on their life, but not sufficient to submit to his guidance and authority. True loyalty to God will make us not merely consult him as to the success of our work, but as to its rightness, and not merely inquire whether the way in which we are determined to go shall prosper, but ask what way God would have us take.

II. THE PRAYER FOR PROSPERITY UNACCOMPANIED BY SUBMISSION TO GOD'S WILL DOES NOT JUSTIFY THE COURSE OF ACTION TO WHICH IT RELATES. We have superstitions about prayer. We are too ready to imagine that all is well if we have sought God's blessing upon our work. But we have only a right to ask for this when we are doing right. Prayer cannot sanctify a bad action. The Danites were not justified in their marauding expedition because they first consulted a supposed Divine oracle. Men seek God's blessing on their business while they conduct it dishonestly, on their country while they favour aggressive wars and national injustice, on their private lives while they pursue a worldly, perhaps even an immoral, course. Such conduct rather aggravates than mitigates guilt, because it betrays blindness of conscience in the searching light of God's presence.

III. AN ASSURANCE OF SUCCESS IS NO PROOF OF THE FAVOUR OF GOD. We are too ready to worship success as though it were a justification of the means by which it was attained. In this world, viewed from a human standpoint, goodness often fails and wickedness often succeeds. Our own feeling of assurance is no ground of reasonable confidence. They who are on the best of terms with themselves are not therefore on the best of terms with God. The timid, diffident, despondent soul may be really regarded with favour by God, while the vain, self-elated soul may be living under his frown. The faith which saves is not self-confidence nor the assurance of success, but submissive and obedient trust in a Lord and Saviour.

IV. THEY WHO MAKE A CONVENIENCE OF RELIGION WILL FIND IN THE END THAT IT WILL BE THEIR CONDEMNING JUDGE. The priest told the Danites that their way was before the Lord. God would watch them. They had invoked his name. They would see ultimately what his presence involved. The recognition of God which is involved in seeking his blessing will increase our condemnation if we disregard his will.—A.

18:19, 18:20

The mercenary priest.

Greed and ambition are the besetting sins of depraved priests. Both of these evil characteristics are apparent in Micah's Levite.

I. THE PRIESTLY OFFICE IS DEGRADED BY MERCENARY GREED. Micah had adopted the Levite when he was homeless and destitute, and had treated him with the kindness of a father to his son; yet as soon as he discovers a chance of better pay, the miserable man deserts and robs his patron. No man can serve God truly if the money wages of his service are the chief consideration with him. Though he may take such just payment as is given to him if he is God's faithful servant, he will, like the faithful Levites, feel that his real portion is the Eternal (Joshua 13:33). Such a man should also consider himself bound by ties of affection and friendly obligation to the people among whom he ministers. If he seeks promotion simply for the sake of pecuniary advantage, and irrespective of the loss which may be sustained in his present sphere, and of his possible unfitness for a larger sphere, he is guilty of gross worldliness and wicked selfishness.

II. THE PRIESTLY OFFICE IS DEGRADED BY SELFISH AMBITION. The Levite is tempted by the prospect of exercising his functions in a larger way as the priest of a tribe. Such an offer would only be possible in Israel under circumstances of religions decline and social disorder. Even then the Levite must have known that he was no priest at all according to the law of God, for he did not belong to the family of Aaron. But ambition tramples on law for its own advancement. Of course there are occasions when a man may naturally endeavour to rise in the world, and if he can be sure that he will extend his usefulness, it is his duty to do so. But—

1. The opportunity of enlarged service elsewhere is no justification for unfaithfulness to our present service. Plainly the Levite was treating his benefactor with unpardonable ingratitude and treachery in deserting him for the service of the Danites.

2. It is only a culpable ambition which will lead a man to seek a higher position simply for his own honour and profit, and not for the good of those who are intrusted to his care. The priest exists for the people, not the people for the priest. But the latter condition has been only too apparent in the course of the corruptions of Christendom. Office has been sought solely for the satisfaction of the greed and ambition of the aspirant. How contrary to the teaching of Christ, who said, "Whosoever will be great among you, let him be your servant"! (Matthew 20:27).—A.

18:24

The lost gods.

Micah's distress at the loss of his gods and priest may be regarded on two sides—on the side of superstition and on that of genuine devotion.

I. THE SUPERSTITIOUS SIDE OF MICAH'S DISTRESS.

1. The god that can be stolen must be no true God. Micah should have seen the folly of his idolatry in the catastrophe which had befallen him. If the idols could not protect their own shrine, what could they do for their owner's home?

2. The man whose character is corrupt is worthless as a priest. Yet after the Levite had behaved in the vilest way Micah still felt the loss of him bitterly. This distress came from his superstitious belief in the efficacy of the residence of an official priest in his house, no matter what was the baseness of the man's character or the emptiness of his services.

3. A religion which depends on any material things or human offices for its efficacy is foreign to the character of the spiritual worship of the true God. It was a mistake for Micah to suppose that he would lose the presence of God by losing the images which he had made, or the blessing of God by losing his priest. Nothing that is done to a man's outside life can affect his religious blessings. God dwells in the shrine of the heart. No persecution can rob us of his presence. The Waldenses in their mountain cave had lost every earthly comfort, but they had not lost God. God's blessings are not dependent on external ordinances, though these are the usual channels through which they flow. If we have no visible temple, altar, priest, or service, God can still bless us fully.

II. THE NATURAL SIDE OF MICAH'S DISTRESS. There is much in it which speaks well for Micah. Micah is a religious man. To him the loss of what he believes to be the source of religious blessings is a great trouble. Are not they who can lose the real presence of God in their hearts without any feeling of compunction far more astray than this man with all his idolatry and superstition? God is the light and life of the soul. How strange then that any should live without him and yet not know that anything "aileth" them! But whatever a man makes into a god for himself will interest him deeply. If he makes a god of his money, his art, his child, the loss of his god will plunge him into the darkness of despair.

1. Since we are thus deeply affected by the object of our supreme devotion, let us see that this is no earthly thing which can be stolen or destroyed, but the true, eternal God who will never leave us.

2. God sometimes takes from us the earthly treasures of which we have made gods that we may see the mistake of our idolatry, and so learn to lift up our hearts to the ever-abiding presence.—A.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Judges 18:4". The Pulpit Commentary. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/tpc/judges-18.html. 1897.

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