Commentary Critical and Explanatory
on the Whole Bible
1-6. In those days . . . the Danites sought them an inheritance to
dwell in--The Danites had a territory assigned them as well as the
other tribes. But either through indolence, or a lack of energy, they
did not acquire the full possession of their allotment, but suffered a
considerable portion of it to be wrested out of their hands by the
encroachments of their powerful neighbors, the Philistines. In
consequence, being straitened for room, a considerable number resolved
on trying to effect a new and additional settlement in a remote part of
the land. A small deputation, being despatched to reconnoitre the
country, arrived on their progress northward at the residence of Micah.
Recognizing his priest as one of their former acquaintances, or perhaps
by his provincial dialect, they eagerly enlisted his services in
ascertaining the result of their present expedition. His answer, though
apparently promising, was delusive, and really as ambiguous as those of
the heathen oracles. This application brings out still more clearly
and fully than the schism of Micah the woeful degeneracy of the times.
The Danites expressed no emotions either of surprise or of indignation
at a Levite daring to assume the priestly functions, and at the
existence of a rival establishment to that of Shiloh. They were ready
to seek, through means of the teraphim, the information that could only
be lawfully applied for through the high priest's Urim. Being thus
equally erroneous in their views and habits as Micah, they show the low
state of religion, and how much superstition prevailed in all parts of
7-10. the five men departed, and came to Laish--or, "Leshem"
supposed to have been peopled by a colony of Zidonians. The place was
very secluded--the soil rich in the abundance and variety of its
produce, and the inhabitants, following the peaceful pursuits of
agriculture, lived in their fertile and sequestered valley, according
to the Zidonian style of ease and security, happy among themselves, and
maintaining little or no communication with the rest of the world. The
discovery of this northern paradise seemed, to the delight of the
Danite spies, an accomplishment of the priest's prediction. They
hastened back to inform their brethren in the south both of the value
of their prize, and how easily it could be made their prey.
11-21. there went from thence of the family of the Danites . . . six
hundred men--This was the collective number of the men who were
equipped with arms to carry out this expeditionary enterprise, without
including the families and furniture of the emigrants
Their journey led them through the territory of Judah, and their first
halting place was "behind," that is, on the west of Kirjath-jearim, on
a spot called afterwards "the camp of Dan." Prosecuting the northern
route, they skirted the base of the Ephraimite hills. On approaching
the neighborhood of Micah's residence, the spies having given
information that a private sanctuary was kept there, the priest of
which had rendered them important service when on their exploring
expedition, it was unanimously agreed that both he and the furniture of
the establishment would be a valuable acquisition to their proposed
settlement. A plan of spoliation was immediately formed. While the
armed men stood sentinels at the gates, the five spies broke into the
chapel, pillaged the images and vestments, and succeeded in bribing the
priest also by a tempting offer to transfer his services to their new
colony. Taking charge of the ephod, the teraphim, and the graven image,
he "went in the midst of the people"--a central position assigned him
in the march, perhaps for his personal security; but more probably in
imitation of the place appointed for the priests and the ark, in the
middle of the congregated tribes, on the marches through the
wilderness. This theft presents a curious medley of low morality and
strong religious feeling. The Danites exemplified a deep-seated
principle of our nature--that men have religious affections, which must
have an object on which these may be exercised, while they are often
not very discriminating in the choice of the objects. In proportion to
the slender influence religion wields over the heart, the greater is
the importance attached to external rites; and in the exact observance
of these, the conscience is fully satisfied, and seldom or never
molested by reflections on the breach of minor morals.
22-26. the men that were in the houses near to Micah's house were
gathered together--The robbers of the chapel being soon detected, a
hot pursuit was forthwith commenced by Micah, at the head of a
considerable body of followers. The readiness with which they joined in
the attempt to recover the stolen articles affords a presumption that
the advantages of the chapel had been open to all in the neighborhood;
and the importance which Micah, like Laban, attached to his teraphim,
is seen by the urgency with which he pursued the thieves, and the risk
of his life in attempting to procure their restoration.
Finding his party, however, not a match for the Danites, he
thought it prudent to desist, well knowing the rule which was then
prevalent in the land, that
|"They should take who had the power,
And they should keep who could."
27. they . . . came unto Laish . . . smote them--the inhabitants.
and burnt the city--"We are revolted by this inroad and massacre of a
quiet and secure people. Nevertheless, if the original grant of Canaan
to the Israelites gave them the warrant of a divine commission and
command for this enterprise, that sanctifies all and legalizes all"
This place seems to have been a dependency of Zidon, the
distance of which, however, rendered it impossible to obtain aid thence
in the sudden emergency.
28, 29. they built a city, and . . . call the name of that city Dan--It
was in the northern extremity of the land, and hence the origin of the
phrase, "from Dan to Beer-sheba."
Jud 18:30, 31.
30, 31. the children of Dan set up the graven image--Their distance
secluded them from the rest of the Israelites, and doubtless this,
which was their apology for not going to Shiloh, was the cause of
perpetuating idolatry among them for many generations.