THE BOOK OF JUDGES
Lesson 6: Chapters 16-18
Part II: The Wars Against Israel's Enemies
The Conclusion of the Samson Narrative
Part III: Israel's Cycle of Depravity

Lord of Mercy,
We know that each of us is called by You to a destiny of eternal salvation through Christ Jesus. But, sadly, many of us, like Samson, will struggle against the destiny You have planned for us in the attempt to go our own way and do what is "right" in our own understanding. Help us to fulfill the destiny of salvation You have planned for us, Lord, and help us, as Your agents of mercy, to fulfill our mission to take Your Gospel message of salvation to all men and women in the human family that they might realize their planned destinies as children in the eternal family of the Most Holy Trinity. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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Satan the tyrant outwitted Samson with a woman, the same tyrant outwitted Adam with a woman: Samson had to grind at the mill, Adam had to labor wearily on the soil; Samson prayed to be released, whereas we pray to grow old in our misery. Blessed is he who delivered Samson, releasing him from the grinding.
Ephraim the Syrian, Hymns on Paradise, 13.12.13

 

From his mother's womb, Samson was called by God to be His consecrated Nazirite and tasked with the destiny to be the one to begin the deliverance of his people from the power of the Philistines. His faithful parents raised the child Samson by carefully obeying the instructions the Angel of God gave them: making him abstain from anything that was a product of the vine, seeing that he abstained from all unclean foods under the Law, and they never cut his hair which was the source of his amazing strength. Samson's adult narrative began in chapter 14 when he was probably 20 years old. It was the age a young Israelite adult took on the role of God's holy warrior (Num 1:3), and it would have been the time Samson was to begin to fulfill his destiny to fight the Philistines, to curb their advances into Israelite territory, and to begin the process of delivering the Israelites from the power of their Philistine enemies.

How much Samson resented the destiny he had not chosen for himself becomes evident in his desire to marry a Philistine woman (Judg 14:1-2). Not only did he not want to fight the Philistines, he wanted to become part of their culture. At the same time, he emotionally distanced himself from his parents and began to shut them out of his life. In his rebellion against his parents, he broke the fourth of the Ten Commandments in which a child is to honor his parents. He not only insisted on a marriage that gravely disappointed his parents and which was strictly forbidden by God (Dt 7:1-4) but he also cruelly deceiving them into eating forbidden, "unclean food" in the honey he brought them from the carcass of a lion. It must have been his retribution against them for all those years they diligently watched everything he ate to ensure his ritual purity as a faithful Israelite and as God' consecrated Nazirite. Perhaps this was why the Angel of Yahweh wouldn't tell Manoah how to raise the child. How could he prepare Manoah and his wife for the heartache their "special child" was going to bring them?

However, Samson's anger and rebellion wasn't just against his parents. The real focus of his rebellion was against his separation to God. He never wanted to fight the Philistines; he wanted to interact with them and intermarry with them. But Samson could not escape his destiny. Every time he tried to grow closer to the enemy it was through God's intervention that his attempts resulted not in peace but in betrayal and conflict with the Philistines. It was repeatedly the Spirit of God that has moved him into combat with them. Finally in chapter 15, as God gives Samson the strength to conquer the Philistines who are intent on killing him, he gives God credit for his deliverance and appears to finally accept his destiny (Judg 15:18). Samson calls out to God and pleads for water to revive him so he will not fall into the hands of the "uncircumcised." His "calling out" is a confession of his faith in God and as well as the acknowledgment that he is a member of the covenant people and is therefore separated from the "uncircumcised" who are not in covenant with Yahweh. As a reward God honored Samson's request and water miraculously gushed from the ground to revive him (Judg 15:19).

Question: What is the concluding statement in 15:20 which leads the reader to understand that the young Samson finally accepts his destiny and takes up his role as Israel's deliverer-judge?
Answer: The statement that Samson accepted his duties and judged Israel for twenty years.

The narrative picks up again near the end of Samson's twenty-year judgeship. He has accepted his destiny as the enemy of the Philistines but he is still a flawed man who has a physical and spiritually unhealthy attraction to the "unclean" women of the "uncircumcised" Philistine enemy.

Chapter 16: The Conclusion of the Samson Narrative

Nothing in his life became him like the leaving of it.
[Malcolm] Macbeth, Act I, Scene 4 (William Shakespeare)

Chapter 16 is divided into 3 parts:

  1. Samson's adventure at Gaza (16:1-3)
  2. The story of Samson and Delilah (16:4-22)
  3. Samson's revenge and victory in death (16:23-31)

Notice that the word "woman" (issa) continues to be a key theme word in the narrative of Samson.

Judges 16:1-3 ~ Samson's Adventure at Gaza
1 Samson then went to Gaza and, seeing [saw] a prostitute [a prostitute a woman] there, went in to her. 2 The men of Gaza being told, 'Samson has arrived,' surrounded the place and kept watch for him the whole night at the town gate. All that night they were going to make no move, thinking, 'Let us wait until daybreak, and then kill him.' 3 Till midnight, however, Samson stayed in bed, and then at midnight he got up, seized the doors of the town gate and the two posts as well; he tore them up, bar and all, hoisted them on his shoulders and carried them to the top of the hill overlooking Hebron.
[..] =
literal translation, IBHE, vol. I, page 679.

Samson is God's consecrated Nazirite and chosen deliverer-judge, but he is also a deeply flawed man who falls easily into temptations of the flesh. The Philistine city of Gaza is a walled city with a fortified defensive gate in which travelers and townspeople enter and exit the city. Samson goes to Gaza to keep a rendezvous with a harlot; he saw a prostitute woman (issa) in the literal text, perhaps sneaking into the town at night or he is so confident of his great strength that he doesn't care. The same Hebrew verb "to see" is used in 16:1 as was used in 14:1 when Samson "saw a woman/issa," the first Philistine woman he desired. The word "night" is used four times in verses 2 and 3. Darkness and night are often symbols of sin and the work of Satan. Samson is recognized and betrayed to the Philistines. Once again Samson is demonstrating the kind of immature and rebellious behavior that got him into trouble with the Philistines previously. The question is do we see this as a relapse or fall into sin after a long period of obedience or is this only part of what was an on-going moral problem?

Question: How do the Philistines plan to trap Samson?
The Philistines attempt to trap Samson by waiting for him at the town gate, the only way in and out of the town, but he breaks out of their trap by tearing down the town gate and supporting posts.

Question: What is the symbolic gesture of taking the town gate with him?
Answer: Tearing down the town gate and taking it with him is probably a message to the Philistines of Gaza that they have no power over him and he will come and go as he pleases. He has made the city of Gaza defenseless.

Question: What does Samson do with the gate to Gaza?
Answer: He takes it as a trophy of his victory and carries it to a hill across from the city of Hebron.

Carrying the town gate the forty miles to a hill across from Hebron is truly a Herculean feat.
Hebron is the main city of the Israelite tribe of Judah. King David will be crowned king of Judah at Hebron (which at that time will become his capital), and later the other tribes will come to Hebron to ask David to be king of all Israel (2 Sam 2:1-4; 5:1-5).
Question: Why does Samson carry the town gate of Gaza within sight of Hebron?
Answer: He probably thinks the Judahites have betrayed him to the Philistines again as they did in Judges 15:9-15. Carrying the gate within sight of Hebron is probably both a defiant gesture and a warning.

This is Samson's third betrayal:

  1. His wife in 14:17-18
  2. The men of Judah in 15:9-13
  3. The unknown informer 16:2

And this is his third victory over his Philistine enemies (14:19-20; 15:14-16 and 16:2-3).

Samson and Delilah

Up to this point Philistine women have been the cause of Samson's misadventures, and yet he has escaped thanks to God's gift of super-human strength which is due to Samson keeping the secret of his Nazirite vow to not cut his hair. But the day is coming when a Philistine woman named Delilah will break his heart and cause him to break his vow, leaving him without his strength and in the hands of his enemies. The Philistines will not threaten Delilah like they threatened Samson's Philistine bride. This is a different sort of woman. Her betrayal will be strictly a business opportunity and she will try unsuccessfully to collect her promised reward three times before she is successful on the fourth attempt. Notice the repetition of threes and sevens in the narrative. They are two of the "perfect" numbers. Three symbolizes perfection and is often used to show the perfection of God's divine plan while seven is the number of the perfection of fulfillment or completion. See the document "The Significance of Numbers in Scripture."

Judges 16:4-9 ~ Delilah's First Attempt at Betrayal
4 After this, he fell in love with a woman [issa] in the Vale of Sorek; she was called Delilah. 5 The Philistine chiefs visited her and said, 'Cajole him and find out where his great strength comes from, and how we can master him, so that we can bind him and subdue [torture] him. In return we shall each give you eleven hundred silver shekels.' 6 Delilah said to Samson, 'Please tell me where you great strength comes from and what would be needed to bind and subdue [torture] you?' 7 Samson replied, 'If I were bound with seven new bowstrings which had not yet been dried, I should lose my strength and become like any other man.' 8 The Philistine chiefs brought Delilah seven new bowstrings which had not yet been dried and she took them and bound him with them. 9 She had men concealed in her room, and she shouted, 'The Philistines are on you, Samson!' Then he snapped the bowstrings as a strand of tow snaps at a touch of the fire. So the secret of his strength remained unknown. [..] = literal translation, IBHE, vol. I, page 679-80.

Question: What is different about Samson's interest in the woman Delilah?
Answer: Samson's interest in Delilah is more than the lust he felt for his Philistine bride or the harlot of Gaza. He loves Delilah.

The only other time the word "love" has been mentioned is when Samson's Philistine bride accused him of not loving her because he would not give her the answer to his riddle (14:16). Delilah is the only one of Samson's three Philistine women who is given a name. She is the fourth named women in the narratives of the Judges (see Achsah, Deborah and Jael). The meaning of her name is debated but it is similar to the Arabic word dallatum, meaning "flirt" or "flirtatious." It also might be related to the Akkadian word dalalum, "to praise, glorify." The name also sounds very similar to the Hebrew word for "night" which is hallayla (Webb, page 398). It is a fact that with Delilah the "darkness" truly comes to consume Samson literally and figuratively.

Delilah lived in the Vale of Sorek, a valley that formed a natural access corridor between the coastal plain controlled by the Philistines and Israelite territory to the east. The villages of Zorah and Eshtaol and the "camp of Dan" are just north of the valley of Sorek. The city of Timnah (where Samson married his Philistine bride) and Ekron, the northernmost of the five Philistine cities, are just south of the valley. Samson is literally and metaphorically standing between two worlds and as in this first affair with a Philistine woman (14:1) he has traveled "down" from the camp of Dan to visit Delilah in the Valley of Sorek. Some commentators accuse Delilah of being a prostitute, but that word is not used to describe her in the Hebrew text. Delilah is his mistress whereas the other two women were a wife and a harlot. If there is to be a profession associated with her it may be that of a professional weaver since there was a large loom in her home (16:13-14).

Judges 16:5-6 ~ The Philistine chiefs visited her and said, 'Cajole him and find out where his great strength comes from, and how we can master him, so that we can bind him and subdue [torture] him. In return we shall each give you eleven hundred silver shekels.' 6 Delilah said to Samson, 'Please tell me where you great strength comes from and what would be needed to bind and subdue [torture] you?'
In verse 5 Delilah is approached by the "lords/rulers" of the Philistine cities. They make her an offer she can't refuse.
Question: How much silver do they offer her?
Answer: They each offer her eleven hundred pieces of silver.

If these are the Philistine rulers of the five Philistine cities, the total amount of the bribe is 5,500 pieces of silver. It is impossible to place a modern value on the bribe, but it was a tremendous sum compared with:

Question: Compare what the Philistine lords say to Delilah in verse 5 with the request she makes to Samson in verse 6. What is especially ominous about her request?
Answer: She uses the same words the Philistine lords used and in the same order: "bind and subdue/torture."

Judges 16:7-8 ~ Samson replied, 'If I were bound with seven new bowstrings which had not yet been dried, I should lose my strength and become like any other man.' 8 The Philistine chief brought Delilah seven new bowstrings which had not yet been dried and she took them and bound him with them.
He tells her the way to capture him is to bind his arms with seven, uncured (moist) rawhide straps.
Question: What happens after Delilah has followed Samson's instructions? Does he fight with the Philistines?
Answer: No fight is mentioned and he easily breaks his bonds.

The Philistines probably remained hidden because there is no mention of a fight. This is why Delilah successfully convinces him to reveal his secret three times before she is successful. There is no sign of treachery. The Philistines will not come out of their hiding place until Samson is completely neutralized in verse 21.

Judges 16:10-12 ~ Delilah's Second Attempt at Betrayal
10 Delilah then said to Samson, 'You have been laughing at me and telling me lies. But now please tell me what would be needed to bind you.' 11 He replied, 'If I were bound rightly with new ropes which have never been used, I should lose my strength and become like any other man.' 12 Delilah then took new ropes and bound him with them, and she shouted, 'The Philistines are on you, Samson!' She had men concealed in her room, but he snapped the ropes round his arms like thread.

She tries again to bind Samson but again he breaks his bonds.
Question: What is repeated from the first incident?
Answer: His reply that he "should lose my strength and become like any other man" (16:8 and 11) and Delilah's warning words "the Philistines are on you, Samson" (16:9 and 12).

Judges 16:13-14 ~ Delilah's Third Attempt at Betrayal
13 Delilah then said to Samson, 'Up to now you have been laughing at me and telling me lies. Tell me what would be needed to bind you.' He replied, If you wove the seven locks of my hair into the wrap of a cloth and beat them together with with the reed, I should lose my strength and become like any other man.' 14 She lulled him to sleep, then wove the seven locks of his hair into the wrap, beat them together tight with the reed and shouted, 'The Philistines are on you, Samson!' He woke from his sleep and pulled out both reed and wrap. So the secret of his strength remained unknown.

Delilah lulled Samson to sleep, perhaps with a song or by stroking his head on her lap (see verse 19), and then she wove his seven locks of hair into the textile on her loom that she was already weaving. It must have been a large loom that was bolted to the floor. She wove his hair into the "wrap" of parallel strands of the textile and pushed the hair with the shuttle tightly against the previous rows of fibers, but once again he broke free.

Why wasn't Samson getting suspicious? He must be challenged with capture by the Philistines frequently, yet in Delilah's house, she has warned him of danger that does not materialize. He probably views everything that has happened as their private lover's game and he is exhilarated and entertained by courting danger, something Delilah has realized about him; she knows her man. But this time he has come dangerously close to revealing his secret in even speaking of his hair. We also do not know how close together the attempts at betrayal came: days or weeks apart. Notice the repeated phrases from the first two episodes in verses 13 ("like any other man") and Delilah's shout to the Philistines in verse 14. Also notice the number seven again. Perhaps his hair is parted into seven dread-locks, or seven braids, or he has naturally curling hair and so his long hair is divided into seven slightly curling locks of hair, or the "seven" is only symbolic.

Judges 16:15-22 ~ Delilah Betrays Samson
16 Delilah said to him, 'How can you say that you love me, when your heart is not with me? Three times now you have laughed at me and have not told me where your great strength comes from.' 16 And day after day she pestered him with her talk, nagging him till he grew [his heart grew] sick to death of it. 17 At last he confided everything to her; he said to her, 'A razor has never touched my head, because I have been God's Nazirite from my mother's womb. If my head were shorn, then my power would leave me and I should lose my strength and become like any other man.' 18 Delilah then realized that he had really confided in her; she sent for the Philistine princes with the message, 'Come just once more: he has confided everything to me.' And the Philistine chiefs came to her with the money in their hands. 19 She lulled Samson to sleep in her lap, summoned a man and had him shear [summoned a man and she sheared] off the seven locks from his head. Thus for the first time she got control over him [then she began to torment him], and his strength left him. 20 She cried, 'The Philistines are on you, Samson!' He awoke from sleep, thinking, 'I shall break free as I have done time after time and shake myself clear.' But he did not know that Yahweh had left him. 21 The Philistines seized him, put out his eyes and took him down to Gaza. They fettered him with a double chain of bronze and he spent his time turning he mill in the prison. 22 But his hair began to grow again when it had been cut off.
[..] = literal translation, IBHE, vol. I, pages 680-81.

Perhaps the Philistines are growing restless and so Delilah becomes more persistent in nagging Samson until "his heart grew sick" of it. The expression "his heart grew sick" is the same as in Judges 10:16 when Yahweh's "heart grew sick" because he could not bear to hear Israel's cry of suffering any longer. Samson cannot bear to have his beloved accuse him of not loving her by his refusal to reveal his innermost secret.

Question: Where has Samson heard the same charge that in withholding a secret he is withholding his love? What should he have remembered and what does this tell us about him?
Answer: It is the same accusation his bride made against him in 14:16. He should have remembered how revealing a secret turned out the last time. Clearly he is a man who does not learn from his mistakes.

This is the fourth time Samson has repeated the phrase "like any other man." Is this perhaps his real longing to just live with Delilah "like any other man"? Is he worn out by his life as Israel's deliverer and is this a contributing factor to Samson revealing his secret? It could also be that he really doesn't believe he will lose his strength. After all, he has never tested it before. All Nazirites kept their long hair as a sign of their Nazirite vow, but none of them had his super-human strength. This time her intuition tells her that he has revealed the truth of his strength and she is so confident of this that she demands her payment from the Philistines.

This woman is so cold hearted that she lulls Samson to sleep with his head on her lap like a child. When he is asleep she motions for a Philistine to bring her a razor and she shaves the seven locks of hair from Samson's head herself. The verb "to shave" is in the feminine in the Hebrew text. This time when Delilah calls the Philistines they rush upon Samson who thinks he can break free from his attackers as he has done so many times before in his life (i.e., 15:13-15; 16:2-3).

Question: Why did Samson lose his strength? Did his hair provide some kind of magical power?

Answer: No. His strength came entirely from Yahweh, but his uncut hair was the sign of his Nazirite vow and his commitment to Yahweh as God's special Nazirite-deliverer-judge of Israel. It was when Yahweh's Spirit left him that his strength left him.

Judges 16:19b ~ [then she began to torture him], and his strength left him.
The verb translated "to torture" is the same word that the Philistines used back in verse 5 and by Delilah in verse 6: The Philistine chiefs visited her and said, Cajole him and find out where his great strength comes from, and how we can master him, so that we can bind him and subdue [torture] him. It can also be translated "torment."

Judges 16:21-22 ~ The Philistines seized him, put out his eyes and took him down to Gaza. They fettered him with a double chain of bronze and he spent his time turning he mill in the prison. 22 But his hair began to grow again when it had been cut off.
Question: What is ironic concerning the torture in gouging out Samson's eyes? There are three points of irony concerning his sight and his blindness.
Answer:

  1. When he was supposed to begin his career as a deliverer he was misdirected from his mission when he "saw" a Philistine woman and exclaimed that she was "right in his eyes." Later he "saw" the prostitute of Gaza. Now he has lost the sight that continually led him into sin and away from God.
  2. Samson in his blindness has become like what he did to gateless Gaza: he has become violated and defenseless.
  3. Samson's love for Delilah figuratively "blinded" him to his danger, and now he has been literally blinded by her betrayal.

Question: What are at least two other points of irony concerning Samson's fate?
Answer:

  1. Samson being taken "down" to Gaza by the Philistines (16:21) is the climax of his continual "going down" to the women of Philistia that began the Samson adult narrative in 14:1 (also see 14:5).
  2. It is exactly as he predicted four times in that he is "like every other man" and no longer has superhuman strength.

This is Samson's fourth betrayal:

  1. Betrayed by his Philistine bride (Judg 14:17)
  2. Betrayed by the men of Judah (Judg 15:12)
  3. Betrayed by the unknown person of Gaza (Judg 16:2)
  4. Betrayed by Delilah, the woman he loved (Judges 16:2-3)

The mutilation of prisoners of war was common in the ancient Near East (i.e., Judg 1:6-7; 1 Sam 11:2), and blinding was a common form of punishment for a rebellious vassal (i.e., 2 Kng 25:7).(1) The Philistines considered themselves to be the overlords of the Israelites and Samson has been a rebellious vassal for twenty years. To further humiliate him, the Philistines made him a slave in the grinding mill at Gaza. Grinding houses were places where slaves would grind grain for their masters. In such public mills, large mill stones were turned by an animal or by slave labor to grind grain into meal.

Question: But this episode ends in what note of hope?
Answer: Samson's hair began to grow back.

Judges 16:23-31 ~ Samson's Victory in Death
23 The Philistine chiefs assembled to offer a great sacrifice to Dagon their god. And amid their festivities they said: 'Into our hands our god has delivered Samson our enemy.' 23 And as soon as the people saw their god, they acclaimed him, shouting his praises: 'Into our hands our god has delivered Samson our enemy, the man who laid our country waste and killed so many of us.' 25 And as their hearts were full of joy, they shouted, Summon Samson out to amuse us.' So Samson was summoned from prison, and he performed feats in front of them; then he was put to stand between the pillars. 26 Samson then said to the boy who was leading him by the hand, 'Lead me where I can touch the pillars supporting the building, so that I can lean against them.' 27 Now the building was crowded with men and women. All the Philistine chiefs were there, while about three thousand men and women were watching Samson's feats from the terrace. 28 Samson called on Yahweh and cried out, 'Lord Yahweh, I beg you, remember me; give me strength again this once, O God, and let me be revenged on the Philistines at one blow for my two eyes.' 29 And Samson took hold of the two central pillars supporting the building, and braced himself with his right arm round one and his left round the other; 30 and he shouted, 'Let me die with the Philistines!' He then heaved with all his might, and the building fell on the chiefs and on all the people there. Those whom he brought to their death by his death outnumbered those whom he had done to death during his life. 31 His brothers and the whole of his father's family [household] came down and carried him away. They took him back and buried him between Zorah and Eshtaol in the tomb of Manoah his father. He had judged Israel for twenty years.
[..] =
literal translation, IBHE, vol. I, pages 682.

The Philistines attribute their victory over Samson to their god Dagon. They are wrong, of course.
Question: Why are they wrong?
Answer: They were not victorious over Samson because their god gave Samson into their hands but because Yahweh's Spirit had left Samson.

Dagon was an ancient Semitic fertility deity worshipped in northern Mesopotamia, in Syria and along the Mediterranean coast. The Philistines adopted Dagon as their principal deity when they settled in their cities along the Mediterranean coast. The common northwest Semitic word for grain, dagan, is believed to be derived from the name of the fertility god (this pagan god is also mentioned in 1 Sam 5:2-7; 1 Chr 10:10; 1 Mac 10:83-84. and 11:4).

While celebrating what was probably a harvest festival to Dagon, the people want to gloat over their victory in conquering their greatest enemy, Samson. He is brought from the grain house to amuse the crowd. Even though he has been deprived of his superhuman strength, he is still strong enough to perform feats of strength to entertain the crowd. In his blindness, they do not perceive him to be a threat.

Question: During a lull in the celebration, what two requests will Samson make?
Answer: He asks the lad who is assigned to guide him to take him to the two central pillars of the temple, and he petitions God to give him great strength one last time.

Only limited excavations have been undertaken at Gaza which is now under the control of the Palestinian authority. However, at Tel Qasile a Philistine temple has been discovered where the roof of the building was supported by two central columns only seven feet apart, very similar to the description of the temple in this passage. The temple complex where Samson was taken was probably surrounded by an open court and had a flat roof or terrace on which a large number of people could gather for festivals. When God granted Samson's petition and returned his great strength, Samson pushed what were probably wooden pillars off their stone bases and the entire temple was demolished.(2)

Judges 16:30b-31 ~ Those whom he brought to their death by his death outnumbered those whom he had done to death during his life. 31 His brothers and the whole of his father's family [household] came down and carried him away. They took him back and buried him between Zorah and Eshtaol in the tomb of Manoah his father. He had judged Israel for twenty years.
Question: What is the irony of Samson's victory?
Answer: In Samson's final victory, he killed more of his Philistine enemies in death than in life.

Samson's kinsmen from the tribe of Dan and his father's household (slaves and retainers) brought Samson's body back to bury him in the tomb of his father which was located between the towns of Zorah and Eshtaol. It was where Samson's story began and where God's Spirit first stirred Samson to take up his destiny as Israel's judge-deliverer (13:2, 25). The narrative ends with the type of formula statement used for the minor judges, indicating that there was no real "peace" in his twenty years of judgeship.

Question: What is the final irony concerning the first and last woman in Samson's life?
Answer: The first woman was his mother who truly loved him. She kept the secret of his strength even from his father, and tried to help him observe the restrictions of his Nazirite vow. It was a love he did not appreciate and did not honor. He only saw her love and the love of his father as interference in his life and he rebelled. The last woman in his life was Delilah. She was a woman he loved but he was too blind to recognize the difference between genuine love and false love. Delilah, the woman he loved, betrayed his secret for money.

Delilah is the last "named" woman in the Book of Judges along with Achsah, Deborah, and Jael.
Question: What do these women have in common? How are they different?
Answer: All these women think and act for themselves; they shape their own destinies through their courageous actions. The first three women take action that will benefit their family or the people of Israel as a whole, while Delilah acts only out of her own self-interest.

Question: What warning and what message of hope can we take away from Samson's story?
Answer: Many men and women are like Samson in failing to recognize the genuine love of Christ. They therefore reject His love by rebelling against His laws and the destiny He has planned for them to live eternally with Him by doing what seems "right" to them and by embracing the empty love of the secular world and the false promises it offers. Yet, as the story of Samson shows us, there is always the hope of restoration through calling out to God in genuine repentance and receiving the mercy that is offered by the God who truly loves us.

Part III: Israel's Cycle of Depravity in Sinning like the Canaanites

Chapter 16 is the end of the history of the leadership provided by Israel's twelve Judge-Deliverers. Chapters 17-21 provide a summary of the conditions in Israel during this period by providing examples of the failure of the Israelites in sinning like the Canaanites both as individuals and as members of the unified covenant people. In terms of chronology, the events in chapters 17-18 are set at the beginning of the Age of the Judges (see 17:6 and 18:30), but is placed at the end of the book to emphasize that the people did not heed God's warning in the covenant lawsuit delivered by the messenger of Yahweh at the beginning of the Age of the Judges in 2:1-5 and the summary of the peoples failures in 2:6-19. In the statement in 17:6 that "In those days there was no king in Israel, and everyone did as he saw fit" or literally "did as he saw right," the inspired writer links the reader to the sad events in the story of Samson where he chose a bride from among the pagans in violation of God's command, saying in the literal Hebrew "she is right in my eyes" (14:3). The other link to the narrative of Samson is the mention of eleven hundred pieces of silver (16:5 and 17:3). In the symbolic significance of numbers in Scripture, eleven is an imperfect number: it is one more than ten, the number signifying perfection of order (i.e., Ten Commandments), and it is one less than twelve, the number signifying perfection in government (i.e., Twelve Tribes of Israel).

The events in chapters 19-21 probably take place during the end of the period. This last section begins with the statement that in those days there was no king in Israel to unify the people (19:1) and ends with the same statement coupled with the repeated statement that "everyone did as he saw fit" or literally "everyone did what was right in his eyes" (17:6 and 21:25.). The statements confirm that in the end of the period of the Judges the prophecy by God's messenger was fulfilled, and even though God in His mercy sent judge-deliverers, they were unable to correct Israel's descent into apostasy. The statements about the absence of a king in Israel also point to the necessity of a monarchy to unify the tribes and to enforce right worship. The statement also acts as an introduction to the Book of 1 Samuel.

Chapters 17-21 can be divided into three parts:
Results of Israel's Spiritual and Moral Decay in Sinning like the Canaanites
Part I: The Sin of Idolatry

Part II: The Sin of Immoral Conduct

Part III: The Failure of Israel Through Disunity and Civil War

The Laws Concerning Monotheism and the two Branches of the Hereditary Priesthood and Levitical Ministers

The first of the Ten Commandments: You shall have no other gods to rival me. You shall not make yourself a carved image or any likeness of anything in heaven above or on earth beneath or in the waters under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them. For I, Yahweh your God, am a jealous God ...
The first of the Ten Commandments, Exodus 20:1-5 (repeated in Dt 5:7-9)

 

The law concerning the service of the chief priests descended from Aaron and the lesser ministers of the Levites: Such were the names of Aaron's sons, priests anointed and invested with the powers of the priesthood.... Yahweh spoke to Moses and said: Muster the tribe of Levi and put it at the disposal of the priest Aaron: they must be at his service. They will undertake the duties incumbent on him and the whole community before the Tent of Meeting, in serving the Dwelling, and they will be in charge of all the furnishings of the Tent of Meeting and undertake the duties incumbent on the Israelites in serving the Dwelling. You will present the Levites to Aaron and his sons as men dedicated; they will be given to him by the Israelites. You will register Aaron and his sons, who will carry out their priestly duty. But any unauthorized person who comes near must be put to death.'
Numbers 3:2, 5-10

Yahweh then said to Aaron: "You, your sons and your ancestor's line with you will be answerable for offences against the Sanctuary. You and your sons with you will be answerable for the offences of your priesthood. You will admit your brothers of the branch of Levi, your ancestor's tribe, to join you and serve you, yourself and your sons before the Tent of the Testimony. They must be at your service and the service of the whole Tent. Provided they do not come near the sacred vessels or the altar, they will be in no more danger of death than you. They must join you, they must take charge of the Tent of Meeting for the entire ministry of the Tent, and no unauthorized person will come near you. You will take charge of the Sanctuary and charge of the altar, and retribution will never again befall the Israelites. Of the Israelites, I myself have chosen your brothers the Levites as a gift to you. As men dedicated, they will belong to Yahweh, to serve at the Tent of Meeting. You and your sons will undertake the priestly duties in all that concerns the altar and all that lies beyond the curtain. You will perform the liturgy, the duties of which I entrust to your priesthood. But an unauthorized person approaching will incur death."
Numbers 18:1-7 emphasis added (also see 1 Chr 6:33-34/48-49)

Chapter 17: Micayehu's Forbidden Shrine

The subject of chapter 17 is one man's sin of apostasy in erecting a personal shrine and installing idols to rival God's one Sanctuary as well as establishing his own priest to rival the chief priests of the hereditary priesthood of Aaron. Chapter 18 covers the migration of the tribe of Dan to the northern region of Israel where they founded the illicit sanctuary of Dan and their own idols representing Yahweh served by an illegal priesthood. The events recorded probably took place prior to Samson's judgeship and perhaps during the judgeship of Deborah and the war with the northern Canaanite king when the tribe of Dan is mentioned with the northern tribe of Asher in not coming to aid in Barak's battle against the Canaanite king Jabin (Judg 5:17). After Deborah and Barak conquered the major Canaanite presence in the north, it would have been safe for the majority of the tribe of Dan to finish their migration. It would also account for why the Philistines went to the men of Judah to arrest Samson as well as why Samson was not able to muster a force of Danites to go to war against the Philistines and was forced to wage a one-man war. The episodes in chapters 17 and 18 are linked by the sin of idolatry.

Judges 17:1-6 ~ Micayehu's Double Sin
1 In the highlands of Ephraim there was a man called Micayehu. 2 He said to his mother, 'The eleven hundred silver shekels which were taken from you and concerning which you uttered a curse, having said in my hearing ... Look, I have got that silver. I was the one who took it.' His mother said, 'May Yahweh bless my boy!' 3 He gave the eleven hundred shekels back to his mother, who said, 'I have indeed vowed to give this silver to Yahweh for my son, to have a statue carved and an idol cast in metal, but now I should like to give it back to you.' He, however, returned the money to his mother. 4 His mother then took two hundred silver shekels and gave them to the metalworker. With them, he carved a statue and cast an idol in metal which was put in Micayehu's house. 5 This man Micah owned a shrine [bet elohim = house of god(s)]; he made an ephod and some domestic images [teraphim], and installed [filled the hand] one of his sons to be his priest. 6 In those days there was no king in Israel, and everyone did as he saw fit [what was right in his eyes].
[..] =
literal translation IBHE, vol. I, page 683.

The highlands of Ephraim are the central hill country immediately north of Jerusalem. This episode concerns the wealthy Ephraimite family of a man named Micayehu and his mother. The son is also called Micah in the story; it is the short form of the name Micayehu, which means "who is like Yahweh." The name itself is ironic since this man is certainly not "like Yahweh."

At first this appears to be the story of a domestic dispute that is peacefully resolved:

  1. Eleven hundred pieces of sliver are stolen from Micah's mother.
  2. She utters a curse on the person who took it, not knowing it was her son.
  3. Micah hears his mother utter the curse and is fearful.
  4. He confesses his sin to his mother and promises to return the silver.
  5. On hearing his confession, his mother blesses Micah in the name of Yahweh.
  6. Micah returns the money to his mother.
  7. His mother tells him she had consecrated the money to Yahweh to be made into an idol for her son before it was stolen.
  8. She takes two hundred pieces of silver of the eleven hundred pieces to a silversmith to make an idol for her son.
  9. Micah established the idol and other cult objects in a shrine in his house and appointed his son to be the priest of his personal shrine.

Question: On the surface all seems to end well, but what are the problems with this episode?
Answer:

  1. There is no required atonement for the theft and instead a blessing is given to the thief rather than requiring him to go to Yahweh's Sanctuary with a sin offering and to confess his sin to Yahweh's priest (only an ordained priest can forgive sins).
  2. Micah and his mother are breaking the first commandment in making and accepting an idol for purposes of worship.
  3. The mother has promised to dedicate all eleven hundred pieces of silver to Yahweh but only spends two hundred to make the idol. What happened to the rest of the money?
  4. Micah has established a shrine in opposition to the one Sanctuary of Yahweh and has appointed his son, who is not a descendant of Aaron, as his priest.

There is a bizarre disconnect: between a professed devotion to Yahweh and the violation of the prohibition against idolatry and the hereditary priesthood as well as between word and deed which gives the entire episode an unsettling quality.

Question: Where was the sum of eleven hundred pieces of silver mentioned previously and under what conditions? What is the connection to the last time the sum was mentioned in chapter 16?
Answer: It was the sum the Philistine lords each paid Delilah to betray Samson. Now it is the sum that motivates a mother and her son to betray God.

Judges 17:5 ~ This man Micah owned a shrine [bet elohim = house of god(s)]; he made an ephod and some domestic images [teraphim], and installed [filled the hand] one of his sons to be his priest.
The ephod Micah made was probably some sort of a priestly garment and was often a sacred object associated with oracular inquiry (see 1 Sam 23:1-12; 30:7-8; Ez 21:21). The teraphim, which were also made by Micah, were small household gods thought to bring luck and prosperity to the family. It is the same word used for the images of household gods that Rachel stole from her father Laban that he was determined to take back and which she was just as determined to keep (Gen 31:19-35). Many examples of such images have been fund in Mesopotamia, in Syria and in Canaan-Israel even in the period of the Judges.

Question: Finally, to complete his shrine as a place to offer worship, what does Micah do?
Answer: He consecrates one of his sons to become his priest in violation of the Law.

The literal Hebrew is he "filled the hand" of one of his sons. This is the normal idiomatic expression for consecrating a priest (see Ex 28:41; 29:9, 29, 33, 35; Lev 8:33; 16:32; 21:10 in the Hebrew text and Wells, page 425). The entire shrine he established is called in the Hebrew text a bet elohim = house of god(s). The word elohim is ambiguous. The word is the plural form of el = god, but in its plural form it can refer to Yahweh, the One True God, or to pagan gods. For example the term bet Elohim can refer to the Jerusalem Temple the "house of God" (see 1Chr 10:10; 2 Chr 34:9; Ps 42:4; 52:8; 55:14; 84:19; Ezra 8:33; etc.). Micah may have intended what he has established as a "house of God" but given the fact that it houses idols it is only a "house of (false) gods."

Question: Instead of offering obedience to what God ordained as "right worship" according to the Sinai Covenant, what has Micah done?
Answer: He has created his own idea of what God should be and how He should be worshipped, including his own idea of a priest to lead his family in worship.

Judges 17:6 ~ In those days there was no king in Israel, and everyone did as he saw fit [what was right in his eyes].
That the people were doing what each person thought was right instead of being obedient to the Law is the theme of the Book of Judges. That there was no king in Israel to establish order is the prelude to the establishment of the united monarchy in the Book of 1 Samuel.
Question: Where has the expression that was very similar to "right in his eyes" appeared previously in the Book of Judges? See Lesson 5, Judges 14:3.
Answer: When Samson insisted on marrying the Philistine woman he told his parents "Get her for me for she is right in my eyes" in the literal Hebrew text. Samuel's attitude was typical of the Israelites in the period of the Judges.

This is the first occurrence of this statement that runs through the last chapters of Judges. It serves at least three functions:

  1. It links the rest of the book to the Judges' narrative where the last judge "saw" a woman in Timnah and demanded to have her because he said that she was "right in my eyes (Judg 14:3).
  2. It illustrates that the last Judge of Israel had lost moral and spiritual integrity to the point that he did what was right in his own eyes just like everyone among the common people in the era of the Judges was doing what was "right in their eyes." The expression identifies Micah and his mother as typical of the people of this period.
  3. The first part of the statement that "there was no king in Israel" is a prelude to the next major era in Israel's history which will be the emergence of kingship and in essence offers the reason Israel needed a king to rule over the people.

Judges 17:7-13 ~ Micah's Levite
7 There was a young man of Bethlehem in Judah, of the clan of Judah, who was a Levite and resided there as a stranger. 8 This man left the town of Bethlehem in Judah to settle wherever he could find a home. On his travels he came to the highlands of Ephraim and to Micah's house. 9 Micah asked him, Where do you come from?' The other replied, I am a Levite from Bethlehem in Judah. I am travelling, and am going to settle wherever I can find a home.' 10 Micah said to him, Stay here with me; be my father and priest and I shall give you ten silver shekels a year, and clothing and food.' 11 The Levite agreed to remain in the man's house, and the young man became like one of his sons to him. 12 Micah installed [filled the hand] the Levite; the young man became Micah's priest and stayed in his house. 13 And Micah said, Now I know that Yahweh will treat me well [do me good], since I have this Levite as priest.' [..] = literal translation IBHE, vol. I, page 683.

This young Levite (repeated three times in 17:7; 18:34 and 15) was living in Bethlehem in Judah as a "resident alien." The wording of verse 7 is confusing since he could not be a member of a clan of Judah in Bethlehem if he was a Levite; he could only be a member of one of the three clans of the tribe of Levi. The reference to "clan of Judah" is probably meant to emphasize that he was staying in the Bethlehem in the territory of Judah (and not the northern Bethlehem) that was occupied by a clan of Judah (see the Book of Ruth). Members of the chief priests descended from Aaron (Moses' brother and the first high priest) and the lesser ministers who served the chief priests from the clans of the tribe of Levi were given cities throughout Israel (Num 35:1-5; Josh 21:1-42), but they were not confined to these cities and were allowed to live as resident aliens in the other towns in Israel. The unnamed Levite's true identity will not be revealed until the climax of the narrative at the end of the chapter.

Question: What was the difference between chief priests and Levites? See Num 8:5-26; 16:1-35; 18:1-7.
Answer: Only descendants of Aaron were to be actual priests who served at God's altar in offering sacrifices and in ministering in the Tabernacle. The rest of the members of the tribe of Levi were to be their assistants. They could not approach the altar, enter the Tabernacle, or even touch the sacred vessels.

Both chief priests and Levites were provided a living by the tithes paid by the twelve tribes and by the firstborn of every male animal from the flocks of the tribes. They lived communally in their cities and took turns serving at God's Sanctuary. The first thing that is odd about this young Levite is that he has separated from his family and his clan and is looking for a home and a way to earn a living.

Question: What offer does Micah make the young man and why should his answer have been to refuse the invitation?
Answer: Micah offers to give him a home and to make him the priest of his private shrine, and to pay him an annual wage of ten pieces of silver in addition to food and clothing. The Levite should have refused the offer since it was in violation of the Sinai Covenant to have any other shrine other than the Sanctuary of Yahweh and for a Levite to serve as a priest.

The question is what motivated the young Levite to accept Micah's offer to become a priestly "father" to his family. Perhaps he harbored resentment that only the descendants of Aaron from the tribe of Levi were ordained as priests. He wouldn't be the first Levite think that all the Levites should be of equal status with the sons of Aaron. During the wilderness journey from Mt. Sinai a Levite name Korah led a rebellion against Moses and Aaron, demanding that the Levites be given equal status with the priests including the right to offer incense in the Sanctuary's sacred Tabernacle.
Question: What happened to the Levites who rebelled against the chief priests and demanded that they be allowed to perform the same ministerial services in the Sanctuary like the offering of the sacred incense in the Holy Place of the Tabernacle? What was God response? See Num 16:1-35.
Answer: God destroyed them with holy fire. The message was that it is God who determines what is defined as "right worship" and not what is perceived as "right worship" by men with their own agenda.

 

Judges 17:13 ~ And Micah said, Now I know that Yahweh will treat me well [do me good], since I have this Levite as priest.
Micah has demoted his son and elevated the Levite to the position of his personal priest. He has deluded himself into believing that he will receive special protection from Yahweh since he has established his own place of worship with his own priest. He is deluded like all those who break away from the true faith to produce a counterfeit form of religion. Instead of being protected, Micah is standing on the edge of disaster and from now on nothing will be "good" for him. It is a moment of incredible irony.

Chapter 18: The Danites' Migration North and their Descent into Idol Worship

So she (Rachel) said, Here is my slave-girl, Bilhah. Sleep with her and let her give birth on my knees; through her, then, I too shall have children!' So she gave him her slave-girl Bilhah as concubine. Jacob slept with her, and Bilhah conceived and gave birth to a son by Jacob ... Accordingly she named him Dan.
Genesis 30:3-5, 6b

 

Dan will govern his people like any other of the tribes of Israel. May Dan be a snake on the road, a viper on the path who bites the horse on the hock so that its rider falls off backwards!
Jacob-Israel's deathbed prophecy for the tribe of Dan in Genesis 49:16-17

Judges 18:1-6 ~ The Danites Send Men to look for new Territory
1 In those days there was no king in Israel. Now in those days the tribe of Dan was in search of a territory to live in, for until then no territory had fallen to them among the tribes of Israel. 2 From their clan the Danites sent five brave men from Zorah and Eshtaol to reconnoiter the country and explore it. They said to them, 'Go and explore the country.' The five men came to the highlands of Ephraim, as far as Micah's house, and spent the night there. 3 When they were near Micah's house, they recognized the voice of the young Levite and, going nearer, said to him, 'Who brought you here? What are you doing here? What is keeping you here?' 4 He replied, 'Micah has made certain arrangements with me. He pays me a wage and I act as his priest.' 5 They replied, Then consult God, so that we may know whether the journey we are on will lead to success.' 6 The priest replied, 'Go in peace; Yahweh is watching over your journey.'

This is the second time we have the statement that in the days of the Judges there was no king in Israel. This episode recalls a time before the Danites completed their migration north and therefore a time prior to the judgeships of both Deborah and Samson. In Deborah's song of victory the Danites are linked to the northern tribe of Asher (Judg 5:17). The tribe of Dan was given fifteen cities in the allotment situated to the west of the territory of Benjamin, between Ephraim and Judah. However, they were unable to take the territory and were only able to conquer the city of Leshem (Josh 19:40-47). The clans of Dan were squeezed out of the land by Amorites and later by the Philistines. Since they were not strong enough to resist the pagan advances into their territory, they decide to send out spies to find better territory for a homeland. This episode has some similarities to the spies sent out to reconnoiter the land of Canaan in Numbers chapter 13. The inspired writer will vacillate between the designations "tribe" (18:1, 19, 30) and "clan" (18:2, 11, 19) when referring to the Danites. Several clans comprise a tribe. It may be that the tribe of Dan is so reduced in number that only one "clan" remains.

Judges 18:2b-3 ~ The five men came to the highlands of Ephraim, as far as Micah's house, and spent the night there. 3 When they were near Micah's house, they recognized the voice of the young Levite and, going nearer, said to him, 'Who brought you here? What are you doing here? What is keeping you here?'
The five Danite spies come across Micah's house on their journey north. What is curious is that they "recognized the voice of the young Levite." The inspired writer does not tell us how they knew him or if they recognized his accent as not being from the region of the highlands of Ephraim. Since the Danites lived further south near the tribe of Judah, perhaps that is the accent they recognized. They ask the Levite what he is doing at Micah's compound and does he intend to stay there. He includes a significant comment in his answer to their series of questions.

Question: What is his reply and what does he add that is significant?
Answer: He gives a summary of how he came to be at Micah's house and then adds that Micah "pays me a wage and I act as his priest."

The Levite's last statement will set in motion another opportunity for this "priest for hire."

Judges 18:5 ~ They replied, 'Then consult God, so that we may know whether the journey we are on will lead to success.' 6 The priest replied, 'Go in peace; Yahweh is watching over your journey.'
The Danites make a request that the Levite is not qualified to give, yet he assures them that God is with them. The ordained High Priest of Israel wore an ephod that was an apron like garment worn over his priestly tunic (Ex 28:6-14). He also wore the "breastplate of judgment" that was attached to the ephod and which contained the urim and thummim by which he could consult God's will in certain matters (Ex 28:15-30). This counterfeit priest might have worn something similar.

Judges 18:7-10 ~ The Danite Spies Convince the Tribe to Migrate to the North
7 The five men then left and, arriving at Laish, saw that the people living there had an untroubled existence, according to the customs of the Sidonians, peaceful and trusting, that there was no lack or shortage of any sort in the territory, that they were a long way away from the Sidonians and that they had no contact with the Aramaeans. 8 They then went back to their brothers at Zorah and Eshtaol and, when the latter asked the, 'What have you to report?' 9 they said, 'Up! we must go against them, since we have looked at the country and it is excellent, though you take no action! Waste no time in setting out and taking possession of the country. 10 When you get there, you will find a trusting people. The country is wide, and God has put it at your mercy. It is a place where there is no lack of anything on earth.'

Laish (see Josh 19:47) was a town located at the sources of the Jordan River about 29 miles north of the Sea of Galilee. It was located just outside what was designated as Israelite territory and therefore was not included in the land allotted the twelve tribes. The Sidonians lived on the Mediterranean coast and like the people of the wealthy port city of Sidon, the people of Laish had no enemies and lived an untroubled existence. Like other inland cities, Laish had to depend on the Phoenician coastal cities like Sidon for their access to Mediterranean commerce and probably had cultural ties with the Sidonese but no formal treaty. The people of Laish had no formal alliances with anyone who could protect them. They were unprotected and ripe for conquest. It must have seemed to the spies that the Levites' prophecy had come true. Their perception of the validity of Levite's prophecy will become Micah's undoing. The return of the spies to Zorah and Eshtaol sets the stage for the next scene which is the migration north.

Judges 18:11-20 ~ The Theft of Micah's Idols and False Priest
11 From these places, consequently, from the clan of Danites at Zorah and Eshtaol, six hundred men set out equipped for war. 12 They went up and camped at Kiriath-Jearim in Judah; and for this reason the place is still called "the Camp of Dan" today. It lies to the west of Kiriath-Jearim. 13 From there they entered the highlands of Ephraim and came to Micah's house. 14 The five men who had been to reconnoiter the country then spoke to their brothers. 'Do you know,' they said, 'that in these houses there is an ephod, some domestic images, a carved statue and an idol cast in metal? 15 So now work out what you have got to do!' So, turning off the road, they went to the young Levite's dwelling, to Micah's house, and greeted him peacefully. 16 While the six hundred men of the Danites, equipped for war, stood at the threshold of the gate, 17 the five who had been to reconnoiter the country went on into the house and took the carved statue, the ephod, the domestic images and the idol cast in metal; meanwhile the priest remained at the threshold of the gate with the six hundred men equipped for war. 18 These men, having entered Micah's house, took the carved statue, the ephod, the domestic images and the idol cast in metal. The priest, however, said, 'What are you doing?' 19 'Be quiet,' they replied. 'Put your hand over your mouth and come with us, and become our father and priest. Are you better off as domestic priest to one man, or as priest to a tribe and clan in Israel?' 20 The priest was delighted; he took the ephod, the domestic images and the carved statue, and went off among the people.

The five spies have convinced many of the people of Dan to migrate north to take possession of the territory they scouted. Six hundred fighting men is not very many men when one considers that sixty-two thousand seven hundred fighting men counted in the census of Dan when the tribes left Mt. Sinai (Num 3:38-39), but they were still a substantial force. Their first camp was near Kiriath-Jearim ("town of forests") in Judah. The site of so many Israelite fighting men with their families and livestock must have made an impression on the local population since the inspired writer says that in his day their campsite was still called "camp of Dan."

The Danites leave the territory of Judah and head north to Mount Ephraim, eventually coming to Micah's house. This is the point where all three episodes in chapters 17-18 now come together. Did they arrive there because Micah's compound (there is a gate so it is probably a walled enclosure) lay in their path or is there another reason? The spies' words to the leaders of the march suggest what happens next was part of the plan: 14 The five men who had been to reconnoiter the country then spoke to their brothers. 'Do you know,' they said, 'that in these houses there is an ephod, some domestic images, a carved statue and an idol cast in metal? 15 So now work out what you have got to do!'

Question: When they arrive at Micah's compound, what is the mission of the five Danite spies?
Answer: They raid Micah's shrine and steal all his idols.

Evidently Micah is absent when they arrive, but his hired priest should protect the shrine as part of his priestly duties.
Question: After a mild protest what does the Levite do?
Answer: He betrays Micah and decides to become the hired priest of the Danites.

The Danites have shrewdly exploited the ambition of the Levite who cannot resist the Danites offer to become a "father and priest" (verse 19) to an entire tribe and clan instead of to just one man and his family. The Levite's next two actions are symbolic; he takes the ephod, teraphim and idol from the five men who have stolen them and then "went off among the people." He becomes complicit in the crime and completely abandons Micah.

Judges 18:21-27 ~ Micah Demands the Return of His Idols
21 Resuming their original line of march, they set off, having put the women and children, livestock and baggage out in front. 22 They had gone some distance from Micah's house, when the people living in the houses near Micah's house raised the alarm and set off in pursuit of the Danites. 23 As they shouted after the Danites, the latter, turning about, said to Micah, 'What is the matter with you, that you are shouting like this?' 24 He replied, 'You have taken away my god [elohim = gods], which I have had made, and the priest as well. You are going away, and what have I got left? And now you ask me, "What is the matter?"' 25 The Danites said, 'Let us hear no more from you, or quick-tempered men may set about you, and this might cost you your life and the lives of your family!' 26 So the Danites went on their way; and Micah, seeing that they were the stronger, turned and went home. [..] = literal translation IBHE, vol. I, page 685.

The Danites expect Micah to come after his property and so they place the women, children, livestock and baggage in the front while the fighting men take up their positions in the rear of the column. Micah does attempt to reclaim his property but his idols do not protect him. When he caught up with the Danites and they threatened his life, he realized that he had no choice except to retreat. The Danites have acquired gods and a priest by theft and intimidation. Micah's story began with his confession that he had stolen his mother's silver and it ends here with his having to accept that the Danites have stolen his gods, which he admits I have had made. This is poetic justice: the robber is robbed and gets what he deserves; he now has nothing.

Judges 18:27-31 ~ The Danites Capture Laish and set up a Pagan Shrine
27 So, having taken the god [elohim/ gods] made by Micah, and the priest who had been his, the Danites marched on Laish, on a peaceful and trusting people. They put it to the sword and they burned down the town. 28 There was no one to come to the rescue, since it was a long way from Sidon and had no contact with the Aramaeans. It lay in the valley running towards Beth-Rehob. They rebuilt the town 29 and settled in it and called it Dan, from the name of Dan their ancestor who had been born to Israel; originally, however, the town had been called Laish. 30 The Danites erected the carved status for themselves. Jonathan son of Gershom, son of Moses, and his sons after him were priests for the tribe of Dan till the day when the inhabitants of the country were carried away into exile. 31 The carved statue made by Micah they installed for their own use, and there it stayed as long as the house of God remained at Shiloh. [..] = literal translation IBHE, vol. I, page 685.

The town of Laish was outside of the territory promised to the Israelites. It was in a valley belonging to Beth-Rehob which was about five miles to the east and which later became a city-state that was hostile to Israel (2 Sam 10:6). The Danites had no authority to make war on people outside of the Promised Land unless those people were the aggressors. The Danites have violated "a peaceful and trusting people" who have become their victims and have moved from a true inheritance in the Promised Land to idolatry and the illegal confiscation of land that is not theirs. They have fulfilled Jacob-Israel's deathbed prophecy and have become the serpent who strikes the unprotected from ambush (Gen 49:16-17).

They utterly destroy the city, completely erasing its memory. They rebuild it, and they give it the name "Dan." However, by conquering Laish the tribe of Dan has not contributed to Israel's conquest of Canaan but instead to Canaan's conquest of Dan. Dan is the first of the tribes to fall into idolatry. Yahweh will cease to be worshiped by the Danites as they set up the carved idol made by Micah for their own use instead of worshiping at God's holy Sanctuary at Shiloh. The Danites will never return to Yahweh; later, the city of Dan will become associated with Golden Calf worship in the era of the divided kingdom (1 Kng 12:28-30).

Judges 18:30b-31 ~ Jonathan son of Gershom, son of Moses, and his sons after him were priests for the tribe of Dan till the day when the inhabitants of the country were carried away into exile.
The inspired writer saves this shocking revelation for the end of the narrative.
Question: What is the name of the young Levite who wanted to be a chief priest and from what hero of the Exodus was he descended?
Answer: The Levite who was not a descendant of the chief priests was Jonathan the son/descendant of Moses' eldest son Gershom. Moses' two sons served as Levites and not as chief priests.

Gershom was Moses' eldest son, born to Zipporah in Midian (Ex 2:22), and he is a member of the Levite clan of Kohath. Since he was born before Moses returned to Egypt, and since Moses died at age 120 after the forty years of wilderness wandering, it is unlikely that Jonathan the "young Levite" (17:7; 18:3, 15) was the "son" of Gershon but more likely the grandson or great-grandson even if this episode takes place in the earlier years of the era of the Judges.

Question: What were the duties of the Levitical clan of Kohath? Num 3:27-31.
Answer: The Kohathites had the duty of moving the Ark of the Covenant, the table of the Bread of the Covenant, the lampstand, the altars, the sacred vessels used in the liturgy, and the curtain with all its fittings but only after the chief priests had wrapped them. Like all the Levites, they could not touch the sacred objects on pain of death.

This descendant of Moses is a heretic who has abandoned the truth faith. Perhaps he harbored resentment that only the descendants of his great ancestor's brother Aaron were eligible for the ministerial priesthood and this resentment caused him to separate from his clan. His descendants will remain heretic priests in the service of Dan and the Northern Kingdom until the Assyrian conquest in the last quarter of the 8th century BC.

Question for reflection or group discussion:
How was Jonathan, descendant of Moses' son Gershom, like many men and women in salvation history who had their own idea of right worship, their own concept of the nature of God, and their own idea of priestly service? Despite the Law of the Sinai Covenant that defined God ordained right worship and the qualifications for a consecrated priesthood, both Micah and Jonathan decided to follow their own ideas of worship and their own ideas concerning God. They were the first in a long line of schismatics who separated from God's commands concerning worship and sacrifice. How has their example of creating one's own concept of religion become a sadly repeated pattern even for professing Christians who have split off from the universal Church down through the centuries? How is that separation from the New Covenant Church established by Jesus Christ through His Apostles like Micah and Jonathan's separation from Yahweh's Sanctuary and a validly ordained priesthood?

Endnotes:

1. A missing part of the Hebrew text of 1 Samuel 11 that was discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls relates that there had previously been a treaty in which the people of Jabesh recognized Nahash the Ammonite as their overlord. They had broken that treaty and rebelled against Nahash; therefore, blinding the male population was seen by the Ammonite king as just punishment. In 1 Samuel 11:1 the people of Jabesh were asking for another treaty to replace the previous one.

2. The only Philistine temples positively identified to date were found at Tell Qasile located on the outskirts of modern Tel Aviv. At the excavation site three temples were found, each temple built on the same foundation over a period of 150 years, one built atop the other and each larger than the previous building on the site. The last temple was from the eleventh century BC, which dates to the time of Samson. It measured 26 feet by 48 feet and two central pillars supported the roof. The two pillars were made of cedar trunks approximately 1 foot in diameter. The two pillars were spaced 7 feet apart and rested upon stone bases set in the floor where only the weight of the roof held them in place. A very large man, similar in size to one of our large, professional basketball players, could have conceivably spanned the 7 foot distance between these two pillars with his arms, and Samson's pillars could have been closer together. The Philistine temple discovered at Tel Qasile fits the description of the temple in chapter 16. To dislodge the pillars would have caused the roof to collapse, destroying the entire structure.

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2013 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.

Catechism references for this lesson:

CCC 465, 817, 2089