In the last two essays we studied the adventures of Samson found in chapters 13-16. We surveyed the four chapters in the next to last essay; and in the last essay, we analyzed the life of Samson from two perspectives. We assessed the meaning of his life as a judge over Israel and his character.
Now then, we turn to the story of Micah and the priest in chapters 17. The story begins with a confession of a man named Micah to his mother that he had stolen eleven hundred pieces of silver from her (vv. 1-2). Notice that no background information is given. There is no explanation of how or why he stole the money, nor is any other information provided. He may have made the confession out of fear of his mother’s curse which he mentioned in verse two; but we have no way of knowing. In any case he returned the money to his mother (v. 3).
Interestingly, the mother’s reaction to the confession was to pronounce a blessing on her son (v. 2). And then she announced that she was dedicating the money to the Lord (v. 3). That means that it could not be used for any human purpose. Unfortunately, her good intentions were lost in the heavy influence of paganism on her life. The way she chose to honor the Lord with the money was by having a silver idol made, which is forbidden in the Law (Ex. 20:4, 23; Deut. 4:16). She gave 200 pieces of the money to the silversmith to cast an idol, which was then taken to Micah’s house (v. 4). Nothing is said about how the rest of the money was used.
Micah may have used some of the money to have the ephod and teraphim mentioned in verse five made. Some of it may have been set aside to pay for and maintain the shrine. The ephod apparently was an imitation of the shoulder dress of the high priest of Israel (Ex. 39:1-26). And the teraphim were images of household gods, probably small pottery figurines, which were common in that pagan culture. Micah’s final strange religious action was to install one of his sons as family priest. And then verse six summarizes the political situation in Israel that allowed this sort of thing to happen: “In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes.”
Beginning at verse seven we are told about a Levite who had been living in Bethlehem. This young Levite had no home, and so he was wondering through the countryside looking for a place to serve as a priest (v. 6). He came to Micah’s house and got a job there as the family priest. I suppose that meant that Micah’s son was now out of a job. But nothing is said about that.
That brings us to chapter 18. The statement in verse one easily could be misunderstood. It was not that the tribe of Dan had not been given an inheritance. You may recall that they had been given an inheritance, as recorded in Josh. 19:41-48. They were living in some of the towns of that inheritance. The problem was that they had not been able to conquer the best portion of the land. They had been unable to take the plain, because they couldn’t handle chariots; and all 64,000 plus of the tribe were crammed into the hill country, mostly in the territory of Judah. So it was more a matter of not having enough space than not having any space.
That was the situation that led part of the tribe of Dan to look for another place to live. They sent out five men as spies to look for a likely spot. In their travels the men came by Micah’s house and were given hospitality there (v. 2).
While at Micah’s they heard the Levite speaking, and immediately recognized his accent as being from somewhere other than the mountains. So they entered into conversation with him and learned his story (vv. 3-4). Once they discovered that he was a priest, they asked him to ask God whether or not their mission would be a success. He told them it would (vv. 5-6).
So the men moved on to a place called Laish. As you see, the spies deemed Laish the perfect place for the Danites to go. The people of Laish were wealthy, but not warlike. The city was not well fortified; and thus it was potentially “easy pickings.” The people of Laish were Sidonian in background, but Laish was far enough from Sidon that they could expect no real help from that quarter. In addition they, literally, “had nothing to do with other men” [NRSV, following a non-Hebrew reading, renders it “Aram” instead of “other men] (v. 7). The statement means that they did not live in close association with any other towns. And so the spies returned home very enthusiastic about the area of Laish as a potential new home.
In verses 11 and following we see that 600 Danites, accompanied by the five original spies (v. 17), were sent to take Laish. On the way they stopped over at Micah’s house, verse 13. By a show of force they went in and took the idol, the ephod, and the teraphim, verses 14-18. And they persuaded the Levite to go with them to be their priest, verses 19-20. That he accepted is not surprising. He was out of a job at Micah’s house with the shrine stripped of everything.
We learn in verse 21 that the 600 Danites had all of their families and possessions with them. They weren’t just a war party. They were making a permanent move.
Micah made an attempt to challenge the Danites (vv. 22-25). But they were too strong for him; and so there was nothing he could do (v. 26).
As we read on, we see that the Danites easily took Laish (vv. 27-28). It appears that the Danites destroyed the city, and then rebuilt it for their own use (v. 28). They renamed it Dan (v. 29), and made a man named Jonathan their priest. Some interpret this to mean that Jonathan was Micah’s Levite whom the Danites had taken with them. It is not possible to know.
Turning to application, one obvious point is the necessity of avoiding idolatry. Micah and his mother made a major mistake in seeking to worship the Lord by idolatrous means. In our case, we do not cast silver idols; but we have our ways of setting up other kinds of “idols.” You might take a moment to ponder some of the ways.
We also can learn something from the Levite. He didn’t seem to have much character. In his own way he was like Samson in that regard. He was a servant of God, supposedly, but he was willing to be whatever anyone wanted him to be in that service. Micah was willing to pay him, so he served the Lord as Micah’s priest even though it was an idolatrous shrine. Then when the Danites destroyed Micah’s shrine, the Levite simply shifted his loyalty to them. Can you think of any ways that we can be like the Levite?
The Danites are not a good religious model either. Notice in verse 31 the way the account of their settling in Dan ends: “So they maintained as their own Micah’s idol that he had made, as long as the house of God was at Shiloh. That would be around the time of the death of Eli in 1 Samuel chapter four. In other words the Danites were as tied into idolatry as Micah and the Levite. God forbid that any of us, like Micah, the Levite, or the Danites seek to serve God in idolatrous ways.