Teaching Notes – Don D. Stephens
At the beginning of Chapter 18, we read again:
In those days there was no king in Israel: and in those days the tribe of the Danites sought for an inheritance to dwell in; for unto that day, all of their inheritance had not fallen unto them among the tribes of Israel (18:1).
The Danites were actually given the area from the bottom of the Jerusalem Mountains, which is Eshtaol and Zorah, to the coast, then over to Joppa. It is a beautiful coastal plain. Zorah and Eshtaol is the area where Samson originated.
This is the area that was given to Dan, but the Philistines lived on the coastal cities of Gaza and Ashdod, and the Philistines were a powerful people. Whenever the tribe of Dan would try to extend coastward, they would meet the Philistines and be driven back. So, they were a bit cramped. The Philistines would not allow them to move out toward the coast, into the valleys, to live; so they didn’t inherit the territory that was given to them. They felt cramped in that narrow little area of the upper valleys, right next to the Jerusalem hill. So, they decided to look around and see if they could find another place for the tribe to dwell.
So they sent of their family, the family of Dan, five men from the coasts, men who were men of valour who were from Zorah and Eshtaol to spy out the land and to search it; and they said unto them, Go and search the land: who when they came to mount Ephraim to the house of Micah, they lodged there (18:2).
These guys are on an expedition, similar to the Oregon Trail adventure of those who came west in America to settle. On the way, they stopped at the house of Micah, the man who had all the gods and who would hire this young Levite for a priest.
And when they were by the house of Micah, they recognized the voice of the young man the Levite: and they turned in (18:3).
He was probably saying his prayers. They go through the prayer book and sing their prayers, so that is what they most likely heard. They recognized his voice and wondered what he was doing there.
And they went in and they said unto him, How did you get here? And what are you doing in this place? How much is he paying you? What do you have here?
And so he said unto them, This is how the man Micah dealt with me. He’s hired me, I’m his priest. And they said unto him, Ask counsel, we pray thee, of God that we may know whether our way in which we go will be prosperous (18:3-5).
They wanted to first seek the Lord and find out from the Lord what lay ahead. He had the teraphim and the ephod with him to seek the will of God, so they asked him to seek from God to know if this journey would be prosperous.
And the priest said unto them, Go in peace: before the Lord your way wherein you go (18:6).
He informed them that the Lord was with them in the way they were going, so he told them to go in peace.
So the five men departed and they came to Laish, and they saw the people that were there, how they dwelt carelessly after the manner of the Zidonians [those from Zidon], they were secure, they were quiet, they didn’t have any judges in the land that might put them to shame for anything (18:7).
They were just people living carelessly, with no law, no order, and they were far from the Zidonians. It is, actually, several miles from Dan to Zidon. However, Zidon is directly west from there, right on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Dan is about 35-40 miles inland from Zidon. They had no commerce with any men. They were just an isolated group up in this beautiful city, Laish. Laish is one of the most beautiful places on earth. They have one of the largest springs in the world, where the water just comes gushing out of the ground, it’s one of the headwaters of the Jordan River. The city of Laish later becomes known as Dan.
Because of this tremendous volume of water, gushing right out of the ground, it is a beautiful place. They have a nature preserve there, loaded with these little springs, and waterfalls, and rivulets, making it a gloriously beautiful area. When they got there and saw this beautiful valley, with people having no commerce with anybody else, and the isolation of the people, they thought that these people, living this carefree life would be a pushover.
They came back to their brothers to Zorah and Eshtaol and their brothers said to them, Well, what did you find? And they said, Arise that we may go up against them for we have seen the land and behold it’s very good. Why are you waiting?
Don’t be slothful to go and to enter in and possess the land. Let’s go, man, it’s ready, it’s ripe for picking. And when you go, you’re gonna come unto a people who are dwelling securely, a lot of territory, for God has given it into your hands a place where there is no want of anything that is in the earth (18:8-10).
It is just a very fertile, fruitful, beautiful place.
And so there went up from there of the family of the Danites, out of Zorah and from Eshtaol six hundred men appointed with weapons of war. And they went up and pitched in Kirjathjearim in Judah and they called the name of the place Mahanehdan which is the camp of Dan unto this day, behold it is behind Kirjathjearim (18:11, 12).
We see there that there were 600 men, which means there were 2,000 – 2,400 people, when you add the wives and children. You can picture this as a complete settlement, moving slowly along to take the land.
They passed from there to Mount Ephraim and arrived at the house of Micah.
Then the five men that went to spy out the country of Laish, informed the folks that there was a in the house, who had an ephod and a teraphim, along with a graven image and a molten image.
Now consider what we have to do. And so they turned into the house and they came to the young man the Levite, even to the house of Micah and they greeted him and the six hundred men appointed with their weapons of war which were the children of Dan, they stood by the entering of the gate. And the five men that went out to spy the land went up and they came in and they took the graven image and the ephod [they stole them], the teraphim, the molten image, and the priest stood at the entering of the gate where the six hundred men were waiting who were all armed for war. And these went into Micah’s house and they fetched the carved image, the ephod, the teraphim, the molten image [fetched is another word for ripped off], and then the priest said to them, what are you doing? And they said unto him, Hold your peace, put your hand on your mouth and go with us, and be to us a father and a priest. Isn’t it better to be a priest to a whole family in Israel, a whole… the tribe of Dan, rather than to just one man? (18:13-19)
So, they took his stuff, now they are trying to take him.
And the priest’s heart was glad (18:20).
Evidently, he saw this as a great opportunity for advancement.
He took the ephod and the teraphim, the graven image and he went in the midst of the people, he joined with them. So they turned and departed and they put their little ones and the cattle and the luggage in front of them (18:20, 21).
They figured that Micah was not going to sit still, which they took his priest, and that he would attack them from the rear, as they moved away. Because of that, they put the men in the rear and the women and all the luggage, up in front of them.
And when they were a good way on the road from the house of Micah, the men that were his neighbors, lived in the houses near to him, they gathered together and they overtook the children of Dan. And they cried unto the children of Dan and they turned their faces and said to Micah, the men of Dan and said, Hey, what’s your problem, man, what ails you that you come after us with these men with you? And he said, you have taken away my gods which I made and the priest and you are gone away and what have I more? (18:22-24).
Micah was a bit shocked that they would ask him what his problem was, after they had ripped him off of his gods and took off with his priest. It seems to me to be a pretty sad state of affairs, when a man worships a god, which can be stolen.
Many of us have those types of gods. Some of our gods even live in our garages.
Some of them are sharp looking, even classic. Many of them receive our full devotion, we wash them, polish them, walk around and adore them, show them off to our friends and, if they get a little bump or scratch, we mourn the fact that they have been hurt.
Some of us keep our gods in a bank, some in a closet, some we wear around our necks or on our fingers or wrists. Sad thing is that we have a god that can get ripped off. That’s sad. It is a tragic thing, when a person worships a god that can be stolen.
The men of Dan said to him, Don’t let your voice be heard among us. Lest angry fellows run upon you and you lose your life and the lives of your household (18:25).
They warned him to shut up, or suffer the consequences. “Hey, cool it or we’ll wipe you out. Why should you lose your own life? Just go home and forget it.”
Every man just did what was right in his own heart. This was the condition of the people in those days, and it’s important to understand what was going on during this period of history.
So the children of Dan went their way and Micah saw that they were too strong for him, he turned and went back to his own house (18:18:26).
This was simply rule by force. The stronger man is always right. Might is right.
And they took the things which Micah had made and the priest which he had and they came to Laish, unto this people who were quiet and secure: they smote them with the edge of the sword, they burnt the city with fire. And there was no deliverer because it was far from Zidon and they didn’t have any commerce with any other people; and it was in the valley that lies by Bethrehob and they built a city and dwelt therein. And they called the name of the city Dan, after the name of Dan their father who was born unto Israel, howbeit the name of the city was Laish at the first (18:27-29).
There is today what is called Tel Dan. A ‘Tel’ is a location created by the many civilizations that existed, were wiped out, with a new city built on top. They have done quite a few extensive excavations at Tel Dan. It is one of the oldest cities in the world. They have even excavated a gate to the ancient city of Laish, which actually went back as far as the time of Abraham. As you look at that gate, it brings to mind scripture that refers to Abraham being in Laish. He probably walked through that very gate. I have a photo of the excavated gate, and every time I look at it, I can’t help but think that Abraham probably walked through that very gate. The same Abraham, about who Jesus speaks of as being the one whom the rich man yelled across to get Lazarus to carry water to sooth his pain.
It is interesting that when the tribe of Dan settled there, they had settled in an idolatrous state. They had stolen Micah’s idols and carried those idols with them, so the idolatry was somewhat woven into the very nature of the area of Dan. The tribe of Dan moved into the City of Dan, and they bring these idols with them.
When Jeroboam split from the southern kingdom, the nation of Israel was divided into the northern and the southern kingdoms. Jeroboam was fearful that the people of the ten tribes of the northern kingdom, which he had established, might be drawn back to Jerusalem, where they could go to worship God at the temple. Three times a year the people were to come to the temple at the feast and worship God. Jeroboam figured that, if they went back to Jerusalem, and they saw the temple, the king, and they saw the glory of it all, their hearts would be drawn back. So, he made a golden calf and set it up in Dan. Then, he told the folks that these were the gods that delivered them out of Egypt. They began the worship of the calf in the northern kingdom, under Jeroboam. This was a problem to the northern kingdom, up until the day that they were conquered by the Assyrians. It was a constant problem.
In Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles, you can see what a problem this was for the northern kingdom. This city of Dan became a center of idolatry. It’s interesting that today, they have uncovered the altar that is in the city of Dan, the very altars that are referred to in the Bible. You can stand on the ground, where the golden calf was place, and the children of Israel offered sacrifices to the pagan deities.
These digs, in Israel today, provide quite a vivid confirmation of what the scriptures tell us. They also add clarity to the reason why Israel was destroyed, their turning away from God.
So the children of Dan set up the graven image; Jonathan, the son of Gershom, the son of Manasseh, he and his sons were priests to the tribe of Dan until the day of the captivity of the land. And they set them up, Micah’s graven image which he had made all the time… all of the time that the house of God was in Shiloh (18:30, 31).
At that time, the tabernacle was in Shiloh, which was in Ephraim. During this period of time, in this confused religious state, they were worshipping in Dan.
Horrible things were happening to the people of Israel, during these confusing times in their history. Yet, in the midst of this confusion, God was still working among a selected few. God always maintains a reserve, even in the darkest of circumstances. We can see that in the Book of Ruth. God told Elijah of this fact.
In I Kings, 18:22, Elijah says “Lord, I, only I am left”
God responded in I Kings 19:18, when He said “Come on now, I’ve got 7,000 men in Israel who have not bowed their knee to Baal. I reserved them” (1 Kings 19:18).
God always has those who He has reserved for Himself. God always has His remnant.
Today, of course, the religious scene is equally, or perhaps even more, confused.
Existential philosophy has really pervaded our entire society. It has affected every area of our society, even the arts. You look at a picture and you wonder what it is. If I see a drawing of a farm, I can see that it is a farm. But, most of the impressionistic art, which is a reflection of existentialism, looks to me like a person just stood back and threw paint on the canvas and puts a title to the painting. This is a good illustration of existential philosophy, because you might look at that painting and you may see something that I don’t, but it doesn’t change the fact that it is really just paint thrown on a canvas.
We had a friend of our do a European plaster finish on the walls of our home.
The interesting thing about this is that it is similar to the plastered wall we had, when growing up. I remember lying in bed and looking at the textured plaster on the walls. With my imagination, I could see all kinds of things in that texture, faces, people, animals, and all sorts of things. It was just like modern art in the respect that you were not always sure that the next person could see the same thing you see. Oh, you could try to point out what you saw, but you were never sure that they could see it. What this does is isolate us. We have to experience for ourselves. That is what existentialism is. Your personal truth is what you experience it to be, just as the painting is what you experience it to be.
But because there isn’t a distinction of form, folks become alienated from each other, because they are not sure what the others are seeing. Because of the alienation, I begin to feel alone and isolated. That is what existential philosophy does. When looking at a regular painting of a farm, we become unified in what we see, and we know we’re seeing the same thing.
We see a lot of movies today, which are also expressions of existentialism. As the movie comes to an end, certain things may not yet be determined. A guy may turn and walk down the road, but you don’t know which way he is going. There may be two obvious choices, and the movie ends with a shot of the person’s eyes, but you don’t know which choice they made.
Everybody doesn’t live happily ever after. You have to put your own end to the story. The story line is written so that you have to finish the story yourself. They leave you hanging. It is, again, just the expression of existential philosophy, whereas you have to experience it for yourself, relate in your own way, and create your own truth. I get isolated, mainly because I always take the happy ending road. I finish these stories in a positive way. That makes me a bit of a loner.
Everybody doing that which is right in his own eyes is always a state of confusion. We need a guide; we need an authority, we need a king. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6). We need Him. We need His authority over our lives, or we get caught up in the confusion of our age.
It is wonderful that we can study the Word together. We all see a lot of confusion in the world around us. People don’t know what’s right anymore. There is very little black and white, the gray has just moved into both areas and is expanding.
It is so difficult to know what is right, what is truth. We need help from the Lord, and that help comes from our faith. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing from the Word. The Word is the guide for our lives. Jesus is the only way. No man comes to the Father, but by Him.