Book of Judges Chapter 17:1-8, 12-13; 18:30-31 Antique Commentary Quotes

Micah (1)
mı̄´ka (מיכה, mı̄khāh, contracted from מיכיהוּ, mı̄khāyāhū, “who is like Yah?”; Codex Vaticanus, Μειχαίας, Meichaı́as; Codex Alexandrinus, Μιχά, Michá; sometimes in the King James Version spelled Michah):

(1) The chief character of an episode given as an appendix to the Book of Judges (Jdg_17:1-13; 18). Micah, a dweller in Mt. Ephraim, was the founder and owner of a small private sanctuary with accessories for worship (Mat_17:1-5), for which he hired as priest a Judean Levite (Mat_17:7-13). Five men sent in quest of new territory by the Danites, who had failed to secure a settlement upon their own tribal allotment, visited Micah’s shrine, and obtained from his priest an oracle favoring their quest (Jdg_18:1-6). They then went on until they reached the town of Laish in the extreme North, and deeming it suitable for the purpose, they returned to report to their fellow-tribesmen. These at once dispatched thither 600 armed men, accompanied by their families (Jdg_18:7-12). Passing Micah’s abode, they appropriated his idols and his priest, and when their owner pursued, he was insulted and threatened (Jdg_18:13-26). They took Laish, destroyed it with its inhabitants and rebuilt it under the name of Dan. There they established the stolen images, and appointed Micah’s Levite, Jonathan, a grandson of Moses (the King James Version “Manasseh”), priest of the new sanctuary, which was long famous in Israel (Jdg_18:27-31).

The purpose of the narrative is evidently to set forth the origin of the Danite shrine and priesthood. A few peculiarities in the story have led some critics – e.g., Moore, “Judges,” in ICC and “Judges” in SBOT; Budde, Richter – to regard it as composite. Wellhausen, however, considers that the peculiarities are editorial and have been introduced for the purpose of smoothing or explaining the ancient record. Most authorities are agreed that the story is nearly contemporary with the events which it narrates, and that it is of the highest value for the study of the history of Israelite worship.

Judges 17:1 Now there was a man from the mountain of Ephraim Although the following two episodes are written at the end of this book; the one of Micah and the other about the concubine of Gibeah, they, nevertheless, occurred at the beginning of the period of the Judges. This was during the days of Othniel the son of Kenaz (and Cushan, above 3:8 11) as it says, (below 18:31) “And they accepted for themselves the graven image of Micah which he had made, throughout the period that the house of God was in Shiloh,” so we can derive that for the duration of Shiloh (Fourteen years after Israel’s crossing the Jordan, the Tabernacle was erected in Shiloh and remained there for three hundred sixty-nine years.) the image of Micah remained. Also, by the concubine of Gibeah it is said concerning the Jebusites of Jerusalem, (below 19:12) “We will not turn into (this) city of heathens,” so we can derive that they had not yet captured Jerusalem (which was captured by Judah, see above 1:8).

Pulpit Commentary
We here light upon quite a different kind of history from that which has preceded. We no longer have to do with judges and their mighty deeds in delivering Israel from his oppressors, but with two detached histories, which fill up the rest of the book, relating to the internal affairs of Israel. There is no note of time, except that they happened before the time of Saul the king (Jdg_17:6; Jdg_18:1), and. that Phinehas the son of Eleazar was alive at the time of the occurrence of the second (Jdg_20:28). Both, no doubt, are long prior to Samson. The only apparent connection of the history of Micah with that of Samson is that both relate to the tribe of Dan, and it may be presumed were contained in the annals of that tribe. Compare the opening of the Books of Samuel (1Sa_1:1). Mount Ephraim; i.e. the hill country of Ephraim, as in Jdg_3:27; Jdg_7:24, etc.

Adam Clarke
Judges 17:2
About which thou cursedst – Houbigant and others understand this of putting the young man to his oath. It is likely that when the mother of Micah missed the money, she poured imprecations on the thief; and that Micah, who had secreted it, hearing this, was alarmed, and restored the money lest the curses should fall on him.

Keil and Delitzsch
A man of the mountains of Ephraim named Micah (מִיכָיְהוּ, Jdg_17:1, Jdg_17:4, when contracted into מִיכָה, Jdg_17:5, Jdg_17:8, etc.), who set up this worship for himself, and “respecting whom the Scriptures do not think it worth while to add the name of his father, or to mention the family from which he sprang” (Berleb. Bible), had stolen 1100 shekels of silver (about £135) from his mother. This is very apparent from the words which he spoke to his mother (v. 2): “The thousand and hundred shekels of silver which were taken from thee (the singular לֻקַּח refers to the silver), about which thou cursedst and spakest of also in mine ears (i.e., didst so utter the curse that among others I also heard it), behold, this silver is with me; I have taken it.” אָלָה, to swear, used to denote a malediction or curse (cf. אָלָה קֹול, Lev_5:1). He seems to have been impelled to make this confession by the fear of his mother’s curse. But his mother praised him for it, – “Blessed be my son of Jehovah,” – partly because she saw in it a proof that there still existed a germ of the fear of God, but in all probability chiefly because she was about to dedicate the silver to Jehovah; for, when her son had given it back to her, she said (v. 3), “I have sanctified the silver to the Lord from my hand for my son, to make an image and molten work.” The perfect הִקְדַּשְׁתִּי is not to be taken in the sense of the pluperfect, “I had sanctified it,” but is expressive of an act just performed: I have sanctified it, I declare herewith that I do sanctify it. “And now I give it back to thee,” namely, to appropriate to thy house of God.

Pulpit Commentary
I had wholly dedicated. It is not clear whether the words are to be rendered as in the A.V; had dedicated, expressing the dedication of them before they were stolen, or whether they merely express her present purpose so to dedicate them. But the A.V. makes very good sense. Her former purpose had been that the money should be given for her son’s benefit to make his house an house of gods. Now that he had confessed, she resumed her purpose. Now therefore I restore it unto thee—that is, in the shape of the graven and molten images, as it follows in the next verse. The narrative gives a curious example of the semi-idolatry of the times. A graven image and a molten image. There is a good deal of difficulty in assigning the exact meaning of the two words here used, and their relation to one another in the worship to which they belong. The molten image (massechah), however, seems to be pretty certainly the metal, here the silver, image of a calf, the form which the corrupt worship of Jehovah took from the time when Aaron made the molten calf (Exo_32:4, called there ‘egel massechah, a molten calf) to the time when Jeroboam set up the golden calves at Dan and Bethel (1Ki_12:28, 1Ki_12:29). And that massechah means something molten is certain both from its etymology (nasach, to pour) and from what Aaron said in Exo_32:24 : “I cast it into the fire, and there came out this calf.” Here too Micah’s mother gives the silver to the founder, i.e. to the fuser of metals. The pesel, or graven image, on the other hand, is something hewn or graven, whether in wood or stone, and sometimes overlaid with gold and silver (Deu_7:25). One might have thought, from the language of verse 4, and from the mention of the pesel alone in Jdg_18:30, Jdg_18:31, that only one image is here intended, which was graven with the chisel after it was cast, as Aaron’s calf seems to have been. But in Jdg_18:17, Jdg_18:18 they are mentioned separately, with the ephod and teraphim named between them, so that they must be distinct. From the above passages the pesel or graven image would seem to have been the most important object, and the difficulty is to assign the true relation of the massechah or molten image to it. Hengstenberg thinks the massechah was a pedestal on which the pesel stood, and that the ephod was the robe with which the pesel was clothed, and that the teraphim were certain tokens or emblems attached to the ephod which gave oracular answers. But this is not much more than guess-work. Berthean considers the ephod, here as elsewhere, to be the priest’s garment, put on when performing the most solemn services, and specially when seeking an answer from God. And he thinks that the massechah formed a part of the ornament of the ephod, because in Jdg_18:18 the Hebrew has “the pesel of the ephod.” The teraphin he thinks are idols, a kind of Dii minores associated with the worship of Jehovah in this impure worship. But there does not seem to be any means at present of arriving at any certainty. The massechah might be a rich gold or silver overlaying of the wooden image, possibly movable, or it might be the separate image of a calf supposed to belong, as it were, to the pesel, and to symbolise the attributes of the Godhead.

Keil and Delitzsch
Hereupon-namely, when her son had given her back the silver (“he restored the silver unto his mother” is only a repetition of Jdg_17:3, introduced as a link with which to connect the appropriation of the silver)-the mother took 200 shekels and gave them to the goldsmith, who made an image and molten work of them, which were henceforth in Micah’s house. The 200 shekels were not quite the fifth part of the whole. What she did with the rest is not stated; but from the fact that she dedicated the silver generally, i.e., the whole amount, to Jehovah, according to Jdg_17:3, we may infer that she applied the remainder to the maintenance of the image-worship.

(Note: There is no foundation for Bertheau’s opinion, that the 200 shekels were no part of the 1100, but the trespass-money paid by the son when he gave his mother back the money that he had purloined, since, according to Lev_6:5, when a thief restored to the owner any stolen property, he was to add the fifth of its value. There is no ground for applying this law to the case before us, simply because the taking of the money by the son is not even described as a theft, whilst the mother really praises her son for his open confession.)

Pesel and massecah (image and molten work) are joined together, as in Deu_27:15. The difference between the two words in this instance is very difficult to determine. Pesel signifies an idolatrous image, whether made of wood or metal. Massecah, on the other hand, signifies a cast, something poured; and when used in the singular, is almost exclusively restricted to the calf cast by Aaron or Jeroboam. It is generally connected with עֵגֶל, but it is used in the same sense without this definition (e.g., Deu_9:12). This makes the conjecture a very natural one, that the two words together might simply denote a likeness of Jehovah, and, judging from the occurrence at Sinai, a representation of Jehovah in the form of a molten calf. But there is one obstacle in the way of such a conjecture, namely, that in Jdg_18:17-18, massecah is separated from pesel, so as necessarily to suggest the idea of two distinct objects. But as we can hardly suppose that Micah’s mother had two images of Jehovah made, and that Micah had both of them set up in his house of God, no other explanation seems possible than that the massecah was something belonging to the pesel, or image of Jehovah, but yet distinct from it-in other words, that it was the pedestal upon which it stood. The pesel was at any rate the principal thing, as we may clearly infer from the fact that it is placed in the front rank among the four objects of Micah’s sanctuary, which the Danites took with them (Jdg_18:17-18), and that in Jdg_18:30-31, the pesel alone is mentioned in connection with the setting up of the image-worship in Dan. Moreover, there can hardly be any doubt that pesel, as a representation of Jehovah, was an image of a bull, like the golden calf which Aaron had made at Sinai (Exo_32:4), and the golden calves which Jeroboam set up in the kingdom of Israel, and one of which was set up in Dan (1Ki_12:29).

J.P. Lange
Jdg_17:4. And his mother took two hundred shekels of silver. Micah had once more refused the money. He still fears the curse that it may bring with it. Thereupon the mother causes the “image and cast-work” to be made; applying, however, not 1,100 shekels, but only 200. This shows that it was only avarice, and not the fact that she had dedicated the money to religious purposes, that had inspired her curse. For even now she cannot part with more than 200 shekels out of the 1,100. On the other hand, it becomes evident that the purpose for which Micah took the money was the manufacture of the image; for it is set up “in his house,” and he combines with it still other operations.

J.P. Lange
Jdg_17:5. And he set up an ephod and teraphim. These words give the key to the whole transaction, and even afford a clew to the time in which it took place. The paternal house of Micah, it appears, had not openly broken with the service of Jehovah. This is clear from both his and his mother’s words (Jdg_17:2-3; Jdg_17:13). But their hearts were not wholly with God. This is evident from her avarice and malediction. Theirs was not a house in which the Canaanitish Baal was sacrificed to; but neither was it one in which there was more of true religion than the form and name. In the house of Joash there stood, before Gideon destroyed it, an altar of Baal and an Asherah. That was not the case here. But selfishness and superstitious egoism are idolatrous in their nature and consequences, even when Jehovah, that is, the God of Israel, is still spoken of.

What R. Juda Hallevi says of Micah and others, applies especially to him: “He resembles a man who, while incestuously marrying his sister, should strictly observe the customary laws of marriage.” He makes use of the name of God, but for that which is vanity (לַשָּׁוְא, Exo_20:7). “He made an ephod.” The sin of which he was thus guilty, lay not in the ephod, but in the fact that he set it up. The ephod was designed for the lawful priesthood. The Urim and Thummim were intended for Israel’s high-priests (Exo_28:30), in order that by means of them they might be the constant organ of objective divine wisdom for the whole people, at the place where they served before God. Hence, they neither could nor ought to serve the subjective interests of individual men or tribes, or be inquired of anywhere else than where the priest was who bore them on his heart. This fact also renders the meaning of Jdg_8:27 clear, where it is related that after Gideon had set up an ephod with the golden booty obtained from the Midianites, all Israel went a-whoring after it, and found a snare in it. Gideon, it is true, served Jehovah sincerely and truly, and meant only that his ephod should serve as a reminder to the people of the wonderful deeds of God; but in setting it up, he nevertheless introduced a precedent which subjective superstition misused to its own hurt. For, inasmuch as he set it up in his own house, he gave occasion for others to think that they also might do the same in their houses. The deeds in consequence of which he instituted the ephod were soon lost sight of; and the eye was directed only to the money out of which it proceeded. It may be assumed that precisely for Micah Gideon’s example proved a source of danger,—for which, however, the blame falls not on the hero, but on Micah. We thus obtain a clew to the time in which the event here related occurred. Micah was a man of Ephraim who lived not long after the days of Gideon. There was pride enough in Ephraim to arrogate to itself the right of doing what was done, however grandly and nobly, in the smaller tribe of Manasseh. It is at all times the practice of paltry selfishness to dishonor the extraordinary actions of great men, by using them as cloaks for their own mean ends. Gideon destroyed the altar of Baal secretly, and for this purpose made use of his father’s people and means without his father’s knowledge. Micah probably excused himself by this example, when he secretly took his mother’s money, in order to set up that which in his own interest he destined for God.

The anarchy of arbitrary individualism exhibits itself very strikingly here, in the fact that a mere common man (וַיְהִי אִיש, Jdg_17:1), without name or merit, has the presumption to do the same thing which Gideon, the Judge and Deliverer of Israel, had undertaken to do; and that he does it on the same mountains of Ephraim on which, at no great distance, in Shiloh, the ark of God and the lawful ephod were to be found. R. Nathan7 thinks that the places were so near to each other, that the smoke from both sanctuaries might commingle, as it rose upward. A mere common man, who had nothing but money, presumed to found a sanctuary, with an ephod and a priest, and to pass this off as an oracle of Jehovah. The object he had in view can hardly have been any other than to ensnare the people who, in the pressure of their religious needs, sought for instruction, and brought votive offerings and gifts. For this purpose, the house which he founded must have been assimilated to the tabernacle; yet not so completely as to be attractive only to the thoroughly pious worshippers of Jehovah. For as these would not under any circumstances visit any sanctuary but that at Shiloh, Micah’s house would then have failed of its purpose. It could be made attractive only by making it minister to the superstition of sensual worship, and by vesting this ministry in the forms of the service of Jehovah. Hence he speaks of consecration to Jehovah, but at the same time represents the latter by means of פֶּסֶל וּמַסֵּכָה (an image and cast-work). He set up an ephod, and supplemented it with teraphim. He needed a priest; and in the absence of a Levite, he himself selects one of his sons for the office. Every part of his proceeding is thus marked by subjective arbitrariness, which under pious names concealed self-interest and superstition. The narrator strikingly points out this his sin, by means of a few delicate strokes. Hitherto the man had always been called Micayehu, distinctly bearing the name of Jehovah. But from Jdg_17:5, where he sets up his sanctuary, onward, he is only spoken of as Micah. The name of God was not to be desecrated in him. And although Micah speaks of “Jehovah” (Jdg_5:13), his house is only called a Beth Elohim,—a name also given to the temples of heathen deities,—not Beth Jehovah, house of Jehovah. No description is given of what the goldsmith shaped out of the mother’s two hundred pieces of money; but it is called פֶּסֶל וּמַסֵּכָה, an image and cast-work. These words at the same time pronounce judgment against the sin that had been committed, for they are the technical expressions under which the law forbids the making of every kind of image-work for idolatrous purposes. The narrator has his eye doubtless on Deu_27:15 : “Cursed (אָרוּר) is the man that maketh פֶּסֶל וּמסֵּכָה, an abomination unto Jehovah, the work of the hands of the artificer.” He intimates, assuredly, that the same man who stood in such dread of his mother’s curse on the thief of her money, rendered himself obnoxious to the more awful curse of the divine law, when he desired, or at any rate accepted, such image-work. The form of the image cannot, however, be determined with certainty. The opinion that it represented a calf, is certainly not tenable. It is not true that Jehovah, the God of Israel, was ever or anywhere represented under the figure of a bull or calf. On the contrary, this figure was symbolical of a contrast, a national and historical contrast, with Jehovah. This appears both from the golden calf of the desert and from the history of Jeroboam.8 To infer from the analogy of the latter, that Micah also cast a calf, would likewise be erroneous. For Micah’s act has no national, but only a religious significance. He does not intend to set up a contrast to Jehovah, but only a superstitious syncretism with other sanctuaries. Had the image been a calf, the narrator would have taken occasion to say so; for that of itself, in its relation to the idolatry of the desert, would have indicated the nature of Micah’s sin. Since it must be assumed that Micah intended to establish a sort of tabernacle, it is to be supposed that in his image-work also he carried out this imitation to the extreme of superstition. In the tabernacle, on the כַּפֹּרֶת [“mercy-seat”] there were two cherubim, with outspread wings; and in Exo_25:22, God says: “I will speak with thee from upon the kapporeth [mercy-seat], from between the two cherubim.” Now, if Micah, while in general imitating this arrangement, transformed the cherubim into sphinx-like figures, such as were found in Egyptian temples, and symbolyzed (as Clem. Alex., Strom, lib. v. Judges 5, well explains,) the mysterious problems concerning the Deity, which received their solution at the hands of the priests, he would at the same time minister to the superstition of the time. And it was especially the establishment of an oracle that Micah had in view. The verb פָּסַל means to cut, to chisel, especially in wood, to carve; for the image, פֶּסֶל, can be burnt (Deu_7:5; Deu_7:25), or sawed in pieces (Deu_12:3). מַסֵּכָה is the coating of gold with which the image was covered (cf. Ewald, Alterthümer, p. 256, 2d edit.), and is therefore oftenest mentioned in connection with pesel, but frequently also without it. Such wooden images (called ξόανα, by the Greeks), says K. O. Müller (Archäologie, § 69), were adorned with chaplets and diadems, neck-chains, and ear-pendants. To this the lawgiver refers, when he says (Deu_7:25): “The images of their gods ye shall burn with fire; thou shalt not desire the silver or gold that is on them.” Beside the ephod Micah also made teraphim. This addition shows that he designed the ephod for divining purposes. The subject of the teraphim has hitherto remained enveloped in a great deal of obscurity. From Eze_21:26 (21), 2Ki_23:24, and Hos_3:4, (cf. also 1Sa_15:23), it is certain that they were consulted, like oracles. They were shaped like human beings, see 1Sa_19:13; and they were small, otherwise Rachel could not have concealed them (Gen_31:34). Antiquity conceived of every thing connected with divination as wrapped in darkness and mystery. The heathen oracle issued out of the depth and darkness in enigmatic language. At Megara, there was an oracle of the goddess Night, represented as a high and closely veiled figure. The little teraphim also must have borne about them tokens of their mysterious nature. We may venture to recognize them in the little shapes of Greek art, enveloped in a thick mantle and hat, who constantly accompany the figures of Æsculapius, the divining god of the healing art (where also the tablets usually appear, symbolic of the responses of the god. Müller, Archäol., § 394, 1). Among the various names given to these attendant figures by the Greeks, is that of Telesphoros, end-bringing.9 It is well known that oracles were most frequently consulted with reference to physical ailments. In Israel, also, in days of apostacy, idols were applied to for healing (2Ki_1:2). The teraphim, accordingly, appear to represent oracles of healing. Their name, at all events, teraphim (trophim), approximates closely to that of Trophonius,10 for which also the Greek language affords no suitable etymology. Trophonius is the healing oracle, who delivered his responses in a dark chasm, and who, like Æsculapius, is represented with a serpent, from which he probably derived his name (cf. שָׂרָף). The relationship of teraphim and “seraphim” is plain enough. The serpent-divination of Greece is manifestly of Asiatic origin. That the Israelites offered incense to the healing serpent erected by Moses, we learn from the history of Hezekiah, who destroyed it (2Ki_18:4). The teraphim, then, explain themselves and some other matters, when we regard them as Telesphoroi, possessed of oracular healing attributes. Every passage in which they appear is in this way fully explained.

Pulpit Commentary
And the man Micah, etc. It is impossible to say for certain whether the state of things here described in respect of Micah preceded the events narrated in the preceding verses, or was consequent upon them. If it preceded, then we have the reason of his mother’s vow: she wished to make her son’s “house of God” complete by the addition of a graven and molten image. If it was consequent upon his mother’s vow, then we have in the opening verses of this chapter a history of the circumstances of the foundation of Micah’s “house of God,” which was to play an important part in the colony of Danites, whose proceedings arc related in the following chapter, and for the sake of which this domestic history of Micah is introduced. House of gods. Rather, of God (Elohim); for the worship was of Jehovah, only with a corrupt and semi-idolatrous ceremonial. An ephod. See Jdg_8:26, Jdg_8:27, note. Teraphim. See Gen_31:19 (images, A.V.; teraphim, Hebrews); 1Sa_15:23 (idolatry, A.V.; teraphim, Hebrews); 1Sa_19:13 (an image, A.V.; teraphim, Hebrews); Hos_3:4,to etc. They seem to have been a kind of Penates, or household gods, and were used for divination (Eze_21:21; Zec_10:2). Became his priest. One function of the priest, and for which it is likely he was much resorted to, was to inquire of God by the ephod (Jdg_18:5, Jdg_18:6). What his other duties might be does not appear.

Pulpit Commentary
Of the family of Judah. These words are difficult to explain. If the man was a Levite he could not be of the family or tribe of Judah. Some explain the words to be merely a more accurate definition of Bethlehem-judah, as if he would say, I mean Bethlehem in the tribe of Judah. Others explain them to mean that he was one of a family of Levites who had settled in Bethlehem, and so came to be reckoned in civil matters as belonging to Judah. Others, that he was of the family of Judah on his mother s side, which might be the cause of his settling at Bethlehem. But many commentators think them spurious, as they are not found in the Septuagint (Cod. Vat.), nor in the Peschito, nor in No. 440 of De Rossi’s MSS. The Septuagint has Bethlehem of the family of Judah.

Adam Clarke
Judges 17:7
Of the family of Judah – The word family may be taken here for tribe; or the young man might have been of the tribe of Judah by his mother, and of the tribe of Levi by his father, for he is called here a Levite; and it is probable that he might have officiated at Shiloh, in the Levitical office. A Levite might marry into any other tribe, providing the woman was not an heiress.

Keil and Delitzsch
Appointment of a Levite as Priest. – Jdg_17:7. In the absence of a Levitical priest, Micah had first of all appointed one of his sons as priest at his sanctuary. He afterwards found a Levite for this service. A young man from Bethlehem in Judah, of the family of Judah, who, being a Levite, stayed (גָּר) there (in Bethlehem) as a stranger, left this town to sojourn “at the place which he should find,” sc., as a place that would afford him shelter and support, and came up to the mountains of Ephraim to Micah’s house, “making his journey,” i.e., upon his journey. (On the use of the inf. constr. with לְ in the sense of the Latin gerund in do, see Ewald, §280, d.) Bethlehem was not a Levitical town. The young Levite from Bethlehem was neither born there nor made a citizen of the place, but simply “sojourned there,” i.e., dwelt there temporarily as a stranger. The further statement as to his descent (mishpachath Judah) is not to be understood as signifying that he was a descendant of some family in the tribe of Judah, but simply that he belonged to the Levites who dwelt in the tribe of Judah, and were reckoned in all civil matters as belonging to that tribe. On the division of the land, it is true that it was only to the priests that dwelling-places were allotted in the inheritance of this tribe (Jos_21:9-19), whilst the rest of the Levites, even the non-priestly members of the family of Kohath, received their dwelling-places among the other tribes (Jos_21:20.). At the same time, as many of the towns which were allotted to the different tribes remained for a long time in the possession of the Canaanites, and the Israelites did not enter at once into the full and undisputed possession of their inheritance, it might easily so happen that different towns which were allotted to the Levites remained in possession of the Canaanites, and consequently that the Levites were compelled to seek a settlement in other places. It might also happen that individuals among the Levites themselves, who were disinclined to perform the service assigned them by the law, would remove from the Levitical towns and seek some other occupation elsewhere (see also at Jdg_18:30).

(Note: There is no reason, therefore, for pronouncing the words יְהוּדָה מִמִּשְׁפַּחַת (of the family of Judah) a gloss, and erasing them from the text, as Houbigant proposes. The omission of them from the Cod. Vat. of the lxx, and from the Syriac, is not enough to warrant this, as they occur in the Cod. Al. of the lxx, and their absence from the authorities mentioned may easily be accounted for from the difficulty which was felt in explaining their meaning. On the other hand, it is impossible to imagine any reason for the interpolation of such a gloss into the text.)

J.P. Lange
Jdg_17:7-12. And there was a Levite. Micah probably found that his sanctuary lacked consideration, because it had no priest. There were priests enough in Ephraim, to be sure; but it would seem that none of them were willing to serve him—which redounds to their honor. Assistance came to him, however, from another quarter. A young man, who according to rule was settled in Judah (מִמִּשְׁפּחַת יְהוּדָה, cf. Jos_21:4), became discontented at home, and took to travelling about, after the manner of a scholar in the Middle Ages. He stopped some time in Bethlehem, but left that place also; and on his way over the mountains of Ephraim, he came to Micah. The position of Micah’s sanctuary must have been a favorable one, near the highways from south to north; for the Danites, who came from Eshtaol and Zorah, and the young Levite, who came from Bethlehem, passed by it. Micah, hearing that the Levite was unengaged, proposed to him to take service with himself. The proposition was made sufficiently inviting. The young man was to be honored as “a father” (אָב, pater), become a priest, and be placed in good circumstances. Vanity, and the offer of a good place led the young Levite astray,—and he was not the last who fell thus. He forgot who he was (see at Jdg_18:30), and whom as Levite he ought to serve, and consented (וַיּוֹאֶל, cf. on Jdg_1:27). Micah took him in with great joy; so that, even beyond his promises, he received him as “one of his sons,”—an expression which stands in suggestive contrast with Micah’s promise to regard him “as a father.” For the sake of money, the Levite submitted to be “consecrated, ordained,” by an Ephraimite. (The words וַיְמַלֵּא אֶת־יַד וגי are a standing expression for to induct, to ordain The expression is derived (as Exo_29:33 compared with 17:24 clearly shows), from the ceremony of laying the offerings required at the consecration of a priest upon his hands, עַל כַּפֵּי, Exo_29:24). At all events, Micah valued the Levitical dignity more highly than the Levite himself did.

Keil and Delitzsch
Judges 17:10-13

Micah made this proposal to the Levite: “Dwell with me, and become my father and priest; I will give thee ten shekels of silver yearly, and fitting out with clothes and maintenance.” אָב, father, is an honourable title give to a priest as a paternal friend and spiritual adviser, and is also used with reference to prophets in 2Ki_6:21 and 2Ki_13:14, and applied to Joseph in Gen_45:8. לַיָּמִים, for the days, sc., for which a person was engaged, i.e., for the year (cf. 1Sa_27:7, and Lev_25:29). “And the Levite went,” i.e., went to Micah’s house. This meaning is evident from the context. The repetition of the subject, “the Levite,” precludes our connecting it with the following verb וַיֹּואֶל. – In Jdg_17:11-13 the result is summed up. The Levite resolved (see at Deu_1:5) to dwell with Micah, who treated him as one of his sons, and entrusted him with the priesthood at his house of God. And Micah rejoiced that he had got a Levite as priest, and said, “Now I know that Jehovah will prosper me.” This belief, or, to speak more correctly, superstition, for which Micah was very speedily to atone, proves that at that time the tribe of Levi held the position assigned it in the law of Moses; that is to say, that it was regarded as the tribe elected by God for the performance of divine worship.

J.P. Lange
Jdg_17:13. Now know I that Jehovah will do me good, seeing the Levite, has become my priest. These words indicate most strikingly, the thorough self-deception of the man. He looks for blessings to Jehovah, against whom he has committed the mortal sin of image-worship. He expects these blessings on account of a Levite, who did wrong when he allowed himself to be hired. He who sets up ephod and teraphim for the enlightenment of others, has himself so little insight into the spirit of truth as not to perceive that in the falsehood of his entire establishment its downfall is already assured. Perhaps, he also found pleasure in the descent of his Levite (Jdg_18:30), although it ought rather to have frightened him. But self-love blinds him, and his soiled conscience builds hopes on the name of a Levite, whose doings in his house challenged the judgments of God. “Now know I,” he exclaims. He will soon learn how deceptive this knowing is.

Adam Clarke
Judges 18:30

The children of Dan set up the graven image – They erected a chapel, or temple, among themselves, as Micah had done before; having the same implements and the same priest.

And Jonathan the son of Gershom – Either this was the name of the young Levite; or they had turned him off, and got this Jonathan in his place.

The son Manasseh – Who this Manasseh was, none can tell; nor does the reading appear to be genuine. He could not be Manasseh the son of Joseph, for he had no son called Gershom nor could it be Manasseh king of Israel, for he lived eight hundred years afterwards. Instead of מנשה Manasseh, the word should be read משה Mosheh, Moses, as it is found in some MSS., in the Vulgate, and in the concessions of the most intelligent Jews. The Jews, as R. D. Kimchi acknowledges, have suspended the letter: נ nun, over the word משה, thus,
which, by the addition of the points, they have changed into Manasseh, because they think it would be a great reproach to their legislator to have had a grandson who was an idolater. That Gershom the son of Moses is here intended, is very probable. See the arguments urged by Dr. Kennicott, Dissertation I., p. 55, etc.; and see the Var. Lect. of De Rossi on this place.

Until the day of the captivity of the land – Calmet observes, “The posterity of this Jonathan executed the office of priest in the city of Dan, all the time that the idol of Micah (the teraphim, ephod, etc). was there. But this was only while the house of the Lord was at Shiloh; and, consequently, the sons of Jonathan were priests at Dan only till the time in which the ark was taken by the Philistines, which was the last year of Eli, the high priest; for after that the ark no more returned to Shiloh.” This is evident; and on this very ground Houbigant contends that, instead of הארץ haarets, the Land, we should read הארן haaron, the Ark; for nothing is easier than the ו vau and final nun to be mistaken for the ץ final tsade, which is the only difference between the captivity of the Land and the captivity of the Ark. And this conjecture is the more likely, because the next verse tells us that Micah’s graven image, etc., continued at Dan all the time that the house of God was at Shiloh; which was, till the ark was taken by the Philistines. Those who wish to see more on this subject may consult Calmet, and the writers in Pool’s Synopsis. This chapter is an important supplement to the conclusion of the 19th chapter of Joshua, on which it casts considerable light.

The Danites were properly the first dissenters from the public established worship of the Jews; but they seem to have departed as little as possible from the Jewish forms, their worship being conducted in the same way, but not in the same place. Surely it was better to have had this, allowing it to be unconstitutional worship, than to have been wholly destitute of the ordinances of God. I think we have not sufficient ground from the text to call these persons idolaters; I believe they worshipped the true God according to their light and circumstances, from a conviction that they could not prosper without his approbation, and that they could not expect that approbation if they did not offer to him a religious worship. They endeavored to please him, though the means they adopted were not the most proper.

Keil and Delitzsch
Judges 18:30-31
Establishment of the Image-worship in Dan. – After the rebuilding of Laish under the name of Dan, the Danites set up the pesel or image of Jehovah, which they had taken with them out of Micah’s house of God. “And Jehonathan, the son of Gershom, the son of Moses, he and his sons were priests to the tribe of the Danites till the day of the captivity of the land.” As the Danites had taken the Levite whom Micah had engaged for his private worship with them to Dan, and had promised him the priesthood (Jdg_18:19 and Jdg_18:27), Jehonathan can hardly be any other than this Levite. He was a son of Gershom, the son of Moses (Exo_2:22; Exo_18:3; 1Ch_23:14-15). Instead of בֶּן־מֹשֶׁה, our Masoretic text has בֶּן־מְנַשֶּׁה with a hanging נ. With regard to this reading, the Talmud (Baba bathr.f. 109b) observes: “Was he a son of Gershom, or was he not rather a son of Moses? as it is written, the sons of Moses were Gershom and Eliezer (1Ch_23:14), but because he did the deeds of Manasseh (the idolatrous son of Hezekiah, 2 Kings 21) the Scripture assigns him to the family of Manasseh.” On this Rabbabar bar Channa observes, that “the prophet (i.e., the author of our book) studiously avoided calling Gershom the son of Moses, because it would have been ignominious to Moses to have had an ungodly son; but he calls him the son of Manasseh, raising the n, however, above the line, to show that it might either be inserted or omitted, and that he was the son of either מְנַשֶּׁה (Manasseh) or מֹשֶׁה (Moses), – of Manasseh through imitating his impiety, of Moses by descent” (cf. Buxtorfi Tiber. p. 171). Later Rabbins say just the same. R. Tanchum calls the writing Menasseh, with a hanging nun, a סֹופְרִים תִקּוּן, and speaks of ben Mosheh as Kethibh, and ben Menasseh as Keri. Ben Mosheh is therefore unquestionably the original reading, although the other reading ben Menasseh is also very old, as it is to be found in the Targums and the Syriac and Sept. versions, although some Codd. of the lxx have the reading uhiou’ Moou’see’ (vid., Kennic. dissert. gener. in V. T. §21).

(Note: These two readings of the lxx seem to be fused together in the text given by Theodoret (quaest. xxvi.): Ἰωνάθαν γάρ φησίν υἱὸς Μανασσῆ, υἱοῦ Γερσὼμ υἱοῦ Μωσῆ)

Jerome also has filii Moysi. At the same time, it does not follow with certainty from the reading ben Gershom that Jehonathan was actually a son of Gershom, as ben frequently denotes a grandson in such genealogical accounts, unknown fathers being passed over in the genealogies. There is very little probability of his having been a son, for the simple reason, that if Jehonathan was the same person as Micah’s high priest – and there is no ground for doubting this – he is described as נַעַר in Jdg_17:7; Jdg_18:3, Jdg_18:15, and therefore was at any rate a young man, whereas the son of Gershom and grandson of Moses would certainly have passed the age of youth by a few years after the death of Joshua. This Jehonathan and his sons performed the duties of the priesthood at Dan הָאָרֶץ גְּלֹות עַד־יֹום. This statement is obscure. הָאָרֶץ .eru גְּלֹות can hardly mean anything else than the carrying away of the people of the land into exile, that is to say, of the inhabitants of Dan and the neighbourhood at least, since גָּלָה is the standing expression for this. Most of the commentators suppose the allusion to be to the Assyrian captivity, or primarily to the carrying away by Tiglath-Pileser of the northern tribes of Israel, viz., the population of Gilead, Galilee, and the tribe of Naphtali, in the midst of which Laish-Dan was situated (2Ki_15:29). But the statement in Jdg_18:31, “And they set them up Micah’s graven image, which he made, all the time that the house of God was in Shiloh,” is by no means reconcilable with such a conclusion. We find the house of God, i.e., the Mosaic tabernacle, which the congregation had erected at Shiloh in the days of Joshua (Jos_18:1), still standing there in the time of Eli and Samuel (1Sa_1:3., Jdg_3:21; Jdg_4:3); but in the time of Saul it was at Nob (1Sa_21:1-15), and during the reign of David at Gibeon (1Ch_16:39; 1Ch_21:29). Consequently “the house of God” only stood in Shiloh till the reign of Saul, and was never taken there again. If therefore Micah’s image, which the Danites set up in Dan, remained there as long as the house of God was at Shiloh, Jonathan’s sons can only have been there till Saul’s time at the longest, and certainly cannot have been priests at this sanctuary in Dan till the time of the Assyrian captivity.

(Note: The impossibility of reconciling the statement as to time in Jdg_18:31 with the idea that “the captivity of the land” refers to the Assyrian captivity, is admitted even by Bleek (Einl. p. 349), who adopts Houbigant’s conjecture, viz., הָאָרֹון גְּלֹות, “the carrying away of the ark.”)

There are also other historical facts to be considered, which render the continuance of this Danite image-worship until the Assyrian captivity extremely improbable, or rather preclude it altogether. Even if we should not lay any stress upon the fact that the Israelites under Samuel put away the Baalim and Astartes in consequence of his appeal to them to turn to the Lord (1Sa_7:4), it is hardly credible that in the time of David the image-worship should have continued at Dan by the side of the lawful worship of Jehovah which he restored and organized, and should not have been observed and suppressed by this king, who carried on repeated wars in the northern part of his kingdom. Still more incredible would the continuance of this image-worship appear after the erection of Solomon’s temple, when all the men of Israel, and all the elders and heads of tribes, came to Jerusalem, at the summons of Solomon, to celebrate the consecration of this splendid national sanctuary (1 Kings 5-7). Lastly, the supposition that the image-worship established by the Danites at Dan still continued to exist, is thoroughly irreconcilable with the fact, that when Jeroboam established the kingdom of the ten tribes he had two golden calves made as images of Jehovah for the subjects of his kingdom, and set up one of them at Dan, and appointed priests out of the whole nation who were not of the sons of Levi. If an image-worship of Jehovah had been still in existence in Dan, and conducted by Levitical priests. Jeroboam would certainly not have established a second worship of the same kind under priests who were not Levitical. All these difficulties preclude our explaining the expression, “the day of the captivity of the land,” as referring to either the Assyrian or Babylonian captivity. It can only refer to some event which took place in the last years of Samuel, or the first part of the reign of Saul. David Kimchi and many others have interpreted the expression as relating to the carrying away of the ark by the Philistines, for which the words מִיִּשְׂרָאֵל כָבֹוד גָּלָה are used in 1Sa_4:21-22 (e.g., Hengstenberg, Beitr. vol. ii. pp. 153ff.; Hävernick, Einl. ii. 1, p. 109; O. v. Gerlach, and others). With the carrying away of the ark of the covenant, the tabernacle lost its significance as a sanctuary of Jehovah. We learn from Psa_78:59-64 how the godly in Israel regarded that event. They not only looked upon it as a casting away of the dwelling-lace of God at Shiloh; but in the fact that Jehovah gave up His might and glory (i.e., the ark) into captivity, they discerned a surrender of the nation into the full power of its foes which resembled a carrying away into captivity. For, apart altogether form the description in Psa_78:62-64, we may infer with certainty from the account of the tyranny which these foes still exercised over the Israelites in the time of Saul (1Sa_13:19-23), that, after this victory, the Philistines may have completely subjugated the Israelites, and treated them as their prisoners. We may therefore affirm with Hengstenberg, that “the author looked upon the whole land as carried away into captivity in its sanctuary, which formed as it were its kernel and essence.” If, however, this figurative explanation of הָאָרֶץ גְּלֹות should not be accepted, there is no valid objection to our concluding that the words refer to some event with which we have no further acquaintance, in which the city of Dan was conquered by the neighbouring Syrians, and the inhabitants carried away into captivity. For it is evident enough from the fact of the kings of Zoba being mentioned, in 1Sa_14:47, among the different enemies of Israel against whom Saul carried on war, that the Syrians also invaded Israel in the tie of the Philistine supremacy, and carried Israelites away out of the conquered towns and districts. The Danite image-worship, however, was probably suppressed and abolished when Samuel purified the land and people from idolatry, after the ark had been brought back by the Philistines (1 Sam. 2 ff.).

Pulpit Commentary
Jdg_18:30, Jdg_18:31
And the children of Dan, etc. It was probably the long existence of this semi-idolatrous worship of the graven image at Dan that induced King Jeroboam to set up one of his golden calves at Dan, as we read 1Ki_12:28-30. And Jonathan, the son of Gershom, the son of Manasseh. The Hebrew text really has the son of Moses. But a little n is written above the line between the M and the S of Moses (Mosheh), so as to be read Manasseh, as thus: MSH; so that they avoided the pain of reading aloud that the grandson or descendant of Moses was an idolatrous priest, without actually altering the written text. It is indeed most sad that it should have been so, though like examples are not wanting, as, e.g; the sons of Eli and of Samuel. For Gershom the son of Moses see Exo_2:22; Exo_18:3; 1Ch_23:14-16. It does not follow that Jonathan, the priest of the Danites, was literally the son of Gershom. It may merely mean that he was of the family of which Gershom was the head. Until the day of the captivity of the land. There is great diversity of opinion as to the meaning of this phrase. Many understand it, as is the obvious meaning of the words, of the Assyrian captivity (2Ki_15:29; 2Ki_17:6). But some of the best commentators, as Kimchi among the Jews, and many moderns, think it refers to the taking captive of the ark by the Philistines in the days of Eli, because this is the time indicated in the next verse by the mention of the house of God in Shiloh. The ark of God never returned to Shiloh after it was taken thence (1Sa_4:3, 1Sa_4:4) and captured by the Philistines (ibid. 1Ch_23:11). It is also noticed that the expression, The ark of God is gone into captivity (is taken, A.V.), occurs in 1Sa_4:21, 1Sa_4:22. It certainly would be strange that one verse (30) should speak of the worship of the graven image lasting till the Assyrian conquest of the land, and the next verse (31) limit it to the time that the house of God was in Shiloh, some 300 years earlier. At the same time it should be noticed that verse 30 speaks of the time that Jonathan’s sons were priests to the tribe of Dan, and verse 31 of the worship of Micah’s image. It is quite possible that the descendants of Jonathan may have been appointed priests at Dan to Jeroboam’s golden-calf worship, though the original graven image of Micah may have been destroyed by Saul or David; and in the interval between such destruction of Micah’s image and the setting up of Jeroboam’s calves they may have been the priests of an irregular worship on a high place at Tell-el-Kady. And this would enable us to give what is certainly its natural meaning to the words, “the captivity of the land.” But no certainty can be arrived at without more actual knowledge. Many commentators adopt Houbigant’s conjecture to read ark for land at the end of verse 30 (aron for aretz). Others think that some deportation of the Danites by the Syrians or other neighbouring people not recorded in history is here spoken of. All the time the house of God, etc. This must have been written not earlier than the time of Samuel, and possibly much later. The house of God, i.e. the tabernacle, was in Shiloh from the days of Joshua (Jos_18:1) till the days of Eli (1Sa_1:3), after which we have no account of where the house of God was till the ark was brought up to Jerusalem by King David from the house of Obed-edom the Gittite (2Sa_6:12), and placed in the tabernacle that David had pitched for it (2Sa_6:17); but whether this was the tabernacle that had been pitched at Shiloh or a new one does not appear. It is not improbable that Samuel may have moved the tabernacle from Shiloh to Ramah (1Sa_7:17). The ark had rested in the house of Abinadab at Baaleh or Kirjath-jearim for twenty years (1Sa_7:2) previous to its removal by David.


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