Sunday, May 19, 2013

Micah and the Danites (Joshua 19:47; Judges 17-18)

The following quotes are taken from

"The Danites Kill The Next Town - "But the territory of the Danites was too small for them; so the Danites marched up and attacked Leshem, which they captured and put to the sword.  Once they had taken possession of Lesham, they renamed the settlement after their ancestor Dan."  (Joshua 19:47 NAB)

"Micah Kills A Whole Town - "Then, with Micah's idols and his priest, the men of Dan came to the town of Laish, whose people were peaceful and secure.  They attacked and killed all the people and burned the town to the ground.  There was no one to rescue the residents of the town, for they lived a great distance from Sidon and had no allies nearby.  This happened in the valley near Beth-rehob. Then the people of the tribe of Dan rebuilt the town and lived there.  They renamed the town Dan after their ancestor, Israel's son, but it had originally been called Laish.  (Judges 18:27-29 NLT)  (Note that God approves of this slaughter in verse 6.)"

            This quote in the book of Joshua is actually a brief parenthetical statement that interrupts descriptions given of the land that was assigned to each tribe of Israel after they had wandered in the wilderness for 40 years.  It refers to a larger story that took place later, and is described in the book of Judges, chapters 17-18.  You can read the whole story here:

            To quickly summarize, these events took place during the time period of the Judges.  The book of Judges is a story of the breakdown of a society without God.  The book ends with this sentence: "In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit" (Judges 21:25, NIV).  The Israelites had ceased following God after they entered the promised land of Canaan, and though judges ruled over them for a time, the conditions of the nation of Israel continued to get worse.
            In this story, a man named Micah set up idols in his home, and invited a Levite to stay with him and be his personal priest.  Later, the tribe of Dan sent representatives to scout out the land to find a place to settle, because they were unsuccessful in claiming the land that God had allotted to them in the book of Joshua.  Instead of following God's command and settling in the land that he had given them, they decided instead to strike out on their own, and conquer a city named Laish (aka Lesham).
            Not only were they disobeying God by choosing to conquer a city that he had not given to them, they also learned that Micah had idols in his home and a Levite acting as his priest, and a large group of them went to his house, stole his idols and took his priest into their service, threatening Micah with death if he tried to stop them (Judges 18:14-26).  After that, they attacked and murdered the peaceful people of Laish, burned their city to the ground and settled there, where they set up the idols they had stolen from Micah and worshipped them for hundreds of years, until the land was taken captive.  
            First of all, we need to examine this passage in a historical context.  It is important to note that the Bible does not always approve everything that it records.  Just because there is an act of violence recorded in the Bible does not mean that God approves of that act of violence.  Some parts of the Bible, particularly the Hebrew scriptures (Old Testament), are books of history.  The book of Judges is one such book, describing the nation of Israel during the period of the judges (circa 1380-1050 BCE).  The book of Judges is not part of the Law (Torah) given to the Israelites, and does not contain instructions on how to live a life that pleases God (such as Paul's letters in the New Testament).  It is a book of history.
            This story is another example of the disintegration of the Israelite culture in the book of Judges, where "everyone did as they saw fit" and no one honored or obeyed God.  Micah, the Levite and the Danites all committed idolatry, and then the Danites murdered the inhabitants of a peaceful city, something that God had not commanded them to do (the Levite's promise of God's approval in verse 6 was false; idolaters are incapable of hearing messages from God.  See Jeremiah 14:14).  It was because of their evil deeds, such as idolatry and murder, that Israel and Judah were eventually overthrown and taken into captivity.  "A voice is announcing from Dan, proclaiming disaster from the hills of Ephraim.  Tell this to the nations, proclaim concerning Jerusalem: 'A besieging army is coming from a distant land, raising a war cry against the cities of Judah.  They surround her like men guarding a field, because she has rebelled against me,' declares the LORD.  'Your own conduct and actions have brought this on you.  This is your punishment.  How bitter it is!  How it pierces to the heart!" (Jeremiah 4:15-18, NIV).