Dan and the Levite of Judah
This chapter shows us the connection of one of the tribes with the religious system which we have seen set up in Judges 17. Dan had proved himself to be the weakest of the tribes of Israel. Forced into the mountains by the Amorites (Judges 1: 34), and lacking the faith to take possession of his inheritance, he sent out five men to reconnoitre, in order to search the portion he still lacked. Laish, a quiet and prosperous town, was situated at the northern extremity of Canaan, far from the Zidonians to whom it belonged, and did no business with any one. This city afforded Dan an opportunity for an inglorious conquest, but presented besides everything that the natural heart could desire. "A place," said the messengers, "where there is no want of anything that is in the earth" (v. 10). Apart from its wickedness, Laish, like Sodom before its destruction, was like a garden of the Lord; a conquest worthy of a Lot but not of an Abraham, but which was a temptation to the tribe of Dan in their enfeebled and lax state. Dan had a battle to fight, a victory to gain in his own boundaries, over the Amorites of the valley; but this combat would have cost him too much; he preferred a conquest without danger, won at the extremity of the land far from the eyes of Jehovah's witnesses and from the place where his real enemy was, who was left without a word in possession of Dan's true inheritance.
On their way, these five men met the Levite in the house of Micah and asked him: "Who brought thee hither? and what makest (doest) thou in this place? and what hast thou here?" (v.3). These questions ought to have opened the eyes of the Levite, if anything could have done so. What answer, in fact, could he give? His own will had brought him there, for he sought to establish himself; he did what Micah told him to do; he had money, a salary - just so many characteristics of all ministry of human appointment, which can go on entirely without God, being dependent upon men, and working for a salary.
"And they said unto him. Ask counsel, we pray thee, of God, that we may know whether our way which we go shall be prosperous" (v. 5). Of such an one do the men seek direction as to their course, and they get the answer that they desired: "Go in peace; before Jehovah is your way wherein ye go" (v. 6). Under penalty of not being considered a properly appointed minister, it was necessary to mix up the Lord's name to this false pretension of being the oracle of the people.
Later on, when the tribe of Dan were again passing by armed, the first thing they did was to carry off Micah's gods and take absolute possession of his priest. They set before the latter in the most dazzling way the promotion that he would obtain: "Is it better for thee to be a priest unto the house of one man, or that thou be a priest unto a tribe, and a family in Israel?" (v. 19). He got a call to a more influential and lucrative position. As to the will of God in the matter, that never entered the mind of the priest. His "heart was glad" at being called away to a new post, and taking "the ephod, and the seraphim, and the graven images, he went in the midst of the people" (v. 20). He took away his idols with him, and it is with this one whom the men called "their priest" that idolatry assumed an official character in Dan.
Micah ran after these spoilers and said: "Ye have taken away my gods which I made, and the priest, and ye are gone away; and what have I more?" (v. 24). What language! They had taken away his religion and the minister that he had appointed and he had nothing left! A man of faith would not have felt the loss of these things; God Himself, His word, His priesthood and His house at Shiloh would have still remained.
The children of Dan went their way, smote Laish, seized upon the city and "called the name of it Dan, after the name of Dan their father" (v. 29). The name of Dan had more importance for them than that of Jehovah. Such was, in a few words, the dark picture of the religious history of Israel.