This post follows the Bible reading plan available at oaktreechurch.com/soap.
Chapter eighteen continues the story of Micah and his hired Levite. At this point in Israel’s history, the tribe of Dan had been run out of their allotted territory by the Amorites, but they had not yet settled elsewhere (Judges 1:34; Joshua 19:40-48). Verse one contains the second reference in this story to the fact that Israel did not yet have a king (Judges 17:6; 18:1). This supports the idea that the book of Judges was compiled later, possibly by Samuel, after the monarchy had begun. In order to find a homeland, the Danites sent five men to spy out the land of Canaan to see what might be suitable for them (Judges 18:1-6). Leaving the hill country in their originally allotted land, they entered the Ephraimite hill country and came to the home of Micah and his hired Levite. After hearing the Levite’s story, the men asked him to gain an oracle from God, indicating if their search for land would be successful. He said that it would be.
When they reached the far northern part of the land, they found a peaceful area that was remote enough that the inhabitants did not have military allies (Judges 18:7-10). This encouraged them, so they returned home and confidently told their brothers to attack that peaceful area and claim it. Six hundred Danite soldiers began the march north (Judges 18:11-20). Coming again through Ephraim, they passed the house of the Levite, which the original spies told them contained a great deal of silver in idols. While the six hundred soldiers kept the Levite occupied at the gate, the spies broke in and stole the idols. When he protested, they argued that it would be better for him to serve a whole tribe rather than just one family, so he agreed to go with them.
When Micah discovered what had taken place, he and his neighbors hurried after them (Judges 18:21-26). Catching up with them, he accused them of stealing his idols and his priest. However, the Danites threatened to kill him if he crossed them, so they went their own ways. When they arrived at Laish in the north, they attacked and killed its inhabitants and took over the land, renaming it Dan (Judges 18:27-31). They established their own place of worship there, and it was Moses’ own descendants who “served as priests for the tribe of Dan until the time of the exile.” Which “exile” is referred to is unknown. Constable notes that, if the Assyrian captivity is meant, this note must have been added to the book much later. This blatant unfaithfulness to God and his established structure of worship is sometimes credited for the fact that Dan is missing from the list of tribes in Revelation 7, where he is replaced by Levi.