Judges 17, 18: Micah and His Idols
The people of Israel in those days knew very little about the Lord and worship of the Lord, and some simple good people were making and worshiping idols. They had forgotten the first of the Ten Commandments, which told them not to make idols. There was a man named Micah living in the hills of Ephraim, whose mother had saved up silver, and they made of it images to worship. Micah made a chapel in his house where the idols were kept and were worshiped. At first one of his sons served as priest, and afterward there came a man who was a Levite who had been trained as a priest and was looking for a home, and Micah hired him to stay and be his priest.
There came one day to Micah's house five men. They were from the tribe of Dan, Samson's tribe, who had been sent to spy out the land, to find a place to which the tribe of Dan might move and make a new home, for the land which had been given to them they never wholly got from the Philistines and they did not have room. The five spies went up through the country and far up in the north in the beautiful sunny valley under Mount Hermon they found a place called Laish, settled by people from Zidon, the city on the seashore. It was a lovely place by one of the great springs of the Jordan. They liked the place and went back and told their tribe to come and take the city and live there. So the five men led the way, and many of the Danites came with their little ones and their cattle and six hundred armed men. They took the city Laish and made their home there and called it Dan. That is why we find the name Dan near the top of our map.
But one thing the Danites did on their way. They stopped at Micah’s house. The armed men stood at the gate of the village and the five men that had been spies went into the house and stole Micah’s images. They also asked his priest to go with them, and he went. Poor Micah went after them with a few of his neighbors, but the Danites were too strong for him; they only laughed at him and carried away his idols. We feel sorry for Micah. It was not right to have and to worship idols, but Micah knew no better.
"In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes." Two things in our story show what a lawless time it was: first, that Micah, a man of Ephraim, living only a little way from Shiloh where the Lord's tabernacle was, should make and worship idols and not realize that he was doing wrong; and second, that the tribe of Dan should take a city in another part of the land and make it their home, and that they should steal and take with them another man's treasures.
Read about Micah in chapter 17. The eleven hundred shekels of silver is the same amount that was mentioned in chapter 16:5, worth about seven hundred and fifty dollars. The "ephod" was properly a sacred vest made for the priest (Exod. 28:6-14; 1 Sam. 2:18), but it seems sometimes to mean an image (Judges 8:27). "Teraphim" also means idols. (Gen. 31:19) Micah was pleased when he could engage a Levite to be his priest. You remember that the Levites were the priestly tribe and were scattered as priests through all the tribes. Looking forward to Judges 18:30, you will learn that his name was Jonathan. We feel sorry for Micah when the Danites took away his images and laughed at his grief. Perhaps someone can find and read to you number 324 in Heaven and Hell. Swedenborg there is speaking of the innocence of many gentile people, and tells of one who listened while this story of Micah was read, and says that he was so much grieved that he scarcely knew what to think by reason of interior grief. This grief was perceived and with it the innocence in all his affections. It was afterward explained to him that graven images ought not to be worshiped, but only the Lord. After he was instructed, the interior affection of his adoration could be perceived, which was much more holy than with Christians. Read the whole number.
Read now the story of the Danites, who were too crowded in their old home, how they found a new home and took possession of it. Find the new home on your map, by one of the great springs of the Jordan in the beautiful valley under Mount Hermon. What was the name of the city before? What name did the Danites give to it? Why do we so often meet the phrase "From Dan to Beer-sheba" and what does it mean? The last verse of our chapter tells us that they set up the idols which they had taken and that they were worshiped in Dan all the time that the house of God, the tabernacle, was in Shiloh.
1. Where was the lot which was first given to the tribe of Dan? Why did they want another home?
2. Where did they find a home? What was the town called before they took it? What name did they give it?
3. What were stolen from the house of Micah by the Danites?
4. Was it right for Micah to have idols? Was it right for the Danites to take them?
5. Where was the tabernacle in those days?
In the story of Samson we have learned something about the meaning of the tribe of Dan. The name Dan means "Judge," and the tribe represents an acknowledgment of the literal Divine Word. Samson was of the tribe of Dan, and he represents the power of the letter of the Word. There is a time when the literal knowledge represented by Dan is prominent in the religious life, but if one goes on in regeneration and grows in spiritual love and understanding, it is recognized that this knowledge was only on the very border of a heavenly life. The Lord said of John the Baptist and his literal teaching, "He that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he." (Matt. 11:11) That is why Dan was with the rear guard on the march (Num. 10:25); why the lot of Dan was the last drawn (Joshua 19:40); why the tribe moved to the extreme limit of the land; and why in the list of those sealed from the tribes in the Revelation, Dan is not named at all (Rev. 7:4-8); all these things because the tribe represents a very literal external knowledge of the Lord and His Word. (A. 3923; E. 450)
Dan and Beer-sheba were at the northern and southern limits of the Holy Land. Direction east and west is associated in the Bible and in heaven with nearness to the Lord and remoteness from Him in love. Angels look to the Lord in the east. Direction north and south relates especially to the quality of intelligence, the south representing brightness of intelligence, and the north obscure intelligence. (W. 121; E. 422; A. 3708) We see why the place of Dan in the encampment in the desert was on the north of the tabernacle, and why Dan now finds a home at the northern limit of the land. (Num. 2:25) Beer-sheba, with the sunny pastures and wells of the south country, represents states of spiritual intelligence. From Dan to Beer-sheba therefore suggests the whole range of heavenly intelligence from the most external and obscure to the most interior and brightest. (A. 1458, 2723; E. 417)
If people care only for a very external knowledge of the Lord and His Word and care only for external forms of worship, they are making an idol of these external things, not knowing or loving the living things of spiritual life. This is represented by the Danites’ stealing idols and keeping them for worship instead of worshiping the Lord in Shiloh. Read an interesting explanation of this stealing of the idols in A. 6396.
Be sure to read the whole of H. 324, which describes the sympathy of an innocent gentile with Micah in the loss of his images and at the same time intimates that this story of Micah was the means of helping at least one innocent gentile, and probably very many, to turn from worship of an idol to worship of the Lord.