Sunday, January 30, 2022

The Judges. Day 59, The Danites Spy Out Land To Take From Their Fellow Israelites

In Judges 18 we find men of the tribe of Dan looking for land they can take from their fellow Israelites. The Danites were allotted territory in the promised land but they had not driven the heathen tribes from it in order to possess it. For example, in Judges 1:34 we were told, "The Amorites confined the Danites to the hill country, not allowing them to come down into the plain." The Lord could have and would have enabled the Danites to defeat the Amorites but, as we all have done at times, the Danites allowed their fear of the enemy to weaken their faith. I think they focused more on the problem than on the Problem Solver.

The tribe of Dan has grown too large for the area they've been inhabiting and they need to spread out. Reluctant to fight the enemy, they decide to fight their own people instead. As he has done before, the author of Judges offers the opinion that the spiritual and moral decay taking place in the nation is partly due to there being no king to maintain order over all the tribes of Israel. "In those days Israel had no king." (Judges 18:1a) The lawlessness that's about to occur might have been prevented, or at least punished, by a king. But we must not forget that the Lord's ideal plan for the Israelites was that He would be their king. Had He been the king of everyone's heart, no man would have dreamed of taking anything from his brother. We could say the same of any person or any nation in the world today: if the Lord is king of our hearts, we will naturally love our neighbor and do unto others as we'd have them do unto us. 

"And in those days the Danites were seeking a place of their own where they might settle, because they had not yet come into an inheritance among the tribes of Israel." (Judges 18:1b) It's not that they weren't assigned a territory in the promised land; their allotment was described to us in Joshua 19:41-46. It's that they haven't taken hold of their inheritance. Now that they need more room, it seems easier to them to take land belonging to their fellow Israelites than to fight the fierce pagan peoples currently occupying the land allotted to Dan in Joshua 19.

"So the Danites sent five of their leading men from Zorah and Eshtaol to spy out the land and explore it. These men represented all the Danites. They told them, 'Go, explore the land.' So they entered the hill country of Ephraim and came to the house of Micah, where they spent the night." (Judges 18:2) Though only five men of the tribe of Dan enter the territory of Ephraim to spy it out, the author of Judges lets us know that they're doing so with the approval of all their people: "These men represented all the Danites." 

We met Micah yesterday in Chapter 17. He's the man who stole his mother's silver, then returned it when he heard her pronounce a curse upon the thief, then used the silver she gave back to him to fashion an image. Most scholars believe this image was intended to represent the God of Israel but it doesn't matter; such images were forbidden by the Lord. Micah has a shrine at his house where he and his townspeople bring sacrifices and offerings, which is in direct disobedience to the command of the Lord who said sacrifices and offerings were only to be brought to the place of His choosing---to His tabernacle---which at this point in time is located at Shiloh. Shiloh lay within the borders of the territory allotted to Ephraim, which shows us that Micah had no excuse for not going up to the tabernacle to worship since he was an Ephraimite living within the borders of Ephraim. It's not that he couldn't go up to the house of God; it's that he didn't want to go up to the house of God. Instead he has created his own house of worship. Instead of bowing to the Lord's authority, he has established his own authority and his own brand of religion.

Over that house of worship Micah ordained a priest, as we learned yesterday. A traveling Levite from the town of Bethlehem, who was seeking another place to live, showed up in Micah's hometown and was invited by Micah to become his priest in exchange for room and board and ten shekels of silver a year. The Levite accepted this offer, though he had to have known he was acting in opposition to the Lord's commands. When the Danites hear this Levite speaking, they recognize that he is not an Ephraimite because his dialect differs from that of the Ephraimites. (You'll recall we were told in Judges 12 that the Ephraimites had difficulty pronouncing the "sh" sound.) The Danites want to know what this Levite is doing living in the household of an Ephraimite instead of living within one of the cities allotted to the Levites where he should have been. "When they were near Micah's house, they recognized the voice of the young Levite; so they turned in there and asked him, 'Who brought you here? What are you doing in this place? Why are you here?'" (Judges 18:3)

Some scholars suggest that when the Bible says the Danites "recognized the voice of the young Levite", it means they already knew him personally, not simply that they recognized his accent as not being an Ephraimite accent. This has led some of these scholars to assert that the Levite himself was a spy, sent out at some earlier point by the Danites to look over the hill country of Ephraim and to infiltrate the community and figure out how best to attack it. I feel like this theory is a stretch. Though we'll see later in Chapter 18 that the priest is an opportunist who is willing to sell out to whoever can offer him the most money, I don't believe he's a spy. As we continue on through this chapter, which will take us several days to complete, we'll find him challenging the Danites when they enter Micah's household to take away the shrine and its furnishings. It's not until they offer him more money than he currently makes that he joins up with them. 

When asked why he's living in the house of an Ephraimite, the Levite explains the circumstances of his employment. "He told them what Micah had done for him, and said, 'He has hired me and I am his priest.'" (Judges 18:4) A priest had to be a Levite but not all Levites were priests. Only a direct descendant of Aaron could be a priest. This man is likely not from the family line of Aaron and could never have hoped to be a priest at the tabernacle. He would have had other duties to perform for the Lord and for the Lord's people but he could never have stood before the Lord at the tabernacle and presented offerings and sacrifices to Him. If it were possible for him to have been a priest at the tabernacle, I think that's where he would have been instead of discontentedly roaming the countryside until he unexpectedly but happily landed the job with Micah. 

Upon hearing he is a priest, the Danites hope to be blessed by him. They ask him to inquire of the Lord whether their mission will be a success. I do not believe that the Levite knows what their mission is. Had he understood that they intend to attack and take over a region belonging to their fellow Israelites, I doubt he would have said what he says, especially since he is residing in a town of that region and is employed in a pretty cushy job there. "Then they said to him, 'Please inquire of God to learn whether our journey will be successful.' The priest answered them, 'Go in peace. Your journey has the Lord's approval.'" (Judges 18:5-6) The priest tells them what they want to hear. I don't know whether he put on some kind of show in which he pretended to be calling upon the Lord on their behalf but I doubt this man was in the habit of calling upon or hearing from the Lord. He's living in opposition to God's word and the only thing the Lord was probably saying to him on a regular basis was, "Repent!" 

It would be interesting to know whether the Danites offered the Levite anything in exchange for inquiring of the Lord for them. If that's the case, he may have feel obligated to give them an answer in the affirmative. Or he may have expected them to bestow more lavish gifts upon him if he gave positive news instead of negative news. Whatever the case, although I doubt he sincerely inquired of God or heard anything from God, his answer turns out to be the truth: the Danites will be successful when they return with an army and mount an attack. Their success doesn't mean that what they're doing is right. Since the dawn of time, wicked people have been successful in perpetrating many immoral, illegal, and unscriptural acts against their fellow man. 

But that doesn't indicate that the Lord is turning a blind eye to their wrongdoing. The wicked may succeed for a time but as Asaph said in the psalm he wrote about the deeds and the fate of the wicked, their success is temporary. Their success can and will vanish in an instant. Even if they continue to do well in their lifetimes by worldly standards, they have no eternal reward like that of the righteous. "Surely You place them on slippery ground; You cast them down to ruin. How suddenly are they destroyed, completely swept away by terrors! They are like a dream when one awakes; when You arise, Lord, You will despise them as fantasies...Those who are far from You will perish; You destroy all who are unfaithful to You." (Psalm 73:18-20,27) By contrast, what is the blessing and the fate of the righteous? The Lord is always with those who love Him, guiding them in this life and welcoming them into eternal fellowship with Him after this life is over. "Yet I am always with You; You hold me by my right hand. You guide me with Your counsel, and afterward You will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but You? And earth has nothing I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever." (Psalm 73:23-26)

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