Bible Commentaries
Judges 17

Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament CommentaryKeil & Delitzsch


III. Image-Worship of Micah and the Danites; Infamous Conduct of the Inhabitants of Gibeah; Vengeance Taken upon the Tribe of Benjamin - Judges 17-21

The death of Samson closes the body of the book of Judges, which sets forth the history of the people of Israel under the judges in a continuous and connected form. The two accounts, which follow in Judg 17-21, of the facts mentioned in the heading are attached to the book of Judges in the form of appendices, as the facts in question not only belonged to the times of the judges, and in fact to the very commencement of those times, but furnished valuable materials for forming a correct idea of the actual character of this portion of the Israelitish history. The first appendix (Judg 17-18), - viz., the account of the introduction of image-worship, or of the worship of Jehovah under the form of a molten image, by the Ephraimite Micah, and of the seizure of this image by the Danites, who emigrated form their own territory when upon their march northwards, and the removal of it to the city of Laish-Dan, which was conquered by them, - shows us how shortly after the death of Joshua the inclination to an idolatrous worship of Jehovah manifested itself in the nation, and how this worship, which continued for a long time in the north of the land, was mixed up from the very beginning with sin and unrighteousness. The second (Judg 19-21)-viz., the account of the infamous act which the inhabitants of Gibeah attempted to commit upon the Levite who stayed there for the night, and which they actually did perform upon his concubine, together with its consequences, viz., the war of vengeance upon the tribe of Benjamin, which protected the criminals, - proves, on the one hand, what deep roots the moral corruptions of the Canaanites had struck among the Israelites at a very early period, and, on the other hand, how even at that time the congregation of Israel as a whole had kept itself free and pure, and, mindful of its calling to be the holy nation of God, had endeavoured with all its power to root out the corruption that had already forced its way into the midst of it.

These two occurrences have no actual connection with one another, but they are both of them narrated in a very elaborate and circumstantial manner; and in both of them we not only find Israel still without a king (Judges 17:6; Judges 18:1, and Judges 19:1; Judges 21:25), and the will of God sought by a priest or by the high priest himself (Judges 18:5-6; Judges 20:18, Judges 20:23, Judges 20:27), but the same style of narrative is adopted as a whole, particularly the custom of throwing light upon the historical course of events by the introduction of circumstantial clauses, from which we may draw the conclusion that they were written by the same author. On the other hand, they do not contain any such characteristic marks as could furnish a certain basis for well-founded conjectures concerning the author, or raise Bertheau 's conjecture, that he was the same person as the author of Judg 1:1-2:5, into a probability. For the frequent use of the perfect with ו (compare Judges 20:17, Judges 20:33, Judges 20:37-38, Judges 20:40-41, Judges 20:48; Judges 21:1, Judges 21:15, with Judges 1:8, Judges 1:16, Judges 1:21, Judges 1:25, etc.) can be fully explained from the contents themselves; and the notion that the perfect is used here more frequently for the historical imperfect with vav consec. rests upon a misunderstanding and misinterpretation of the passages in question. The other and not very numerous expressions, which are common to Judg 17-21 and Judg 1, are not sufficiently characteristic to supply the proof required, as they are also met with elsewhere: see, for example, בּאשׁ שׁלּח (Judges 1:8; Judges 20:48), which not only occurs again in 2 Kings 8:12 and Psalms 74:7, but does not even occur in both the appendices, בּאשׁ שׂרף being used instead in Judges 18:27. So much, however, may unquestionably be gathered from the exactness and circumstantiality of the history, viz., that the first recorder of these events, whose account was the source employed by the author of our book, cannot have lived at a time very remote from the occurrences themselves. On the other hand, there are not sufficient grounds for the conjecture that these appendices were not attached to the book of the Judges till a later age. For it can neither be maintained that the object of the first appendix was to show how the image-worship which Jeroboam set up in his kingdom at Bethel and Dan had a most pernicious origin, and sprang from the image-worship of the Ephraimite Micah, which the Danites had established at Laish, nor that the object of the second appendix was to prove that the origin of the pre-Davidic kingdom (of Saul) was sinful and untheocratic, i.e., opposed to the spirit and nature of the kingdom of God, as Auberlen affirms (Theol. Stud. u. Kr. 1860). The identity of the golden calf set up by Jeroboam at Dan with the image of Jehovah that was stolen by the Danites from Micah the Ephraimite and set up in Laish-Dan, is precluded by the statement in Judges 18:31 respecting the length of time that this image-worship continued in Dan (see the commentary on the passage itself). At the most, therefore, we can only maintain, with O. v. Gerlach, that “both (appendices) set forth, according to the intention of the author, the misery which arose during the wild unsettled period of the judges from the want of a governing, regal authority.” This is hinted at in the remark, which occurs in both appendices, that at that time there was no king in Israel, and every one did what was right in his own eyes (Judges 17:6; Judges 21:25). This remark, on the other hand, altogether excludes the time of the falling away of the ten tribes, and the decline of the later kingdom, and is irreconcilable with the assumption that these appendices were not added to the book of the Judges till after the division of the kingdom, or not till the time of the Assyrian or Babylonian captivity.

Verses 1-10

Judges 17:1-3

A man of the mountains of Ephraim named Micah ( מיכיהוּ , Judges 17:1, Judges 17:4, when contracted into מיכה , Judges 17:5, Judges 17:8, etc.), who set up this worship for himself, and “respecting whom the Scriptures do not think it worth while to add the name of his father, or to mention the family from which he sprang” ( Berleb. Bible), had stolen 1100 shekels of silver (about £135) from his mother. This is very apparent from the words which he spoke to his mother (v. 2): “ The thousand and hundred shekels of silver which were taken from thee (the singular לקּח refers to the silver), about which thou cursedst and spakest of also in mine ears (i.e., didst so utter the curse that among others I also heard it), behold, this silver is with me; I have taken it. ” אלה , to swear, used to denote a malediction or curse (cf. אלה קול , Leviticus 5:1). He seems to have been impelled to make this confession by the fear of his mother's curse. But his mother praised him for it, - “ Blessed be my son of Jehovah, ” - partly because she saw in it a proof that there still existed a germ of the fear of God, but in all probability chiefly because she was about to dedicate the silver to Jehovah; for, when her son had given it back to her, she said (v. 3), “ I have sanctified the silver to the Lord from my hand for my son, to make an image and molten work. ” The perfect הקדּשׁתּי is not to be taken in the sense of the pluperfect, “I had sanctified it,” but is expressive of an act just performed: I have sanctified it, I declare herewith that I do sanctify it. “ And now I give it back to thee, ” namely, to appropriate to thy house of God.

Judges 17:4

Hereupon-namely, when her son had given her back the silver (“he restored the silver unto his mother” is only a repetition of Judges 17:3, introduced as a link with which to connect the appropriation of the silver)-the mother took 200 shekels and gave them to the goldsmith, who made an image and molten work of them, which were henceforth in Micah's house. The 200 shekels were not quite the fifth part of the whole. What she did with the rest is not stated; but from the fact that she dedicated the silver generally, i.e., the whole amount, to Jehovah, according to Judges 17:3, we may infer that she applied the remainder to the maintenance of the image-worship.

(Note: There is no foundation for Bertheau 's opinion, that the 200 shekels were no part of the 1100, but the trespass-money paid by the son when he gave his mother back the money that he had purloined, since, according to Leviticus 6:5, when a thief restored to the owner any stolen property, he was to add the fifth of its value. There is no ground for applying this law to the case before us, simply because the taking of the money by the son is not even described as a theft, whilst the mother really praises her son for his open confession.)

Pesel and massecah (image and molten work) are joined together, as in Deuteronomy 27:15. The difference between the two words in this instance is very difficult to determine. Pesel signifies an idolatrous image, whether made of wood or metal. Massecah , on the other hand, signifies a cast, something poured; and when used in the singular, is almost exclusively restricted to the calf cast by Aaron or Jeroboam. It is generally connected with עגל , but it is used in the same sense without this definition (e.g., Deuteronomy 9:12). This makes the conjecture a very natural one, that the two words together might simply denote a likeness of Jehovah, and, judging from the occurrence at Sinai, a representation of Jehovah in the form of a molten calf. But there is one obstacle in the way of such a conjecture, namely, that in Judges 18:17-18, massecah is separated from pesel , so as necessarily to suggest the idea of two distinct objects. But as we can hardly suppose that Micah's mother had two images of Jehovah made, and that Micah had both of them set up in his house of God, no other explanation seems possible than that the massecah was something belonging to the pesel , or image of Jehovah, but yet distinct from it-in other words, that it was the pedestal upon which it stood. The pesel was at any rate the principal thing, as we may clearly infer from the fact that it is placed in the front rank among the four objects of Micah's sanctuary, which the Danites took with them (Judges 18:17-18), and that in Judges 18:30-31, the pesel alone is mentioned in connection with the setting up of the image-worship in Dan. Moreover, there can hardly be any doubt that pesel , as a representation of Jehovah, was an image of a bull, like the golden calf which Aaron had made at Sinai (Exodus 32:4), and the golden calves which Jeroboam set up in the kingdom of Israel, and one of which was set up in Dan (1 Kings 12:29).

Judges 17:5-6

His mother did this, because her son Micah had a house of God, and had had an ephod and teraphim made for himself, and one of his sons consecrated to officiate there as a priest. מיכה האישׁ (the man Micah) is therefore placed at the head absolutely, and is connected with what follows by לו : “ As for the man Micah, there was to him (he had) a house of God.” The whole verse is a circumstantial clause explanatory of what precedes, and the following verbs ויּעשׂ , וימלּא , and ויהי , are simply a continuation of the first clause, and therefore to be rendered as pluperfects. Micah's beth Elohim (house of God) was a domestic temple belonging to Micah's house, according to Judges 18:15-18. את־יד מלּא , to fill the hand, i.e., to invest with the priesthood, to institute as priest (see at Leviticus 7:37). The ephod was an imitation of the high priest's shoulder-dress (see at Judges 8:27). The teraphim were images of household gods, penates, who were worshipped as the givers of earthly prosperity, and as oracles (see at Genesis 31:19). - In Judges 17:6 it is observed, in explanation of this unlawful conduct, that at that time there was no king in Israel, and every one did what was right in his own eyes.

Judges 17:7-9

Appointment of a Levite as Priest. - Judges 17:7. In the absence of a Levitical priest, Micah had first of all appointed one of his sons as priest at his sanctuary. He afterwards found a Levite for this service. A young man from Bethlehem in Judah, of the family of Judah, who, being a Levite, stayed ( גּר ) there (in Bethlehem) as a stranger, left this town to sojourn “ at the place which he should find, ” sc., as a place that would afford him shelter and support, and came up to the mountains of Ephraim to Micah's house, “making his journey,” i.e., upon his journey. (On the use of the inf. constr. with ל in the sense of the Latin gerund in do, see Ewald, §280, d.) Bethlehem was not a Levitical town. The young Levite from Bethlehem was neither born there nor made a citizen of the place, but simply “sojourned there,” i.e., dwelt there temporarily as a stranger. The further statement as to his descent ( mishpachath Judah) is not to be understood as signifying that he was a descendant of some family in the tribe of Judah, but simply that he belonged to the Levites who dwelt in the tribe of Judah, and were reckoned in all civil matters as belonging to that tribe. On the division of the land, it is true that it was only to the priests that dwelling-places were allotted in the inheritance of this tribe (Joshua 21:9-19), whilst the rest of the Levites, even the non-priestly members of the family of Kohath, received their dwelling-places among the other tribes (Joshua 21:20.). At the same time, as many of the towns which were allotted to the different tribes remained for a long time in the possession of the Canaanites, and the Israelites did not enter at once into the full and undisputed possession of their inheritance, it might easily so happen that different towns which were allotted to the Levites remained in possession of the Canaanites, and consequently that the Levites were compelled to seek a settlement in other places. It might also happen that individuals among the Levites themselves, who were disinclined to perform the service assigned them by the law, would remove from the Levitical towns and seek some other occupation elsewhere (see also at Judges 18:30).

(Note: There is no reason, therefore, for pronouncing the words יהוּדה ממּשׁפּחת (of the family of Judah) a gloss, and erasing them from the text, as Houbigant proposes. The omission of them from the Cod. Vat. of the lxx, and from the Syriac, is not enough to warrant this, as they occur in the Cod. Al. of the lxx, and their absence from the authorities mentioned may easily be accounted for from the difficulty which was felt in explaining their meaning. On the other hand, it is impossible to imagine any reason for the interpolation of such a gloss into the text.)

Verses 10-13

Micah made this proposal to the Levite: “ Dwell with me, and become my father and priest; I will give thee ten shekels of silver yearly, and fitting out with clothes and maintenance. ” אב , father, is an honourable title give to a priest as a paternal friend and spiritual adviser, and is also used with reference to prophets in 2 Kings 6:21 and 2 Kings 13:14, and applied to Joseph in Genesis 45:8. ליּמים , for the days, sc., for which a person was engaged, i.e., for the year (cf. 1 Samuel 27:7, and Leviticus 25:29). “ And the Levite went, ” i.e., went to Micah's house. This meaning is evident from the context. The repetition of the subject, “the Levite,” precludes our connecting it with the following verb ויּואל . - In Judges 17:11-13 the result is summed up. The Levite resolved (see at Deuteronomy 1:5) to dwell with Micah, who treated him as one of his sons, and entrusted him with the priesthood at his house of God. And Micah rejoiced that he had got a Levite as priest, and said, “ Now I know that Jehovah will prosper me. ” This belief, or, to speak more correctly, superstition, for which Micah was very speedily to atone, proves that at that time the tribe of Levi held the position assigned it in the law of Moses; that is to say, that it was regarded as the tribe elected by God for the performance of divine worship.

Bibliographical Information
Keil, Carl Friedrich & Delitzsch, Franz. "Commentary on Judges 17". Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary. 1854-1889.