Judges 17-18: Micah and the Tribe of Dan

The final person discussed in Judges is Micah. He created an idol that took the descendants of Dan into idolatry all the way until they went into captivity.


The final person discussed in Judges is Micah, who lived in mount Ephraim. Note, this is not the same man as the prophet Micah who has a book named after him.[1] The first thing we learn about Micah is that he stole 1100 pieces of silver from his mother. Possibly unaware that her son is the culprit, the woman curses the thief, thus cursing Micah. Micah confesses his sin and returns the money, though it appears to be more out of concern for his mother's curse than his dedication to God. 1100 pieces of silver was a fortune back then, so it is not surprising that Micah's mom was thrilled to receive her savings back. However, it is a bit odd that she never condemns Micah for his actions. Micah's mom praises the Lord and decides to use the money to dedicate it to God; however, she does this by having an image made with only a portion of the money.

A Deeper Thought

Note that the pieces of silver mentioned
were worth a lot more than our nickels are today
Photocredit: Nelson
Reading that the woman attempted to dedicate money to God by building an idol sounds absolutely crazy since the 2nd commandment clearly forbids idols. Reading the words written out makes it easy for us to ask why she would think this was ok. However, Israel suffered from the same problem we suffer now: tradition. The average person didn't have a copy of the Pentateuch sitting in their house to be read whenever they wanted. Just like today, the Israelites' primary method of learning was through tradition. Whatever they saw around them is what they thought was correct. So, if they saw the priests and other Israelites doing something that deviated from God's law, it would seem more normal than God's law. Today, we still have pastors who teach things that are not Biblical; we also have pastors who simply leave out parts of the Bible. Another issue is that often God's words are not put into context and they become meaningless to us. An example is the fact that there are churches with pictures of a man they claim to be Jesus hanging on the walls; this is an image. It's no more wrong or crazy that church leaders are willing to pay for and adorn the sanctuary with an image, than it is for the mother in Judges 17 to adorn her house with a image. Just as most people don't object to the picture of this random man, she may not have even recognized her image as an idol.

We have to define what an idol or "image" is. Obviously worshipping statues or pictures is crossing the line. Exodus 20:4-5 tells us not to bow down or worship such things, but it also says not to create them. The interesting part comes at the word "serve." Generally, we recite this commandment assuming it is talking about worship when the connotation of worship is quite different from serve. To worship is to exalt and revere. To serve says nothing about how we feel about the action. We can serve without desire, quite easily. Serving can be explicit, but it can also be very subtle. For instance, when we acknowledge that image as though it is actually a picture of Jesus, we serve traditions of the world. If we place something before God in our life—be it our spouse, our job, or our wealth—we have created an image to serve. Each time we choose that aspect of our life over God's law, we are serving an image, even if we don't think about it that way.

We are often removed from what our actions mean spiritually, because we aren't brought up to think this way and we haven't built up our relationship with God. This leads us to sin while thinking we are doing right, which is a dangerous and unfortunate place to be, since then we won't repent.

Micah's Priest

Now that Micah's house was full of false gods, he needed a priest to conduct worship of these false gods (at least in his mind that's what he needed). Micah makes an ephod (without God's permission), which parallels the Israelites making a special ephod for Aaron, to be worn by each high priest. On top of this, he consecrates his son to be a priest. We know only the sons of Aaron could fill the role of high priest of God and wear an ephod. Micah was either consciously rejecting God or terribly confused. Today, we have tons people claiming to be messengers of God that really aren't, and only serve to bring confusion to the world. We have to be cautious of false priests and false gods disguised as the true God.

Micah's son didn't get to keep the job for long. A Levite from Bethlehem-judah eventually comes to town. Micah offers him 10 shekels of silver a year plus rationing provided the man will be a priest and father to him. Interestingly, when the man stays, it is Micah who becomes like a father. Also, the Bible cautions us not to call any man father (Matthew 23:9). The title of Father is reserved for the Father in heaven, which is probably significant in this passage. There are clear examples in the Bible where a human man is described as a father, so we know that that God wasn't against calling our birth father by the term "father." I'll dive into that topic when I get to Matthew, but for now, I'll say that I think God, basically, didn't want people to give humans the same authority as our everlasting Father has. Despite not being a son of Aaron, Micah ordains this man as a priest, and believes this will bring him favor. Again, this proves that he has some twisted logic. This reminds me of Jesus telling us not everyone who says "Lord, Lord!" will be heard. Micah was doing his own thing and it was totally against God's commandments.

The Tribe of Dan

Meanwhile, the tribe of Dan still hadn't secured their inheritance. Hoping to finally inherit land, they send 5 men of valor to spy for them. When the men reach mount Ephraim, they lodge with Micah. The men of Dan, though not particularly seeking out God for their own problems, are shocked and confused to see a Levite in a house loaded with idolatry— or so it seems.

They question him about what he is doing there, and when the man says he is a priest, the men of Dan ask him to seek out God to determine if they will be successful. They trusted the man at his word that he really was a messenger of God. Today, people will often listen to anyone who claims to be a messenger of God which is exactly what Jesus warned us about. This isn't a new problem. Just because someone says they are a pastor, preacher, or priest, doesn't mean they are actually a messenger of God. The New Testament tells us we can identify them by the fruits of their labor (Matthew 7:15-20). The fact that this priest was amongst idols should have told the men of Dan that he wasn't following God.

The Levite tells them to be at peace and that God goes before them, which is exactly what the men of Dan want to hear. Unfortunately there was never any appeal to God, so it wasn't necessarily true. Some preachers today are also guilty of telling us what we want to hear without consulting God. It is much better to hear the truth of God and correct ourselves to be inline with Him, than to continue to believe our wrongdoing is ok.

Satisfied, just as we are often satisfied by such answers, the 5 men go on their way until they come to Laish. The people there were careless and under the protection of the Zidonians. However, the Zidonians were far away from the land, leaving the people of Laish vulnerable. The men of Dan decide this is the perfect land to take. This proves that they, too, were not following God closely. God delighted in giving the Israelites victories that no one would have seen coming. Raising the underdog to victory proved that He was in power. No one wants to hear about someone being kicked while they're down, or being decimated by an army that out numbered them. We would be quick to call this unfair. Yet, the men of Dan decided this was the best way to gain their inheritance for some reason.

Regardless, the Danites are actually quick to take action. 600 men form the army and begin the journey to Laish. During the journey, they come again to Micah's home. Despite an explicit commandment against theft and another commandment against idolatry, the men steal Micah's idols, ephod, and teraphim. When they are caught by the Levite, they steal him too! They entice him to join them by suggesting that it is more prestigious to be the priest of a nation (the Tribe of Dan), than for just one man (Micah).

The neighboring men overtook the men once they have made it some distance from Micah's house—talk about a neighborhood watch! When Micah finds out, he asks what he has left now that they've stolen his false gods and priest. This tells you how confused Micah truly was. He confined God to an object God didn't approve of and a priest God didn't appoint! We do the same thing today with church services and pagan holiday traditions.

What's more, the Danites were quite bold. They didn't recant or repent when confronted about their actions. In fact they threatened Micah. Apparently they were following the adage "you snooze you lose," but that's not what God said at all. Looking in from the outside, it seems obvious that these men had no desire to serve the real God of Israel. However, from experience, it's hard to say that these men realized the absurdity of their own actions. History has seen people commit heinous crimes in the name of God and truly believe they are in the right despite the Word of God speaking to the contrary. We have to spend time with God daily to see the truth.

After this ordeal, the Danites sweep through Laish and conquer the city with fire. When they take possession of the city, they rename it Dan. Here, they set up the false idols and create there own lineage of priests through the Levite they rounded up from Micah. We finally learn that this Levite is named Jonathan. This system of false worship, led by Jonathan, becomes a rival to the real worship done at Shiloh.

From the beginning, the major misstep for God's people was a false religion. This makes sense because as long as you follow God you will repent and work toward a sinless life, but once you begin following a false god, you will sin without remorse, maybe even without knowledge.

Moses' Grandson?

And the children of Dan set up the graven image: and Jonathan, the son of Gershom, the son of Manasseh, he and his sons were priests to the tribe of Dan until the day of the captivity of the land.Judges 18:30 KJV
One of the controversial parts of Judges 18 stems from the origins of Jonathan. Judges 18:30 tells us that he is the son of Gershom, who is the son of Manasseh. No son named Gerhsom is attributed to Manasseh, son of Joseph, but one is attributed to Moses. In additon, there is odd rendering the word Manasseh in this particular verse found in the original copies. The original has the "n" that gives us the word Manasseh suspended above the text so that the word may actually be read Moses.[2] Authors of the NIV gave in to this theory and render the text "Moses" while the KJV reads "Manasseh." The question is, which is correct?

As discussed by Hebeart,[3] there are plenty of dually named characters in the Bible. In fact there is already clear evidence of another Manasseh in 2 Chronicles 33. Perhaps this man isn't related to Joseph's son Manasseh or Moses.

Also, since Jonathan is a Levite, the likelihood of him being the son of Manasseh the son of Joseph is slim; this would make him from the tribe of Manasseh not the tribe of Levi. However, there could have been a Levite named Manasseh. Further with all of the name changes in the Bible (Abram/Abraham, Jacob/Israel, Saul/Paul), perhaps this his father's name was both Manasseh and Moses. Furthermore, "son of Manasseh" could simply identify the tribe.

Another possibility is that one of the women from the tribe of Manasseh married a Levite and birthed Jonathan. This would make him a Levite, but he would still be a descendant of Manasseh and could be called the son of Manasseh.


  1. "Micah". Bible Hub. 2016
  2. Gills, John. "Commentary on Judges 18:30". Bible Study Tools. 2016
  3. Hubeart, T.L. "Judges 18:30: "Manasseh" or "Moses"?". Pennuto. 1996


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