THE wandering Levite who had come to the home of Micah, an Ephraimite, was warmly welcomed. Micah immediately learned from which tribe the stranger had come and that his name was Jonathan. (Judges 17:5-8.) He had heard that Levites were especially suited to be priests, though he didn't know exactly why. Had he known God's laws, he would have realized that God had chosen them for a special purpose. In the days of Moses, God chose out of the tribe of Levi the family of Aaron to be His priests. (Exodus 28:1, 40-43.) The other Levites were to do the physical work of caring for the tabernacle. (Numbers 1:47-54.) They were all to be teachers.
A Grandson of Moses
"My son is now my priest here at our humble little shrine," Micah enthusiastically told the stranger. "If you, a Levite, would consent to replace him, I shall provide all your clothes, priestly vestments and objects, food and lodging! Besides, I shall give you ten shekels of silver a year!" The Levite should have been terribly shocked to find such apostasy in Israel. But he wasn't. In fact, he was wandering about because he had been thrust from his office for his sins. The stranger realized that this offer was more profitable and more to his liking than what he had been doing, even though ten shekels of silver was only a very small amount. Since most Israelites were failing to pay God His tithe, many Levites had no income. They had apparently failed to teach the people tithing. Being one who was inclined to make the most of a good thing, Micah's guest acted for a time as though he couldn't make up his mind. At last, realizing Micah wouldn't raise the offer, the Levite slowly nodded his head in silent agreement. (Judges 17:9-10.) "Good!" Micah exclaimed happily. "Let us lose no time in consecrating you as my priest. From then on you will be the one who will conduct ceremonies and talk to God for me. Certainly your prayers will be honored more because you are a Levite, and therefore God will surely prosper me!" (Judges 17:11-13.) This remark made it obvious why Micah was so anxious to be considered a very religious man. He superstitiously believed that the combination of images, priest and God would surely bring him material wealth. Many people today put the same superstitious confidence in using statues, beads and rituals in church services, thinking they are serving God. As for the young stranger, whose name was Jonathan, his motives weren't any better than Micah's. He was stepping into a false office. He should have known better. The original inspired Hebrew manuscripts of the Old Testament tell us he was the grandson of Moses! At a much later date the Jews tried to hide the identity of Jonathan. They thought that by doing so they were honoring Moses. So they inserted above the line the letter "n," changing the original word from Moses to Manasseh! That change has crept into the Authorized Version. (Judges 18:30.) At this time many of the families of the tribe of Dan were discouraged because most of their share of Canaan was still held by the powerful Amorites. (Judges 1:34-35; 18:1.) The mountainous area around Zorah and Eshtaol, which was all they had been able to conquer, did not give them enough land. They were unhappy because their small area was hemmed in so solidly by their enemies. In the broad valley below them, to the west, the many Amorite chariots had been able to hurl back every Danite attack. The Danites didn't trust God to fight their battles as He had promised. (Deuteronomy 7:1-2.) Out of fear they decided to go somewhere else and take some weak people's land. In an effort to learn more about territory in distant areas, Danite leaders sent five, strong, well-trained scouts from their towns of Zorah and Eshtaol. It was an expedition somewhat like the one sent many years before into Canaan by Moses. They were in search of land that would be easier to conquer. On their way northward they came to the Mt. Ephraim region and by chance arrived at Micah's somewhat secluded home as night was coming on. When Micah saw they were Israelites, he invited them to stay until morning. (Judges 18:2.)
One Sin Leads to Another
Suddenly they heard the voice of Jonathan, whom they already knew. When they went in, they met Jonathan, who by then had become established as Micah's priest. Jonathan told them how he had come into such an office. These Danites and their whole tribe had strayed far from God. They probably didn't realize the seriousness of Jonathan's sins. When the Danites discovered that they were at a place where divination was used, they wanted Jonathan to get in touch with the god of this world. "Find out for us if our expedition will be successful in the direction we plan to take," they eagerly asked. This is a sad example of how far the Israelites had strayed from God's law into fortune-telling. They should have remembered that God commanded them to go to only the High Priest to inquire as to whether or not they should go to battle. (Numbers 27:21.) The Levite obligingly donned his priestly vestments and went alone into the room where the idols and other religious objects were. After a while he returned to announce to the Danites what he thought would please them. They would be safe in their journey, and God would lead them to a place such as they sought. (Judges 18:3-6.) The five scouts were greatly pleased by this report — which of course was something Jonathan had made up to gratify Micah's guests in the same manner that an astrologer or palm reader would seek to please patrons. Jonathan felt sure his guess was a good one because the Israelites were successful in most of their efforts. Assured of success, the Danites continued northward for several days. Eventually they arrived at a very fertile region near the southwest corner of Syria. It was north of Lake Huleh — which is also called the "Waters of Merom" — and southwest of Mt. Hermon. There they noted that the people were prosperous and seemingly were not fearful of raids or attacks by neighboring nations. The inhabitants had little contact with the outside world. They carelessly enjoyed their prosperity without maintaining an adequate defense system. The city in this area was Laish. When the scouts saw how unprotected it was, they were doubly certain that Micah's priest was indeed a sound oracle of God. This part of the land, they reasoned, was surely meant for at least some of the Danites. They hastily returned southward to their people in the Danite cities of Zorah and Eshtaol, about fifteen miles west of Jerusalem. "We found a spot far to the north that is a paradise!" the scouts told their people. "The inhabitants are well off and are peaceful and at ease. A surprise attack by a well-equipped force would mean quick victory. We feel sure that God intends us to take the area. Let us prepare at once to go there!" (Judges 18:7-10.) Many Danite families decided quickly to go. Since they had not yet settled into permanent homes, because of the scarcity of land, they were able to pack quickly. When they moved out next morning, six hundred Danite men, armed as soldiers, marched northward with their families and livestock. At the end of the first day they camped by Kirjath-jearim, only a few miles to the northeast, and named the spot "The Camp of Dan." On the second day they approached the home of Micah near Mt. Ephraim. The five scouts had deliberately guided them there. "We are near the place where the priest lives who consulted God and told us that we would be successful in this venture," the scouts told the leaders of the journeying Danites. "In that house you see in the distance are valuable sacred objects that we should own to help insure our future success and protection. If our procession will stay by the gate, the five of us will make a hasty visit to the priest to make him an offer." (Judges 18:11-14.)
"You Shall Not Steal"
The leaders agreed, and the scouts went at once to Micah's home and greeted the Levite. They then took him out to the gate and introduced him to their leaders. While he chatted with the crowd at the gate, the scouts returned quickly to the chapel. No one was there. Without waiting for anyone to show up, the scouts seized all the objects and clothing they considered sacred. The Danites were very superstitious. They thought pillaging a chapel of these silly little idols would bring success. As Jonathan stood at the gate chatting with the leaders, he turned to see the scouts running toward him with the objects of his chapel in their hands. "What does all this mean?" the Levite anxiously inquired. "Why have you returned to steal these things? Micah is away, but if I should call for help his neighbors will come after you!" (Judges 18:15-18.) "Don't be foolish!" the scouts warned. "A shout for help could spoil your chance to better yourself." "What do you mean by that?" Jonathan demanded. "We mean that we want you to come with us!" they explained. "All these people you see are our fellow Danites going to a better land north of here. Why be a priest to just one man when you can be a priest to all of us? Go with us this minute, and we'll make it worthwhile for you!" Jonathan needed no more urging. With hardly a glance backward he gladly picked up his belongings and joined the hundreds of Danites. They placed him in a position of safety in the middle of their lengthy column. Then the Danites moved on to the north. (Judges 18:19-20.) Shortly after they left, Micah returned to his home. He was informed by a neighbor that during his absence many people had marched up to his gate, that Jonathan had joined them and that the people had moved on. Micah was perplexed by this report. He rushed to Jonathan's quarters to find that the Levite's belongings were gone, which seemed to indicate that the priest didn't intend to return. And when Micah discovered objects missing in the chapel, he was quite upset. "My sacred things have been stolen!" he excitedly announced to his family and servants. "Call all our neighboring men together! Tell them to come armed to help pursue a band of thieves!" By this time the Danites were quite a distance away. But because most of them were moving afoot with their children and livestock, it didn't require long for the mounted Ephraimites to catch up to them. Micah shouted at them to halt. The Danite procession stopped, and some of the soldiers in the rear guard turned to confront the Ephraimites. "What reason do you have to pursue us with so many armed men?" they grimly demanded. (Judges 18:22-23.) "You have stolen my priest and my images!" Micah shouted as he rode toward them. "Why do you ask why we have been pursuing you while you are fully aware that we have come to rescue them from you?" At a motion from their leader, all three hundred soldiers of the rear guard moved back to surround Micah and confront his men. "Don't raise your voice against us!" the Danite leader snapped. "If you shout at us again, some of our men will probably be irritated to the point of attacking you. And after doing away with all of you, they might decide to turn back and wipe out all your homes and families. I trust this will end our conversation unless you decide to talk about matters that are more pleasant to us." With this statement the Danites deliberately turned their backs on the Ephraimites and continued on their journey. Micah realized that his lesser number of men couldn't stand against them. There was nothing to do but return home without the priest and the images in which he had put so much confidence for a wealthy future. (Judges 18:24:26.)
The Trail of Dan
When the Danites came within sight of the city of Laish, they stopped. That night they camped behind a rise so that their campfires couldn't be seen from the city. A little before dawn the six hundred soldiers crept up on Laish. While it was yet dark they made their surprise attack. The inhabitants perished while they were still in bed. Fire was set to everything that would burn — except valuables. The Danites attributed their success to their priest and the little images. But their success in battle was not due to either. Success came to them because a well-trained army caught a defenseless small town sleeping. In the months that followed, the Danites rebuilt the city and named it DAN, after the father of their tribe. (Joshua 19:47.) A chapel was built for Jonathan and his so-called sacred objects. The religion of the Danite conquerors continued permanently on this basis to the fall of the House of Israel. Jonathan, and the sons he had later, carried on as priests until many centuries afterward when God sent Assyria to take over all Israel because of idolatry. (Judges 18:27-31.) One might think today that a half-pagan, half-Christian religion is better than none at all. God doesn't look at it that way. A half-pagan religion is really all pagan. The Israelites very quickly forgot God's Commandments. Each did what he thought was right — or did as he pleased (Judges 17:6) — instead of obeying God. That is the way of pagans — the way of sin and death. God had commanded them for their own good to obey Him instead of doing what they thought was right. (Deuteronomy 12:8.) God allows people to go their own way now, but soon He will do away with all heathen religions and all the competing church denominations that observe pagan ways. (Daniel 2:44-45; Revelation 11:15; Zechariah 13:2; 14:9; Ezekiel 22:25-31.)
The "New Morality"
In that era when Israel was without a national leader, with everyone generally doing as he pleased as long as he could get away with it, another episode occurred that brought tragedy. Misery and death came to thousands because the people were living apart from their Creator. This event started near Mt. Ephraim, where another Levite lived with his common-law wife. They believed in the "New Morality" of that day. They, like so many couples throughout history, lived in sin. They didn't obey God's laws that would bring family happiness. The woman then began to live with other men. Later she left to return to the home of her parents in the town of Bethlehem in the land of the tribe of Judah. (Judges 19:1-2.) After she had been gone four months, the man decided he couldn't get along any longer without her — and hoped she would now be ready to come home. He and a servant set out on burros for Bethlehem, about twenty miles to the southwest. When they neared the home of the woman's parents, the man was pleasantly surprised to see his common-law wife coming out of the house and happily rushing out to meet him. "I am sorry I left you," she told him, "and I am glad you came after me. I should be pleased to return with you to Mt. Ephraim!" She led him into the home of her parents, who welcomed him cordially. In fact, because they were happy to see him and because they wanted their daughter to stay with them as long as possible, they kept the couple as guests for three days. On the fourth day the Levite intended to leave for home, but the father-in-law prevailed on him to stay a few more hours. Time slipped by, and then it was too late to set out. (Judges 19:3-7.) On the fifth day the couple prepared to leave early, but again the woman's parents treated them so well with food, drink and pleasant conversation that they were delayed into the late afternoon. "Why start out at this hour?" the Levite's father-in-law asked. "You can't get very far before dark. It would be wiser to stay here one more night and plan to start out in the morning. Meanwhile, relax and enjoy yourselves." "No, we must start out this afternoon," the Levite said, realizing that if he continued to give in, they would never get home. The woman's parents knew that they had kept their daughter as long as possible. Tearfully they saw the couple off on their trip northward. By the time the Levite, his common-law wife (called a "concubine" in the Bible), a servant and two burros reached Jerusalem, about four miles away, it was almost sundown. (Judges 19:8-10.) "I suggest that we stop here for the night, sir," the servant remarked. "If we travel after dark, we'll risk being robbed." "I don't prefer to stay here in Jerusalem," the Levite said. "The people here are Canaanites, and I don't trust them. It is better to spend the night among our own people. I would rather go on into Gibeah or Ramah where the people are Israelites." It was about two and one-half more miles to the Benjamite city of Gibeah. The sun went down just before they got there. (Judges 19:11-15.) They sat down in a prominent place to wait for someone to invite them into his home for the night, since a small town like Gibeah probably didn't have an inn. Soon an elderly Ephraimite, returning home late from working in the fields, walked up to the little group. "You look like strangers here," the old man said to them. "Where have you come from and where are you going?" The Levite explained that he and his concubine and servant were traveling from Bethlehem to the Tabernacle at Shiloh. He mentioned that they had plenty of food and wine for themselves and feed for the animals, but no place to sleep. (Judges 19:16-19.)
Is Anyone Safe?
"Ah, but you're welcome at my home!" the old man declared enthusiastically, motioning them to follow him. "And I have plenty of food for all and provender for your burros, so keep what you have. Otherwise you might run short. Come! Let's get off the street. It isn't safe here at night!" Later, when all of them were comfortably eating and conversing in the old man's house, there was a loud rapping on the door. The host opened it, only to be jerked outside by a group of mean-looking young men. "We know that you have a stranger in your house!" one of them growled menacingly "Send him out here at once to us, or you'll be in for plenty of trouble! And don't tell him anything! Just get him out here!"