Judges 17
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

Chapters 17–18, and 19–21, form a double Appendix to the Book of Judges proper (Jdg 2:6 to Jdg 16:31). As they exhibit no traces of the characteristic handling of the Deuteronomic compiler, and lie outside his chronological scheme, they must have been added by some later editor after the central division of the Book had reached its present shape. We can readily understand why these narratives were appended: they belong to the same general period as the ‘judges,’ and were considered to be worth preserving for their historical value, which indeed is great. We can also see why the Deuteronomic compiler left them out: they are not concerned with the doings of any ‘judge,’ while they reveal a state of morals and religion in Israel which by no means came up to the Deuteronomic standard of what was edifying or correct.

Appendix I. Chs. 17–18 The Origin of the Sanctuary at Dan

A man named Micah in the hill country of Ephraim had a sanctuary of his own, provided with a sacred image and served by a Levite. In the course of their migration towards the north, a party of 600 Danites came to Micah’s village, robbed his shrine, and carried off both the image and the priest. They advanced up the country to Laish, a town near the sources of the Jordan, captured it, changed its name to Dan, and set up Micah’s image there and made his Levite the priest of the new settlement. Such was the origin of the sanctuary at Dan, a place renowned in Israelite history. Cf. the accounts of the origin of the sanctuary at Beer-sheba Genesis 21:33; Genesis 26:23-25 J, at Beth-el ib. Genesis 28:17-22 E, at Ophrah Jdg 8:24-27, at Jerusalem 2 Samuel 24:18-25.

When did these events take place? The editor who appended the story dates it vaguely in the days before the monarchy (Jdg 17:6, Jdg 18:1), and probably meant us to think of some time in the interval between Samson and Saul. But we have found reason to believe that a portion of the Danites, and only a portion is mentioned here, had settled in the north before the days of Deborah (see on Jdg 13:2); probably, therefore, the migration belonged to the early period referred to in Jdg 1:34.

The story throws an interesting light on the social and religious conditions of ancient Israel. A wealthy person or family might possess a private sanctuary and the means of consulting the divine oracle; any Israelite could become a priest, but a Levite was preferred on account of his special skill. The Levites of the period seem to have attached themselves to the tribe of Judah, and to have made themselves a centre in Beth-lehem; but they joined other tribes too, or wandered in search of employment. It was a time of barbarous manners and crude religious ideas. As a matter of course the graven image, the ephod, and terâphim, were used in the service of Jehovah; the racy description of the robbery leaves no doubt as to which side the story-teller favoured.

In many places the narrative is confused and inconsistent, especially at the following points: (a) the account of the origin of Micah’s image Jdg 17:2-3, contrast Jdg 17:5; (b) the enumeration of his sacra, graven image, molten image, ephod, terâphim Jdg 17:4-5, Jdg 18:14; Jdg 18:17 f., 30; (c) the account of the Levite in Jdg 17:8-11 a, 12b, 13, Jdg 18:17 b, 18–20, 30, contrast the young man in Jdg 17:7; Jdg 17:11 b, 12a, Jdg 18:3; Jdg 18:15; (d) the sending out of the spies Jdg 18:2; (e) the spoliation of Micah’s sanctuary Jdg 18:14; Jdg 18:16; Jdg 18:18 a, contrast Jdg 18:15. This confusion and redundancy have been explained as due to later interpolations assisted by the corruption of the text (Kuenen, Wellhausen, and recently Lagrange). Most modern scholars, however, recognize here, as in the story of Gideon, a combination of two narratives, both very ancient and closely parallel; and on the whole this view seems to give a more satisfactory explanation of the difficulties. But while the signs of more than one hand are clear, much uncertainty remains as to which details are to be assigned to the one narrator or the other; our results must be to a great extent merely tentative.

And there was a man of mount Ephraim, whose name was Micah.
1. the hill country of Ephraim] See on Jdg 3:27. In view of its subsequent connexion with the sanctuary at Dan, some think that Micah’s house was at Beth-el. The narrative, however, leaves the situation vague; it may imply that he lived somewhere on the road which ran northwards along the Central Highlands, Jdg 18:13.

And he said unto his mother, The eleven hundred shekels of silver that were taken from thee, about which thou cursedst, and spakest of also in mine ears, behold, the silver is with me; I took it. And his mother said, Blessed be thou of the LORD, my son.
2. eleven hundred pieces of silver] See on Jdg 16:5.

and didst also speak it] A paraphrase; lit. ‘and didst also say.…’ The text of Jdg 17:2-3 has suffered disturbance; the words of the speech are missing here; the sequence ‘and he restored … I will restore (Jdg 17:3) … And he restored (Jdg 17:4)’ is unintelligible. Of the various corrections proposed the most satisfactory is that of Moore: ‘and thou didst utter a curse and didst also say in mine ears, I verily dedicate the silver unto the Lord from my hand for my son, to make a graven image [and a molten image]; behold, the silver is with me; I took it; now therefore I will restore it unto thee. And his mother said, Blessed be my son of the Lord. Jdg 17:4. So he restored the silver unto his mother, and his mother took two hundred pieces of silver’ etc. That is to say, when the mother of Micah discovered that the money had been stolen, she cursed the thief (never dreaming that her son was guilty), and further consecrated the money forthwith to Jehovah. Under dread of the curse, and fearing the consequences of sacrilege, Micah confessed the theft and restored the money. In the text as rearranged, the words ‘And he restored the eleven hundred pieces of silver to his mother’ in Jdg 17:3 have been struck out as a mistaken anticipation of Jdg 17:4.

The curse was held to possess a living, potent efficacy (cf. Zechariah 5:3); it called upon the offender to come forward; and whoever heard it was bound to make it known, as we learn from the law in Leviticus 5:1, cf. Proverbs 29:24. To augment the curse in the present case the ‘money was solemnly consecrated to Jehovah; it became taboo, and the thief could not make use of it without incurring the Deity’s retaliation. The curse could not be withdrawn, but it might be neutralized by a blessing.

And when he had restored the eleven hundred shekels of silver to his mother, his mother said, I had wholly dedicated the silver unto the LORD from my hand for my son, to make a graven image and a molten image: now therefore I will restore it unto thee.
3. from my hand for my son] LXX. cod. A and Luc. reads from my hand alone, with a slight change in the Hebr.; i.e. the mother alone, the rightful owner, could carry out the vow; so Moore, Lagrange. But the emphasis on alone is not particularly required, and the text may be retained. Following the rearrangement above, the mother, not suspecting who the culprit is, consecrates her money for the benefit of her son.

a graven image and a molten image] According to etymology the one (pesel) was carved out of stone or wood, the other (massçkah) cast in metal; elsewhere both are named together to denote idols of any kind (Deuteronomy 27:15, Isaiah 42:17); and in usage the etymological distinction was not always observed, a pesel, for example, could be cast in gold and silver (Isaiah 40:19; Isaiah 44:10). In the present narrative the two words are combined, as though two images were meant; but Jdg 17:4 end and Jdg 18:20 refer to only one pesel in Micah’s house, the one which was afterwards set up at Dan, Jdg 18:30-31. Probably, therefore, we must take and a molten image as an explanatory addition inserted here and in Jdg 17:4, Jdg 18:14; Jdg 18:17-18 by a scribe who thought that the silver and the founder in Jdg 17:4 necessarily implied a massçkah.

The pesel here must have been an image of Jehovah, for it was made of silver which had been consecrated to Him; and the writer, so far from expressing an objection to the thing, records the making of it as a pious act. Throughout the early period images were used in the worship of Jehovah. Golden bull-calves symbolized Jehovah at Dan and Beth-el, 1 Kings 12:28, cf. Exodus 32:4; the prohibition of molten gods (massçkah) in the ancient code Exodus 34:17 J may be aimed at these. It was not till the viiith century that the prophets began to oppose the use of images (Hosea 10:5; Hosea 10:8; Hosea 13:2, Amos 8:14); and in agreement with the prophets, the Decalogue forbids an image (pesel) of any kind, Exodus 20:4 E = Deuteronomy 5:8. But while images of Jehovah existed in the various local shrines, we hear of none at Shiloh (Jdg 18:31) and Jerusalem, where the ark was kept; these sanctuaries had a different character, and probably maintained a higher type of worship.

Yet he restored the money unto his mother; and his mother took two hundred shekels of silver, and gave them to the founder, who made thereof a graven image and a molten image: and they were in the house of Micah.
4. two hundred pieces of silver] Because the whole sum was given to Jehovah it does not follow that the whole was wanted for the image. Elsewhere the founder is a maker of idols, Isaiah 40:19; Isaiah 41:7.

And the man Micah had an house of gods, and made an ephod, and teraphim, and consecrated one of his sons, who became his priest.
5. had an house of gods] But according to his lights Micah was a zealous worshipper of Jehovah; so follow Marg. had an house of God, i.e. a private shrine. The narrative hardly permits the identification of Micah’s beth-elohim with Beth-el, as has been proposed; nor does it intend to brand his shrine, and the sanctuary at Dan, as idolatrous foundations.

an ephod and teraphim] Instruments for consulting the divine oracle; 1 Samuel 23:9-12, Zechariah 10:2. In Hosea 3:4 they are mentioned, together with sacrifice and pillar, in a way which suggests that they were to be found in public sanctuaries. Such was the case with the ephod, Jdg 8:27 note; but the terâphim as a rule seem to have been household sacra, perhaps images shaped in human form (Genesis 31:19; Genesis 31:34 f.; 1 Samuel 19:13; 1 Samuel 19:16), associated with superstitious practices such as divination and witchcraft, and therefore discountenanced by the higher religion; Genesis 35:2; Genesis 35:4 E; 1 Samuel 15:23; 2 Kings 23:24; Ezekiel 21:21[60]. The archaic miniature idols, generally figures of Ashtoreth, which have been unearthed at Taanach and Gezer, are supposed to have been terâphim, but without much probability. See the illustrations in Vincent, Canaan, pp. 153 ff.; Driver,

[60] The Jerusalem Targum on Genesis 31:19 thus explains what the terâphim were: ‘they kill a first-born male and cut off his head, and salt it in salt and spices, and write spells on a leaf of gold which they place under the tongue, and set it up on the wall, and it speaks with them.’ This barbarous magic must actually have existed in popular practice.

Schweich Lectures, p. 57. Gressmann, Eschatologie, p. 345 n., accepts the view that if the ephod was the mantle, the terâphim were the masks of the sacred image; the priest put them on to deliver an oracle, and was then supposed to be invested with the power of the Deity. But this does not seem to explain the private, domestic use of the terâphim. The etymology and meaning of the word are unknown; it occurs only in the plural, even when referring to a single object (e.g. 1 Samuel 19:13; 1 Samuel 19:16); see Gesenius-Kautzsch, Hebr. Gram.28, §124 h, Meyer, Die Israeliten, p. 212.

and consecrated one of his sons] Jdg 17:12, installed lit. filled the hand of. The idiom probably originated from the custom of filling the hands of a candidate for the priestly office with choice portions of the sacrifice, if we may suppose that the ceremonial enjoined in P was based upon traditional usage; Exodus 29:22-25, Leviticus 8:25-28; cf. 2 Chronicles 13:9, 1 Kings 13:33. In Ezekiel 43:26 the phrase has become entirely conventionalized, and is applied to the altar (lit. fill ye its hand). An exact equivalent was used in Assyrian for conferring a dignity on a person, e.g. the god Ashur ‘filled his hand with a matchless kingdom,’ KB. i. p. 191.

The verse throws a valuable light on the religious practice of the period. The head of a family could install a son as priest to his household (cf. 1 Samuel 7:1, 2 Samuel 8:18), and the priestly office was not confined to Levites (cf. 1 Samuel 2:18; 1 Samuel 3:1; 1 Samuel 7:9 f. etc., 2 Samuel 20:26), though a Levite was considered to possess superior skill and fitness for it, Jdg 17:13. Of course this was entirely at variance with later theory and custom. In Deuteronomy (viith century) the only priests we hear of are the Levites, and according to the compiler of the Book of Kings none but Levites had the right to exercise priestly functions (1 Kings 12:31; 1 Kings 13:33); all Levites might be priests (Deuteronomy 10:8 f., Jdg 18:1-8). In the following age Ezekiel draws a distinction between Levites, and confines the priesthood to the descendants of Zadok, degrading the rest to the rank of priests’ servants (Ezekiel 44:10-16); while finally, according to the Priestly Code, only the descendants of Aaron can be priests (Exodus 28, Numbers 3:10, etc.). A later scribe, familiar with what had become the established rule in his day, draws attention to the irregularity in the present case, and puts it down to the general lack of order in the days before the monarchy; cf. Jdg 18:1, Jdg 19:1, Jdg 21:25. The remark implies that the scribe who added it was writing? time when there were kings in Israel.

In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes.
And there was a young man out of Bethlehemjudah of the family of Judah, who was a Levite, and he sojourned there.
7. a young man … sojourned there] i.e. in the neighbourhood of Micah’s house. Technically the word sojourner (Hebr. gçr) means one who lives under the protection of a tribe to which he does not belong by birth. This young man, a Levite of Judah, was settled in the place where Micah lived, became intimate with him (Jdg 17:11 b), and was installed as his domestic priest (Jdg 17:12 a); we hear of the young man again in Jdg 18:3; Jdg 18:15. He cannot be the same person as the wandering Levite, also of Judah, called the man in Jdg 17:8, who, in the course of his journey in search of employment, happened to arrive at Micah’s house, and for a fixed stipend agreed to take up his abode there (Jdg 17:8-11 a, 12b–13); his subsequent history is given in Jdg 18:4-6; Jdg 18:18-30. It is evident that two parallel narratives are interwoven here without altogether losing their distinctive features.

of Beth-lehem-judah, of the family of Judah … a Levite] Beth-lehem was a centre for Levites at this time, cf. Jdg 17:8, Jdg 19:1; Jdg 19:18. The memory of a connexion between certain Levitical families and the southern clans has been preserved by the genealogies: thus among the Levitical families mentioned in Numbers 26:58, the Libnites, Hebronites, Korahites are named after places in the territory of Judah (Joshua 15:42; Joshua 21:13; 1 Chronicles 2:43).

How could the young man have belonged to the family of Judah and at the same time have been a Levite? (a) Wellhausen and Moore think that at this period Levite was the designation not of a tribe, but of a priestly caste open to any one1[61]

[61] So Driver, Exodus, p. 29, in agreement with McNeile, Exodus, p. lxvi. f.

. The young man is described as a Judaean by birth and a Levite by profession; for ‘in early times it was not the pedigree, but the art, that was the essential thing’ (Moore). The old tribe of Levi had been broken up (see Genesis 34; Genesis 49:5-7); the scattered members of it followed the priestly calling; out of this nucleus a priestly ‘tribe’ of Levi was created by a genealogical fiction. (b) There may be some error in the text. The LXX. cod. B omits the first Judah; the Peshitto omits of the family of Judah, merely, no doubt, because the description seemed unintelligible Budde, however, suggests that the text has deliberately been altered: originally it ran of the family of Moses, and this was afterwards modified out of respect for the traditional founder of the priesthood. A certain amount of support for such an alteration is given by Jdg 18:30; but Judah is hardly the name which would obviously occur as a substitute for Moses. It seems best after all to take the text as it stands, and to suppose that there was a time when ‘Levite’ was the official title of one who had received the training of a priest, regardless of the tribe to which he belonged by birth (McNeile). The evidence suggests that the scattered members of the tribe of Levi, like those of Simeon, had attached themselves to the Judaean settlements. The break up of these two tribes is accounted for in Genesis 34; Genesis 49:5-7, which refer to an episode apparently in the early days of the occupation of Canaan, and therefore not far removed in date from the present narrative. How the Levi of this ugly story came to be the priestly tribe is one of the obscure problems of Hebrew history; see HDB. s.v. Levi. Judah is here a family, the term applied to the small clan of the Danites (Jdg 13:2 n.). It was not till later, probably not before the time of David, that the family of Judah grew into the tribe; Beth-lehem and the neighbourhood was most likely its ancient seat.

And the man departed out of the city from Bethlehemjudah to sojourn where he could find a place: and he came to mount Ephraim to the house of Micah, as he journeyed.
8. And the man departed] Here comes the wandering Levite, who, in the course of his travels, arrives at Micah’s house; he is the counterpart of the young man already settled there. This narrative no doubt began with some such words as ‘Now there was a Levite out of Beth-lehem-judah,’ which naturally would not be repeated after Jdg 17:7, though out of Beth-lehem-judah had to be retained. Jdg 17:9-11 a, 12a continue the story.

And Micah said unto him, Whence comest thou? And he said unto him, I am a Levite of Bethlehemjudah, and I go to sojourn where I may find a place.
And Micah said unto him, Dwell with me, and be unto me a father and a priest, and I will give thee ten shekels of silver by the year, and a suit of apparel, and thy victuals. So the Levite went in.
10. father] A title of honour given to a priest Jdg 18:19, a counsellor Genesis 45:8, cf. [Apocr.] Esther 16:11, 1Ma 11:32, a prophet 2 Kings 2:12; 2 Kings 6:21, a master 2 Kings 5:13, a king 1 Samuel 24:11.

ten pieces of silver … victuals] The Levite has to seek a home and maintenance; and he receives a payment of money for his services, cf. 1 Samuel 2:36. At the more important sanctuaries, however, or when the cultus was more developed, the priests derived their income from portions of the sacrifices and offerings, cf. 1 Samuel 2:13 ff., 1 Samuel 2:28. This was the rule in the Babylonian and Phoenician cults, and the Deuteronomic law reflects a similar custom: ‘no portion nor inheritance’ is allowed to the Levitical priests (Deuteronomy 10:9 etc., cf. Numbers 18:23 P); they are dependent upon firstfruits, sacrificial feasts, tithes; and their support is a moral charge on the community, Deuteronomy 12:18 f., Deuteronomy 14:25-29, Deuteronomy 16:11, Deuteronomy 18:1-8. In a supplementary law of the Priestly Code a change was introduced, and 48 cities were assigned to the Levites (Numbers 35:1-8, Joshua 21:1-42), but there is no evidence that this regulation was ever carried out.

So the Levite went in] Hebr. went away, departed, as in Jdg 17:8; but this gives a wrong sense. Moreover, no writer could have composed anything so clumsy as and the Levite departed, and the Levite was content (Jdg 17:11). The first phrase may be a stray fragment of one of the two narratives, or it is merely a doublet of the phrase which follows (Studer and others). The Vulgate omits and the L. departed; the LXX in Jdg 17:11 reads and he was content.

11b. and the young man was] Continuing Jdg 17:7.

12a. consecrated] installed, Jdg 17:5 n., continuing 11b: and was in the house of M. continues 11a.

And the Levite was content to dwell with the man; and the young man was unto him as one of his sons.
And Micah consecrated the Levite; and the young man became his priest, and was in the house of Micah.
Then said Micah, Now know I that the LORD will do me good, seeing I have a Levite to my priest.
13. This verse may belong to either of the two narratives.

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