Reflection for Today ▶️ ⏹️

The Danites Steal Micah's Idols, image by M. de Brunhoff, 1904 — from Meeting God in the Margin

Then the five men departed, and came to Laish, and saw the people that were therein, how they dwelt careless, after the manner of the Zidonians, quiet and secure; and there was no magistrate in the land, that might put them to shame in any thing; and they were far from the Zidonians, and had no business with any man.
Judges 18:7

The Danites, unable to conquer the lands they inherited send five spies to the northern territories to see if they can find another place to dwell. In this story, the spies lodge with Micah, seeking a blessing for their sinful mission from the sinful priest of his sinful religion.1 Receiving this 'blessing' they journey on until they reach the land of Laish where dwells a peaceful people. Seeing this as easy spoils they summon the rest of their tribe and prepare for attack. The story ends thus:

And they took the things which Micah had made, and the priest which he had, and came unto Laish, unto a people that were at quiet and secure: and they smote them with the edge of the sword, and burnt the city with fire.2

Micah's personal religion has been purloined by the whole Danite tribe for their own purposes. They erect their own shrines in their conquered land and continue to worship the false god created by Micah in his own image. The stories at the end of the Book of Judges seem to be there to illustrate to the post-exilic reader just how far a nation can fall into sin when it strays from the true path. Despite the best efforts of the numerous judges Israel slips further and further into violence and debauchery. The portrait painted of the people of Laish as peaceful and carefree emphasises the violent, brutal nature of the Danites that they would attack a quiet, non-military people to satisfy their lust for land and power.

The phrase in the description of Laish, and there was no magistrate in the land, that might put them to shame in any thing is a curious one. It gives the impression of a self-organised, even anarchic group dwelling happily without leaders to boss them around. This of course is in stark contrast to the leaderless Israelites who dwelt most unhappily, murdering and pillaging the locals and vying with one another for power. The two cultures are held up for comparison, and the Israelites come off the worst. The writers of Judges are of course making the point that a nation needs a king. Although it is not altogether clear whether this means an earthly king, or God Himself. Certainly the books of Samuel and Kings take the narrative in the direction of earthly kings, but it doesn't work out any better than having no king. It is not until centuries later that the Kingdom of God is fully acknowledged—and even then, it is rejected by the most pious of the Israelites.3

1 Recommended further reading, The Migration of the Tribe of Dan by David Guzik, Enduring Word, 2018
2 Judges 18:27
3 The Gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke and John