Back in the days of Joshua, the leader of Israel after Moses died, all the tribes of Israel were allotted territory in Canaan. A few, like Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh, wanted the East side of the Jordan. But the rest, all were given territory within Canaan. The tribe of Dan received the allotment that was defined in Joshua 19, beginning in verse 40.
The seventh lot fell to the tribe of the sons of Dan according to their families.
The territory of their inheritance was Zorah and Eshtaol and Ir-shemesh,
and Shaalabbin and Aijalon and Ithlah,
and Elon and Timnah and Ekron,
and Eltekeh and Gibbethon and Baalath,
and Jehud and Bene-berak and Gath-rimmon,
and Me-jarkon and Rakkon, with the territory over against Joppa.
(Joshua 19:40-46 NASB)
So, they did receive an inheritance, along with the other tribes, but there is another note along with their initial allotment. It reads as so:
The territory of the sons of Dan proceeded beyond them; for the sons of Dan went up and fought with Leshem and captured it. Then they struck it with the edge of the sword and possessed it and settled in it; and they called Leshem Dan after the name of Dan their father. (Joshua 19:47 NASB)
It’s a single sentence that says nothing about the idols. “What idols”, you ask? The idols that made the city of Dan (named for their father) a place of worship. You know, when the tribes split into two countries, Israel and Judah. Not ringing a bell? Okay, read this:
Then Jeroboam built Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim, and lived there. And he went out from there and built Penuel. Jeroboam said in his heart, “Now the kingdom will return to the house of David. If this people go up to offer sacrifices in the house of the LORD at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will return to their lord, even to Rehoboam king of Judah; and they will kill me and return to Rehoboam king of Judah.” So the king consulted, and made two golden calves, and he said to them, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem; behold your gods, O Israel, that brought you up from the land of Egypt.” He set one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan. (1 Kings 12:25-29 NASB)
Why put a shrine in Dan? Well, it was far north, for the folks in the far north, making it convenient for them. Bethel was closer to the southern border, but Jerusalem was even further south, and the people used to travel there. So, again, why Dan? Perhaps because there was already a place of worship there. As it happens, that’s what chapters 17 and 18 of Judges are about. There was no king in the land, and so, idolatry proliferated, and this set the people up for the sin to come later. Confused yet?
The author of Judges attempts to clarify a problem that the people of Judah saw in their day. The people, their people, living as a separate nation north of them, worshiped in cities of Bethel and Dan. Bethel was closest to Jerusalem, and so, gets most of the “ink” in the Hebrew Scriptures. But there was also this shrine in Dan, the city furthest north among the tribes of Israel.
The founding of the city is first described in Joshua 19, where Dan’s territory “proceeded beyond them”. The city is called Leshem there, and Laish in Judges 18. In chapter 18, we have the “migration” described in great detail. In fact, the focus seems to be on the idols, and less about the territory problem Dan sought to fix.
An inventory of the highlights should suffice to provide a character study of the tribe, or part of the tribe, migrating. Once the author of Judges has Micah firmly set in his idolatrous situation (chapter 17), he then begins the description of the migration of Dan (chapter 18). This migration is clearly set within the setting of Micah and his shrine complete with priest.
First, the spies are sent (ala Numbers 13) to find someplace to migrate to. As they go, they find Micah and his priest (18:3-6). They continue on their way and find a vulnerable people living in seclusion (18:7). The spies return and rally the troops to go out and take Laish (18:8-11). The tribe sets out, and Kiriath Jearim is named Mahaneh-Dan (where Samson grew up).
As the tribe travels through the mountains of Ephraim, they come to Micah’s shrine and priest, and take the whole shebang, idols, ephod, and priest (18:13-21). Micah pursues them, but 600 grim armed men are not what he was hoping to find, so he looses his shrine (and favor of Yahweh?).
The tribe of Dan reaches Laish:
Then they took what Micah had made and the priest who had belonged to him, and came to Laish, to a people quiet and secure, and struck them with the edge of the sword; and they burned the city with fire. And there was no one to deliver them, because it was far from Sidon and they had no dealings with anyone, and it was in the valley which is near Beth-rehob. And they rebuilt the city and lived in it. They called the name of the city Dan, after the name of Dan their father who was born in Israel; however, the name of the city formerly was Laish. The sons of Dan set up for themselves the graven image; and Jonathan, the son of Gershom, the son of Manasseh, he and his sons were priests to the tribe of the Danites until the day of the captivity of the land. So they set up for themselves Micah’s graven image which he had made, all the time that the house of God was at Shiloh. (Judges 18:27-31 NASB)
Finally, we’re told the name of the itinerant young Levite, Jonathan the son of Manasseh. The vulnerable people of Laish are wiped out, their city burned, and then rebuilt as Dan. But notice the epitaph of the author to this account, “So they set up for themselves Micah’s graven image which he had made, all the time that the house of God was at Shiloh.” There was an option already available for the worship of Yahweh, but it didn’t involve idols. The tribe of Dan preferred their option.
As we consider our own culture, and the influence we have permitted in our worship of the One True God, have we preferred our own option? Perhaps a more frightening question is, “Do you know enough about biblical worship of Jesus to know whether or not we’ve adopted our culture over our Master?”
These are not easy questions. But pursuing answers is helpful in understanding our relationship with our Master. Such a pursuit has to be made in Scripture, and no time is wasted when spent there.
So, what do you see of our Master through the fence?