At the end of the book of Judges, the story moves away from individual judges and, instead, turns to random sins throughout the tribes. In Judges 18, the narrator describes the sins of the tribe of Dan.
Failures of Dan
In Judges 18:1, the narrator reveals that Dan is looking for an inheritance among the tribes. This means land. They were looking for their spot to settle in the Promised Land. This is not because they were not given an inheritance, but that they never captured it.
In Joshua 19:40–46, Dan is assigned specific cities to be their possession. If you have read the book of Judges, some of these villages may sound familiar: they are all within Philistine territory. So Dan’s land possession is occupied by the Philistines!
We can assume that Dan tried to capture this territory and failed(( Joshua 19:47; Judges 1:34)), leaving Dan without land. It also leaves the Canaanites and, later, Philistines in their villages, within striking distance of the center of Israel—an issue that will continue to haunt Israel in 1 Samuel.
Returning to Judges 18, the narrator describes how the tribe strikes for the northern region of the Promised Land. There they find the town of Laish, which they conquer and rename Dan, claiming it as their new inheritance.
As the Danites establish their new city, the narrator describes their new system of worship:
And the people of Dan set up the carved images for themselves, and Jonathan the son of Gershom, son of Moses, and his sons were priests to the tribe of the Danites until the day of the captivity of the land. (Judges 18:30)
Who is this man?
That’s right, Jonathan—a direct descendant of Moses—is installed as the Levite in charge of the idols in the city of Dan. This is how far the tribes have fallen since the glory days of the Exodus: the descendants of Moses have become the personal priests of a rogue tribe, and will offer sacrifices to these idols.
Later Jewish scribes were so horrified at this failure by a descendant of Moses that they intentionally inserted a N (nun) into the name, so it reads Manasseh. Modern English translations note this in the footnotes, but KJV retains the misspelling in the text.
The author of Judges is providing a compelling argument for not only faithful, centralized leadership; he is arguing for faithful leadership that can survive generations. Israel can’t survive a cycle of good and bad leaders; they need a succession of leaders who are faithful to God and will lead the people in the ways of the Lord. As we see in 1 Samuel, this does not happen with Eli or Saul, but it has a chance with David.
This story also places Dan as an early center of rebellion within Israel. Later in Israel’s history, Dan hosts one of the two golden calves created by Jeroboam to keep people from worshipping in Jerusalem.Tweet