Judges 17:1: Gross Idolatry Already?

[circa 1406 BC] Verse 1:[1] And there was a man of mount Ephraim, whose name was Micah.


Hill Country of Ephraim

[There was at that time, etc.] Question: When were the things that follow to the end of the book done? Response 1: A little after the death of Samson (Serarius, Martyr). They gather this from these words, at that time. But, 1. these words are not in the Hebrew, nor in the Septuagint. 2. At that time signifies, at a certain time under those Judges (Bonfrerius, similarly Lyra, Tostatus). This opinion agrees with the simple order of the sacred narration, which to me is of the greatest authority (Martyr). Response 2: Others maintain that these things were done while Joshua was yet living, but declining; or, as others maintain, in the time of Caleb and of the Elders that lived after Joshua (thus Lyra, Tostatus, Masius on Joshua, Ribera in Bonfrerius). But in their times the Israelites are said to have served God, Joshua 24:31; Judges 2:7. But they would not have tolerated this idolatry (Bonfrerius). Response 3: Others refer it to the time of the Assyrian servitude, Judges 3 (thus Josephus and Chytræus[2] in Serarius). But the beginning of this idolatry does not appear to have happened in the time of this servitude. For we see everywhere that those things happened while affairs were prosperous; in a time of servitude it did not please the Israelites to consider new idols, etc. (Bonfrerius). Response 4: It appears then that it is to be referred to the time that followed the death of Caleb and those Elders, somewhat before the death of Othniel (Lapide, Bonfrerius, Lightfoot, Junius, Malvenda). These chapters are to be located after verse 10 of the second chapter (Junius, Lightfoot). This opinion is proven: 1. Because it is not likely that the tribe of Dan, which was numerous, was able to be without its own possession for so long a time, as it is said to have been without in Judges 18:1, and is confirmed in Joshua 19:47 (Junius). Therefore, the Danites sought new settlements in Laish, because they were shut up in the mountains by the Amorites (Lapide, Bonfrerius). 2. Because Jonathan, the priest of that idol, Judges 18:30, was the grandson of Moses, and son of Gershom, son of Moses, Exodus 2:22 (Bonfrerius). He was a great-grandson of Moses by Manasseh[3] (Junius). Therefore, that Jonathan was not able to be alive after the death of Samson, unless he was two hundred and fifty years old, while yet in verse 7 he is called a young man (Bonfrerius). 3. That this history took place before what follows concerning Benjamin, the author shows, Judges 20:1. And that these things that are narrated in chapters 19-21 happened about the same time, is proven, 1. From Phinehas, who was priest at that time, Judges 20:28. 2. Because the part of Jerusalem that had regard to Benjamin was still held by the Jebusites, Judges 19:10-12. See Judges 1:8, 21. 3. From the words of Deborah, Judges 5:14 (Junius). [See what things were written on that passage.] Deborah speaks of the forty thousand Israelites cut down by Benjamin, as if among them there was neither sword nor spear, Judges 5:8. 4. The crime of Gibeah is held as their first defection, Hosea 10:9. 5. Mahaneh-dan, the camp of Dan, which is thus called from this expedition of the Danites, Judges 18:12, is mentioned in in the history of Samson, Judges 13:25. 6. Dan is omitted among those sealed, Revelation 7, because idolatry began in his tribe (Lightfoot). You will ask, Why then did the writer cast these histories back to the last place? Responses: 1. Lest in this manner he should interrupt the accomplishments of the Judges, which he had undertaken as especially to be written (Bonfrerius). 2. So that the reader, observing that their civil polity failed in a Danite, namely, Samson, just as Religion had first failed among the Danites, might acknowledge the righteousness of God in this (Lightfoot). Moreover, it is the position of this and the following Chapters that the Republic of the Israelites is most corrupt, as much in Religion as in manners; because from small beginnings, in a brief time, entire Tribes fell into idolatry and open wickedness: which it was enough to have confirmed with one example of each sort. Now, the end is that the righteousness of the judgments of God, which were commemorated from chapter 3 to this point, might shine forth (Junius).


And there was, etc.: The things mentioned here, and in the following chapters, did not happen in the order in which they are put; but much sooner, even presently after the death of the elders that overlived Joshua, Judges 2:7, as appears by divers passages; as first, Because the place called Mahaneh-dan, or the camp of Dan, Judges 13:25, was so called from that which was done, Judges 18:12. Secondly, Because the Danites had not yet got all their inheritance, Judges 18:1, which is not credible of them above three hundred years after Joshua’s death. Thirdly, Because Phinehas the son of Eleazar was priest at this time, Judges 20:28, who must have been about three hundred and fifty years old, if this had been done after Samson’s death, which is more than improbable.



[Of mount Ephraim] It is called a mountain, instead of the mountainous region of Ephraim (Menochius out of Serarius).


[Micah, מִיכָיְהוּ] Thus the text calls him, with part of the name of Jehovah affixed,[4] which, when he had erected his altar, is taken from him, and thereafter, verse 5, he is called מִיכָה/Micah (Lightfoot).

[1] Hebrew: וַֽיְהִי־אִ֥ישׁ מֵֽהַר־אֶפְרָ֖יִם וּשְׁמ֥וֹ מִיכָֽיְהוּ׃


[2] David Chytræus (1530-1600) was a German Lutheran theologian and historian. He was a disciple of Melancthon.


[3] Judges 18:30: “And the children of Dan set up the graven image: and Jonathan, the son of Gershom, the son of Manasseh (בֶּן־מְנַשֶּׁה), he and his sons were priests to the tribe of Dan until the day of the captivity of the land.” If the superscripted Nun is read, it is Manasseh; if it is omitted, Moses.


[4] The name is a compound of מִי/who, כ/like, and יְהוָה/Jehovah (who is like Jehovah?).

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Dr. Steven Dilday holds a BA in Religion and Philosophy from Campbell University, a Master of Arts in Religion from Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia), and both a Master of Divinity and a  Ph.D. in Puritan History and Literature from Whitefield Theological Seminary.  He is also the translator of Matthew Poole's Synopsis of Biblical Interpreters and Bernardinus De Moor’s Didactico-Elenctic Theology.

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