Judges 18:30: Moses' Grandson? an Idolater? What!

Verse 30:[1] And the children of Dan set up the graven image: and Jonathan, the son of Gershom, the son of Manasseh, he and his sons were priests to the tribe of Dan (Judg. 13:1; 1 Sam. 4:2, 3, 10, 11; Psalm 78:60, 61) until the day of the captivity of the land.


Set up the graven image: Having succeeded in their expedition according to the prediction which, as they supposed, they had from this image, they had a great veneration for it.


Note the Superscripted Nun

[Jonathan, the son of Gershom, the son of Moses, בֶּן־מְנַשֶּׁה] Jonathan, the son of Gershom, the son[2] (who was also the son[3] [Septuagint) of Manasseh (Septuagint, Jonathan, Syriac, Arabic, Munster, Vatablus, Drusius, Junius and Tremellius, Piscator, Tigurinus). The Vulgate reads משֶׁה/Moses, not מְנַשֶּׁה/Manasseh, as the Hebrew codices have it, but the more correct ones, with the נ/Nun superscripted, whereby the Massoretes indicated that this letter was παρένθετον/interpolated. Gershom was a son of Moses, Exodus 18:3; 1 Chronicles 26:24 (Grotius). Hence it is evident that these things happened not long after the death of Joshua, while Jonathan, the grandson of Moses, was a young man. See here how injurious the sons of Heroes are. See for yourself, the sacrilegious grandson of so holy a grandfather, who was made the first priest of idols, and the prince of the rest that thereafter followed him in great numbers in Israel (Lapide). So that this one consideration ought to prevail, if not to extinguish, certain to lessen, the desire for posterity (Bonfrerius on Judges 17:7). The Hebrews, so that they might consult the honor of Moses, say that a נ/Nun is to be superscripted to the reading of משֶׁה/Moses, so that that Gershom might be called the son of Manasseh (that is, by imitation, for he was a worshipper of idols, like Manasseh[4]), rather than the son of Moses; and thus it is read, not as משֶׁה/Moses, but as מְנַשֶּׁה/Manasseh (Vatablus). But these things detract from the honor of Moses no more than those those things pertaining to Aarons two sons, who had been smitten, Leviticus 10, detract from him (Estius). The Scripture often relates that the worst children were born of the best parents (Martyr). Moreover, it is foreign to the manner of the Holy Spirit, on account of the impiety of one of the descendants, to change the name of that Head of the family. And how should Jonathan because of imitation be called the son of Manasseh, whom he preceded by many ages, making it impossible for Jonathan to imitate Manasseh? (Glassius’ Sacred Philology 62). [Others maintain that this man, whether Moses or Manasseh, was neither the son of Amram nor the King of Israel respectively, but another called by the same name; and that this Gershom was someone other than the son of Moses (thus Moncæius’ Concerning the Golden Calf 1:16, Glassius’ Sacred Philology 62, Marinus in Glassius).] Now, as far as the superscription of the letter נ/Nun is concerned, just as the loftiness of the mountains detracts nothing from the rotundity of that land, so also the elevation of a letter detracts nothing from the purity of Sacred Scripture (Glassius’ Sacred Philology 62). He that first read Mosis was thinking that it was the son of Amram (Moncæius’ Concerning the Golden Calf 1:16). Theodoret read, the son of Manasseh, the son of Gershom, the son of Moses (Nobilius).



[Until the day of their captivity, עַד־י֖וֹם גְּל֥וֹת הָאָֽרֶץ׃[5]] Unto the day to move, or to migrate, the land (Montanus, Drusius). The infinitive verb is in the place of a noun; of which sort is, scire tuum, thy to know,[6] in the place of thy knowledge. Thus, amare tuum, thy to love, that is, thy love (Drusius). Until the day of the migration, or captivity, of the land (Septuagint, Munster, Pagnine, similarly the Syriac, Arabic, Vatablus), that is, on which was taken captive the land, that is, its inhabitants (Vatablus, Jonathan). Question: What then is this captivity? Response: There are three opinions. 1. Some maintain that it treats of some particular captivity of the Tribe of Dan, which the Scripture does not mention elsewhere (Cajetan in Lapide). But this is gratuitously invented (Bonfrerius, Serarius). 2. Others understand it of the Assyrian captivity by Shalmaneser[7] (thus Bonfrerius, Lyra, Seder Olam and Rabbi Salomon in Lapide). But this does not satisfy others. For, 1. it is not likely that the tribe of Dan persevered so long in idolatry, for in 1 Samuel 7 it is said that all Israel served God alone (Estius). 2. How would David, Jehoshaphat, Asa, and Hezekiah have permitted this public idolatry during their reigns? 3. If Micah’s idol had been in Dan, Jeroboam would not have set his calf in the very same place; for it would have been sufficient for him that Micah’s idol drew the people from Jerusalem to Dan. Moreover, his golden calves would have been substituted in the place of this idol of Micah, so that it might be more easily received by the people, since they had already long worshipped Micah’s idol in that place (Lapide). 4. A little afterwards the time is specified during which the idol of Micah stood, namely, when the house of God was in Shiloh: But under Saul or Samuel it appears to have been translated to Nob (for there it was in 1 Samuel 21), and under Solomon the Temple was constructed (certain interpreters in Bonfrerius). Response: Two timeframes are here indicated. 1. How long Jonathan and his posterity executed the idolatrous priesthood; and this is bounded by the captivity of the ten tribes. 2. How long that idol of Micah stood; and that is said to be as long as the house of God stood in Shiloh. After that time it appears that this idol was removed by Saul and Samuel. You will say, But how were Jonathan and his posterity priests to a removed idol? Responses: 1. They are not said to have remained priests of that idol, but only priests in the tribe of Dan. 2. With this idol removed, the Danites, given to idols, were able to forge something similar, since Solomon by his example gave license for idolatry.[8] 3. Even if this priesthood were interrupted at any time under Saul, David, or Solomon, since it was a brief time compared with that time before and after, when they were discharging the office of the priesthood, no account is made of it. 4. Perhaps Jeroboam made these priests of his calf. For, although he made priests of the least of the people, he did this only because the Levites were unwilling to subscribe to his impiety, 2 Chronicles 11:13. And it is probable that he desired Levites (who would win authority for that idol), and that he more gladly admitted these descendants of Jonathan, because they had already for a long time engaged in the functions of an impious priesthood of that sort (Bonfrerius). But, that one and the same time (that is, of Jonathan’s priesthood, etc., and of Micah’s idol) is noted, the words of the text, especially the Hebrew, sufficiently indicate (Lapide). 3. Others understand it of the captivity of the Ark by the Philistines, 1 Samuel 4:11 (thus Munster, Vatablus, Drusius, Grotius, Hebrews in Drusius, Montanus’ Commentary, Serarius, Lapide, Junius, Piscator). At which time many of the children of Israel were taken captive (Vatablus, Munster, Estius); and especially of the tribe of Dan, whose fields were immediately adjacent to the Philistines, as it is evident from the history of Samson (Estius). [Which is indeed true concerning the body of the Tribe, but not of these, who, as it torn from the rest, had fixed their seats in a region sufficiently distant from the Philistines.] At that time, as many of all the tribes were slaughtered as were taken captive; as it is evident from 1 Samuel 4:10 and Psalm 78:61 (Tostatus out of Serarius). At that time the Ark ceased to be in Shiloh, as it here follows (Grotius). [Moreover, Junius and Tremellius translate the words in this way, until the time when it moved (that is, the Ark of the Covenant, as it is perceived from a comparison with the following verse: compare also 1 Samuel 4:21, 22) from the land:] Namely, from the land of the Israelites into the land of the Philistines, as it is narrated in 1 Samuel 4 (Piscator). Thus they translate הָאָרֶץ, the land, as if it were מִן הָאָרֶץ, from the land. This is harsh, but it is not without example. For David says, Flee ye הַרְכֶם, your mountain,[9] which they render, from your mountain, although it is able to be rendered, unto your mountain, namely, where ye are wont to hid (Drusius). This opinion does not satisfy Bonfrerius. For the captivity of a small number is not treated here, but rather a joint migration of tribes (Bonfrerius).



Until the day of the captivity of the land; either, 1. When the ark and the Israelites were taken captives by the Philistines, 1 Samuel 4:10, 11; though there is no mention of any who were then taken captives, or that the Philistines did pursue the victory, and conquer the land at that time, for their victory was quickly damped, and turned to mourning, 1 Samuel 5. Or, 2. After that time, when the Philistines slew Saul and Jonathan, and discomfited the whole host of Israel, and made the rest of the people flee out of their cities, and took possession of their cities and land. Or, 3. When the whole land of the ten tribes, whereof Dan was one, was conquered, and the people carried captive by the Assyrian, 2 Kings 17:6, 23, which is called by way of eminency the captivity, 1 Chronicles 5:22. But against this it is objected, that it is not probable that this idolatry should continue so long in such a public place and manner; or that David and Solomon would suffer it. Answer: It is not said that the graven image was there so long, for that is restrained to a shorter date, even to the continuance of the ark in Shiloh, Judges 18:31, which was removed thence, 1 Samuel 4; but only that Jonathan’s posterity were priests to this tribe or family of Dan, which they might be under all the changes, even till the Assyrian captivity, sometimes more openly and allowedly, sometimes more cunningly, sometimes more secretly, sometimes in one way of superstition or idolatry, and sometimes in another; and in and after Jeroboam’s time, in the worship of the calves, for which service, though he did make priests of the meanest of the people, 1 Kings 12:31, yet that was not by choice, but out of necessity, because the priests and Levites generally forsook him, 2 Chronicles 11:13, 14; and therefore when he could engage any of the priests or Levites in that service, he was doubtless very glad of them to gain reputation to his impious and absurd device.

[1] Hebrew: וַיָּקִ֧ימוּ לָהֶ֛ם בְּנֵי־דָ֖ן אֶת־הַפָּ֑סֶל וִ֠יהוֹנָתָן בֶּן־גֵּרְשֹׁ֙ם בֶּן־מְנַשֶּׁ֜ה ה֣וּא וּבָנָ֗יו הָי֤וּ כֹהֲנִים֙ לְשֵׁ֣בֶט הַדָּנִ֔י עַד־י֖וֹם גְּל֥וֹת הָאָֽרֶץ׃


[2] That is, Gershom, who was the son of Manasseh.


[3] That is, Jonathan, who was the son of Gershom, and also the son of Manasseh.


[4] See 2 Kings 21:1-18.


[5] גָּלָה signifies to uncover, or to remove; גְּלוֹת is the infinitive construct.


[6] Satires 1:26. Aulus Persius Flaccus (34-62) was a Roman satirical poet.


[7] See 2 Kings 18:9-12.


[8] See 1 Kings 11:1-8.


[9] Psalm 11:1.

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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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