The conquest of Laish

Other events during the time of the Judges

A number of other events occurred during the time of the Judges that are not recorded in chronological order in the narrative.

The conquest of Laish (see 12 on Map 50) by the tribe of Dan took place within about fifty years of the initial conquest of Canaan by Joshua (i.e. between c.1400 and c.1350BC). We know this because the first priest of the newly renamed city of Dan was Jonathan, the grandson of Moses and son of Gershom (who was born some years before the Exodus from Egypt in c.1447BC) (see Judges 18:30).

The story of the destruction of Gibeah and the punishment of the tribe of Benjamin comes from about the same time.

 

Hill country of Judah

The hill country of Ephraim

 

Laish is conquered by the tribe of Dan

Judg 17:1-12    Micah – a man from the hill country of Ephraim - has a number of idols made from silver. He employs a young Levite from Bethlehem in Judah to be his priest.

Judg 18:1-10    Five Israelite spies from the tribe of Dan - from Samson’s home area between Zorah and Eshtaol - arrive at Micah’s house and ask the priest whether the LORD will bless their proposed conquest of Laish (see 12 on Map 50). On receiving a positive response, they return home to report back.

Judg 18:11-26    Six hundred armed men from the tribe of Dan set off from Zorah and Eshtaol (see 11 on Map 50) to conquer Laish. They camp en route at Mahaneh Dan (‘Dan’s Camp’) near Kiriath Jearim. On arriving at Micah’s house, they steal the silver idols and household gods and set off with his priest.

Judg 18:27-31    On arrival at Laish, they attack the city and destroy it, before re-building it and calling it Dan. The silver idols are set up in the tent of the Lord’s presence at Shiloh (see 13 on Map 50).

 

The ruins of Dan (buzzard525)

View from the ruins of Dan  (buzzard525)

 

Dan

Following the Israelite invasion of Canaan in c.1406 BC, the southern coastal plain was allocated to the tribe of Dan (see Joshua 19:40-46). However, due to the superior weaponry of the Philistines, who used iron chariots to defend their cities, the Danites were unable to conquer this territory (see Judges 1:19). While a few Danites (such as Samson’s parents) remained in the south (see Judges 13:2), most of the tribe turned their attention to the far north of the country and seized the Canaanite city of Leshem or Laish, renaming it Dan (see Joshua 19:47 & Judges 18:1-31). As Dan was the most northerly city conquered by the Israelites, Israel stretched “from Dan to Beersheba” (see Judges 20:1 & 2 Samuel 24:2).

Extensive remains of the ancient Canaanite and Israelite cities have been excavated at Tell el-Qadi (Tel Dan) at the foot of Mount Hermon near the largest of the four sources of the River Jordan. A huge man-made rampart encircled the Canaanite city, which was entered by a mud-brick arched gateway on the eastern side. Abraham passed this Canaanite city in 1833 BC when he rescued Lot and his family from the four kings of Mesopotamia (see Genesis 14:14).

On top of the remains of the earlier Canaanite fortifications, excavations have revealed a later city wall erected by the Israelites, together with a huge monumental stone gateway complex on the south side of the city. As at Jerusalem in the time of King Josiah (see 2 Kings 23:8), five upright standing stones (‘matzevot’) outside the gateway marked Dan as a religious cultic centre or ‘high place’. Next to the gate, four decorated stones probably formed the base for four pillars which supported a canopy – under which the king would have sat when he visited the city to dispense justice (see 2 Samuel 19:8). Nearby, a stone bench has been exposed, where the city elders would have sat to discuss local affairs (see Genesis 19:1, Ruth 4:1-2 & Psalm 69:12).

The cultic ‘high place’ exposed on the north side of the tell was established by King Jeroboam I when he set up a golden calf in 931BC (see 1 Kings 12:26-30). This ‘high place’ was renewed by King Ahab in 874BC as a centre of Baal worship (see 1 Kings 16:30-33). It was eventually destroyed when King Tiglath-Pileser of Assyria conquered Dan in 732BC (see 2 Kings 15:29).

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