Here is, I. The observation which the spies made upon the city of Laish, and the posture of its inhabitants, Jdg. 18:7. Never was place so ill governed and so ill guarded, which would make it a very easy prey to the invader.
1. It was ill governed, for every man might be as bad as he would, and there was no magistrate, no heir of restraint (as the word is), that might so much as put them to shame in any thing, much less put them to death, so that by the most impudent immoralities they provoked God’s wrath, and by all manner of mutual mischiefs weakened and consumed one another. See here, (1.) What the office of magistrates is. They are to be heirs of restraint, that is, to preserve a constant entail of power, as heirs to an inheritance, in the places where they are, for the restraining of that which is evil. They are possessors of restraint, entrusted with their authority for this end, that they may check and suppress every thing that is vicious and be a terror to evil doers. It is only God’s grace that can renew men’s depraved minds and turn their hearts; but the magistrate’s power may restrain their bad practices and tie their hands, so that the wickedness of the wicked may not be either so injurious or so infectious as otherwise it would be. Though the sword of justice cannot cut up the root of bitterness, it may cut off its branches and hinder its growth and spreading, that vice may not go without a check, for then it becomes daring and dangerous, and the community shares in the guilt. (2.) See what method must be used for the restraint of wickedness. Sinners must be put to shame, that those who will not be restrained by the shamefulness of the sin before God and their own consciences may be restrained by the shamefulness of the punishment before men. All ways must be tried to dash sin out of countenance and cover it with contempt, to make people ashamed of their idleness, drunkenness, cheating, lying, and other sins, by making reputation always appear on virtue’s side. (3.) See how miserable, and how near to ruin, those places are that either have no magistrates or none that bear the sword to any purpose; the wicked then walk on every side, Ps. 12:8. And how happy we are in good laws and a good government.
2. It was ill guarded. The people of Laish were careless, quiet, and secure, their gates left open, their walls out of repair, because under no apprehension of danger in any way, though their wickedness was so great that they had reason to fear divine vengeance every day. It was a sign that the Israelites, through their sloth and cowardice, were not now such a terror to the Canaanites as they were when they first came among them, else the city of Laish, which probably knew itself to be assigned to them, would not have been so very secure. Though they were an open and inland town, they lived secure, like the Zidonians (who were surrounded with the sea and were well fortified both by art and nature), but were far from the Zidonians, who therefore could not come in to their assistance, nor help to defend them from the danger which, by debauching their manners, they had helped to bring them into. And, lastly, they had no business with any man, which bespeaks either the idleness they affected (they followed no trade, and so grew lazy and luxurious, and utterly unable to defend themselves) or the independency they affected: they scorned to be either in subjection to or alliance with any of their neighbours, and so they had none to protect them nor bring in any aid to them. They cared for nobody and therefore nobody cared for them. Such as these were the men of Laish.
II. The encouragement which they consequently gave to their countrymen that sent them to prosecute their design upon this city, Jdg. 18:8-10. Probably the Danites had formed notions of the insuperable difficulties of the enterprise, thought it impossible ever to make themselves masters of Laish, and therefore had kept themselves so long out of the possession of it, perhaps suggesting likewise to one another, in their unbelief, that it was not a country worth going so far and running such a risk for, which jealousies the spies (and they were not, in this, evil spies) had an eye to in their report. 1. They represent the place as desirable: “If you will trust our judgments, we have seen the land, and we are agreed in our verdict upon the view, that, behold, it is very good (Jdg. 18:9), better than this mountainous country into which we are here crowded by the Philistines. You need not doubt of living comfortably in it, for it is a place where there is no want of any thing,” Jdg. 18:10. See what a good land Canaan was, that this city which lay furthest of all northward, in the utmost corner of the country, stood on such a fruitful spot. 2. They represent it as attainable. They do not at all question but, with God’s blessing, they may soon get possession of it; for the people are secure, Jdg. 18:10. And the more secure always the less safe. “God has given it into your hands, and you may have it for the taking.” They stir them up to the undertaking: “Arise, that we may go up against them, let us go about it speedily and resolutely.” They expostulate with them for their delays, and chide them out of their sluggishness: Are you still? Be not slothful to go. Men need to be thus stirred up to mind even their interest. Heaven is a very good land, where there is no want of any thing; our God has, by the promise, given it into our hands; let us not then be slothful in making it sure, and laying hold on eternal life, but strive to enter.
III. The Danites’ expedition against Laish. This particular family of them, to whose lot that city fell, now at length make towards it, Jdg. 18:11-13. The military men were but 600 in all, not a hundredth part of that tribe, for when they entered Canaan the Danites were above 64,000, Num. 26:43. It was strange that none of their brethren of their own tribe, much less of any other, came in to their assistance; but it was long after Israel came to Canaan before there appeared among them any thing of a public spirit, or concern for a common interest, which was the reason why they seldom united in a common head, and this kept them low and inconsiderable. It appears (by Jdg. 18:21) that these 600 were the whole number that went to settle there, for they had their families and effects with them, their little ones and cattle, so confident were they of success. The other tribes gave them a free passage through their country. Their first day’s march brought them to Kirjath-jearim (Jdg. 18:12), and such rare things had military encampments now become in Israel that the place where they rested that night was thence called Mahaneh-dan, the camp of Dan, and probably the place whence they began their march between Zorah and Eshtaol was called by the same name, and is meant, Jdg. 13:25. The second day’s march brought them to Mount Ephraim, near Micah’s house (Jdg. 18:13), and there we must pause awhile.
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