Moses’ Wayward Grandson
by David Ettinger
Though Moses is arguably the Old Testament’s foremost personality, we know very little about his offspring.
The Scriptures are pretty much silent on his sons Gershom (Exodus 2:22) and Eliezer (Exodus 18:4). We do, however, know about a grandson of his – the son of Gershom – and it is not pretty.
Moses indeed had a grandson who is mentioned in the Bible, he was indeed a wayward soul, and his account can be found – fittingly enough – in the Book of Judges.
So who is this grandson whose behavior would certainly have been rebuked by Moses had he still been alive?
His account begins in Judges 17:7: “Now there was a young man from Bethlehem in Judah, of the family of Judah, who was a Levite; and he was staying there.”
However, this young Levite wants out: “Then the man left the city … to stay wherever he would find a place; and as he made his journey, he came to the hill country of Ephraim, to the house of Micah” (v. 8).
As it turns out, this Micah has a number of household idols (Judges 17:5). When Micah discovers the traveler is a Levite, he extends an invitation to him: “Stay with me and be a father and a priest to me, and I will give you ten pieces of silver a year, a supply of clothing, and your sustenance” (v. 10).
The offer is accepted: “The Levite agreed to live with [Micah], and the young man became to him like one of his sons. So Micah consecrated the Levite, and the young man became his priest and lived in the house of Micah” (vv. 11-12).
This violates the Mosaic Law. The Levites were to serve God and all of Israel; they were never assigned by God to be household or tribal priests for hire.
Meanwhile, the tribe of Dan is looking for a place in which to settle. They assign 5 men to scout a location, and their route takes them to Micah’s house, where they meet the young Levite.
After speaking with him and receiving his “blessing,” they go on their way, reach the city of Laish, and conclude it would be the perfect place in which to settle. They return home to deliver the news to their tribesmen, and after 600 armed soldiers set out to claim Laish for themselves, they come to Micah’s home.
The 5 scouts tell their brothers: “Do you know that there are in these houses an ephod and household idols, and a carved image and a cast metal image? Now then, consider what you should do” (18:14).
They decide to plunder Micah’s house (v. 18). When the young Levite asks what these thieves are doing, they reply: “Be silent, put your hand over your mouth, and go with us, and be to us a father and a priest. Is it better for you to be a priest to the house of one man, or to be priest to a tribe and a family in Israel?” (v. 19).
The Levite’s response reveals much about his character: “The priest’s heart was glad, and he took the ephod, the household idols, and the carved image, and went among the people” (v. 20). Not only is he a renegade priest-for-hire, but the young Levite is now a criminal!
The Great Reveal
The Danites – with the young Levite in tow – arrive in Laish, destroy the people, and claim it for themselves. We then read:
The sons of Dan set up for themselves the carved image; and Jonathan, the son of Gershom, the son of Manasseh, he and his sons were priests to the tribe of the Danites until the day of the captivity of the land (v. 30, emphasis added).
We learn here that the young Levite’s name is Jonathan, and that he is the son of Gershom, the son of “Manasseh.” Or is he?
In the NASB, the footnote reads “Moses.” The King James also refers to the young Levite as the grandson of “Manasseh.” But wait, the ESV and Amplified Bibles list him as the grandson of “Moses.” In fact, in the plethora of Bible versions, there is about an even split between “Manasseh” and “Moses.”
What’s going on?
The Mystery Settled
Scholarship has determined that the earliest Hebrew manuscripts list the name as “Moses,” whose son was indeed Gershom, whose son was Jonathan of Judges 17 & 18.
Apparently, centuries later a pious scribe who revered Moses wished to spare the great leader of the shame of being associated with a reprobate grandson. Therefore this scribe inserted a Hebrew “n” into the Hebrew name for Moses, Moshe, and hence the translation “Manasseh.”
This is believed to have been inserted by the Masoretes – Jewish scribes whose life work was to copy the Bible, and labored from about A.D. 600 to 950.
It’s unfortunate that Moses’ descendants prostituted themselves out to one particular tribe, but as most believers know, serving and loving God is no guarantee our children will follow in our paths. There are so many examples of this in the Bible, notably Samuel and David.
But one thing is for sure: If it can happen to the great Moses, it can happen to us!
May this account of Moses’ wayward grandson serve as a reminder that we must be consistent and fervent in praying for our children and grandchildren that they will “Believe in the Lord Jesus and be saved!” (Acts 16:31).
David Ettinger was born and raised in a Jewish family in New York. After moving to New Mexico as an adult, he suffered through many trials. The nudge of the Holy Spirit caused him to examine his heart and in 1986 he surrendered his life to Jesus and has walked with Him ever since. David holds a BA, and MA, in English from New Mexico State University. He began his journalism career writing for The Roundup, the university paper. After graduation he became the sportswriter for the El Paso Times. He has held many other positions as both writer and editor with major publications. David is active in providing his skills with Zion’s Hope, Inc., in Winter Garden, Florida. His publications include Lifeway publications, Single Parent magazine (Focus on the Family), Zion’s Fire magazine, and Real Life magazine. In addition, he served as managing editor for Zion’s Fire and Real Life. David’s book, Overcomers: 30 Stories of Triumph from the Bible, is available online. David is proud of his son and grandson. Please read his testimony here, on his website.
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