Where Manasseh Means Moses

The stories at the end of the Book of Judges are shocking. It is hard to find a “good guy” in them. Why are we told such stories? They illustrate how bad things become when “everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”

One such story is of Micah and the Levite. Micah steals silver from his mother. She places a curse on whoever stole her silver, so Micah returns it. On the return of the silver, Micah’s mother makes an idol. With possession of the idol, Micah also makes an ephod (the outer garment for a priest) and sets up one of his sons as priest (however Micah is from the tribe of Ephraim). Micah now has his own homemade temple.

A Levite shows up looking for a place to stay. Micah makes him his priest. Now, Micah has everything including a Levitical priest.

A scouting party for the tribe of Dan arrives at Micah’s house. The tribe of Dan has failed to capture their allotted territory, so they are in search for a new place to live. They learn of Micah’s “temple” and priest. When the tribe of Dan returns in full force, they steal the idol and entice the Levite to become the priest of a whole tribe instead of one man. The story ends with this startling revelation:

And the people of Dan set up the carved image for themselves, and Jonathan the son of Gershom, son of Moses, and his sons were priests to the tribe of the Danites until the day of the captivity of the land. (Judges 18:30, ESV)

The grandson of Moses is an idolatrous priest, and the idol remains in the city of Dan until the captivity.

Now some translations will say “son of Manasseh” (KJV, NASB, NKJV) instead of “son of Moses” (ASV, ESV, NIV, NET). There is only one letter difference between Moses and Manasseh in Hebrew: Mšh vs. Mnšh. Support for reading “Moses” is found in many Hebrew manuscripts and some manuscripts of the Greek Septuagint and Latin Vulgate.

How did the two readings arise? In many Hebrew manuscripts that have Manasseh, the letter nun (the Hebrew equivalent to the letter “n”) is suspended over the first two letters of the name. This likely means that the reader is to pronounce aloud “Manasseh” while realizing that it is “Moses” in the text. It was a scribal way of protecting Moses’ reputation. This is a place where Manasseh means Moses.

As a grandfather I ponder what I want for my grandson. The most important prayer is that he will become a man of faith. This passage warns that it hasn’t always happened. We must be intentional for faith to transcend generations (Psalm 145:4-7).

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