Open your Bible to Judges chapter 17. The 17th chapter and our second to last lesson in the book of Judges.
We’ve made it to the conclusion of the book. We’ve seen the progressive Canaanization of Israel throughout the first 16 chapters of this book. And we see more of this process in the chapters to follow. Let’s start reading in chapter 17, verse 1.
KJV Judges 17:1 ¶ And there was a man of mount Ephraim, whose name was Micah. 2 And he said unto his mother, The eleven hundred shekels of silver that were taken from thee, about which thou cursed(st), and spakest of also in mine ears, behold, the silver is with me; I took it. And his mother said, Blessed be thou of the LORD, my son. 3 And when he had restored the eleven hundred shekels of silver to his mother, his mother said, I had wholly dedicated the silver unto the LORD from my hand for my son, to make a graven image and a molten image: now therefore I will restore it unto thee. 4 Yet he restored the money unto his mother; and his mother took two hundred shekels of silver, and gave them to the founder, who made thereof a graven image and a molten image: and they were in the house of Micah. 5 And the man Micah had an house of gods, and made an ephod, and teraphim [A Hebrew word for “household idols”], and consecrated one of his sons, who became his priest.
So, we’re introduced to a man in the hill country of Ephraim. At some point prior to this story he stole his mother’s money – 1100 shekels or pieces of silver. An upstanding gentleman, apparently. And when he secretly took the silver she uttered a curse against the one who stole it. Apparently that bothered Micah. So that’s why we see him confessing to his mother that he in fact had the money.
Well, the mother is pretty quick to forgive. And she’s so happy that she tries to reverse her curse. And so now she utters a blessing upon her son. And she does this IN THE NAME OF THE LORD. So, you might think this is a godly woman. If that’s what you originally thought, then I’m sure your proverbial jaw dropped when she directed that Micah take a bit of the money he stole and now returned… and make two idols – one graven or cut – probably made of wood. And one molten – or made of metal.
So, blessing in the name of Yahweh? The true God of Israel! And then… having idols made? These two things don’t mix. Yahweh revealed on Mount Sinai that he doesn’t want Israel to worship idols – whether they’re intended to represent him or not. He doesn’t want our worship to him to be filtered through or directed toward idols.
So, something’s definitely not right here. And you’ll be saying that a lot to yourself throughout this lesson. And you ought to. The narrator is taking us on a strange journey through the times of the judges to show us the utterly desperate condition of Israel during this time.
And it gets worse. Micah takes those idols and puts them into his house of gods. Now, God demanded to be worshiped in one central location in Israel. But Micah set up his own place to worship in the hill country of Ephraim. Now, in the centralized house of God, God wanted Levites to take care of the property and worship of that sanctuary. Micah doesn’t have a Levite – yet, at least. And so he just takes his son and makes him a priest.
So, things are a spiritual mess here. And if you want confirmation that that’s the case, read verse 6.
6 In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes.
Think back to Samson – the subject of our lesson last week. He wanted to take a pagan Philistine wife. And his parents questioned him on that point. Remember his response to them? Literally, “she looks right in my eyes.” And apparently Samson wasn’t alone in this kind of practice. The narrator here says that everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
Why? One big reason is given – there’s no king. There’s no king to restrain the peoples’ evil. There’s no king to lead the people righteously. Israel needs a king.
But they don’t have one and so they’re doing whatever they think is right. Michah’s mom thought it was right to make idols. Micah thought it was right to have a house of gods and to consecrate his son as priest in that house.
Now, we move on to the next scene. Verse 7.
7 ¶ And there was a young man out of Bethlehemjudah of the family of Judah, who was a Levite, and he sojourned there. 8 And the man departed out of the city from Bethlehemjudah to sojourn where he could find a place: and he came to mount Ephraim to the house of Micah, as he journeyed. 9 And Micah said unto him, Whence comest thou? And he said unto him, I am a Levite of Bethlehemjudah, and I go to sojourn where I may find a place. 10 And Micah said unto him, Dwell with me, and be unto me a father and a priest, and I will give thee ten shekels of silver by the year [He did have about 900 left over from what he previously stole from his mom], and a suit of apparel, and thy victuals.
Let’s just take in the scene here. This man comes from Bethlehem just wandering around trying to find a place to live. Why did he leave? Was he forced out by Canaanites? That’s a very good possibility. Was he forced to leave because the people stopped providing for him? After all, the Levites were called to dedicated full-time service for the Lord. As a result they relied on God’s people to provide for them through their offerings and other means. Maybe the Israelites stopped supporting this Levite.
Whatever the case, this Levite is on the move. And he just happens upon Micah’s house of gods in the hills of Ephraim. And so Micah makes a proposition to the Levite. “Be a priest in my house of gods.”
Now, surely, any Levite would know that this was not right. A house of gods? No! Israel was supposed to be worshipping Yahweh at the Tabernacle. Not in a shrine full of idols. So, a Levite – one who was supposed to know the Law and teach others also – he, of all people, would have the sense to rebuke Micah. The Levite would be in the right, even, to lead the people in stoning this idolatrous man. That was God’s punishment for idolatry – stoning. That’s how much it provoked the Lord.
So… what does the Levite do? End of verse 10.
So the Levite went in. [What??] 11 And the Levite was content to dwell with the man; [Oh no.] and the young man was unto him [Micah] as one of his sons. 12 And Micah consecrated the Levite; and the young man became his priest, and was in the house of Micah.
Wow. So that was not at all what we’d tend to think would happen. The Levite is as bad as the idolatrous Ephraimite, Micah. Well, maybe this Levite is just a bad egg. Maybe he descended from some no-name unspiritual father and grandfather. Just keep telling yourself that. We’ll discover the truth at the end of the story.
At any rate, I say, this situation was not at all what should have happened. It’s not in any way what the Lord would want to have happened. And so the irony is sharp when we see Micah’s interpretation of the scene we just witnessed. Verse 13.
13 Then said Micah, Now know I that the LORD will do me good, seeing I have a Levite to my priest.
Wow. Isn’t this just mixed up? Just like his mother, as we saw at the beginning of the story, Micah speaks of the Lord in glowing terms. Micah really believes that the Lord is blessing him – even though every action we’ve seen him involved in thus far is totally against the Lord’s stated desires and demands.
Have you run across a Micah before? A man who professes to know the Lord – who even can tell you story after story that “proves” that the Lord is with him and is blessing him. While at the same time, that man obviously has no real knowledge of the Lord. He might be experiencing blessings and good things in this life. And those things do come from the Lord. But he mistakes the Lord’s blessings with the Lord’s commendation. It’s as if some people think that receiving good things from God is proof that their life is pleasing to the Lord. That’s just not the case. “God sends rains on the just only.” Is that what Jesus said? No, God sends rain on the just AND the unjust. He’s good to all. So, his goodness doesn’t signal approval.
But to this day you’ll run into folks who think this way. Modern-day Micahs.
By the way, let’s just talk about Micah’s name for a moment. His Hebrew name is actually Micahyahu. It means “who is like Yah” – “who is like the Lord”. The name causes you to stop and think and answer that question. The answer is…? No one! No one is like the Lord. He’s glorious. Uniquely excellent. In a category by himself. But the idols that Micah made testify to the exact opposite – the Lord is just like the gods of the pagans. He’s like this wood and metal. It seems that Micah would answer the question posed by his own name – “Who is like the Lord” – with this answer – “all my idols! all my idols are like the Lord!”
So, let’s take a step back. Think of what we’ve read so far. Idols, a Levite leaving his ministry to take on the administration of a house of idols. The owner of that house looking at all that’s transpired and thinking “Wow, the Lord is really blessing me. I even got me a Levite to be my priest!” Disobedience. Superstition. Utter spiritual blindness everywhere. What’s the explanation? What can possibly account for this chaos and disorder? Verse 1 of chapter 18.
18:1 ¶ In those days there was no king in Israel:
Oh yes. I can’t believe you all forgot about that. There’s no king! No one to restrain these people. No one to be physically amongst these people telling them what to do and what not to do. Without that kind of restraint, these people are coming apart at the seems.
Now, we’ve already seen a wandering Levite. Now we’re going to see not just an individual wandering, but an entire tribe. Continue with verse 1.
and in those days the tribe of the Danites sought them an inheritance to dwell in; for unto that day all their inheritance had not fallen unto them among the tribes of Israel.
We’ll stop here and just ponder what this statement means. It appears to be saying that this tribe hasn’t received any of it’s inheritance yet. But that’s so strange. I mean, after all, Joshua assigned land to each tribe before he died. Has Dan really not taken its land up until now? If you add up all the years mentioned in the book of Judges you’d get over 400 years. However, I think there’s some overlap in times in the book. And so I think the timespan covered in Judges is somewhere around more like 300 years.
And so here’s why I mention the time factor. How long do you think Dan went without having land? Remember – back in Judges chapter 1 we saw Dan driven out of their territory by the Canaanites. Did they wait a full 300 or so years before moving to take land somewhere else? I think that’s unlikely.
So, here’s what I’m getting at. We are in the conclusion to the book of Judges. And yet, I don’t think that the events of this story fall at the very end of the chronological timeline of the book. I think the events we’re witnessing in this story may have happened relatively soon after Joshua passed off the scene. And the thing I find most shocking about that is the testimony it gives to how wicked human kind is. How quickly we can fall. And how far that fall can be. We can have a godly gifted leader. And yet the moment he goes away we’re so prone to evil.
So, I just say, get used to the thought that these events are not hundreds of years after Joshua’s death. And I think we’ll see more confirmation of that both at the end of this story and in our next and final lesson.
Now, back to the story. We’ve got a wandering tribe who was driven out of its territory by the Canaanites back in chapter 1. Now, verse 2.
2 And the children of Dan sent of their family five men from their coasts [Borders], men of valour, from Zorah, and from Eshtaol, [We heard of these two cities from Samson’s story.] to spy out the land, and to search it; and they said unto them, Go, search the land: who when they came to mount Ephraim, to the house of Micah, they lodged there. 3 When they were by the house of Micah, they knew the voice of the young man the Levite: and they turned in thither, and said unto him, Who brought thee hither? and what makest thou in this place? and what hast thou here? 4 And he said unto them, Thus and thus dealeth Micah with me, and hath hired me, and I am his priest. 5 And they said unto him, Ask counsel, we pray thee, of God, that we may know whether our way which we go shall be prosperous. 6 And the priest said unto them, Go in peace: before the LORD is your way wherein ye go.
Isn’t this a sad sign of complete reversal? Israel comes to the land, spies it out, and then conquers it. But now because of their sin, one of their tribes is forced to renew this pattern of going to new land, spying it out, and then conquering it.
And it’s so strange. It was too hard for Dan to possess their land that Joshua gave them. And yet they think nothing of traveling miles and miles on foot to find new land – easier land. Land whose inhabitants they can overcome without the help of Yahweh. In their own strength. They are truly doing what’s right in their own eyes. Yahweh’s way didn’t work. So, they’re going to innovate.
Now, they just happen to come across the idolatrous Levite in Micah’s house of gods. It’s curious to me how these men would have known the voice of this Levite. So, I don’t know how they knew the Levite’s voice, but they did. And so the Levite converses with the 5 Danites. The Danites ask for the Levite to divine whether or not their way will be prosperous. And by now, they know that this Levite is unorthodox. He’s taking care of an idolatrous shrine stocked with images. And so I suppose the Danites are showing their own unorthodoxy by even putting any amount of faith in the ability of this Levite to get ahold of God’s ear. We don’t know if the Leite even seeks God in response to the Danites request. All we know is that this man who’s doing what’s right in his own eyes, rather quickly gives his approval of their journey. Their way is before the Lord. It has his approval. Why, they’ll be just as prosperous as Micah as they continue on disobeying the Lord. You have the idolatrous Levite’s stamp of approval!
So, away the 5 Danites go. Up north to the northenmost reaches of Israel. Up by Sidon. Verse 7.
7 ¶ Then the five men departed, and came to Laish, and saw the people that were therein, how they dwelt careless, [Not in any negative sense. They just didn’t have any cares in the world. They were without care – care-less. They dwelt…] after the manner of the Zidonians, quiet and secure; and there was no magistrate in the land, that might put them to shame in any thing; and they were far from the Zidonians, and had no business with any man. 8 And they came unto their brethren to Zorah and Eshtaol: and their brethren said unto them, What say ye? 9 And they said, Arise, that we may go up against them: for we have seen the land, and, behold, it is very good: and are ye still? be not slothful to go, and to enter to possess the land. 10 When ye go, ye shall come unto a people secure, and to a large land: for God hath given it into your hands; a place where there is no want of any thing that is in the earth.
I think the rhetoric of the 5 Danite spies is astonishing. They’re talking just like the two faithful spies who went to spy out the land back in Moses’ day. They’re speaking in terms similar to what Moses himself used decades prior to this. And yet their hearts aren’t right with the Lord like Moses’ was and like Caleb’s and Joshua’s were. But the Danites are assuming the same level of leadership by God as did these godly men of old. I’d say that’s a little presumptuous.
But the Danite spies sell their case. And so it appears that the whole tribe of Dan departs from the allotment of land given them by the Lord. Verse 11.
11 ¶ And there went from thence of the family of the Danites, out of Zorah and out of Eshtaol, six hundred men appointed with weapons of war. 12 And they went up, and pitched in Kirjathjearim, in Judah: wherefore they called that place Mahanehdan unto this day: behold, it is behind Kirjathjearim.
13 And they passed thence unto mount Ephraim, and came unto the house of Micah. 14 ¶ Then answered the five men that went to spy out the country of Laish, and said unto their brethren, Do ye know that there is in these houses an ephod, and teraphim [Household idols], and a graven image, and a molten image? now therefore consider what ye have to do.
I love the subtelty of these spies. “Consider what you should do. There’s all these covetable things in this house. You can guess what action you’re supposed to take.”
You wish the response of the people would be to destroy the idols and idolators around there. But what does the tribe of Dan actually do? Verse 15.
15 And they turned thitherward, and came to the house of the young man the Levite, even unto the house of Micah, [They were living in the same place.] and saluted him. 16 And the six hundred men appointed with their weapons of war, which were of the children of Dan, stood by the entering of the gate. 17 And the five men that went to spy out the land went up, and came in thither, and took the graven image, and the ephod, and the teraphim, and the molten image: and the priest stood in the entering of the gate with the six hundred men that were appointed with weapons of war. 18 And these went into Micah’s house, and fetched the carved image, the ephod, and the teraphim, and the molten image.
So they’re taking the instruments of Micah’s idolatrous worship. But not for the purpose of destroying them, I’m afraid. Let’s see the priest’s reaction to all of this. Middle of verse 18.
Then said the priest unto them, What do ye?
How do you imagine him asking that question? Full of worry and concern for his sponsor, Micah? Full of anger and rage that the Danites are stealing the objects with which he’s been “ministering”? No. I think it’s more of a question of curiosity.
We’ll see if their response to him and then his reaction to their response confirms that. Verse 19.
19 And they said unto him, Hold thy peace, lay thine hand upon thy mouth, and go with us, and be to us a father and a priest: is it better for thee to be a priest unto the house of one man, or that thou be a priest unto a tribe and a family in Israel? [That kind of language reminds me of what Abimelech said before carrying out his evil plans. Anyway…] 20 And the priest’s heart was glad [He likes the look of this deal. The priest of a whole tribe? Awesome!], and he took the ephod, and the teraphim, and the graven image, and went in the midst of the people.
Where’s the loyalty? There is none. Not in the days of the judges. Verse 21.
21 ¶ So they turned and departed, and put the little ones and the cattle and the carriage before them. [Which indicates to me that they’re expecting someone to pursue them, so they’re protecting their most vulnerable.] 22 And when they were a good way from the house of Micah, the men that were in the houses near to Micah’s house were gathered together, and overtook the children of Dan. 23 And they cried unto the children of Dan. And they [Dan] turned their faces, and said unto Micah, What aileth thee [lit. “What to you?”], that thou comest with such a company? 24 And he said, Ye have taken away my gods which I made [A truly pathetic and yet absolutely true admission. He made his gods – the very ones he’s so foolishly worshipping.], and the priest, and ye are gone away: and what have I more? and what is this that ye say unto me, What aileth thee? [“What to you?”] 25 And the children of Dan said unto him, Let not thy voice be heard among us, lest angry fellows [lit. “Men bitter of soul”] run upon thee, and thou lose thy life, with the lives of thy household. 26 And the children of Dan went their way: [So, they threaten to murder Micah.] and when Micah saw that they were too strong for him, he turned and went back unto his house.
What more can he do? I guess he was wrong about God propsering him on account of him having a Levitical priest. So much for that superstition. And with that, Micah bows out of the story, never to be heard from again.
But the Danites and their new priest are still in view. Verse 27.
27 ¶ And they took the things which Micah had made, and the priest which he had, and came unto Laish, unto a people that were at quiet and secure: and they smote them with the edge of the sword, and burnt the city with fire. 28 And there was no deliverer, because it was far from Zidon, and they had no business with any man; and it was in the valley that lieth by Bethrehob. And they built a city, and dwelt therein. 29 And they called the name of the city Dan, after the name of Dan their father, who was born unto Israel: howbeit the name of the city was Laish at the first. 30 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 until the day of the captivity of the land. 31 And they set them up Micah’s graven image, which he made, all the time that the house of God was in Shiloh.
The narrator gives us two pretty shocking revelations.
First, he finally reveals the identity of this idolatrous Levite. He’s none other than Jonathan! You’re not shocked by that, though. Ah, but Jonathan is the son of Gershom! Well, that’s interesting, but maybe not quite at the level of shock yet. Here’s the shocking part. Gershom is the son of Mannasseh. Big deal right? It s a big deal. I know it’s hard to believe in English, but in the Hebrew text, Mannasseh actually is very similar to another Hebrew name – Moses. In fact, you get the name Mannaseh by simply adding the English equivalent of an “N”. But in the Hebrew text that “N” – the one letter distinguishing Mannasseh from Moses – it’s floating above the baseline – which is really unusual. And the rabbis who copied the text explained their reasonings for doing this. They acknowledged that Moses was the original name in the text. But they didn’t want to dishonor Moses’ memory by admitting that this man’s grandson was an idolater. And yet, we should’t be surprised to see this kind of thing in this book. The harsh reality is that Moses – that mighty man of faith – his own grandson was an apostate. And that gives you an idea of when this part of the book took place. Within the lifetime of a grandson of Moses. How quickly Israel fell.
The second and last thing I’ll point out is the very last verse. We have a whole tribe involved in idolatry. Well, maybe that was because God’s house got lost somewhere along the line. I mean, we don’t hear too much about it in this book, do we? We don’t – and yet, the last verse tells us it was still there. Right in Shiloh. It was avaiable. But it seems very few if any were tending to it.
What a horrible picture this paints of religion in Israel. Israel started this book out having trouble with foreign idols. Now the idols are home-grown. Israel also had trouble battling foreign armies at the beginning of this book. And next time, we’ll see them experiencing trouble with domestic armies – civil war.