In the perspective of the book of Judges, the days of the judges has ended. Judges will not record for us anymore judges who delivered Israel. Rather, the book of Judges is going to spend its last pages teaching us about what we learn from the failures of the people of Israel who did not listen to the Lord but did what was right in their own eyes.
Swindling Son (17:1-6)
The next section opens with a man who is named Micah. We find out that Micah stole from his mother 1100 pieces of silver. As we noted in Judges 16, this is quite a large sum of money. The mother, not knowing that her son stole from her, tells her son about her loss and pronounces a curse on that person. Rather than fearing God for taking the money, he fears this curse she utters and confesses to her what he did. She now tries to nullify the curse she uttered by declaring a blessing on her son. To try to reinforce this blessing, she dedicates this stolen money to the Lord by making a carved idol and a metal idol. Do we think that God is going to be pleased that even though she has dedicated her worship and action to the Lord, she has made idols? The scriptures are clear that making idols is condemned by God (Exodus 20:4-5; Deuteronomy 4:15-17).
If this is not enough, please notice that she lies about what she was dedicating to the Lord. She says she would dedicate the silver to the Lord, but only gives 200 pieces of silver (17:4). These idols are placed in Micah’s house. Micah makes an ephod, some household gods, and ordains one of his sons to be his priest. Micah cannot be a priest nor can his family because they are from the tribe of Ephraim. But Micah does not care. He has his idols and he has his personal priest and he thinks he is in good shape for worshiping God.
In these two chapters are we are going to learn about how it matters the way in which we worship God. We cannot reshape God to fit our society or fit our desires. We are to let God reshape our hearts and reshape the thinking of our society. There is no greater observance of this problem than when people want to worship God the way they want to worship him. This is what Micah is doing. We cannot say, “Well, I prayed about it and I felt peace. Therefore God accepts what I am doing.” Praying about it is good but the feelings you feel are totally irrelevant. We cannot ignore the objective commands of God for our feelings.
Notice the way God declares his condemnation of this kind of thinking. Verse 6 states: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” The statement is begging for a king who will rule and lead the people in righteousness. But there is no one to do so. Therefore, everyone does what is right in their own eyes. We need a king who will do what is right in the eyes of the Lord. I would like for you to consider the statement that everyone was doing what was right in their own eyes. This sorrowful statement would be taken as a complement today. We are encouraged to do what is right in our own eyes. God is condemning it. We applaud living according to our own desires and standards. God despises it and condemns it. We do not get to worship God how want. We do not get to add or take away what we want. We must do all according to the revealed word of God.
False Worship (17:7-13)
The false worship only grows with this man, Micah. A young man from Bethlehem who is a Levite was traveling through and comes near Micah’s house. Micah learns that he is a Levite. So he asks him to stay with him permanently and be his personal priest. I guess the son was fired. The Levite is offered clothes, money, and lodging to be his priest. Even more amazing, this Levite accepts the offer to be Micah’s personal priest. This Levite could not be a priest. We learn at the end of chapter 18 that he is the son of Gershom, and this is not where the priests came from of Aaron’s sons.
Please notice what Micah thinks when he hires this priest for himself. “Now I know that the Lord will prosper me, because I have a Levite as priest” (17:13). This is how awful the thinking is among the people of Israel at this time. Micah is all about getting what he wants out of God and how he can get God to serve him. There are two great errors in his thinking that we also see today when it comes to how people try to worship God.
First, we see the error of sacramentalism. Since Micah has a Levite as his priest, God will certainly cause him to prosper. This is sinful thinking. We cannot approach God as if doing certain things is supposed to cause God behave as some all powerful genie, fulfilling all our whims and wishes. I have seen this thinking far too often. It comes to light particularly when we suffer. “I go to church, so why am I suffering?!” “I’m a good person so why are bad things happening to me?” Doing certain acts do not appease God or cause him to have to act for us. There is nothing that we can hold over God. There is nothing that we can do that would put him into our debt. Yet we can think like Micah that doing certain things will now move God to do good for me.
Second, we see the error of convenience. Everyone in the account so far thinks that they can worship God on their own terms. They think that God does not care and is not picky about his commands. Micah thinks he can hires his son as priest. Then he thinks he can hire a Levite to be his priest. Now he does not have to go anywhere to worship the Lord. He can stay home and worship. The Levite also falls into this error. Why do the work of the Lord when I can stay with this fellow and pay me to be his personal help?
We must learn something very important. Worship is not worship unless God defines the activity as such. Why is driving your car not worship? Why can’t I say to you that I am not going to worship today because I already worshiped God by driving my car? Why can’t I say that I have already worshiped God today because I had a shower and ate breakfast? The answer is simple. An activity cannot be considered worship unless God defines it as such. What you are doing is not worship unless God says so.
The Strong Rule (18:1-31)
The final scene with Micah is in chapter 18. But before the story can move forward, God wants to say something again. There is no king in Israel. We need a king to lead us in righteousness and truth. The first verse also tells us that the tribe of Dan is stuck in the hill country. The reason why was explain in Judges 1:34 when they would not drive out the Amorites. So they are looking for land to take.
They go by Micah’s house and recognize the voice of the Levite that Micah had hired to be his priest. They ask the Levite what he is doing there and he explains that he has been hired by Micah. So they ask the Levite to inquire of the Lord if they will succeed in finding land to occupy. The Levite tells them to go in peace for the Lord is watching over their journey. This is obviously a suspect answer because he is not a legitimate priest and he does not inquire of the Lord. He simply gives the answer the tribe of Dan is looking for. So they find an isolated town about 100 miles north called Laish. So the people pack up their possessions and begin to move north to their new promised land. On the way north they pass through the tribe of Ephraim, where Micah lives. So they go to Micah’s house, steal his idols, ephod, and household gods. The Levite who lives there asks what they think they are doing, and they tell him to keep quiet and come with them because it would be better to be a priest for a tribe than for one person. Verse 20 says that the Levite was glad and took the idols and went with the people of Dan. When Micah finds out, he and some of the neighbors band together and track down these people of Dan who have stolen from him. So Micah shouts at them and the people of Dan say, “What is the matter with you, that you come with such a company?” Micah says, “What is the matter with you!” You took my gods that I made and my priest. Please note the irony of the charge. If your god can be stolen, broken, or lost, it is not a god at all!
The people of Dan respond that if he says that again then they are going to kill him and his family. Then the people of Dan left and there was nothing Micah could do because they were stronger than him. Now the sad part of the story is what the Levite is a grandson of Moses (18:30). Within two generations we see how far a people can go from godliness to immorality. It is a pitiful picture of the state of affair in Israel.
We saw earlier in the account the problem of false religion. When people try to worship God however they want, God is not pleased and godliness is lost. This is clearly seen in the ending of this account. Why did the people of Dan prevail? Were they right? No. Was God on their side? No. They prevailed simply because they were stronger than Micah. This is what happens to society when people live according to what is right in their own eyes. The stronger rule over the weaker. The weak have no rights. The weak are not protected. Might makes right. This is the only rule of law.
As people turn their hearts away from the Lord this is exactly what we are seeing around us. Whoever is strong has power. Whoever has might makes what is right. The United States is unusual politically because this not typically how our government works. Yet most governments in the world today and historically have operated this way. Why was Saddam Hussein in power? Because he is stronger than all others around. Why was Fidel Castro in power or Joseph Stalin or Adolph Hitler or any other dictator? The reason is that they were the strongest and possessed the power. Living right in our own eyes leads to the destruction of the innocent, weak, and powerless. They are the first to be ruined in a society ruled by what is right in our own eyes.
I hope we will take note that the reason God has told us to not live according to our thoughts and ways is because it is disastrous for our lives and for the lives of others. People are hurt and destroyed in a world where everyone does what they want.
Which is why we need a king to rule over us. God proves that we cannot be left to our own ways and thoughts or else we hurt and destroy ourselves. We need a king who will rule in righteousness and justice. This is what the scriptures are promising in Jesus. Jesus is the King of the kings and Lord of Lords (Revelation 19:16; 1 Timothy 6:15). Submitting our lives to Jesus is not taking away our freedom, but setting us free to have life and live the life that God desires. God wants us to see that we need a king.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this. (Isaiah 9:6–7 ESV)
Our loving God has given us the King of Righteousness. Give your life to the king.