Sunday, August 10, 2008

Judges 17-18: Micah and His Idols

LINK: Judges 17-18

BACKGROUND: These two chapters, and the chapters following, are not in chronological order; the events in chapters 17 and 18 do not occur after chapter 16 as Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, was priest at this time (20:28). The events are a little confusing -- at least they were to me at first.

Judges 17: We are introduced to Micah, whose name means "who is like God." Micah was an Ephramite during the time of the Judges, and we immediately discover that he is a thief, stealing his mother's 1,100 pieces of silver. At least he admitted it and returned it to her, and she blesses her son "by the Lord" (v. 2). Yet she dedicates 200 pieces of the silver to be made into idols for her son. Micah them used these idols to create his own religion, making a ephod (a priestly garment) and household gods, and ordaining one of his sons as a priest. Verse 6 is the focus of the problems in Israel: "In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes" (ESV). It was also apparent, according to John Wesley's commentary, that the Levites were neglecting their office and were therefore neglected by the people of Israel.

Then enters a young traveling Levite whom we learn later is named Jonathan (which means "gift of God"). Looking for a place to stay, Micah invites the young Levite to not only stay the night, but also to remain with them: "Be to me a father and a priest," Micah offers, "and I will give you ten pieces of silver a year and a suit of clothes and your living" (v. 10, ESV). Micah then "ordained" the Levite and was sure that God would now bless him. According to Wesley's commentary, Micah was blind and grossly partial in his judgment to think that Jonathan's agreement to stay would show God's blessing, for Micah's errors in making and worshiping idols were against God's express commands. Micah was worshiping God in a forbidden place, with forbidden idols, and by a priest who was illegally appointed. He certainly has three strikes against him.

Judges 18: The beginning of chapter 18 gives us a timeline for the following events: "In those days," according to John Wesley's commentary, refers to not long after the death of Joshua. We discover that after Joshua's death, the tribe of Dan did not take their original inheritance as commanded. So the Danites send out spies to check out the hill country of Ephraim, where Micah lived, to see if they could take that land instead. Somehow, the Danite spies recognize the young Levite, Jonathan, although we don't know how. After hearing about his position in Micah's household, they ask him to consult the Lord to see if their spying expedition will succeed. Jonathan tells them: "Go in peace. The journey on which you go is under the eye of the Lord" (v. 6).

The Danite spies go back, reporting that the land is "very good" and that the people there seemed peaceable and "unsuspecting" (v. 10). The spies continued, "The land is spacious, for God has given it into your hands, a place where there is no lack of anything that is in the earth." So 600 armed Danite men went into the hill country and came to Micah's house. The spies told the other men about Micah's idols and the ephod and how Jonathan was the family priest, and they inquired of Jonathan while others sneaked behind his back into Micah's home and stole the ephod and the idols. Then the Danites persuaded Jonathan to leave with them, saying, "Is it better for you to be priest to the house of one man, or to be priest to a tribe and clan of Israel?" (v. 19). And Jonathan gladly left with them, taking the ephod and the idols with him.

Micah's men soon overcame the escaping Danites, and Micah accuses them of stealing his gods and his priest, asking what does he have left? (Besides all the people of his household and all his other riches, that is.) The Danites respond with a threat to take the lives of not only Micah, but of his entire household as well. Micah, not strong enough to beat them in battle, turned around and went home. Meanwhile, the Danites, taking Micah's idols and priest, struck down the people of Laish, burning the city. They later rebuilt the city and lived there, calling it Dan after their ancestor. And there in their new city they set up Micah's carved images and his priest.

REFLECTION: Micah starts out being a thief, and then ends up a victim of thieves. Obviously, Micah is very confused about how to worship God properly, and values his idols and the priest he himself consecrated so greatly that he is willing to face 600 armed Danites to try to get them returned to him. The trouble all lies in the phrase given in 17:6: "Everyone did what was right in his own eyes." When that happens, only wrong and evil will occur. It is when we do what is right in God's eyes that we can be truly blessed and can truly worship Him.

APPLICATION: The tribe of Dan took the easy way. They didn't fight for what was rightfully theirs, but took land that was good and peaceable and easier to obtain than their rightful inheritance. And the tribe of Dan eventually vanished into obscurity, probably from intermarriage with surrounding peoples. In fact, the tribe of Dan is not mentioned in Revelation when the rest of the tribes are listed. One of the applications of these chapters can be summarized well by the character of Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: "We will all have to make the choice between what is right and what is easy." The tribe of Dan chose the easy route, and their tribe disappeared into obscurity. Choosing that which is right in God's eyes is always the best course.

PRAYER: Father, help us to follow You, no matter the consequences. Help us to not try to find a way around difficulties, but rather to follow Your path, no matter how hard and/or dangerous it seems to us. Jesus chose to go forward to the cross for our sakes, scorning the shame, and we pray that You will prepare and strengthen us to do Your Will in every circumstance. In the Name of Christ our Lord and King, Amen.
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