If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Judges 17, Acts 21, Jeremiah 30–31, Mark 16. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can’t do all the readings today, read Judges 17.
Judges 17 begins the last cycle of stories in the book of Judges, and it is a very dark series of stories. Like dominoes, one evil triggers another and things get bad for the people of Israel. The cycle starts with a man named Micah—not the one who has a book in the Minor Prophets named after him. This story begins with Micah confessing to his mother that he stole eleven hundred shekels of silver from her (v. 1-2a). She had responded to this theft by asking God to punish the thief with a curse (v. 17b). Maybe her words scared him or at least made him feel guilty about what he had done; whatever it was, something motivated him to confess. His mother’s response is perplexing to us. First she prayed a blessing from YHWH (the personal, covenant name of God) on Micah (v. 2c). Then she dedicated the silver Micah returned to the Lord, but as a gift to Micah. She made a graven image out of it, violating the Second Commandment but in the covenant name of God (vv. 3-4). Already we see that there is spiritual confusion among God’s people. Just a few generations removed from Joshua, people think they are worshipping God by violating his commands about idols.
Micah installed this idol in his little home shrine along side other idols (v. 5: “some household gods”) and made an “ephod,” which is a garment for Jewish priests to wear. God’s law taught that there is only one God, that God’s people were not to make graven images, that all sacrifices to God were to be made at the central sanctuary, the Tabernacle, and that those sacrifices were to be offered by the priests—sons of Aaron from the tribe of Levi. Against all these commands, Micah decided to worship many gods, in the form of idols, at his own home shrine and with his son installed as the priest (v. 5). Verse 6 described why this was so: “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.” The rule of Law should have been sufficient, but without a central leader to enforce the Law, people did their own thing.
In verse 7, a young man left Bethlehem looking for a new home (v. 8a). Notice that at the end of verse 7 the Bible tells us that he “been living within the clan of Judah.” Remember that all the priests were Levites—from the tribe of Levi but that the tribe of Levi had no land assigned to them. Instead, they were to spread out through all the tribes and towns of Israel and only go to serve in the Tabernacle during the times assigned to them. This is subtle, but really important. The priests and Levites were supposed to be everywhere, scattered all over Israel. The purpose was so they could teach God’s law to the people so that they wouldn’t do what Micah did here, namely whatever he “saw fit” (v. 6). This unnamed priest was looking for a new home, but when Micah heard his pedigree, he eagerly offered him a place to live and financial support (v. 10b). In exchange for this, he wanted the young Levite to “be my father and priest.” In other words, he wanted personal spiritual instruction and guidance (that’s what “my father” is suggesting) as well as someone to offer animal sacrifices to his collection of idols. This man, who knew better as a Levite, agreed (vv. 11-12). And Micah was very happy; having an honest-to-goodness authentic Levite as his personal priest legitimized, in Micah’s mind, his whole spiritual arrangement. In verse 13 he said, “Now I know that the Lord will be good to me, since this Levite has become my priest.” Once again he used the covenant, personal name of Israel’s God, YHWH in this statement. This indicates that he saw his actions not as idolatry but as evidence of his deep devotion to Israel’s God.
This chapter is just the beginning of the story of Micah; there is more to come. But it should serve as a warning to us. On one hand, here is a man who appears to have a deep commitment to worship because he was willing to devote some serious resources to worship. He put his money where his religion was, so spirituality was a strong concern for him. He even had some good, pious talk to go with it, invoking the covenant name of Israel’s God and claiming his idol and his whole religious thing to be devoted to that God. But despite his dedication and godly talk, he was sinning against the Lord. His approach to worship was manmade; it violated so many of the key tenets of Israel’s faith as revealed by Moses.
Furthermore, Micah’s motives were clear from his statement, “Now I know that the Lord will be good to me, since this Levite has become my priest.” There is nothing wrong—and everything right—with wanting God’s goodness. What assured him of God’s goodness in his life, however, was not the thing God promised to bless. It was not his deep faith in God, manifested in careful obedience to God’s laws. Instead, what assured Micah of God’s goodness to him was “…since this Levite has become my priest” (v. 13). In other words, when the Levite agreed to become his priest and sacrifice to his gods, Micah felt sure that things would go well for him in life. He saw the priest, in effect, as his “good luck charm” and he was certain that, with this Levite onboard, more and more prosperity would be headed Micah’s way.
Unfortunately, the kind of self-made spirituality in the name of the true God was not confined to this horrible episode in Israel’s history. Instead, there are always people in every era who proclaim to want to worship the true God but in their own ways. They may have the right name for God and some correct theology. They may desire deep spirituality and devote significant time and attention to it. They may have nice, pious talk; but their approach is all selfish. It is an approach to God that “clicks for them,” that makes sense to them, regardless of the fact that it violates a number of the clear commands of scripture. They may even employ well-pedigreed religious leaders and earnestly seek their wise counsel. But, despite all of this, their worship is vain; it is empty because it is a perversion of the true worship of God, not the true substance of biblical worship. We should beware of anyone who wants to baptize their approach to God in Christian language. It doesn’t matter if is a church that is 2000 years old or 2 years old; if it departs in its worship from God’s word, it is idolatry. Let’s be discerning, then, in the kinds of “Christian” authors and leaders we allow to influence us. Let’s be like the Bereans, listening carefully to those who purport to teach God’s word but, after listening carefully, do their own investigation of the scripture to see if the teaching is true or not.
Finally, this Levite was totally compromised as well. Instead of teaching this man what God’s law required and urging him to forsake his gods and follow after the true God of Israel, he accepted the nice stipend that was offered to him. He was more than willing to legitimize this man’s idolatry and disobedience because there was a steady paycheck in it.
Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we’ll talk scripture again tomorrow.