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!”