Chapter 16 was the end of the first section, and we now come to the second section of the Book of Judges starting with Chapter 17. It is certainly set out of time sequence, and it was probably originally written by a different author. The circumstances dictate an early timeframe, but it was likely placed at the end to emphasize the theme of lack of control, whether internal or external. While Samuel is often credited with compiling the Book of Judges, but he simply consolidated earlier writings. As discussed in chapter 16, the events are written in a manner that would be difficult to believe were not from firsthand accounts.
One marked difference is the refrain “because there was no king in Israel” (v 6) that is given four times, and twice accompanied with “every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” No specific judge is mentioned. Rather, the concentration is upon the overall behavior of the people. In the previous section, it was often generalized as in “And the children of Israel did evil again in the sight of the LORD” and perhaps a list of gods they idolized. In this section, there are specific actions of evil outlined.
These specific actions reinforce the point that without God’s Holy Spirit, there is no sense of self-control. Self-control, or temperance, is listed as a fruit of the Spirit. The point that there was no physical king outlines the purpose of human government. Laws and rules are kept to a minimum when people are righteous. Enforcement is hardly necessary as well. However, government and the sword it carries are to deter evil doers and slow down the inevitable corruption that occurs in human societies (Ro 13:3).
Chapter 17 opens with an introduction to Micah of Mt Ephraim. Right away, we are given a picture of a pretty dysfunctional family.
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 cursedst, 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.
First, she curses whomever took her silver, but when she finds out it is her son, she blesses him. Notice the use of “the LORD” so freely abused in violation of the third commandment.
1 “‘If anyone sins because they do not speak up when they hear a public charge to testify regarding something they have seen or learned about, they will be held responsible.
It would appear that Micah did not immediately speak up when a public accusation and curse was uttered. However, that is not the worst of it. Notice that Micah restored the 1100 shekels of silver, but that is not what the Law required.
1 The LORD said to Moses: 2 “If anyone sins and is unfaithful to the LORD by deceiving a neighbor about something entrusted to them or left in their care or about something stolen, or if they cheat their neighbor, 3 or if they find lost property and lie about it, or if they swear falsely about any such sin that people may commit— 4 when they sin in any of these ways and realize their guilt, they must return what they have stolen or taken by extortion, or what was entrusted to them, or the lost property they found, 5 or whatever it was they swore falsely about. They must make restitution in full, add a fifth of the value to it and give it all to the owner on the day they present their guilt offering. 6 And as a penalty they must bring to the priest, that is, to the LORD, their guilt offering, a ram from the flock, one without defect and of the proper value.
There is no hint of a guilt offering, and there was no addition of “a fifth of the value”.
But, it gets worse.
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.
Now, there is intent to violate the second commandment, and there is still dishonesty even in light of that. She says the 1100 shekels were to be “wholly dedicated”. How large of a part is a whole? Seriously. It was “wholly dedicated”, but 200 shekels is a long way from 1100 shekels.
Micah was apparently a very religious man. Yes, I mean “religious” in the negative sense. It was all form without substance. Worse, even the form was not what God had commanded, and the religious actions were breaking God’s commandments. It is another case of doing what is right in one’s own eyes. It is exactly what much of “Christianity” does today by totally disregarding God’s desires and wishes and substituting the traditions of men (Mk 7:9, 13; et al).
This is the theme of the two trees of the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve decided for themselves what is right and what is wrong. They disregarded what God had commanded. All of us are paying a price for their sin, but much of the world still refuses to learn the lesson. Like Pharaoh of Egypt, they have hardened their hearts against what is truly right and good.
Micah had a “house of gods”, literally “elohim”. “Elohim” is a singular noun but in the sense of a grouping. Family is such a word as well. Elohim is often used to refer to the real God. Could it be that Micah was like many Protestants and Catholics today thinking they are worshipping the true God while totally missing the point? Was it the same type of syncretism which blended true worship with that of paganism?
12 Take heed to thyself, lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land whither thou goest, lest it be for a snare in the midst of thee:
13 But ye shall destroy their altars, break their images, and cut down their groves:
14 For thou shalt worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God:
15 Lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and they go a whoring after their gods, and do sacrifice unto their gods, and one call thee, and thou eat of his sacrifice;
16 And thou take of their daughters unto thy sons, and their daughters go a whoring after their gods, and make thy sons go a whoring after their gods.
17 Thou shalt make thee no molten gods.
Micah had gone as far as to have an ephod and appointed his son as a priest. Priests in Israel were to come from the line of Aaron of the tribe of Levi, not Ephraim.
It was chaos. There were no government controls and there was no self-control. As a result, everyone did what was right in his own eyes. That included whatever religious practices they desired. Everyone did their own thing. Sound familiar to any societies you know?
Micah’s fortunes were about to change. His son, an Ephraimite, was a priest instead of a Levite. However, a young Levite from Bethlehem travels to “where he could find a place” (v 8).
Why would he need a place? The Levites had no inheritance, and their livelihood depended upon the worship of the one true God. Therefore, once the people abandon the worship of the one true God, the Levite is pretty much without a sustainable living.
Micah runs into this Levite, and Micah invites him to his place to become a priest. From beggar to priest. It probably sounded like a pretty good deal to the Levite. The Levite “was content” to work and live there.
You have to wonder how Micah’s son reacted to all of this. However, we are not told.
12 And Micah consecrated the Levite; and the young man became his priest, and was in the house of Micah.
13 Then said Micah, Now know I that the LORD will do me good, seeing I have a Levite to my priest.
This is pretty much summed up in a very familiar Proverb.
12 There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.
~ Pr 14:12
Go on to Chapter 18 here.