Judges 17 – Micah’s Idolatry
G. Campbell Morgan on Judges 17-21: “The events here recorded must have taken place closely following the death of Joshua. They give us a picture of the internal condition of the people, and it is probably that they were added with that intention by the historian.”
A. Micah makes a shrine for idols.
1. (1-2) He returns a large amount of stolen silver to his mother.
Now there was a man from the mountains of Ephraim, whose name was Micah. And he said to his mother, “The eleven hundred shekels of silver that were taken from you, and on which you put a curse, even saying it in my ears; here is the silver with me; I took it.” And his mother said, “May you be blessed by the Lord, my son!”
a. Now there was a man: Judges 17 and 18 present a detailed example of the spiritual confusion and sin in Israel during the days of the Judges. These two chapters show us just how bad things were.
b. Whose name was Micah: Micah, from the tribe of Ephraim, stole 1,100 shekels of silver from his mother and then returned them. His mother blessed her son for returning the money, even though he had originally taken it.
i. This account reveals a lot about the character of Micah, his mother, and the general spiritual state of Israel during this period.
ii. Judges 17:10 indicates that ten shekels a year was an adequate wage. Therefore, 1,100 shekels was a great fortune.
2. (3-4) Micah’s mother directs that some of the money be used to make an image to be used in worship.
So when he had returned the eleven hundred shekels of silver to his mother, his mother said, “I had wholly dedicated the silver from my hand to the Lord for my son, to make a carved image and a molded image; now therefore, I will return it to you.” Thus he returned the silver to his mother. Then his mother took two hundred shekels of silver and gave them to the silversmith, and he made it into a carved image and a molded image; and they were in the house of Micah.
a. To make a carved image and a molded image: Some believe this was an image of a false god (such as Baal or Ashtoreth). Others believe that it was an image representing Yahweh. Either way, God strictly forbade such an image, whether it was meant to represent the true God or not.
i. The gold calf that Aaron made was actually meant to represent Yahweh (Exodus 32:4-5). But this violated the second commandment: You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God (Exodus 20:4-5).
b. He made it into a carved image and a molded image: By his fallen nature, man wants to make God into his image. Many religious people carve their own concept of God and assume that this is the God of the Bible. It takes effort to understand and accept the God of the Bible.
i. The sense of this passage is that Micah did all this easily. It wasn’t hard to have an idol made in Israel at that time. This shows how Israel’s society was bent towards idolatry.
3. (5) Micah establishes an elaborate worship.
The man Micah had a shrine, and made an ephod and household idols; and he consecrated one of his sons, who became his priest.
a. Micah had a shrine: Micah first sets up a shrine – sort of a small temple, a place where others came to worship these idols.
b. And made an ephod: Micah imitated the worship at the true tabernacle of God by making an ephod. This was a specific garment worn by priests of Israel.
c. And household idols: In addition to this first idol, Micah also made household idols – literally, terephim – gods that were worshipped in hopes of gaining prosperity and guidance.
d. He consecrated one of his sons, who became his priest: Finally, Micah established an order of priesthood among his sons. In each of these, Micah did everything he could to set up a rival religion in Israel.
i. All of this came from Micah and not from God. This was a completely man-originated and man-centered religion. Therefore the purpose of the shrine, the beautiful ephod, the attractive idols, and the established priesthood was to serve and please man, not God. This pattern of man-pleasing religion continues to be common with many religions and churches today.
4. (6) A summarization of the spiritual state of Israel during the time of the Judges.
In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
a. There was no king in Israel: There was, in fact, a king in Israel – Israel should have recognized the Lord God as their King. But since Israel rejected God as King, they were without any good and effective leadership.
b. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes: This refers to the radical individualism that marked the time of the Judges. People looked to self for their guide to morality and ethics. The people genuinely felt that they did what was right, but they measured it only by their own eyes.
i. This is very much like the modern, “follow-your-heart” or “let-your-heart-be-your-guide” thinking. Modern culture regards this as the ideal state of society. Yet the Bible and common sense tell us that this kind of moral, spiritual, and social anarchy brings nothing but destruction.
· It seemed right to the eyes of Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit, but God said it was wrong.
· It seemed right to the eyes of the sons of Jacob to sell Joseph into slavery, but God said it was wrong.
· It seemed right to the eyes of Nadab and Abihu to offer strange fire before the Lord, but God said it was wrong.
· It seemed right to the eyes of King David to commit adultery with Bathsheba and cover it with murder, but God said it was wrong.
· It seemed right to the eyes of Judas to betray Jesus, but God said it was wrong.
ii. There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death (Proverbs 14:12). When man follows his own instincts – apart from the redeemed nature of the converted person – it leads to ruin. We need to follow God’s way, not our own.
B. Micah hires an unscrupulous Levite.
1. (7-8) An opportunistic Levite looking for employment.
Now there was a young man from Bethlehem in Judah, of the family of Judah; he was a Levite, and was staying there. The man departed from the city of Bethlehem in Judah to stay wherever he could find a place. Then he came to the mountains of Ephraim, to the house of Micah, as he journeyed.
a. There was a young man from Bethlehem: This man, as a Levite, had cities to live in and a place established by God for him to minister. Instead, he wanted to do what was right in his own eyes and went about offering himself as a priest for hire, wherever he could find a place.
b. Then he came to Ephraim, to the house of Micah: This explains how this particular Levite and the previously-mentioned Micah crossed paths.
2. (9-11) Micah hires the Levite.
And Micah said to him, “Where do you come from?” So he said to him, “I am a Levite from Bethlehem in Judah, and I am on my way to find a place to stay.” Micah said to him, “Dwell with me, and be a father and a priest to me, and I will give you ten shekels of silver per year, a suit of clothes, and your sustenance.” So the Levite went in. Then the Levite was content to dwell with the man; and the young man became like one of his sons to him.
a. Dwell with me, and be a father and a priest to me: Micah wanted this Levite to stay with him and work as a priest for him. He did this because he wanted to legitimize his personal shrine by having an officially recognized priest serving there. Deep down he knew that his idolatry was false and meaningless and he hoped that this would make it legitimate.
i. “Men crave for a priest. . . . Be my priest; say for me to God what I cannot say. The sacrifices offered by thy hands are more likely to avail with Him than those rendered by mine.” (Meyer)
b. I will give you ten shekels of silver per year, a suit of clothes, and your sustenance: So, for ten shekels and a suit of clothes, the Levite hired himself out to the idolatry of Micah. The Levite was a perfect example of a hireling, someone who served God (or an idol) for what it could give him, instead of serving to glorify the Lord.
i. There are many different ways that hirelings get what they want. The monetary hireling is obvious, but there are also emotional hirelings who get into the ministry because of their insecurities and their need for approval.
c. Then the Levite was content to dwell with Micah: The arrangements seemed perfect to everyone and Micah felt he had gained a son.
i. “Micah was attempting to maintain his relationship with God by violating the commands of God. The Levite degenerated into an attempt to secure his own material comfort by compromise.” (Morgan)
3. (12-13) A false consecration and a false confidence.
So Micah consecrated the Levite, and the young man became his priest, and lived in the house of Micah. Then Micah said, “Now I know that the Lord will be good to me, since I have a Levite as priest!”
a. So Micah consecrated the Levite: Micah’s consecration meant nothing at all. He had no authority from God to declare a renegade Levite as set apart (consecrated) by God to the service of this idolatrous shrine.
i. In this tragic account, each person is guilty of terrible sin. Yet we could say that the Levite was more guilty than Micah was. We can say this because the Levite was at least supposed to know the Word of God.
b. Now I know that the Lord will be good to me, since I have a Levite as priest! Micah’s confidence was just as false as his consecration was. They were both based on superstition, not on God’s Word.
i. We can say Micah was utterly sincere – but totally wrong. Sincerity is nice, but gets you nowhere if it is not coupled with truth. A person who sincerely thinks they can swim across the Pacific Ocean will drown just as surely as the person who isn’t as sincere.
©2013 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission