Gleanings from Judges [18]

The Depths of Israel’s Spiritual Depravity (Judges 17-18)

I return again to my devotional study of the book of Judges.

As I have been noting throughout my study, the book highlights what could be called the “Canaanization” of Israel. It began in the first few chapters of the book where we see the Israelites failing to drive out the Canaanites from the land of Israel. Rather than faithful obedience to the covenant YHWH made with them, the people flagrantly disobeyed.

– They were supposed to drive them from the land, but instead made treatise with them.
– They placed them under tribute for the purposes of getting money from them.
– Eventually, Israel began inter-marrying with their sons and daughters.
– And finally, they adopted the Canaanite religious practices, forsaken their covenant with God.

The book of Judges, which could also be called the book of Deliverers, focuses upon the main individuals God raised up to deliver Israel from their apostasy and judgment.

Coming to the last five chapters of the book, these chapters represent specific examples of apostasy. They contain significant events demonstrating a religious and spiritual degradation of Israel’s families, the tribes, and the Levitical priesthood.

The last five chapters are essentially appendices. They are taken out of historical sequence. The events described within the chapters took place early on during the time of Judges, perhaps within the historical background presented in chapters 1 and 2 when the tribes were to drive out the inhabitants.

The reason it is believed these final chapters record events that took place before the main book of Judges has to do with the tribe of Dan. Judges 1:34 states how Dan was unable to drive out the Amorites, resulting in their mass migration to the north. That tribe plays a prominent role in chapters 17-18, when they moved from the southern portion of Israel’s territory, to the northern boundary, way outside their allotted territory.

Additionally, there is the repetition of the statement, There was not king in Israel, 17:6, 18:1, 19:1, 21:25 and twice the phrase, Everyone did what was right in his own eyes, 17:6, 21:25. Those two statements not only provides a time marker when the events took place, in this case, before the monarchy, but it was also a comment on the spiritual conditions among the tribes. They had no unity around a monarch, which in turn means there was no king to lead them into sin. Their spiritual condition that is displayed in the last five chapters is all on the people. They show their religious corruption that resulted in their moral/ethical corruption.

Let’s first address Israel’s religious corruption beginning in chapter 17.

I. Corruption of a House, 17:1-6

Chapter 17 opens describing a man named Micah. His name, by the way, means, “who is like YHWH.”

He confesses his theft of his mother’s silver. Nothing is told as to why he took it; however, she had put a curse upon it and the person who stole from her. Her curse is rather superstitious, thinking that God is obligated to honor her threats. Likewise, Micah is superstitious as well, because when he returns the silver, he wasn’t necessarily repentant of his sin as he was fearful of the curse. His mother blesses him as a way of cancelling it out.

In these opening verses we see the spiritual decline of this household. Micah, the son, violated two of the ten commands, he did not honor his mother, and he was a thief, stealing from her.

His mother also violates the second commandment by making a graven image and by setting up a cultic center in their house. The family had good intentions for doing that, at least in their diluted thinking. The mother had dedicated the silver to God, so it had to be used in some religious fashion. So, they hired a silversmith to fashion an idol. Micah even made some religious artifacts to aid in the worship at their homemade shrine, including an ephod.

II. Corruption of the Priesthood, 17:7-13

We are then introduced to a young priest. The description of him being young suggests he may be new to his duties as a Levite. The Levites were to serve the people, and there were at least 48 cities in which to serve.

He was something of a wandering transient, however, going about looking for the highest bidder to pay for his services. There is no real sense of duty to God’s call on his life as a Levitical priest. His wandering took him to the mountains of Ephraim where he stumbled upon Micah and his make-shift false shrine.

Micah inquires as to who he was and where he is from and learns he is a Levite. Pleased with this news, he hires him to run his cultic center. Micah, with no sense of loyalty and integrity to God’s covenant, agrees to Micah’s offer and becomes his priest. Micah is excited, believing now God will truly bless him because he has a real, genuine priest for the service of his family.

III. Corruption of a Tribe, 18

Chapter 18 records the backstory of Dan’s migration to the north of Israel’s territory. After they could not defeat the Amorites as recorded in Judges 1:34, rather than seeking the LORD for help, the leaders sent spies up to the northern country to check out the availability of the land. While there, the spies happen upon Micah’s home and discover the Levite fake priest. They recognized him, inquired as to why he was there, and he in turn blessed their journey.

The spies learn that the area would be ripe for attack by the tribe of Dan. So they return back to their people with their report. The entire tribe moves, around 600 families.

Once they arrive, the five spies tell the others of Micah, his false shrine, and the priest that served him. They go to Micah’s house and talk the priest into joining them as the priest of the entire tribe. He readily agrees and packs up his shrine, idols, and ephod, and follows the men.

Micah, learning of his priest being kidnapped by the Danites, follows after them to complain about them taking his priest and idols. However, they basically laughed at him. They threaten his life and his entire family.  Way out numbered, there was nothing he could do but return to his home.

In all three of these episodes, we witness the spiritual decline of God’s people. A family foolishly, and against God’s command, set up a shrine to worship idols. A priest, who was supposed to be trained in the services of the covenant people, agrees to oversee this false worship center, and then the tribe of Dan, emboldened by their ability to take matters into their own hands by moving outside their allotted territory, employ the services of Micah’s wayward priest for creating an unlawful worship center for the entire tribe.

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