Judges 17

 

 

1 “And there was a man of mount Ephraim, whose name was Micah.”

We here light upon quite a different kind of history from that which has preceded.

We no longer have to do with judges and their mighty deeds in delivering Israel

from his oppressors, but with two detached histories, which fill up the rest of the

book, relating to the internal affairs of Israel. There is no note of time, except that

they happened before the time of Saul the king (v.6; 18:1), and. that Phinehas the

son of Eleazar was alive at the time of the occurrence of the second (ch.20:28).

Both, no doubt, are long prior to Samson. The only apparent connection of the

history of Micah with that of Samson is that both relate to the tribe of Dan, and

it may be presumed were contained in the annals of that tribe. Compare the

opening of the Books of Samuel (I Samuel 1:1) - Mount Ephraim; i.e. the hill c

ountry of Ephraim, as in ch.3:27; 7:24.

 

2 “And he said unto his mother, The eleven hundred shekels of silver

that were taken from thee,” – See ch.16:5, note - “about which thou cursedst,” –

The Cethib and the Alexandrian Codex of the Septuagint read, Thou cursedst, i.e..

adjuredst me, which is a better reading. There is a direct and verbal reference to the

law contained in Leviticus 5:1. The word thou cursedst here and the voice of swearing

 in Leviticus are the same root. It was in consequence of this adjuration that Micah

confessed his guilt. Compare Matthew 26:63, when our Lord, on the adjuration

of the high priest, broke his silence and confessed that He was Christ, the

Son of God. In Achan’s confession (Joshua 7:19-20) there is no distinct reference

to Leviticus 5:1, though this may have been the ground of it - “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:” -  It is not clear whether the words are to be rendered as

in the Authorized Version, had dedicated, expressing the dedication of

them before they were stolen, or whether they merely express her present

purpose so to dedicate them. But the A.V. makes very good sense. Her

former purpose had been that the money should be given for her son’s

benefit to make his house an house of gods. Now that he had confessed,

she resumed her purpose - “now therefore I will restore it unto thee.”

That is, in the shape of the graven and molten images, as it follows in the next

verse. The narrative gives a curious example of the semi-idolatry of the

times. A graven image and a molten image. There is a good deal of

difficulty in assigning the exact meaning of the two words here used, and

their relation to one another in the worship to which they belong. The

molten image (massechah), however, seems to be pretty certainly the

metal, here the silver, image of a calf, the form which the corrupt worship

of Jehovah took from the time when Aaron made the molten calf

(Exodus 32:4, called there ‘egel massechah, a molten calf) to the time

when Jeroboam set up the golden calves at Dan and Bethel (I Kings

12:28-29). And that massechah means something molten is certain both

from its etymology (nasach, to pour) and from what Aaron said in

Exodus 32:24: “I cast it into the fire, and there came out this calf.”

Here too Micah’s mother gives the silver to the founder, i.e. to the fuser of

metals. The pesel, or graven image, on the other hand, is something hewn

or graven, whether in wood or stone, and sometimes overlaid with gold

and silver (Deuteronomy 7:25). One might have thought, from the

language of v. 4, and from the mention of the pesel alone in ch.18:30-31, that

only one image is here intended, which was graven with the chisel after it was cast,

as Aaron’s calf seems to have been. But in ch.18:17-18 they are mentioned

separately, with the ephod and teraphim named between them, so that they must be

distinct. From the above passages the pesel or graven image would seem to have

been the most important object, and the difficulty is to assign the true relation of the

massechah or molten image to it. Hengstenberg thinks the massechah was

a pedestal on which the pesel stood, and that the ephod was the robe with

which the pesel was clothed, and that the teraphim were certain tokens or

emblems attached to the ephod which gave oracular answers. But this is

not much more than guess-work. Berthean considers the ephod, here as

elsewhere, to be the priest’s garment, put on when performing the most

solemn services, and specially when seeking an answer from God. And he

thinks that the massechah formed a part of the ornament of the ephod,

because in ch.18:18 the Hebrew has “the pesel of the ephod.” The

teraphin he thinks are idols, a kind of Dii minores associated with the

worship of Jehovah in this impure worship. But there does not seem to be

any means at present of arriving at any certainty. The massechah might be

a rich gold or silver overlaying of the wooden image, possibly movable, or

it might be the separate image of a calf supposed to belong, as it were, to

the pesel, and to symbolize the attributes of the Godhead.

 

4 “Yet he restored” -  Rather, so he restored, repeating what was said in v.3,

and adding the consequence, that his mother took two hundred shekels and gave

them to the founder - “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” –

It is a great puzzle to explain why two hundred shekels only are here spoken of,

and what became of the other nine hundred. Bertheau thinks the two hundred

were different from the eleven hundred, and were the fifth part of the whole

value stolen, which the thief, according to Leviticus 6:5, was bound to

give in addition to the principal. He therefore translates v. 4 thus: “So he

restored the money to his mother (and his mother took two hundred

shekels), and she gave it (the money 1100 shekels) to the founder,” etc.

Others understand that two hundred only were actually made into the

graven and molten image, and the other nine hundred were devoted to

other expenses of the worship - the house of Micah.”  This explains, Now

I will restore it unto thee, and, for my son to make, in v. 3.

 

5 “And the man Micah” -  It is impossible to say for certain whether the state of

things here described in respect of Micah preceded the events narrated in the

preceding verses, or was consequent upon them. If it preceded, then we have

the reason of his mother’s vow:  she wished to make her son’s “house of God”

complete by the addition of a graven and molten image. If it was consequent

upon his mother’s vow, then we have in the opening verses of this chapter a

history of the circumstances of the foundation of Micah’s “house of God,”

which was to play an important part in the colony of Danites, whose proceedings

are related in the following chapter, and for the sake of which this domestic history

of Micah is introduced “had an house of gods,” - Rather, of God (Elohim); for

the worship was of Jehovah, only with a corrupt and semi-idolatrous ceremonial

and made an ephod,” -   See 8:26-27, note - “and teraphim,” - See Genesis

31:19 (images, Authorized Version.; teraphim, Hebrew ); I Samuel 15:23 (idolatry,

A.V.; teraphim, Hebrew); 18:14 (an image, A.V.; teraphim, Hebrews); Hosea 3:4.

They seem to have been a kind of Penates, or household gods, and were used for

divination (Ezekiel 21:21; Zechariah 10:2) - “and consecrated one of his sons,

who became his priest.”  One function of the priest, and for which it is likely he

was much resorted to, was to inquire of God by the ephod (ch.18:5-6). What his

other duties might be does not appear.

 

6 “In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that

which was right in his own eyes.”  This must have been written in the days of

the kings of Israel and Judah, and perhaps with reference to the efforts of

such kings as Asa (I Kings 15:13) and Jehoshaphat (Ibid. ch.22:43)

to put down idolatry.

 

7 “And there was a young man out of Bethlehem-judah of the family

of Judah,” -  These words are difficult to explain. If the man was a Levite he

could not be of the family or tribe of Judah. Some explain the words to be merely

a more accurate definition of Bethlehem-judah, as if he would say, I mean

 Bethlehem in the tribe of Judah. Others explain them to mean that he was one

of a family of Levites who had settled in Bethlehem, and so came to be reckoned

in civil matters as belonging to Judah. Others, that he was of the family of Judah

on his mother s side, which might be the cause of his settling at Bethlehem. But

many commentators think them spurious, as they are not found in the

Septuagint (Cod. Vat.), nor in the Peschito, nor in No. 440 of De Rossi’s

MSS. The Septuagint has Bethlehem of the family of Judah - “who was a Levite,

and he sojourned there.”

 

8 “And the man departed out of the city from Bethlehem-judah” - Rather, out of.

The whole phrase means, out of the city, viz., out of Bethlehem “to sojourn where

he could find a place: and he came to mount Ephraim” -  the hill country of Ephraim,

as v. 1, where see note - “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

Bethlehem-judah, 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” -

This is not a common application of the word father in the Old Testament. The prominent

idea seems to be one of honor, combined with authority to teach and advise. It is applied

to prophets (II Kings 2:12; 6:21; 13:14), and to Joseph (Genesis 45:8).  The idea is

implied in the converse phrase of son, applied to those to whom the prophets stood in

the relation of spiritual fathers (see II Kings 8:9; Proverbs 4:10,20, and frequently

elsewhere). The abuse of the feeling which dictates the term as applied to human

teachers is reproved by our Lord (Matthew 23:9). It has been freely used in the

Christian Church, as in the titles papa or pope applied to bishops, abbot and abbas,

father in God,  fathers of the Church, etc. Here there is perhaps a special reference

to the function of Micah’s priest to ask counsel of God, and then give that counsel to

those who came to inquire (see note to v. 5). It may be added that the idea of

counsellor seems to be inherent in the word cohen or priest, as in II Samuel 8:18;

I Kings 4:5, etc. -  and a priest, and I will give thee ten shekels of silver by

the year, and a suit of apparel,” – There is great doubt as to the exact meaning

of the word rendered suit in this connection. The word means anything arranged,

 i.e. put in a rank, or row, or order. In Exodus 40:23 it is applied to the shewbread:

 “He ordered the bread in order.” Thence it came to mean the estimation or worth

of a person or thing — somewhat as we use the word rank. From this last

sense some interpret the word here to mean the worth or price of his

clothes. Others, including St. Jerome and the Septuagint, interpret it a pair

of vestments, meaning summer and winter clothing. But perhaps the A.V.,

suit, meaning the whole set of under and upper garments, is after all the

best interpretation -   “and thy victuals. So the Levite went in.” - The

Hebrew is went, i.e. according to the common use of the word, went his way.

And such is probably the meaning here. He went his way to consider the proposal

Made to him. The result is given in the next verse: And the Levite was content, etc.

 

11 “And the Levite was content to dwell with the man; and the young man was

unto him 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.  13  Then said

Micah,” - We may notice this incidental proof that the Levites in the time of Micah

held the religious position which is ascribed to them in the Pentateuch - “Now know

I that the LORD will do me good, seeing I have a Levite” -  Rather, the Levite,

meaning the particular Levite of whom it is the question. A Levite would be without

the article, as in v.7, or would be expressed as in ch.19:1 (Hebrew), a man a Levite -

 to my priest.”

 

 

The Superstitious Worship of the True God (vs. 1-13)

 

The natural history of religion is a very curious one. There is first the broad

division between worship given to false gods and that which is given to the

one-true and living God, Creator of heaven and earth. The heathen of old,

like the heathen of today, worshipped those that were no gods. Either they

had no existence at all, and were the creatures of man’s imagination,

divinities supposed to preside over the various powers of nature and the

affections of the human heart; gods of the weather, of the earth, and sea,

and sky; malignant spirits supposed to influence human destiny, and

requiring gifts to propitiate them: personifications of light, or death, or

even of criminal human passions; or else they were beings who had indeed

a real existence, — sun, moon, stars, stones, animals, angels, demons, or

the spirits of dead men, — but who were not God. This worship of false

gods we know from Holy Scripture, and from the annals of all nations, was

prevalent over the whole ancient world, and we know that it exists in

heathen lands to the present day. But that is not the form of corrupt

religion to which this chapter calls our attention, nor is it that into which

there is any probability of Christians falling in this nineteenth (21st – CY –

2012) century. We turn, therefore, to the varieties of the worship offered to the

one true God.  And first to look at the particular case before us. The mother of

Micah seems to have been in her way a devout woman. The scraping together

1100 shekels was probably not effected without considerable effort and

self-denial, for it was a large sum, eleven times the yearly wages of the Levite.

She meant to consecrate it to Jehovah, the God of Israel. She seems too to have been

a good mother, for she intended this consecration to be for her son’s benefit, and her

language and conduct, when her son confessed his guilt, were pious and forgiving. And

yet we find her disobeying the express command of God, and making a graven

and a molten image to be used in His worship and service. In like manner we

find Micah giving signs of a tender conscience and of the fear of God in

confessing his sin when adjured according to the law; we find him anxious

for the favor of God, and looking to Him to do him good; we find him

liberal and large-hearted in providing at his own expense for the worship of

God; and yet, with a strange inconsistency, we find him doing the very

things which God’s word forbad, and setting’ up images, and teraphim,

 and a superstitious ephod in a “house of God” of his own devising, and

under a priest of his own consecration. In like manner again we find even Aaron

making a golden calf for the people to worship, and saying (Septuagint), or

encouraging the people to say, “This is thy God, O Israel, which brought

thee up out of the land of Egypt(Exodus 32:4), and building an altar before

 it, and keeping a feast in its honor. We read of the golden calves of Jeroboam,

and we read too of the high places and the sacrifices upon them even under

the pious kings. These then are distinct examples of the superstitious

worship of the true God, and lead us to the anxious question, how we are

to worship God. Under the Old Testament this was not left to chance or

human choice. In the nonage of the Church, before the coming of Christ,

all the ordinances of Divine service were prescribed with MINUTENESS

and EXACTNESS.. The sanctuary itself, the Aaronic priesthood, the Levitical

ministrations, the feasts of the Lord, the gifts and offerings and devotions

of the people, were all ordered by THE AUTHORITY OF THE WORD

OF GOD!   But under the New Testament, when the fullness of the time is come,

and the Church has entered into the full possession of the privileges of adopted

sons, it is so no longer. Besides a few general principles and broad rules,

and the institution of the two sacraments (baptism and the Lord’s Supper), and

the Lord’s Prayer, the Church has received from Holy Scripture no form of Divine

service. She has to frame her rules and canons of Divine worship according to the

light and wisdom vouchsafed to her by the Holy Spirit of God. In doing this she

must have regard to two things:

 

  • The character and mind of God, so that the worship may be of a kind

that will be pleasing and acceptable to Him.

 

  • The nature and character of man, so that the worship may be of a kind

to assist the worshipper to raise his heart to God, and impress him with a

sense of THE MAJESTY, HOLINESS and GOODNESS OF GOD!

 

 With regard to the first, the general intimations of Him who alone knows the things

of God, even the Holy Spirit of God, are very clear. God is a spirit, and they

that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24)..

“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart,

O God, thou wilt not despise” (Psalm 51:17).  Let us offer the sacrifice of

 praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to

His name” (Hebrews 13:15), “To do good and to communicate forget not:

for with such sacrifices God is well pleased” (Ibid. v. 16 – see too Micah 6:6-8).

Every attempt to substitute costly gifts, or gorgeous ceremonies, or showy

processions, or lights, or music, or gestures, or anything bodily and

 sensuous, for the ritual of  repentance, faith, fear, love, and self-consecration —

consecration of the will and affections — to the service of Almighty God can

only be made in ignorance of His character and mind as revealed to us

in Holy Scripture. It is as truly superstitious as were Micah’s images, and teraphim,

and ephod, and house of God.

 

With regard to the second, the outward accessories of worship must be of a kind

to assist the worshipper in his endeavor to draw near to God and worship

Him with all the powers of his soul. Under the pretence of purely spiritual

worship, it is very easy so to get rid of all outward acts and circumstances

as to get rid of worship itself. The light of religion in the soul cannot burn

unless in an atmosphere which feeds the flame. Reverence and awe, prayer

and praise, forgetfulness of the world, and thoughts of heaven need to be

quickened and encouraged by the posture of the body, by the words of the

lips, by sights and sounds expressive of those invisible things which the

soul seeks to handle in its approaches to the throne of God. It is therefore a

legitimate subject of consideration what forms of worship are most

calculated to increase and heighten the devotion of the worshippers. Forms

which tend merely to please the senses are WORTHLESS; forms which

 tend to soothe the conscience of the impenitent, and to stifle its

questionings by creating a feeling of duty performed and of satisfaction

 made to God, are PERNICIOUS and forms which so fill the thoughts as to

the manner of performing them as to leave no room for thoughts of God are

 injuries rather than benefits to the soul!  Forms, again, which leave the soul

self-satisfied, which convey a false impression of God’s favor and grace being

given when he is really displeased and offended, and which comfort and

encourage those who ought to be horribly afraid and trembling for fear of

God’s judgments, are manifestly destructive of the souls of those for whose

benefit they purport to exist. A faithful Church will root up all such as

DISHONORING TO GOD  and as VERY HURTFUL TO MAN!   One

other characteristic of superstitious worship must be noted. It is compatible with

vice, and with the dominion of sin in the heart. Superstition has no tendency to

correct the principles of action, or to purify the thoughts and affections

of the inner man. The sequel of Micah’s history supplies a notable instance of this.

The Danites, in their superstitious desire to possess the images of Micah’s

chapel, and the religious services of Micah’s priest, scrupled not to break

the commandments of God by stealing, and, if need were, by committing

murder. Stealing sacred relics and transporting them by guile or violence

from one religious house to another is a well-known form of mediaeval

superstition. The brigands in the mountains of Italy have been often known

to kneel before an image of the Virgin, and ask the blessing of the priest or

bishop, and then return to their work of plunder or murder. Superstition is

no check upon the passions, and no bar to the reckless pursuit of what

men deem to be their interests or know to be their desires. There is no gulf

between superstitious worship and immoral conduct. The man who

mistakes the aspect of God towards superstitious vanities is prone to

mistake also His aspect towards moral disorder and sin. But he who really

enters into the tabernacle of God and communes with God in spirit, comes

forth with his face shining with inward righteousness, THE REFLECTION

OF GOD’S GLORY IN THE FACE  OF JESUS CHRIST!  (II Corinthians

4:6).   His life is a continuation of his prayers, his praise culminates in good works.

In the interests of moral goodness, as well as for the honor of God, it is of supreme

importance that the worship of the Almighty be free from superstition.  “God is

a Spirit and they that worship Him must worship Him in Spirit and in

Truth.”  (John 4:24)  “For without faith it is impossible to please Him,

for he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a

rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.”  (Hebrews 11:6)

 

 

The History of a Man-Made Ministry (vs. 1-13)

 

It belongs to the main design of the book to show how the various disruptive

tendencies of a religious and social nature increased unchecked when “there was no

king in Israel (v.6).  The book begins with a note of unity — “the children of

Israel asked Jehovah” (ch. 1:1).  Repeated idolatrous defections are chronicled,

and mention made of the setting up of an ephod in Ophrah: the city of Gideon, and

its evil consequences (ch. 8:27).  In one respect the schisms from the national religion

were even more dangerous than complete departure from it. The unity of Israel was

thus destroyed (I Kings 16:21; and so in America in the late 20th century with

the judicial conflicts over separation of church and state – a la – red and

blue states -   see map below  - CY – 2012)

       

2004 Presidential Election by Counties USA Today

(This seems distorted because of blue areas

having more population than red areas)

 

in its chief sanction and sign, the universal sacrifice and confession at Shiloh.

Another of these schismatic points of departure is here related. The

description is full of realistic force, and is governed by the dogmatic

purpose of exposing the immoral motives of it, and thus discrediting it in

the eyes of every true Israelite. It is exposed as the private and selfish

appropriation of a national blessing. As the political unity of Israel

depended upon maintaining a central religious authority and a uniform

ritual and priesthood, the setting up of a house of gods was in itself,

irrespectively of its motives, a crime of the first magnitude. The New

Testament idea of Church and ministry is different. There the unity of the

Spirit is the prevailing aim. But whenever separation originates in similar

motives to those here depicted, the sin of schism equally exists.

 

  • THE CHARACTER OF ITS AUTHORS. Avaricious mother, dishonest

son. Both superstitious. Not honesty, but fear of a curse, actuates Micah to

restore the “eleven hundred shekels.” The getting back of the money is the

chief concern of the mother, and so she straightway blesses whom she had

cursed (compare James 3:10). Only 200 shekels are actually appropriated to

the end proposed.

 

  • ITS MOTIVES. Apparently the warding off of the curse is the first

concern with both. But an equally powerful motive was the securing of the

gain resulting from fees and gifts. In this way they would become rich.

Where the aim is selfish and impure, the character of the worship becomes

of secondary consequence, and the latent tendency towards idolatry begins

to show itself. It is the motive that is of chief concern in questions of

religion. Everything else will be dominated by this: “Is it for self, or is the

glory of God my chief aim?” Founders of churches and religious

institutions, and candidates for the ministry, should examine themselves ere

they are committed to the work upon which they have set their hearts.

 

  • THE COMPLEXION OF THE WORSHIP. It is a “house of gods,”

containing a “graven image and a molten image,” an ephod, and

teraphim, which is the outcome of their religious or superstitious zeal. In its

nature eclectic, in the crudest sense of the word, this system of religious

worship is on the face of it a sacred means TO A VULGAR,

SECULAR END!   The house became a place of irregular worship,

of soothsaying and divination.

 

  • THE INSTRUMENT OF THEIR DESIGNS. A son is the first

expedient in the direction of a priesthood; but this is not considered

sufficiently authoritative. Accident throws in the way a young Levite of

Bethlehem-judah, who appears to have taken to a wandering life

Through discontent, curiosity, idleness, or restlessness. A shiftless,

unscrupulous, easily impressible character, in a needy condition, and with

the Levitical status, just the fitting occupant of such an office. The undue

influence of Micah is thus secured permanently. Promising that he should

be a “father and a priest” (v. 10), and receive clothing, board, and

ten shekels” wages, to the needy adventurer “making his way” he

thus becomes patron; and the promised standing of the priest relatively to

Micah is soon reversed — he “was unto him as one of his sons” (v.11).

The consecration too is from Micah. The good and the evil of patronage,

private and otherwise, in religion; the dependence of the ministry —

like people like priest” (Hosea 4:9); the question of “consecration”

and “orders.”

 

  • THE SUPERSTITIOUS PRESUMPTION OF FALSE RELIGION.

There is the more care as to the external ritual, the priestly “succession,”

etc. in proportion to the earthliness of the underlying motive.

 

Ø      Where the heart is wrong undue reliance is placed upon

externals in religion. The priest’s advantage of descent was

vitiated by his becoming a mercenary and a schismatic.

Rites and ceremonies are multiplied in default of the “Presence”

at Shiloh and its simple service. The ERROR is in placing

the virtue in the EXTERNAL OBSERVANCES  instead of

THE REALITY OF WORSHIP,  purity of life and motive,

and THE PRESENCE OF THE SPIRIT OF GOD!  

 

Ø      Jehovah is supposed to countenance a religion which is

essentially opposed to Him. God cannot take rank or be

associated with other gods. His glory must be the chief object

of the worshipper, the priest, and the patron. Selfish aims,

disobedience to HIS CLEARLY REVEALED WILL

CONCERNING HIS SERVICE AND HIS CHURCH  

CAN NEVER RECEIVE HIS BLESSING!  Yet observe

the self-deception of Micah. He does not see all this, or the

evils soon to come upon him. On the other hand, the pure in

heart” shall see God. (Matthew 5:8)  His presence is independent

of the external completeness, etc. of ritual. True priesthood is a

DIVINE UNCTION and not a human monopoly.

 

 

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