Reflection: Judges 17
The two interrelated incidents in the last 5 chapters of Judges are quite unlike the rest of the book, but despite its chronological disconnect, the consistent refrain of “in those days there was no king in Israel” (17:6, 18:1, 19:1, 21:25) sets it in the same period of the judges (deliverers, saviours) Othniel to Samson; with their narratives of external threats due to Israel’s reversion to her idolatrous practices. Geographically, these incidents took place in the territory of the most prominent and powerful of the tribes, Ephraim – centrally located at the heart of the Israelite nation. This epilogue dealt with the internal threat to the nation’s survival resulting from her dereliction of spiritual theocracy and covenant, where everyone did as he saw fit (v.6). Sounds familiar!
The brazen attitude to Yahweh and His Law by the wealthy Micah and his mother, including the Levite is evidence of the national moral bankruptcy that was typical rather than exceptional at the time: (a) Micah stole from his own mother (v.2: broke the 5th & 8th Commandments, with no restitution nor a guilt offering made for atonement according to Leviticus 6:1-6); (b) his mother dedicated the recovered money to Yahweh, then contributed a portion of it towards a fabricated image or images, and retained a larger portion of the consecrated money, presumably for herself (vv.3-4: broke the 2nd Commandment, earned the Deuteronomic curse of 27:15,); (c) Micah made copies of the ephod and household gods for divinatory purposes (v.5: broke the 1st Commandment); (d) he appointed his own son as a priest over his ‘house of gods’ (v.5: broke the divinely ordained Levitical priestly rule in Num 8); and (e) the Levite’s opportunistic motivation to serve at an idolatrous sanctuary (v.10-12: broke the 1st Commandment). In Deuteronomy 12 (vv.5-7), God promulgated a specific place for Divine worship, and in this period, His tabernacle was at Ephraimite Shiloh – not far from where Micah lived. This immediately indicted Micah’s misguided lawlessness in setting up his own ‘holy place,’ and thinking that God would bless him as a result of it (v.13). Likewise, the Levite’s spiritual syncretism illustrated a frequent materialistic motif of a person whose integrity remains questionable as he can be bought, if the price is attractive enough. It is important to realize that the perversion of sin ultimately warps our relationship with God, and invariably leaves no other relationship whole, as this story unfolds with Micah’s world turning topsy-turvy (Judg 18).
The lack of familiarity with God’s Law and covenant in their most basic teachings contributed to their misplaced faith as they attempted to manipulate God’s favour by their dubious actions. Further, the apparent coincidence of the arrival of a Levite at his doorstep must have excited Micah, and possibly interpreted as a confluence of divine arrangement and approval for his household shrine (v.3,13). One would have thought that Micah (his name ironically means ‘Who is like Yahweh?’) and the Levite would have discerned the incongruity of their decisions. But like them, it is the rejection of God’s revealed will that ultimately results in man’s considerable efforts in seeking God-substitutes in their pursuit of happiness; and in due course, the intertwining nature of sin, coupled with the promotion of self, entrench us with our contemporary idols.
As created beings, our propensity to succumb to the slippery road of sinning against God is well nigh conceivable. Undoubtedly, a lack of appreciation with what the Lord has said in His Word about Himself and His way for His people today, will not only engender a superstitious worship of the true God, but also a perverted view of Him as someone like us; viz., our human characterization projected onto Him, in order to facilitate our puny earthy expectations and transactions with Him. Divine blessing depends entirely and very simply on God’s grace, and our devotion and loyalty to Him, together with our vision of Him is kept afresh only within the integrity of our relationship with Him, individually and corporately.