The last five chapters of the book, Judges 17-21, form a separate part. They are not a historical sequel to the previous chapters, but show something of the spiritual and social climate within the people of the land during the entire period in which the book of Judges plays. In those chapters two more histories are described, the first in Judges 17-18, the second in Judges 19-21.
In these sections we do not read about judges. Nor is there any oppression and a period of time is not given. It is very likely that the events described took place at the beginning of the period of judges. This can be deduced from Judges 18 where there is a grandson of Moses (Jdg 18:30) [it is assumed that Manasseh must be Moses; see Judges 18:30], while in Judges 20 the name of Phinehas the high priest is mentioned (Jdg 20:28), a grandson of Aaron, who has already reached adulthood during the wilderness journey. This seems to confirm that both the events of Judges 17-18 and those of Judges 19-21 should be set in the beginning of the period that the judges judged.
The fact that they are described only here is proof that not only the way in which events are depicted is Godly inspired, but also that their classification, the order, is equally Godly inspired. What appears at first sight to be disorder, appears on closer inspection to confirm the perfection of the Word of God. The fact that it is only here that these events are brought to the fore is intended to illustrate the moral and religious fall of the people of God during the entire period covered by the book of Judges.
It is even possible that in time order Judges 17-18 must be placed after Judges 19-21. That first the history of Micah and the tribe Dan is written is a confirmation of this. God wants to show us that leaving or replacing Him (Judges 17-18) also has a dramatic effect on the relationships among His people (Judges 19-21).
The people are controlled by a spirit of self-willingness throughout the entire period of this book. Because there is no inhibitory influence – “in those days there was no king in Israel” (Jdg 17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25), – gives that spirit free rein to all kinds of excesses. Is it a miracle then that the people repeatedly deviate from God and sin? These last five chapters thus form the dark background against which everything that takes place in this book must be seen.
In the history of Judges 17-18 we get a painting of the religious decay of the people. In Judges 17 we see how a religious system is set up by a person for the benefit of his family, while Judges 18 describes how this system is introduced in an entire tribe.
God tells us everything without punishing or even expressing His displeasure. The assessment is left to our mental discernment.
What we find in these two chapters are
1. a man-made god,
2. humanly organized worship; and
3. a man-made priesthood.
It is a striking description of what we see around us today in ritualistic Christianity.
1 - 2 Micah and His Mother
1 Now there was a man of the hill country of Ephraim whose name was Micah. 2 He said to his mother, “The eleven hundred [pieces] of silver which were taken from you, about which you uttered a curse in my hearing, behold, the silver is with me; I took it.” And his mother said, “Blessed be my son by the LORD.”
When we are on holiday in a foreign land and we want to get a good idea of the everyday life of the people, it is best to take a look at an ordinary family. The Spirit of God takes us to a family that has probably not been noticed by any particular achievement. It is a model for the majority of the families in Israel. What we see there, if we disregard God’s thoughts about family life, is not something that we are turned upside down from.
We see a son who steals money from his mother, but fortunately gives it back. And see how the mother reacts. She blesses her son and even sanctifies a part for the LORD. All of this seems to be blessed by the LORD, for in their house religion they receive even reinforcement from a real Levite. That is how we can look at this family.
However, if we hold this family against the light of the Bible, things will be very different. Before we do that, we have to be aware that we ourselves are also being scrutinized. Otherwise we miss the lesson God wants us to learn through this history. For also “these things happened as examples for us … and they were written for our instruction” (1Cor 10:6,11). In Micah and his mother the corruption becomes public that can be present in a house or family. This is where sin arises, which will later affect an entire tribe. Sin spreads like leprosy.
It all starts somewhere in the hill country of Ephraim. We have been there before in this book. This area has played an important role in the successes of Ehud, Deborah and Gideon (Jdg 3:27; 4:5; 7:24). The man who lives there listens to the beautiful name Micah, which means “who is equal to the LORD”. Unfortunately he does not act according to the meaning of his name.
The whole people of Israel should be a ‘Micah’ for the people around them, but it has become a people with a house full of idols, like the house of Micah. It is no different in Christianity. How many people adorn themselves with the name ‘Christian’, saying that they belong to Christ, while organizing their lives as they see fit?
It seems that we are dealing here with a single-parent family, as we have so many of them today. In any case, no mention is made of the father. If a single-parent family is the result of sin, for example with a ‘dum’ wife (‘deliberately unmarried mother’) or divorce, this irrevocably affects the relationship between parent and child if repentance and conversion do not take place.
It is the same in the house of Micah. The relationship between mother and son is not exactly healthy. The son has no respect for his mother and her property, he steals eleven hundred pieces of silver from her. That is a fortune, given what we read in verse 10, where Micah offers the Levite a yearly salary of ten pieces of silver. However, he gives her this money back. He does not do this because his conscience has come to speak and he has gotten remorse and repentance from his deed. The only reason is his fear of the curse his mother has spoken about the thief. Superstition always becomes stronger when the fear of God is weak.
If he gives the money back, mother does not make any accusations. On the contrary, she blesses her stealing son who does not repent at all. She blesses, not because the son repents, but because she has her money back. “From the same mouth come [both] blessing and cursing. …, these things ought not to be this way” (Jam 3:10-11). She even cites the name of the LORD in her blessing. That gives the whole the impression that God is happy with all this. It is a typical example of the vain use of the name of the LORD.
In this one verse we see several deviations from God. With such relationships in the families, things go from bad to worse for the people as a whole. There is no other way. If such things are found in the families, each of which is only for its own benefit, it means the downfall of the whole people.
3 - 4 A Graven Image and a Molten Image
3 He then returned the eleven hundred [pieces] of silver to his mother, and his mother said, “I wholly dedicate the silver from my hand to the LORD for my son to make a graven image and a molten image; now therefore, I will return them to you.” 4 So when he returned the silver to his mother, his mother took two hundred [pieces] of silver and gave them to the silversmith who made them into a graven image and a molten image, and they were in the house of Micah.
The mother is so happy that she has the money back, that she immediately gives the whole amount to the LORD. She wants to have images made of it. By this she connects idol service with the service of the LORD. She does not seem to have the slightest problem with this. What this expresses is that she makes herself a religion according to her own thoughts. She also involves her son who totally participates in it. There is no thought of what God has said: “You shall not make for yourself an idol” (Exo 20:4). Their conscience does not seem to speak in any way.
Conscience is also not a measure of whether you are in the way of God or not. Perhaps her conscience would even have sued her if she had not made an image. A conscience can only work well if it is formed by the Word of God. For example, there are many within the roman-catholic church who visit mass and confess because otherwise their conscience will bother them. It is imprinted in them that only in this way you are accepted by God. Satan has managed in many cases to get the conscience of the religious man on his side.
There is talk of a graven image and a molten image. Both represent something. A graven image is the product of the activity of the human mind. What he knows about God, he works out in his own way without taking into account any revelation from God. It is to fill in the serving of God according to one's own idea, in a way that makes one feel good personally.
A molten image can be easily multiplied. It is religion cast in a certain form and introduced everywhere. They are the fixed forms in our prayers and worship. They are opposite to what is living and fitting in the light of the revelation God has given of Himself in His Word.
It is dead orthodoxy, the religion that consists only of forms, where everyone is expected to comply with it and which can easily be complied with. They can be written down and anyone can adhere to them. Those who comply with these commandments can reassure their conscience and believe that God is also satisfied with it. One can check oneself and one another and measure the state of one’s religion.
In both cases it is a religion that does not cost anyone everything. The mother does not give everything. Although she has set everything apart for the LORD – that is the meaning of the word “dedicate” – she gives only a part of it. That is always the hallmark of idolatry, something that is a production of its own: it does not cost everything. The man who goes to mass obediently, or to the meetings of the believers, or fulfills other religious obligations – regardless of whether they have been imposed on him, or whether he has imposed them on himself – may, in such a system, do for the rest of the day what he wants.
5 Micah’s Shrine
5 And the man Micah had a shrine and he made an ephod and household idols and consecrated one of his sons, that he might become his priest.
When making an idol, which is a representation of God according to one’s own imagination without taking into account what God says about Himself in the Bible, there belongs also a certain form of worship. This is expressed in the ephod that Micah makes. An ephod is in fact a garment of the priest. Together with the ephod he makes household idols to have them as a kind of house gods. It doesn’t matter what replaces God, as long as He is replaced. He also consecrates one of his sons as a priest.
In all Micah’s actions there is an appearance of his self-willed worship of his self-made gods. It is one great mixture of the true religion with the false religion, making the whole a corrupt religion. The consecration of his son as a priest shows how far he has deviated from the precepts of God, which say that only sons of Aaron’s family can be priests.
Just like Micah, the roman-catholic church has also appointed its own ‘sons’ as priests, without any demand for new life from God. In Christianity only believers are priests and all believers together form a holy priesthood (1Pet 2:5). They are because God says it in His Word. There is no human appointment involved.
6 Do What Is Right in His Own Eyes
6 In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes.
If the people forget that God is their King, there is a lack of sound authority. In addition, there is a wrong authority, that of conscience. The Word of God, to know what He thinks of it, is not asked. Everyone does what he thinks is right.
A king, someone with superior authority, would have brought all to the same mind. They forgot God as such, they even rejected Him. When our hearts are turned toward the Lord Jesus, we are kept from doing what is good in our own eyes.
7 - 13 The Levite from Bethlehem
7 Now there was a young man from Bethlehem in Judah, of the family of Judah, who was a Levite; and he was staying there. 8 Then the man departed from the city, from Bethlehem in Judah, to stay wherever he might find [a place]; and as he made his journey, he came to the hill country of Ephraim to the house of Micah. 9 Micah said to him, “Where do you come from?” And he said to him, “I am a Levite from Bethlehem in Judah, and I am going to stay wherever I may find [a place].” 10 Micah then said to him, “Dwell with me and be a father and a priest to me, and I will give you ten [pieces] of silver a year, a suit of clothes, and your maintenance.” So the Levite went [in]. 11 The Levite agreed to live with the man, and the young man became to him like one of his sons. 12 So Micah consecrated the Levite, and the young man became his priest and lived in the house of Micah. 13 Then Micah said, “Now I know that the LORD will prosper me, seeing I have a Levite as priest.”
The generally prevailing spirit of anarchy also inspires a Levite from Bethlehem. His name is Jonathan. He is a grandson of Moses (Jdg 18:30). Bethlehem is not one of the forty-eight Levite cities. Yet the man is staying there. But driven by restlessness he moves on. Bethlehem, which means ‘bread house’, apparently does not give him what he expected of it.
He departs not to seek the place of the LORD, but a place for himself. A saying from Proverbs 27 seems to apply to him: “Like a bird that wanders from her nest, So is a man who wanders from his home” (Pro 27:8). He gives up his real, God-given dwelling place and security to become a vagabond. There is no trace of dependence on the LORD in his life.
The fact that the Levite also does ‘what is right in his eyes’ is mainly shown by the fact that he allows himself to be appointed as a priest. The task of a Levite is to help the priest bringing the sacrifices. A Levite is not allowed to be a priest and is not allowed to sacrifice.
But our Levite doesn’t mind. When he ends up at Micah’s on his journey and he offers him a contract for a job that suits him beautifully, with good working conditions, he doesn’t hesitate for a moment. Maybe he has thought that the LORD has made his way prosperous. All he has to do is to fulfill the religious duties of Micah.
Micah is then rid of that worry, while he is also happy that he now has a real Levite as a private priest. He believes that by this he has assured himself of the blessing of the LORD. Micah hires him, ordains him and pays him. Thus the Levite becomes a clergy man.
By this, Micah gives his idolatry a very religious appearance and character. The Levite takes care of the religious affairs, so that Micah is free from them. He gives him a year’s salary, with which he hires the Levite for a long time and therefore does not have to worry about spiritual matters for that time. A real Levite becomes a false priest.
In Protestantism, a Levite is also made a priest, someone who, in return for payment, performs religious acts for the benefit of others. The Levite becomes a mercenary and thus a clergy, the clericalism comes into being. The service of and for God is reduced here to something for which there is a commercial basis.
Without commenting on the sincere and noble motives with which one thinks one should hold an official clerical position, it is clear that the Bible does not speak of such a position. The Bible does not mention the performance of religious acts in return for payment, with the side effect that the payer can think that he is relinquishing his own obligations towards God.
No man can take the place between God and His children. There is only “one God, [and] one mediator also between God and men, [the] man Christ Jesus” (1Tim 2:5). It is the Lord Jesus through whom we “draw near to God …, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb 7:25).