JUDGES 17 & 18
MICHAH: CULT LEADER
17:1-5 Micah Creates A Cult
1 Now a man named Micah from the hill country of Ephraim 2 said to his mother, "The eleven hundred shekels [a] of silver that were taken from you and about which I heard you utter a curse—I have that silver with me; I took it." Then his mother said, "The LORD bless you, my son!" 3 When he returned the eleven hundred shekels of silver to his mother, she said, "I solemnly consecrate my silver to the LORD for my son to make a carved image and a cast idol. I will give it back to you." 4 So he returned the silver to his mother, and she took two hundred shekels [b] of silver and gave them to a silversmith, who made them into the image and the idol. And they were put in Micah's house. 5 Now this man Micah had a shrine, and he made an ephod and some idols and installed one of his sons as his priest. 6 In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.
The end of the story of Samson appears to be the end of the story of the judges. However, the book contains two more stories that serve as sort of appendices to describe what life was like during the period and how some bad things happened. The first story shows idol worship coming into Israel. Although these stories come after the stories about the judges, that does not mean they are about events that came after the time of the judges. In fact, it appears they may have occurred soon after the time of Joshua. This first story may be included to explain how idol worship came to exist in Israel or, particularly in the tribe of Dan.
Micah was a thief and, possibly, a pagan. He stole silver from his own mother, but returned it for some reason, maybe because he was afraid of her curse. In gratitude, she consecrated the silver to the Lord, but by having an idol made to give to her son. I don’t know if the idol was to represent the Lord or a pagan god. Some think that it was a golden calf, representing the Lord, as the Israelites had made under Aaron. Jeroboam later built golden calves for the people to worship and set them in this general area, according to 1 Kings 12:28. I
It shows that we can do things in the name of the Lord that do not honor him. The Lord gave strict instructions about making idols, but she makes one anyway under the guise of consecrating the silver to the Lord. Read Exodus 20:4-6. It is repeated in Deuteronomy 5:8-10.
Michah was already a cult leader. He already had idols and a shrine. He made an ephod, as Gideon would do, and began to have worship at his house. The priests ordained by God wore an ephod, made by God’s own specifications. You can read about the Ephod in Exodus 28-29 and 39. Most cults take things from the worship of God and incorporate them or pervert them for their own use. Micah then decided he needed a priest of his own, so he installed his son.
Micah violated God’s law by making idols, by conducted worship at his house rather than the tabernacle, and by setting up a priesthood other than that of Aaron’s descendants.
Verse 6 tells us there was not much law or order, because there was no king. Everyone did as he saw fit. They seemed to be ignorant of the law, or were in rebellion against it. This adds to our assumption that part of the reason for writing the book of Judges was to tout the superiority of the Davidic kingdom over the reign of the Judges.
17:7-13 Micah Steals a Levite
7 A young Levite from Bethlehem in Judah, who had been living within the clan of Judah, 8 left that town in search of some other place to stay. On his way [c] he came to Micah's house in the hill country of Ephraim. 9 Micah asked him, "Where are you from?"
"I'm a Levite from Bethlehem in Judah," he said, "and I'm looking for a place to stay."
10 Then Micah said to him, "Live with me and be my father and priest, and I'll give you ten shekels [d] of silver a year, your clothes and your food." 11 So the Levite agreed to live with him, and the young man was to him like one of his sons. 12 Then Micah installed the Levite, and the young man became his priest and lived in his house. 13 And Micah said, "Now I know that the LORD will be good to me, since this Levite has become my priest."
Micah then found himself a Levite at large. For some reason, the young man had left his town and was looking for somewhere to live. Micah hired him to be his priest. Then, he invoked the name of the LORD for his good fortune, even though he was worshipping idols. He knew the Levites were consecrated to the Lord, so he figured it a blessing to have one of his own.
18:1-2 The Danites Invade Ephraim
1 In those days Israel had no king. And in those days the tribe of the Danites was seeking a place of their own where they might settle, because they had not yet come into an inheritance among the tribes of Israel. 2 So the Danites sent five warriors from Zorah and Eshtaol to spy out the land and explore it. These men represented all their clans. They told them, "Go, explore the land." The men entered the hill country of Ephraim and came to the house of Micah, where they spent the night.
The writer reminds us again that Israel had no king. The Danites got off the reservation, so to speak, and left the territory allotted to the tribe of Dan, seeking land in Ephraim. Judges 1:34 tells us the Amorites had run them out of their valley and into the hills and kept them from moving back down. Presumably, a king would have kept this from happing. The tribe of Dan had been awarded land going all the way to the sea, but had been unable to dislodge the Philistines, so they went looking elsewhere for land.
18:3-13 The Scouting Party
3 When they were near Micah's house, they recognized the voice of the young Levite; so they turned in there and asked him, "Who brought you here? What are you doing in this place? Why are you here?" 4 He told them what Micah had done for him, and said, "He has hired me and I am his priest." 5 Then they said to him, "Please inquire of God to learn whether our journey will be successful." 6 The priest answered them, "Go in peace. Your journey has the LORD's approval." 7 So the five men left and came to Laish, where they saw that the people were living in safety, like the Sidonians, unsuspecting and secure. And since their land lacked nothing, they were prosperous. Also, they lived a long way from the Sidonians and had no relationship with anyone else. 8 When they returned to Zorah and Eshtaol, their brothers asked them, "How did you find things?" 9 They answered, "Come on, let's attack them! We have seen that the land is very good. Aren't you going to do something? Don't hesitate to go there and take it over. 10 When you get there, you will find an unsuspecting people and a spacious land that God has put into your hands, a land that lacks nothing whatever." 11 Then six hundred men from the clan of the Danites, armed for battle, set out from Zorah and Eshtaol. 12 On their way they set up camp near Kiriath Jearim in Judah. This is why the place west of Kiriath Jearim is called Mahaneh Dan [c] to this day. 13 From there they went on to the hill country of Ephraim and came to Micah's house.
The scouting party knew the Levite, and, since he was acting as a priest, asked him to inquire of the Lord for them. He conveyed the Lord’s approval, although we aren’t told if he really consulted the Lord or if the Lord really approved. So the scouting part continued on and found Sidonians living in Laish. Laish was a city in the far north. They decided the Sidonians were vulnerable to attack, so they went and reported this to the whole clan. They then returned to attack, stopping again where the Levite lived.
Note also that the Danites violated God’s prescription on how to conquer the land. They were to destroy the seven Canaanite nations mentioned in Deuteronomy 7:1. To the others, they were first supposed to offer peace, according to Deuteronomy 20:10-18. They did not do this.
17:14-31 Dan Begins To Worship Idols
14 Then the five men who had spied out the land of Laish said to their brothers, "Do you know that one of these houses has an ephod, other household gods, a carved image and a cast idol? Now you know what to do." 15 So they turned in there and went to the house of the young Levite at Micah's place and greeted him. 16 The six hundred Danites, armed for battle, stood at the entrance to the gate. 17 The five men who had spied out the land went inside and took the carved image, the ephod, the other household gods and the cast idol while the priest and the six hundred armed men stood at the entrance to the gate.
18 When these men went into Micah's house and took the carved image, the ephod, the other household gods and the cast idol, the priest said to them, "What are you doing?"
19 They answered him, "Be quiet! Don't say a word. Come with us, and be our father and priest. Isn't it better that you serve a tribe and clan in Israel as priest rather than just one man's household?" 20 Then the priest was glad. He took the ephod, the other household gods and the carved image and went along with the people. 21 Putting their little children, their livestock and their possessions in front of them, they turned away and left.
22 When they had gone some distance from Micah's house, the men who lived near Micah were called together and overtook the Danites. 23 As they shouted after them, the Danites turned and said to Micah, "What's the matter with you that you called out your men to fight?"
24 He replied, "You took the gods I made, and my priest, and went away. What else do I have? How can you ask, 'What's the matter with you?' "
25 The Danites answered, "Don't argue with us, or some hot-tempered men will attack you, and you and your family will lose your lives." 26 So the Danites went their way, and Micah, seeing that they were too strong for him, turned around and went back home.
27 Then they took what Micah had made, and his priest, and went on to Laish, against a peaceful and unsuspecting people. They attacked them with the sword and burned down their city. 28 There was no one to rescue them because they lived a long way from Sidon and had no relationship with anyone else. The city was in a valley near Beth Rehob.
The Danites rebuilt the city and settled there. 29 They named it Dan after their forefather Dan, who was born to Israel—though the city used to be called Laish. 30 There the Danites set up for themselves the idols, and Jonathan son of Gershom, the son of Moses, [d] and his sons were priests for the tribe of Dan until the time of the captivity of the land. 31 They continued to use the idols Micah had made, all the time the house of God was in Shiloh.
The Danites returned to Micah’s house and stole his cult from him, the priest, the idols, the ephod and the other household gods. They would not only steal a town, but a religion for themselves. They were too strong for Micah and his friends to fight, so Micah had to give it up. It makes you wonder if he went back and stole the rest of his mother’s silver to make new idols.
The Danites renamed the city and set up the idol worship. The Levites names must have been Jonathan, for the set him up as the priest. He is called a son of Moses and Gershom, meaning he is a Levite from that branch of the tribe.
So, the Danites took over land that was not in their territory, thus disobeying the ordered allotments of the Lord, as accomplished by Joshua. They were already in disobedience by not conquering their territory, and must have fallen quickly from obeying and worshipping the Lord, as he had not given them the power to conquer the Amorites in their land.
They continued their disobedience in worship, setting up their own place of worship in competition to the tabernacle in Shiloh. Then, they added idol worship and a false priesthood. Eventually, the Philistines would over run Shiloh, steal the ark, and hold Israel in a type of captivity, as they oppressed them.
We have churches in the world today that call themselves Christian, yet deny the deity of Christ, or other fundamentals of the faith, such as the resurrection. We have churches that call themselves Christian, yet focus on wealth rather than worship, success rather than sacrifice and service. So, we are not immune to the same sins as Israel in the time of the judges. We must know God’s word and follow it faithfully, so that we can worship him in truth.