Judges Sermon Chapter 17 and 18 [Part One] Judges Sermon # 21 Nov. 12, 2017
“Unless Christ is Your King, What Do You Really Have?”
Pastor Louis Prontnicki Maple Glen Bible Fellowship Church
If you have read ahead in Judges 17-21, you might be asking the question: “What’s going on in these chapters? Why do these two stories sound so different than the previous 16 chapters? And what is the Lord trying to teach us through these bizarre incidents?”
You’re right: the final five chapters of the Book of Judges are quite different than the familiar pattern of the people being oppressed by a foreign nation, then crying out to God for deliverance, and God raising up a judge to rescue them. For in chapters 17-21 the enemy is Israel’s own sin – through a (1) distorted religion and a (2) perverted morality; and there is no judge to rescue them; in fact, there is no king in Israel, so everyone just does what they want to do.
Today I will walk us through chapters 17 and 18, focusing mainly on this man Micah; then next Sunday, Lord wiling, we’ll look more closely at wicked actions of the tribe of Dan, in chap. 18. In the weeks after that we will tackle chapters 19-21.
Now throughout Judges 17-21 there is a repeated refrain that sets the tone for both stories:
“In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.” (17:6)
And Micah from Ephraim, and his mother, and a Levite from Bethlehem did what they saw fit.
“In those days Israel had no king.” (18:1)
And the tribe of Dan – and Levite from Bethlehem – did what they saw fit
“In those days Israel had no king.” (19:1)
And a Levite from Ephraim – and the men of Benjamin – did what they saw fit.
“In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.” (21:25)
I want us to pick up on this catchphrase of (1a) there being no king in Israel and pair it with (2a) Micah’s cry in 18:24: “What else do I have?” after the Danites have taken his idols and his priest. And then I want to contrast those two ideas with the two truth of (1b) Jesus Christ being our King and of (2b) that all we really have is Christ. Holocaust survivor Corrie Ten Boom said: “You never learn that Christ is all you need until Christ is all you have.” That’s why our songs and hymns this morning are focused on Christ’s Kingship, and Christ being our sufficiency.
I ask you: “Is Christ your King? Is Christ your Treasure, your all in all?” I have five things for us to consider this morning from our passage. Let’s start with…
- Micah and His Man-Made Gods [17:1-5]
Now a man named Micah from the hill country of Ephraim 2 said to his mother, “The eleven hundred shekels 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 1100 shekels of silver to his mother, she said, “I solemnly consecrate my silver to the Lord for my son to make an image overlaid with silver. I will give it back to you.”4 So after he returned the silver to his mother, she took 200 shekels of silver and gave them to a silversmith, who used them to make the idol. And it was put in Micah’s house.
5 Now this man Micah had a shrine [or “house of gods”], and he made an ephod and some household gods and installed one of his sons as his priest.
Michael Wilcock observes that the opening exchange between Micah and his mother gives us a strong dose of how the rest of the story will proceed. Right off the bat you have three perversions of true religion. Did you notice them? First, Micah’s mother blesses her son even though he just admitted stealing 28 pounds of silver from her! Did you notice how she superficially invokes the Lord’s name in blessing him, even though her son has shown no repentance! Second, after her son gives the silver back to her, she gives five pounds of it back to him… why? To have a silversmith make an idol for their house. Now she had just said that she had solemnly consecrated all the silver to the Lord, but now that dedicated silver will be used to make an idol! Third, Micah installs one of his own sons as his household priest, to conduct worship and offer sacrifices in his little household shrine! Oh, this looks so religious to have a little church meeting in your house and for one of your own sons to be the priest… but this is absurd! For here you have a non-Levite serving as a priest, and he’s a priest, not for the Lord, but for these man-made idols! It all adds up to a bizarre and distorted devotion, a wacky worship!
But each of the characters here acts as if this is perfectly normal. They all fail to see that all of this is a clear offense to the true and living God! And to top it off, we note that these idols are in Micah’s house, while the name Micah means “Who is like Yahweh?”
- Do It Yourself Religion (17:6)
Then we come to the refrain of Judges 17-21 (17:6, 18:1, 19:1 and 21:25)
6 In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit. Or “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”
Notice two important things here:
The first is that Israel was without a king at this time. Now that could simply mean that it was the period of the Judges, before the monarchy of Saul, David, and Solomon had been established.
But more likely this catchphrase it telling us that there was no righteous ruler over Israel, because if there was, such a king would have intervened and prevented such idolatry and foolish thinking and actions about worshiping the Lord!
Dale Davis comments that the writer of Judges “has in mind a particular kind of king, a king who would uphold Yahweh’s covenant standards.” But these were the days when Israel was out of control, and when the dictates of everyone’s hormones formed the standard of living.
The second thing to notice is that everyone – EVERYONE! – did what they wanted to do. Each man, woman and child worshipped the Lord anyway they wanted to! Each Israelite had their own take on how their faith should be practiced. Everyone did their own thing, especially in worship.
Think about it: Who should have been their king? The Lord God! And who should have been their priest? One of the Levites should have been the priest, not Micah’s son! And who should they have been worshipping? The Lord God, not some images of god made of wood and silver!
It was devout disorder. It was wacky worship. It was a rotten religion, but they all thought it was fine with the Lord! It was a do-it-yourself religion.
- The Levite from Lease-a-Priest (17:7-13)
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 (see 18:1, like the Danites). On his way 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 (18:19), and I’ll give you ten shekels of silver a year (just 4 ounces), your clothes and your food.” 11 So the Levite agreed to live with him, and the young man became like one of his sons to him. 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.”
Here comes this young itinerant Levite, and he’s recruited to take the place of Micah’s son as the household priest. [In the next chapter, this same Levite will move to an even bigger position. This Levite wanted to climb the ladder of success, without any loyalty to a family or a flock. He’s a lease-a-priest, a rent-a-rector, a charter-a-cleric, for whatever your religious needs are!
He’s like a pastor today who always moves to the bigger churches and higher salary!
But here’s the clincher: Micah, in a totally superstitious manner, thinks the Lord will be good to him (v. 13) just because this Levite has become his personal priest!
So we have Micah, his mother, Micah’s son, and the young Levite all thinking that they are faithfully serving the Lord, while in reality they are idolaters; they are robbers, opportunists, and disobedient Israelites, breaking the Lord’s covenant, without batting an eyelash!
This is False Religion: approaching God as a system to be worked rather than a person to be known, loved, and served.
Perhaps this describes those professing evangelical Christians today, who regularly attend church, yet who do whatever they want to do… and see no contradiction to what they are doing? Does this describe you at all? Do you have a form of religion without really knowing Jesus?
- The Danites: The Tribe of Takers (18:1-21)
Now I’m going to save more of my comments about these Danites until next week, but allow me to talk about their actions as they impact Micah.
The Tribe of Dan (which is the tribe Samson was from) had not been able to conquer the land the Lord had allotted to them, according to Joshua 19:40-46 and Judges 1:34. So they go looking for another piece of real estate in the Promised Land, and they find it way up north, close to Mt. Hermon, at a place called Laish. Now Laish was a very fertile area, as it was watered by the melting snows from Mt. Hermon. Furthermore, it was not only prosperous and peaceful, but it was isolated from other communities… so that they had no one to come to their aid if they were attacked. The Danites had found a bit of paradise, and it would be easy pickings for them!
Well, on the way up to spy our Laish, and later on the way to conquer it, some of the Danites just happen to stumble upon Micah’s house! And by coincidence they happen to know this Levite that Micah has installed as his household priest!
The first time through, the Danites ask this Levite if the Lord is going to bless their efforts, and as a priest, he tells them that their journey has the Lord’s approval.
The second time through, the Danites decide that they should help themselves to whatever Micah has in his house. After all, everyone is doing what is right in their eyes, right?
Look at 18:16-20
16 “The six hundred Danites, armed for battle, stood at the entrance of the gate. 17 The five men who had spied out the land went inside and took the idol, the ephod and the household gods while the priest and the six hundred armed men stood at the entrance of the gate.
18 When the five men went into Micah’s house and took the idol, the ephod and the household gods, 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 The priest was very pleased. He took the ephod, the household gods and the idol and went along with the people.”
The operative principle here is that might makes right, and since the Danites have 600 armed soldiers, they just take what they want to: they take the idol Micah had made (with the money he originally had stolen from his mother), along with all the other household gods, and the priestly ephod (an expensive garment). When the Levite from lease-a-priest questions the morality of what they are doing, they assuage his conscience by offering him a job promotion! “Come with us and be our father and our priest!” And the priest thinks it over for about two seconds: “Hmm… better pay, a bigger church, more prestige… What’s not to like? Okay, I’m coming with you.” And who, in that day, without a godly king to rule them, can blame him? After all, we all need to do what seems good to us, right? That’s the important thing! This Levite is for sale to the highest bidder. He expresses no gratitude to Micah. He only seeks his self-advancement.
So let me ask you: Do you see yourself doing that? Have you broken loyalties for the sake of self-interest, in your marriage covenant, your baptismal vows, or in your church membership vows?
- Micah: the Idolater Comes Up Empty (18:22-24)
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?’?”
- 24 is very telling: Micah had fashioned homemade gods for his homemade church, (with the silver he had originally stolen from his own mother!) and now these homemade gods are powerless to help the one who made them! The idolater has come up empty. The one who perverted true religion has come up powerless and defenseless.
Look at how empty Micah has become, compared to where he thought he was, in 17:13 “Now I know that God will make me rich, because I have this Levite as my priest.”
But what kind of gods are these, if they can be stolen? Psalm 115:4-8 mocks those idols who have eyes bit cannot see, ears but cannot hear, feet but cannot walk, and so forth, and ends with the stinging indictment: “Those who make idols will become like them, and so will all who trust in them.”
Micah, who had stolen from his mother, now has his gods stolen from him, and he comes up empty. “What else do I have?”
We’ll pick up on the rest of this story next Sunday, Lord willing, as we focus more on the Danites. We’ll follow the silver trail from Micah’s mother to King Jeroboam’s idolatrous center in the city of Dan. But today I want to conclude with two Biblical principles from this story:
The first biblical principle is that if the Lord Jesus Christ is not at the center of your life, it’s guaranteed that you will eventually and ultimately come up empty. You will be left with nothing of eternal value or importance. This is the hard lesson that Micah learned (too late) after all that he had trusted in was taken from him. And this is the hard lesson that all of us need to learn. You might be a very religious person, you might even be a professing believer in Christ, but if you’ve built your life around idols such as your own comfort, security, being in control, and so forth… well, sooner or later those idols will all be exposed as powerless to help you, and you will be left empty. Loss, disaster, and death all expose the futility of building your life around idols.
Corrie ten Boom: “You never learn that Christ is all you need until Christ is all you have.”
The second biblical principle is that if Jesus Christ is not your King, you will go astray, to your own way of sin, even while you think you are doing right in your own eyes.
For if Christ is not your King, you are oblivious to your sins and your distorted thinking. You are like a carpenter building a house, and all his tools are skewed: his level is off, his saw cuts on a wrong angle, and all his nails are crooked. What will that house look like?
If Christ is not your King, you will have the wrong goals in life; you will be blind to ultimate reality, and you will fail to see how far you have strayed from God and His holy ways.
Here’s a stunning truth to meditate on: Without Christ as our King and Savior, each one of us is a Micah; each one of us in this Lease a Levite; each one of us is a Danite. Left to ourselves, we are idol makers and covenant breakers; we all go astray and do what we want to do.
Allow me to conclude with an illustration of how critical it is to keep Christ at the exact center of your life, your heart, and your thinking, lest you slowly drift off-center, and not even realize it.
In 1914 the famous explorer Ernst Shackleton led a team of men to attempt the first crossing of Antarctica. But his wooden ship was caught and eventually crushed by the grip of the ice, leaving his men stranded on a remote peninsula, without a radio, and without the hope of any rescue. Shackleton decided that the only way to get help was to take five of his men in one of the three lifeboats they had saved, and to plot a perilous course 800 miles through some of the worst sea conditions in the world, and to try to land on tiny South Georgia Island, where there was a Norwegian whaling station. However, if they were off course by even one degree, they would miss the island, and die in the south Atlantic, and no one would be alerted to rescue the other men. The boat was the 23 foot James Caird, and they would face 50 foot waves in it! But they stayed on course. They reached the island. And the other men were rescued.
They made it because they stayed on course. How about you? What are your goals in life? Is Jesus Christ your one true aim? If you swerve from Christ as your King and Treasure, you will blindly miss eternal life, and you will end up in hell.
Therefore the question for each of us is this: Who do you serve: Gods of your own choosing? A Christianity that suits you?
We must all bow down before the True God, the Lord Jesus Christ. He alone is our faithful King, our True Judge and Deliverer, and our sacrificial High Priest.