JUDGES - CHAPTER 17
Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough
2000 James Melough
is generally agreed that the incidents recorded in chapters 17 through 21 are really
an appendix to the book, and are not in chronological order, but are the record of
events that occurred early in the days of the Judges.
“And there was a man of mount Ephraim, whose name was Micah.”
means who is like Jehovah? a meaning which has a good connotation, but as the
sequel shows, the implied reverence for Jehovah wasn’t displayed in this man’s
conduct. His state, in fact, is but the
miniature of that of the professing church today, and of the whole human race.
This warns us that believers, by disobedience, may end up in the same
spiritual condition. We should tremble
to disobey in anything, for there is no knowing how far that first act of
disobedience may carry us away from God. Christendom
at large today is a glaring example, for there is in it idolatry just as great as
that practiced by Micah and his mother, and the nation in general.
We too worship idols: money, pleasure, ease, fame, education, being but a few
of our false gods.
being of mount Ephraim double ash heap: I shall be doubly fruitful, the tribe
that speaks of fruitfulness in spiritual things, has also its warning.
Busyness in “religious” activity is no protection against spiritual
idolatry. It is possible, in fact, to
make an idol of what we may mistakenly consider our “service.”
True service is the exercise of spiritual gift, according to the control of
the Holy Spirit exercised through the written Word.
It is possible to be “fruitful” in a busy religious activity which is
abhorrent to God because it is neither directed by His Word, nor impelled by love for
Him, and is divorced from the control of the Holy Spirit.
“And he said unto his mother, The eleven hundred shekels of silver that were
taken from thee, about which thou cursedst, 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.”
much of the OT, this is not just the history of Micah and the other individuals
mentioned. They themselves are types,
and in this instance, his mother represents Israel as a corporate body, while he
portrays the individuals comprising that perfidious nation.
is the Biblical emblem of redemption, and its being in the possession of Micah’s
mother, speaks of the fact that Israel were God’s redeemed people, so that their
idolatry was the more heinous. Their sin
was against light that hadn’t been given the nations.
meaning of eleven is obtained by dividing it into one, the number of
God, and ten the number of divine government, so that the truth being taught
is that redemption and God’s government can’t be separated. It isn’t that the unredeemed aren’t also under His government:
they are, but responsibility under that sovereignty is commensurate with the degree
of light given. The delinquency of the
believer is greater than that of the unbeliever.
loss of the silver would therefore speak of Israel’s loss as a nation; while its
having been stolen by her son Micah (his theft making his possession of it illegal)
declares that the people’s corruption of God’s truth, made what they erroneously
imagined themselves to have, a worthless thing, for just as a curse rested upon Micah
because of his theft, so does a curse rest upon all who have obtained
“redemption” by false means. In his
case the silver wasn’t his at all. So
is it with all who claim to have redemption, but who have obtained it by unlawful
means. In Israel’s case the wrong
means was law-keeping, and many today lay claim to redemption on the same
of the theft led her to pronounce a blessing upon him, though as the narrative makes
clear, she, as an idolater, was in no position to pronounce blessing on anyone.
So was it with the nation of Israel. The
corrupt leaders pronounced blessing upon the equally corrupt people who maintained
the legal charade, blind to the fact that they themselves, and the people were
alike under the anathema of God. The
application to Israel, however, shouldn’t blind us to the fact that the application
is also to the professing church. There
is much in the professing church, and in our individual lives, that is also a mere
religious charade. It is to be noted
that his confession wasn’t prompted by the fear of God, or by genuine repentance.
It was fear of the curse that impelled his admission of guilt, and so is it
with many a professed Christian today. An
outward morality is impelled, not by love for God, but by fear of the present
consequences of wrong-doing.
inconsistency is displayed by the mother! With
one breath she curses the thief, but upon discovering that he is her son, she then
with the same mouth pronounces a blessing. So
is it with the professing church. She
will piously denounce the sins of the world, while tolerating the same sins on the
part of her members, looking with the indulgence of a doting mother on her children.
Roman Catholicism, for example, grants absolution for every sin committed by
those who are members of her false system, but declares the impossibility of
salvation for everyone outside it.
“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: now therefore I will restore
it unto thee.”
restoration of the purloined silver is the symbolic announcement of the fact that the
people of Israel yielded up to their leaders conformity to the empty legal ritual
which they had substituted for obedience to the law of God, and their leaders were as
happy with that obedience as was Micah’s mother with his return of the stolen
flagrant idolatry is incredible. She
declared that she had dedicated the silver to God for her son “to make a graven
image and a molten image,” something God had explicitly forbidden (Ex 20:4)!
Even more incredible is the fact that much is practiced in the professing
church today which is just as glaringly contrary
to what God has commanded in His Word, e.g., the universal acceptance of the clerical
system, so prevalent that the majority have long since failed to see anything wrong
with it. The common practice of
accepting, and of actively soliciting money, not only from believers, but also
from the unconverted, is another practice that is totally unscriptural, yet
universally accepted. And these are but
two examples of many unscriptural practices accepted in the professing church today
without a question.
“Yet he restored 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 the house of Micah.”
refusal to accept the silver even when offered by his mother, declares in symbol the
willingness of the people to leave in the hands of their corrupt leaders, all that
has to do with their “religious” affairs. They
prefer to have others interpret God’s Word for them, and have no interest in
searching that Word for themselves, no matter how bizarre the cleric’s
interpretation might be. The
professing church has followed in Israel’s disobedient footsteps, for an
indifferent Christendom is equally satisfied to have its clerics interpret Scripture,
no matter how patently absurd that interpretation may be.
Nor is the true Church guiltless in this matter.
She too is all too prone to depend on others’ interpretations, even when she
suspects that some of those explanations are wrong.
are disagreed as to whether there was one idol or two involved here, some maintaining
that there was only one: engraved wood covered with molten silver; others insisting
that there were two: one graven, the other made of molten silver.
For the purposes of our present study, however, the matter is inconsequential,
though chapter 18:14,17,18 may perhaps indicate that there were two.
are disagreed as to whether she paid a silversmith two hundred shekels to make an
image out of the seventeen hundred shekels, or whether she had had a change of heart,
and was willing to give only two hundred to God, though the former is the more
probable. If, however, the latter view
is correct and she used only 200 of the 1100 shekels for the manufacture of the
images, the practical lesson for ourselves is that all too often we give to God a
great deal less than is His due. It is
obvious that the spiritual state of the nation was so low that she honestly saw
nothing wrong with the making of the images; but it is equally obvious that she
can’t have been ignorant of the offense of yielding only a small fraction of what
she had promised. We aren’t told how
she salved her conscience, nor is it necessary to know.
Our own prevarication suggests sufficient examples.
All of us have failed to yield to God more than a fraction, not only of what
we have promised of our time, talents, money, etc., but of what is His due.
In presenting God with the images, she was not only giving Him what He
didn’t want, but of giving Him what was an abomination in His sight.
Those images were images of something living, reminding us that we all too
often also give Him the equivalent of the images: we present Him with a cold, empty
religious ritual in place of worship; and a cold loveless adherence to His moral law,
when what He wants is the love of our hearts.
presence of the image or images in the house of Micah, declares that there was
idolatry in the house of Israel, as there is also in the professing church, and in
our individual lives - money, ease, pleasure, fame, education, being only a few of
the “gods” we worship today, yet remaining as ignorant of wrongdoing as were
Micah and his mother.
“And the man Micah had an house of gods, and made an ephod, and teraphim,
and consecrated one of his sons, who became his priest.”
alternative rendering considered by many to be more accurate is “Micah had an house
of God,” that is, he had made himself a personal shrine or place of worship in
spite of the fact that the only place acceptable to God was where He had placed His
name, the place at that time appearing to have been Shiloh.
Micha’s motive may have been to save him the trouble of going to Shiloh, and
if this is correct it reminds us that all too often we too make God’s order
subservient to our own convenience. If
we accept the KJ rendering, then the lesson is that what began with just one or two
false gods, soon became “an house of gods.”
So was it with Israel; so has it been with the professing church, and so has
it been with all too many of us. One
departure never stops there. It is
simply the thin edge of the wedge that prepares the way for total departure; it is
the first step that can carry us very far from God, and into error we would never
have thought possible when contemplating that first small deviation from what is
written in Scripture.
he had also an ephod, a priestly garment. How
much error in the professing church is cloaked by an “ephod”!
An ornate ritual, gorgeous vestments, magnificent buildings, an elaborate
hierarchy, impressive titles, and much else, constitute the “ephod” with which
the professing church attempts to lend credence to much that is contrary to the Word
and teraphim.” Teraphim were images of
household gods, as distinct from the idols worshipped publicly.
They reflected the countless gods conjured up by fallen man’s fertile
imagination, and it would be folly to reject the idea that many of us today are as
guilty as Micah, for we too have our “teraphim,” though we refuse to admit our
idolatry. To whatever we give money, time, talent, etc., that belongs to
God, is an idol.
consecrating one of his sons to be his priest is further evidence of the extent of
Israel’s departure from God, for no one who was not of the family of Aaron was
authorized to exercise the priest’s office, see Nu 3:10.
Micah’s consecration of his son, however, is but the foreshadowing of what
is done throughout Christendom today. As
he ignored the declaration of God that only Aaron’s sons were to be priests, so has
the professing church ignored the divine order relative to those who are to be her
ministers. Those ministers are to be
those divinely gifted as evangelists, elders, and teachers, the men themselves being
given by God as gifts to the Church (Eph 4:7-13).
Apostate Christendom, however, has set aside God’s order, and rejecting the
gifted servants given by Him, has chosen instead to “consecrate her own sons,”
i.e., the theologically educated clerics who have been the bane of the church for
most of her existence. Yet the evil
system has been used so long that the vast majority of professing Christians would be
horrified at the very idea of a “layman’s” undertaking to minister from God’s
Word; and they would be even more appalled at the thought of anyone but an
“ordained minister” daring to dispense the bread and wine of the Lord’s supper.
The truth is that the early Church would have been horrified by what a
spiritually blind Christendom now deems to be the God-appointed order. Yet that same blind Christendom can read of Micah’s idolatry,
and piously exclaim, How could he! without realizing that their own guilt is as great
“In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was
right in his own eyes.”
anarchy of the era of the Judges is but the foreshadowing of today, for there is
lawlessness, not only in the world, but also in the professing church, each man doing
what is right in his own eyes, and living as though Christ weren’t Lord.
“And there was a young man out of Bethlehem-judah of the family of Judah,
who was a Levite, and he sojourned there.”
to 18:30 his name was Jonathan, the son of Gershom, and grandson of Moses.
(The mention in this verse of his being a grandson of Manasseh is generally
considered to be incorrect).
Bethlehem-judah isn’t mentioned among the Levitical cities, see Jos 21:1-42, we are
left to wonder what this young Levite was doing there, and one reason suggests
itself. Israel’s spiritual state being
what it was, there is good reason to conclude that their idolatry had resulted in
such neglect of the worship of Jehovah that the portion of the offerings reserved for
the Levites was insufficient to supply their needs.
Since Bethlehem-judah means house of bread and praise, it is possible
that he had gone there in hope of finding a better living than was available in
whichever city God had allotted him. He
“sojourned” there for a while, but it seems that his expectation was
disappointed, for in the next verse he departs in search of a place.
his going to Bethlehem-judah would appear to have much to commend it, it must
not be forgotten that the Levites had no right to leave their appointed cities.
However much the delinquency of the nation may have reduced his living, he
ought to have stayed in his appointed place, and depended upon God for his needs.
His being in Bethlehem-judah, appears therefore to have been the result of
self-will. Many another since then has
been guilty of the same sin. Discouraged
by conditions in a Scripturally ordered assembly, some have gone to the equivalent of
Bethlehem-judah, a fellowship that seemed to have much to offer; but their
experience has frequently been the same as that of the young Levite: after the
novelty of newness has worn off, they have discovered the same lack there as in what
they had left. There is nothing to
indicate that Bethlehem-judah (in spite of the good associated with the meaning of
its name), was any better than the other cities of Israel. The spiritual blight was everywhere.
“And the man departed out of the city from Bethlehem-judah to sojourn where
he could find a place; and he came to mount Ephraim to the house of Micah, as he
many another since then, his departure from his God-appointed place was just the
beginning of a never-ending search for elusive perfection; and also like many another
since then, he found himself on the slippery path of increasing departure from God.
Those tempted to embark on such a journey would do well to remember that in
times of famine (literal or spiritual, the one being but a picture of the other) in
Israel, those who left the land, almost invariably fared worse than those who
remained and looked to God to meet their needs, Naomi being but one such example.
young Levite is not only typical of those who never find any assembly quite to their
liking, and who spend their time in a fruitless search for something better; but he
is very clearly also a figure of the typical hireling cleric.
He too is always looking for “a place,” i.e., a bigger salary, larger
congregation, higher office, etc.
coming to mount Ephraim is not without its lesson, for Ephraim, meaning double
ash-heap: I shall be doubly fruitful, in the context of conditions in the days of
the Judges, represents that “busyness” which is so often mistaken for true
fruitfulness. That same character marks
much of Christendom today.
is it surprising that his wandering feet should have brought him to the house of
Micah, for that house, with its idols, but also its ephod and its false priest, is
typical of many a “church” today; and it is in such a “house” that many a
disobedient believer has gone to “sojourn.”
“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.”
interview is duplicated every day in Christendom.
The cleric, looking for a better place, is interviewed by the “church
board” who inquire as to his background and credentials, with a view to arriving at
a meeting of the minds: he, hoping to find a job; and they, to find a “Levite” to
do (though they are unaware of it) what can be done only by the spiritually gifted
men given to the Church as gifts by her risen Head.
“And Micah said unto him, Dwell with me, and be unto me a father and a
priest, and I will give thee ten shekels of silver by the year, and a suit of
apparel, and thy victuals. So the Levite
3:10 forbade this under pain of death. Only
the descendants of Aaron could be priests. The
scene, however, is duplicated daily in Christendom as the terms of the contract are
agreed upon, as “Micah” finds a “priest,” and the “priest” finds a
statement “be unto me a father,” is the symbolic declaration of the truth that
man is all too anxious to place himself under the dominion of man, for the father is
the figure of authority, and Micah’s inviting the Levite to occupy that place is
the equivalent of placing himself under the Levite’s authority.
Man has always displayed this propensity to put himself under the dominion of
those willing to assume “religious office,” the peculiar anomaly being that his
determination to rebel against God’s authority is equally intense.
with priesthood is the idea of intercession, and again man is all too anxious to
reject the ministry of the true Intercessor, but most eager to have a fellow mortal
undertake that work, even though God has declared that “There is one God, and
one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 2:5).
while Micah will place himself under the authority of the Levite in one area, he will
put that same Levite under his authority in another, and so is it with all
men. The very clerics under whose
“religious” authority men crouch, are at the same time their paid hirelings who
can be dismissed just as easily as they are hired.
ten is the number of God in government; and silver, the emblem of redemption,
Micah’s agreeing to pay the Levite ten shekels of silver per year, becomes the
revelation of the truth that man, for all his feigned submission to God, insists on
buying his own redemption, in his blindness failing to see that the redemption of the
soul is priceless, and can be secured, not “with corruptible things, as silver and
gold ... but (only) with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Pe 1:18-19).
Man will reject the divine assessment of the value of redemption, and
substitute his own; and in doing so, sets a standard that is flexible enough to
accommodate all transgression, and guarantee salvation for every man.
flexible nature of man’s standard is indicated again in that the wages would be
“by the year.” The contract could be
changed each year as Micah might choose.
suit of apparel has also something to teach, for clothing is the Biblical symbol of
righteousness, either the “filthy rags” of self-righteousness, or the spotless
righteousness of Christ that clothes the believer. Micah’s supplying the Levite’s clothing scarcely needs
comment. It continues to announce that
man will not only undertake to supply his own righteousness, but that he will also
set the standard by which that righteousness is to be measured.
victuals likewise have a message to convey. Since
literal food is the Biblical symbol of the written Word as spiritual food, the
Levite’s being supplied with food from Micah’s table, announces again what is the
custom in Christendom: the congregation chooses its own spiritual food.
This is also a reversal of the divine order.
God’s messengers are to bear the message given them by the Holy Spirit. It
is not left to the congregation to decide what ministry they will receive.
But it is today as Paul warned it would be “For the time will come when they
will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to
themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from
the truth, and shall be turned unto fables” (2 Tim 4:3-4).
the Levite went in.” The scene is
reenacted every day in Christendom as cleric and congregation reach an agreement
relative to the part of the contract to be kept by each - the one as much as the
other blind to the fact that the whole man-made scheme is an abomination to God
because it is a complete reversal of the order He has ordained for ministry in the
“And the Levite was content to dwell with the man; and the young man was
unto him as one of his sons.”
is a picture of the relationship that exists today between Christendom’s clerics
and her “lay” congregations: each is master in his own sphere, and they dwell
happily together, the one as ignorant as the other of just how great an abomination
the whole unscriptural system is to God.
“And Micah consecrated the Levite; and the young man became his priest, and
was in the house of Micah.”
had no more right to consecrate the Levite than had the Levite to presume to be a
priest. The whole scheme bears the stamp
of human ingenuity replacing the divine order with that of the rebel creature, and is
the pattern that now pervades Christendom.
is significant that all of this “was in the house of Micah.”
They hadn’t yet reached the stage where they would call it the house of God,
as is done everywhere today.
“Then said Micah, Now know I that the Lord will do me good, seeing I have a
Levite to my priest.”
is no complacency to equal that of spiritual ignorance; and were it not that we see
the same attitude governing the professing church today, it would be impossible to
believe that any Israelite could have drifted as far from God as had Micah.
His state should make us tremble at the mere thought of taking a disobedient