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Judges 17-18 Unfaithful Worship

November 11, 2012 Series: Judges | Still{Un}Faithful (Part 2 of 2)

Topic: Old Testament Passage: Judges 17:1–18:31


Intro: The Prequel to Judges
We are coming to end of our study of Judges. The history of Judges extends over 300 years, beginning with the death of Joshua after conquering and dividing the Promised Land, and ending just before the rise of the first divinely appointed King in Israel, Saul. The main character of the story is God, and the supporting characters in the story are his judges. Like our judges today, Moses had spent many years “judging” Israel. Namely, he judged disputes, interpreted the law, and declare judgments as he represented God. There was a clear mantle of leadership passed from Moses to Joshua. When Joshua died, there was not a man identified to lead Israel as the new “buck stops here” judge.

Leaderless, the story follows Israel’s failed attempt to honor God through doing what is “right in their own eyes”. Then end up falling into a cycle of disobedience—Israel sins, God punishes by sending an enemy, Israel cries, God rescues by sending a deliverer, Israel rests. There are 12 different judges creating what amounts to 12-part- miniseries, with each new episode more disturbing than the last. Far from heroic, these individuals appear disturbed and disturbing. They do not fit the stereotypical “hero”. On the contrary, they are bad men often doing bad things…in the name of the Lord. The overall theme of Judges is that men are unfaithful to their obligations and, yet, God is faithful to his promises.

In Jewish writing, organizing for chronology is secondary to organizing for meaning. Several of these mini-stories occurred at the same time or in a different order, but are arranged so as to tell the story a certain way. To that point, the last five chapters of the book serve as appendices to the narrative, added supplements to help us understand what happened and why—they are like a prequel to Judges—that explains exactly HOW Israel fell. The FIRST appendix (17-18) focuses the destruction of man’s relationship with God—the breaking the first FOUR commandments. The SECOND appendix (19-21) focuses the ensuing destruction that results from that broken relationship, namely, people destroying one another as they break commandments 5-10.

Today’s text does not follow the story of Samson as much as build on it; explaining to just how God’s people went from being free and feared to enslaved and humiliated. And how, at the heart of all of it is not an external problem, but an internal worship disorder perpetuated by bad parents and bad pastor.

17.1-6 Mom and Micah – God’s Parents
There was a man of the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Micah. 2 And he said to his mother, “The 1,100 pieces of silver that were taken from you, about which you uttered a curse, and also spoke it in my ears, behold, the silver is with me; I took it.” And his mother said, “Blessed be my son by the Lord.” 3 And he restored the 1,100 pieces of silver to his mother. And his mother said, “I dedicate the silver to the Lord from my hand for my son, to make a carved image and a metal image. Now therefore I will restore it to you.” 4 So when he restored the money to his mother, his mother took 200 pieces of silver and gave it to the silversmith, who made it into a carved image and a metal image. And it was in the house of Micah. 5 And the man Micah had a shrine, and he made an ephod and household gods, and ordained one of his sons, who became his priest. 6 In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

The Cult Leader
Our story begins in the hill country of Ephraim, with a man named Michah and his mom. Apparently, mom found her purse a bit lighter and declares a curse on whoever robbed her. The amount stolen connects with chapter 16 showing us that just as Samson was betrayed for money, God will be betrayed too. Fearful of the curse, her son confesses he is the thief, and she responds by trying to counteract her curse by declaring a blessing. Having promised to dedicate all of the silver to the Lord, upon her son giving to her, she devotes only 20%, and instructs her son to have an image carved for them to worship. Micah, not content an idol in the house, decides to build an entire shrine—lit. “House of gods”. Still not satisfied, Micah makes an ephod, a few more gods, and then ordains one of his sons as the local pastor. In essence, a man builds his own “Christian” cult, a few miles away from the real “House of God” located in Shiloh.

The Failed Parent
And just like Toy Story, we don’t know where Dad is. And even though mom calls on the name of Yahweh, instead of upholding His name for her family, she enables her son to dishonor his name. It began when she didn’t follow God’s law about confessing thieves. Leviticus 6 required certain repayment AND sin offerings to atone for his sin. Instead, she decides to fund a new cult involving her son and her grandson—two generations. She has a desire to worship, but she is not worshipping the right way. Sincere devotion is meaningless the form/content of that devotion leads to lawlessness and idolatry. God is not only concerned THAT we worship, but it he is also concerned with HOW we worship. Micah worships by building an entire belief system devoid of the one true God—having the appearance of religion—icons, sanctuary, songs, clothes, even pastors—it was a “Christian” cult. And, as we see later in chapter 18, his cult grew and gathered a congregation. The text says that it happened because there was no king in Israel and that the people did what felt, looked, or otherwise seemed right. And it’s not that having a King would fix everything—they need particular kind of king—a leader who preserves the purity of worship. There may had been no king, but there were godly leaders—their called parents, the ones charged by the Law to protect the purity of worship in their homes (Deut 6.7-15). This is an epic fail.

17.7-13 Micah and Levite – God’s Priests
Luckily, God had raised up Priests to protect the purity of worship of the parents. 7 Now there was a young man of Bethlehem in Judah, of the family of Judah, who was a Levite, and he sojourned there. 8 And the man departed from the town of Bethlehem in Judah to sojourn where he could find a place. And as he journeyed, he came to the hill country of Ephraim to the house of Micah. 9 And Micah said to him, “Where do you come from?” And he said to him, “I am a Levite of Bethlehem in Judah, and I am going to sojourn where I may find a place.” 10 And Micah said to him, “Stay with me, and be to me a father and a priest, and I will give you ten pieces of silver a year and a suit of clothes and your living.” And the Levite went in. 11 And the Levite was content to dwell with the man, and the young man became to him like one of his sons. 12 And Micah ordained the Levite, and the young man became his priest, and was in the house of Micah. 13 Then Micah said, “Now I know that the Lord will prosper me, because I have a Levite as priest.”

The Wandering Levite
There were twelve tribes in Israel. Following conquest, the tribes received allotments of land with the exception of one—the tribe of Levi. The Levites were priests. They were given various cities, and pasturelands, within each of the different tribes to dwell. Essentially, they were chosen servants of the Lord, ministering to the people, serving the temple, and supported through the offerings of Israel full time. Apparently, the giving must be down because this particular Levite is wandering the land looking for a job—he’s an opportunist. He comes upon the house of Micah, who offers him the position of pastor in his new cult. The job comes with a solid annual salary, new priestly garments, and all spiritual authority for the local community. The Levite is takes the job and is pleased. Having legitimized his cult with a “real” priest, Micah is also pleased and expects now that God will prosper him because he has a qualified pastor now. Micah believes that the essence of faith/religion is the manipulation of God to get what you want, as opposed to the submission to His Law/Lordship.

The Failed Priest
So, Micah builds a god and buys a pastor. And in doing so, we see that not only have parents failed, but the priests have failed to call them to purity. These final two chapters of Judges are the only places you hear about the priests—and they are the most disturbing chapters in Judges. For 16 chapters of narrative, there is no mention of the priest, a role essential to the life of Israel. And while he fulfilled various religious duties, his primary role was to mediate the relationship between God and his people by ministering at the temple, shepherding and teaching the people, and leading the people in worship—preserving its purity. IF the priest was devoted to the LORD, concerned with true worship, he would have destroyed Micah’s shrine and called for repentance. As it was, he chose to betray the Lord for a paycheck and a position. Like many “fake” pastors today, he ceased representing the interests of God, and sought to satisfy his own—he became a professional. Pretending to be spiritual, he denied God’s Word because it was profitable and more popular in the eyes of men. Pastors are supposed to be about preserving purity in people, not obtain position, popularity, or profit from the people. According to Paul, pastors are …fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. 11 To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, 12 and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; 13 when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things. (1Corinthians 4.10-13)

18.1-31 – Levite and the Danites – God’s People
As the story continues in chapter 18, we see again contagious nature of perverted worship. It goes from parents, to pastors, to all of the people. In those days there was no king in Israel. And in those days the tribe of the people of Dan was seeking for itself an inheritance to dwell in, for until then no inheritance among the tribes of Israel had fallen to them. 2 So the people of Dan sent five able men from the whole number of their tribe, from Zorah and from Eshtaol, to spy out the land and to explore it. And they said to them, “Go and explore the land.” And they came to the hill country of Ephraim, to the house of Micah, and lodged there. 3 When they were by the house of Micah, they recognized the voice of the young Levite. And they turned aside and said to him, “Who brought you here? What are you doing in this place? What is your business here?” 4 And he said to them, “This is how Micah dealt with me: he has hired me, and I have become his priest.” 5 And they said to him, “Inquire of God, please, that we may know whether the journey on which we are setting out will succeed.” 6 And the priest said to them, “Go in peace. The journey on which you go is under the eye of the Lord.”

Wayward Tribe
So we move from a wandering Priest to a wandering tribe. The tribe of Dan was given an allotment of land, recorded in Joshua 19.40. What they were given was the land that the Philistines were largely localized. Dan, as all the tribes, had the responsibility of expunging the remnant of God’s enemies from the land. Dan failed and, as Joshua 19.47 says, they lost their land. Samson was a Danite and, we now see that the “Philistine problem” began generations before him. The Danites are not, therefore, living in the land that was allotted to them. Instead, FIVE leaders are wandering the countryside looking for a place to live. Like good ‘’church hoppers, they happen upon the Shrine of Micah and his Levite. Instead of destroying the cult, and killing the Levite turned cult pastor, they ask for prayer. And instead of actually hearing YAHWEH who would have said, “Go back to the land I gave you,” the false priest (as with many cult leaders) gives a general prophecy whose interpretation can be suited to whatever you want—you can always find a pastor to tell you what you want to hear. They continue North and in V. 7-10 – Spy out the Land. There they find a peaceful city, still full of God’s enemies, but one that is much easier to take than what they were supposed to—their cowards. They return to gather an army and make one final stop at Micah’s Shrine. Perhaps believing that their good fortune resulted from their perverted prayer from the cultist, they begin to take all of the images, the ephod, and the household gods.

Fake Pastor & False Worship (v.19-20, 23-26)
When the Levite confronts them, they offer him a job: 19 And they said to him, “Keep quiet; put your hand on your mouth and come with us and be to us a father and a priest. Is it better for you to be priest to the house of one man, or to be priest to a tribe and clan in Israel?” 20 And the priest’s heart was glad. He took the ephod and the household gods and the carved image and went along with the people. The unfaithful priest jumps at the opportunity to go from family priest to a mega-church pastor. And as they travel north to where they will destroyed a defenseless people, Micah and his cult congregation chase them down. 23 And they shouted to the people of Dan, who turned around and said to Micah, “What is the matter with you, that you come with such a company?” 24 And he said, “You take my gods that I made and the priest, and go away, and what have I left? How then do you ask me, ‘What is the matter with you?’ ” 25 And the people of Dan said to him, “Do not let your voice be heard among us, lest angry fellows fall upon you, and you lose your life with the lives of your household.” 26 Then the people of Dan went their way. And when Micah saw that they were too strong for him, he turned and went back to his home. Micah returns home and the Levite assumes his new position. From all earthly signs, it seems as if his devotion has proven fruitful—no one to someone. But just because something is successful is fruitful, doesn’t mean it is faithful.

False Worship
Both Micah and the Levite show us how men can begin on a path that appears spiritual, but can easily become false worship. WHO we worship matters; but so does HOW we express our devotion. And while we gather to worship as a community, Romans 12.1 reminds us that how we live is an act of worship, living sacrifices manifesting our devotion to God. The problem in this story is not about parents, pastors, or people worshipping the wrong god—it is all of them worshipping the right God the wrong way. Leviticus 10.1-3 Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them. 2 And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. 3 Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord has said: ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’ ” And Aaron held his peace.

There is true and false worship. False worship is man-focused and self-centered. False worship loves the forms more than the God who inspires them. False worship seeks the feelings more than the God who gives them. False worship desires prosperity more than the God who owns it. False worship is not a lifestyle devoted to God; it’s a tool to authorize the lifestyle you want. False worship leads us toward disobedience and away from God. False worship may appear VERY RELIGIOUS, it may be spiritual sounding, feeling, or even looking, but it is ALWAYS WRONG because it ALWAYS leads you to lawlessness and idolatry.

How do you know if my worship is LAWLESS— looking spiritual has become more important than being holy. In other words, you abandon God’s word, you spiritualize your sin, and you give hearty approval to others who do the same. Your worship, evidenced by your lifestyle not just your words, esteems those things God has clearly said DO NOT DO, or makes optional those things he has said TO DO.

How do you know if our worship has become IDOLATROUS—you find more meaning in the act or the tools of worship than you do in the object of worship? You enjoy God’s stuff more than God. You’ll know your idolatrous when that one thing that ensures your devotion to God…is taken way. You’ll sound like you sound like Micah who said: I have nothing left. You are worshipping something, just not God.

True Worship
We are not called to simply worship in a way that sounds spiritual, feels spiritual, or even looks spiritual—we are called to worship God in Spirit and in Truth. False worship makes Jesus out to be someone important but not essential to our lives. This kind of worship looks spiritual, but it only leads us to depend on ourselves more, to disobey more, and to devote ourselves to the world more. True Worship sees Jesus as supremely worthy of our adoration, submission, and attention. ALL things become a means through which you can worship God. Whether it is what we drink, what we eat, our relationships, our money, our time. We don’t ask ourselves what can I get out of these things, but always asking ourselves how can I make much of God through __________. This kind of worship leads us to deny ourselves more, to obey more, and to devote ourselves to Jesus more whether it looks spiritual or not.

CONCLUSION: V. 27-31 Danites Defeat and Set Up Church
30 And the people of Dan set up the carved image for themselves, and Jonathan the son of Gershom, son of Moses, and his sons were priests to the tribe of the Danites until the day of the captivity of the land. 31 So they set up Micah’s carved image that he made, as long as the house of God was at Shiloh. And, we find out, that this pastor is named Jonathan, the grandson of Moses (18.30). The very people and institution that God built to protect worship, has decayed so much so that now it is perpetuating its further perversion. The “house of gods” that has been built is competing with the true HOUSE of GOD that God built in Shiloh. If the essence of our worship is simply to use God for what we want, and not complete submission to what he wants—we will end up working against Him as families and as a church.

There is very little positive stated in these chapters. It is an appendix of full of failure. The first verse of chapter 19 declares the problem and the solution—WE NEED GODLY LEADERSHIP THAT LEADS US TO JESUS. We need leadership in the home. We need leadership in the church. We need parents who love Jesus. We need parents who worship Jesus. We need parents devoted to making their children happy in Jesus and not just making them happy. We also need pastors who love Jesus. We need pastors who worship Jesus. We need pastors who are devoted to making their churches happy in Jesus more than making the church, or their checkbooks, happy. We need parents and pastors who love us enough to protect us from false religion BY leading us in worship that is both spiritual and truthful.

COMMUNION IS AN ACT OF WORSHIP, one that is both spiritual and truthful.

BENEDICTION: Ephesians 5.15-21

More in Judges | Still{Un}Faithful (Part 2 of 2)

November 25, 2012

Judges 20-21 Faithful Substitute

November 18, 2012

Judges 19.1-30 Unfaithful Acts

November 4, 2012

Judges 16.22-31 Unfaithful Death