House of Horrors, and the Real Refuge. RBT Notes – Judges 17, 22nd April

This is one of the passages in the Bible where you can’t go any lower. Every line of this short chapter is a hammer-blow against decency, truth, hope and real faith. Actually, things are going to get a whole load more horrible in the next three chapters, but our historian here is giving us a pen-picture of life in Israel as he sketches one family. And it’s wretched.

 

Rip off your parents

This man called Micah has a secret which has been nagging at his conscience: he’s stolen a huge amount of silver from his mother. We don’t know if there’s a father around, or if she’s a widow. This doesn’t appear to be the rash stupidity of a teenager – a couple of verses later we learn that he has a son who’s old enough to be a priest. Whatever prompted him to steal this vast sum, something else prompted him to confess it. Surely there would a lot of raised voices that day?

 

Spoil your children

But no. His mother’s response is really strange. She almost rewards him for his confession of guilt, and promptly gives it all back to him! ‘Bless you, my son’ (v.2) doesn’t sound like a word of forgiveness for the crime, but a word of admiration that the boy’s owned up to it. Did the son have a hunch that, having owned up to the theft, he would get the money back, along with his mother’s admiration for his honesty? So many questions in just a couple of verses!

Remember, the rule of the writers of these Old Testament narratives is ‘less is more’; they don’t give us all of the details, and they rarely tell us outright what they think. But they write in such a way as to get us thinking ourselves, and following their subtle hints. What’s the hint here? That this women is spoiling her son, just as surely as she’s already ruined her relationship with Israel’s God.

 

Mock your God

You have to read v. 3 two or three times before the full extent of her vow really sinks in. Her worship to Yahweh is actually the breaking of the second commandment. Making an image and an idol to honour Yahweh! And her son has the privilege of using this idolatrous fancy work.

How sincere she must have been. But sincerity is not enough, when it comes to honouring Israel’s God. She says she wants to serve Yahweh. Well, let her serve Him, then, as He commands, not as she likes. And there’s a lesson for us there, too.

 

Poison your soul

Like mother, like son. He’s happy to have the paraphernalia of idolatry at home, and he adds a shrine, ephod and some more idols. The only thing lacking is a priest to run the show. No, he even has that covered – one of his sons can be Master of Ceremonies (v.5). What a disaster. Now we might appreciate why the historian inserts his comment in v.6; and it tells us exactly what he thinks of this set-up. And do you think of Ps. 115, as it speaks of idols and idolaters? “They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but cannot see. They have ears, but cannot hear, noses, but cannot smell. They have hands, but cannot feel, feet, but cannot walk, nor can they utter a sound with their throats. Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them” (‭Psalm‬ ‭115‬:‭5-8‬). Idolatry is poison.

 

Feel-good religion

The closing scene introduces us to an unnamed Levite. We don’t know what happened to Micah’s son, but the moment this Levite arrives looking for work, Micah can’t believe his luck. He’s an actual Levite, and from Judah (v.9)! That’s like religious royalty showing up, so Micah can’t wait to offer him terms of employment, which the man is happy to take (vv.10-12).

And Micah’s feeling on top of the world! He’s got a great priest, and so he’s sure to get God’s blessing. What can possibly go wrong?

 

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Well, if you want the answer, read on. But pause first. None of us believes this is a happily-ever-after story. Micah may feel great. But he’s grown used to feeling fine about things which are deeply wrong. His conscience is no guide, far less is his religion. He’s a mess. And if we think that we can break God’s laws and cook up a stew of religion to tempt Him with, we’ll land in the same mess, regardless of what we might think or feel.

How wonderful that Jesus is our Prophet, Priest and King. Unlike Micah, He always honoured God with the truth, even when it meant the cost of His own life. He speaks the truth to us today, through His Word, in the power of His Holy Spirit. He is our Priest. He is the Priest who lived sinlessly before God, and offered our sacrifice for sin in His body at the Cross. And He is our King, the real Judge, who rules over our lives, and who calls us, not to do what seems fitting in our own eyes, but what is right in God’s sight. And He gives us generously of his Holy Spirit so that, even in dark days, we can do just that.

Lewis Allen

Pastor, Hope Church Huddersfield, Director of Gospel Yorkshire, husband, father of five, football follower and dreaming fly-fisherman, Daily Reading the Bible Together blogger.

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