The Misery of Idolatry. RBT Notes – Judges 18, 23rd April

Some texts in the bible make our lives just a little uncomfortable, don’t they? Try Deuteronomy 27.15: ‘“Cursed is anyone who makes an idol—a thing detestable to the Lord, the work of skilled hands—and sets it up in secret.” Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”’ God clearly shows us what is dangerous and wrong. When He does, one of our human strategies is to respond by saying ‘that doesn’t apply to me’; or worse still, ‘that verse was for people long ago, it’s not relevant today.’ The modern church has done an excellent job with that line when it comes to issues of greed, poverty, sexuality, gender and workplace holiness, to name a few. The human heart can always find a way of relativising, and then trivialising, the Word of God.

imageMicah has done a great job of doing the exact opposite of Deuteronomy 27.15, and seemingly all the people said the “amen” of approval at his idolatry. Maybe he thought that it didn’t apply to him, and perhaps he thought that God would enjoy his sincere heart, so these idols weren’t a problem. Who knows? Let’s remember that when God’s Word is broken, whatever we manage to reason, or feel, counts for nothing. God has spoken: we must listen, and obey. The church today has her King, and He is enthroned for our obedience (cf v.1).

So we meet the five spies of the tribe of Dan, passing through Ephraim looking for a land to inherit. And of all coincidences, they recognise Micah’s priest, and catchup on old times, before asking his blessing (vv.1-5). Fortified by the belief that God is with them (is He; who knows?), they go and find that the land of the people of Laish will be easy for them to capture, so they take that news back to the tribe (vv.6-9).

Next, the Danite army is en route to battle, but they want to have the comforts of religion with them, so they remember Micah’s house and its idol chapel, and go to get the items there. The priest is shocked at their plunder, but they offer him a wonderful career break, the chance to swap being a private chaplain for the elevation of a Danite Bishopric. He’s not going to refuse, so he joins them, taking his kit with him (vv.10-21).

Of course, Micah’s pretty unhappy about this, but he’s one against six hundred, so he sees his chaplain and his spiritual silverware disappear into the distance (vv.22-26). Then it’s a case of military might and religious talismans advancing against the unsuspecting men of Laish. This was no fair fight, so they destroy the people and their city, and make its replacement city their own, appropriately named Dan (vv.27-29).

And thus was creative worship born. They take a pagan land for themselves, and set up their HQ with pagan idols. Note the final statement, and here’s the real punch – the real house of God was in Shiloh (v.31). It had gone nowhere. And God had gone nowhere. The covenant hadn’t changed, and grace was still available. The misery of the chapter is the misery of these people’s hearts, cherishing their idols, glorying in butchering the vulnerable, boasting in setting up a new society with false gods at the heart of it, and all the while rejecting the Living God. If this chapter feels familiar, it’s because it’s our world, too. People want anything, anything at all, except the life God offers in His Son. Let’s make sure that we never run from 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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