Study Notes

Judges 17:1-18:31

17:1 The Hill Country Of Ephraim

Micah lived in the hill country of Ephraim. You may recall that this was the land that was the source of a disagreement back in Joshua 17.

The tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim complained to Joshua that their inheritance of the promised land was too small. There were no wide open places to farm, and no big cities conquered to settle it like the other tribes had inherited.

Josh. 17:14-18 Then the sons of Joseph spoke to Joshua, saying, "Why have you given me only one lot and one portion for an inheritance, since I am a numerous people whom the LORD has thus far blessed?" And Joshua said to them, "If you are a numerous people, go up to the forest and clear a place for yourself there in the land of the Perizzites and of the Rephaim, since the hill country of Ephraim is too narrow for you." And the sons of Joseph said, "The hill country is not enough for us, and all the Canaanites who live in the valley land have chariots of iron, both those who are in Beth-shean and its towns, and those who are in the valley of Jezreel." And Joshua spoke to the house of Joseph, to Ephraim and Manasseh, saying, "You are a numerous people and have great power; you shall not have one lot only, but the hill country shall be yours. For though it is a forest, you shall clear it, and to its farthest borders it shall be yours; for you shall drive out the Canaanites, even though they have chariots of iron {and} though they are strong."

Joshua's response was that it wasn't the land that was too small, it was their desire to conquer it that was too small. All they had to do was trust the Lord and drive out the Canaanites.

Finally, after the land had been conquered, Joshua's inheritance was given to him in this area.

And now, in the days of the judges of Israel, we learn of a man named Micah, and discover that there's not going to be much that is edifying about him or his family.

17:2 Stolen Silver

Someone had stolen eleven hundred pieces of silver from Micah's mother. (This was no small amount, considering that a priest will be paid just 10 pieces of silver a year for full-time work.)

When Micah's mother discovered that her money was missing, she uttered a curse against whoever had taken it. Micah heard this, and being as how he was the thief and didn't want to be cursed, admitted his theft and gave the money back.

His mom didn't seem angry, she actually spoke a blessing over him in the name of the Lord! Micah's fear of God and his mother's belief tell us that they are not godless people, but as we're about to see, they certainly are nowhere near doctrinally correct!

17:3-4 Idols "For The Lord"

When Micah's mother got the money back, she was so thankful that she dedicated 200 pieces of silver to the Lord. But this was not given to the temple as you might hope. It was used to make two idols - a graven image, which is an idol carved from wood or stone, and a molten image, which is made by molten metal being poured into a cast.

Of course, the law of God was clear:

Lev. 26:1 'You shall not make for yourselves idols, nor shall you set up for yourselves an image or a {sacred} pillar, nor shall you place a figured stone in your land to bow down to it; for I am the LORD your God.

So here's the pitiful situation in the house. A son who steals, a mother who doesn't punish, and and entire family of superstitious idolaters who think that they're pleasing to the Lord.

17:5 A Shrine

The word for shrine here is "bah'-yith," which means "house" - the same word that was used in verse four, describing the house of Micah. So Micah has made a house inside his house for his gods to stay in.

Idolatry to me is completely incomprehensible. Why do people fixate on a carved piece of wood, or a piece of metal, to worship it? Whether it's a statue of Mary, or a Buddha, I just don't get it. Neither does God. He spoke through Isaiah that a man...

Isa. 44:13-19 ...shapes wood, he extends a measuring line; he outlines it with red chalk. He works it with planes, and outlines it with a compass, and makes it like the form of a man, like the beauty of man, so that it may sit in a house. Surely he cuts cedars for himself, and takes a cypress or an oak, and raises {it} for himself among the trees of the forest. He plants a fir, and the rain makes it grow. Then it becomes {something} for a man to burn, so he takes one of them and warms himself; he also makes a fire to bake bread. He also makes a god and worships it; he makes it a graven image, and falls down before it. Half of it he burns in the fire; over {this} half he eats meat as he roasts a roast, and is satisfied. He also warms himself and says, "Aha! I am warm, I have seen the fire." But the rest of it he makes into a god, his graven image. He falls down before it and worships; he also prays to it and says, "Deliver me, for thou art my god." They do not know, nor do they understand, for He has smeared over their eyes so that they cannot see and their hearts so that they cannot comprehend. And no one recalls, nor is there knowledge or understanding to say, "I have burned half of it in the fire, and also have baked bread over its coals. I roast meat and eat {it.} Then I make the rest of it into an abomination, I fall down before a block of wood!"

Idolatry is ridiculous, yet it continues today, even in the Christian church. Worshipping images of Mary, Jesus, Joseph, and the saints. Unbelievable!

Micah didn't stop there. He also made an ephod, which was the apron-like garment that the high priest wore in the tabernacle. This he gave to his son, and ordained him to be the priest of the house. Now he's got his own priest to go with his house of idols!

17:6 What Was Right In His Own Eyes

This sentence is a good summation of the rest of the book of Judges. Unfortunately, it's also a good summation of the direction our own society is headed. Moral relativism is teaching the younger generation that because there is no God, then there are no moral absolutes. And hence, there is no right and wrong. We just need to do what we think is right.

But the Bible warns us,

Prov. 14:12 There is a way {which seems} right to a man, But its end is the way of death.

When everyone is doing what is right in their own eyes, you can be sure a society is headed for destruction.

17:7-8 Bethlehem In Judah

There are two cities named Bethlehem mentioned in the Bible. One was in the inheritance of the tribe of Zebulun. The other Bethlehem was in Judah's inheritance, called Bethlehem-Judah, or, because it was part of Ephrath, called Bethlehem Erphratha. This is of course the city where Jesus was born, as was prophecied, interestingly enough, by another man named Micah, this one the prophet Micah, author of the book of Micah. He wrote of the birthplace of the Messiah,

Micah 5:2 " But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, {Too} little to be among the clans of Judah, From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, From the days of eternity."

The Micah of our story meets a traveling Levite from Bethlehem.

17:9-13 Is The Levite A Priest?

Remember that not every man in the tribe of Levi was a priest. Levi had three sons, Gershon, Kohath, and Merari. It was the Kohathites that worked in the tabernacle (see Numbers 4). One of the families of the Kohathites were the sons of Aaron, who were the actual priests.

So was this Levite a priest? All we know about him so far is that he was from Bethlehem in Judah. You may recall that the Levites didn't have an inheritance in the land - the Lord was to be their inheritance. But He did give them 49 cities spread throughout the land of Israel. In Joshua 21, we read that the Kohathites received cities by lot from the tribe of Judah.

Josh. 21:4-5 Then the lot came out for the families of the Kohathites. And the sons of Aaron the priest, who were of the Levites, received thirteen cities by lot from the tribe of Judah and from the tribe of the Simeonites and from the tribe of Benjamin. And the rest of the sons of Kohath received ten cities by lot from the families of the tribe of Ephraim and from the tribe of Dan and from the half-tribe of Manasseh.

So we can assume that a Levite from the area of Judah would have been a Kohathite. IN fact, we'll discover in a surprise ending to our story regarding him, that his linneage was close, but no cigar.

A Lack Of Knowledge

Micah decides that son of Aaron or not, having a Levite as a priest is better than having his son as the priest. He hires the Levite on the spot, saying,

Judg. 17:13 ..."Now I know that the LORD will prosper me, seeing I have a Levite as priest."

Again, we see a complete lack of knowledge regarding the ways of the God that Micah believes he is worshiping. This is not the tabernacle of God. This is not a priest of God. And these idols are forbidden by God. This entire situation is grievous to the Lord.

But some may think, "Is God really not content with people's hearts desiring to worship Him in whatever way they can come up with? Is it really all that important to do things exactly the way they are in the Bible? Is God really that much a a stickler to His way? Are we really obligated to know this stuff?" The answer to all these questions is yes. It is imperative that we know what God has commanded. That we know how He desires us to be and how He insists that He be worshiped. The prophets heard God say,

Isa. 5:13 Therefore My people go into exile for their lack of knowledge; And their honorable men are famished, And their multitude is parched with thirst.

Hosea 4:6 My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being My priest. Since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.

A lack of knowledge can destroy you, when it leads you to believe you have a relationship with God that you don't really have. Jesus said,

Matt. 7:21-23 "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.'

People will actually stand before God believing that they were saved, believing they knew God. But they won't be, because He didn't know them.

18:1 No King

This is the second of four times that the author of Judges tells us that there was no king in Israel in those days (17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25).

This is why we conclude that it was from the era of the kings of Israel, presumably during King Saul's reign. As we learned in our study of chapter one, it was not written after David had become the king, because we read,

Judg. 1:21 ...the Jebusites have lived with the sons of Benjamin in Jerusalem to this day.

In 2Samuel 5, we read that David conquered the Jebusites that had were living safely in the stronghold of Zion. So the term "to this day" indicates that it was before David's reign.

No Land For Dan?

It sounds like the tribe of Dan had not received an inheritance in the land. This is not exactly the case. Joshua 19:39-48 describes in detail the inheritance that Dan received. Unfortunately, they had not trusted the Lord enough to give them the victory over the Amorites who lived in the valley of their land. Chapter one told us,

Judg. 1:34 Then the Amorites forced the sons of Dan into the hill country, for they did not allow them to come down to the valley

So they are looking for land that has either weaker inhabitants or fewer opponents.

18:2-6 Inquiring Of The Levite

Five men of Tsor-AW and Esh-taw-OLE from the tribe of Dan go out in search of better land to live in. They were staying at Micah's house when they heard the voice of the Levite. When they asked him why he was there, the Levite explained his priestly situation.

They asked him,

Judg. 18:5-6 And they said to him, "Inquire of God, please, that we may know whether our way on which we are going will be prosperous." And the priest said to them, "Go in peace; your way in which you are going has the LORD'S approval."

Jesus told us the difference between a shepherd and a hireling. This shows us that the Levite's true nature is the latter. You see, a priest who doesn't pray to hear the heart of God, but simply tells people what they want to hear, is a disgrace to his position. He is simply a hireling who is directed by the sheep he is supposed to be directing. He doesn't love them enough to tell the truth, and as soon as things get rough, he bails out. Jesus said,

John 10:12-13 "He who is a hireling, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, beholds the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep, and flees, and the wolf snatches them, and scatters them. He flees because he is a hireling, and is not concerned about the sheep."

You can find many pastors and priests today with the same heart as the Levite had. Men who will tell their congregations what they want to hear, men who claim to be representatives of God, yet never reveal the true heart of God, because they themselves do not know what that is.

God was not giving approval to the tribe of Dan to take land elsewhere. His desire was that they would fight in faith against the Amorites in the area which He had already given them. This priest is nothing but a hireling and a false prophet.

18:7-10 The Land Of Laish

Although Dan's inheritance was south of the center of Israel, the five men go all the way up to the northern border of Israel, to LAH-yish. Is was there that they saw people living in quiet security, getting along with everybody because they had contact with nobody.

They headed back south to Zorah and Eshtaol, and said, "We've found what we were looking for! Great land with easy enemies! Let's go get it guys!"

Notice that they say,

Judg. 18:10 "...God has given it into your hand..."

This was patently untrue. God had not given them this land. Too often, we find ourselves in the flesh, and claiming that it's God's direction.

Before I entered the ministry, I'd had enough of my job as an Art Director. I was sick of my boss and sick of the company I worked for. I was told that Art Directors in Las Vegas were making $40,000 a year. I rationalized it in my head, "there's some great Calvary Chapels out there. The kids would be closer to their Grandma. I could afford to provide for my family better than I am now!" I flew out there and in a matter of days landed a great job offer from one of the big casinos. On the plane ride home, I was really excited. Finally, I was getting out of the nightmare I lived through at work. Finally, I was going to get some real money. I started to pray, "Hey Lord, thanks for giving me this job." But then I knew the cold reality: God hadn't given me this job, I had taken it. My inheritance was not in Las Vegas, and if I went there, I'd be going without God's blessing. I turned down the job as soon as I got home.

And it was only when I learned to be content in my job situation that the Lord moved me into ministry.

I'm thankful that God allowed me the freedom to make that mistake and be convicted by it. But unlike my circumstance, the Danites didn't pray about it. They were living up to the day, when,

Judg. 17:6 ...every man did what was right in his own eyes.

This turns out terribly.

18:11-21 Priest And Idols Are Taken

Six hundred Danites marched north to war, camping at Keer-YATH Yeh-aw-REEM, and making the place known as Makh-an-AY-dawn, which means "camp of Dan."

Halfway through their journey, they were convinced by the original five guys to stop at Micah's house and pick up some things - namely a Levite and some idols.

Again, we see the hireling's heart - much better to be a priest of a large congregation than a small one!

18:22-26 Dan Threatens Micah

Micah and his neighbors go chasing after the army of Danites, but I don't think they had really thought through their plan. When the Danites turned around, they said, "Yeah, so what's your problem?"

When Micah complained that they had robbed him, they said, "Shut your mouth or we'll kill you and your family." Then they turned around and kept heading north. Weak and defeated, Micah turned around and went home.

If Micah had known the Lord in truth, if he had been a man of faith, 600 men would have been nothing to him. If he had been defending a rightoues cause, he could have been victorious. But in reality, this was a conflict between two ungodly parties, and God was on neither side.

18:27-29 The People Of Laish Killed

The Danites slaughter the people of Laish and settle there. They rename the city Dan, and become terrible idolaters.

18:30-31 The Levite Revealed

We finally discover the identity of the Levite: Jonathan. A direct descendant of Gershom, the son of Moses.

Maybe your translation says, "Manasseh" rather than "Moses." The reason for this is a transcription anamoly in the Hebrew. Not a mistake, but a purposeful change. You see, the word Moses was written with a small N above the line between the M and the S, because it was too terrible for the Jews to read of this renegade, idolatrous, direct descendant of Moses. This way, they would read aloud, "Manasseh," rather than "Moses."

Dan's idolatry continued with Jonathan's sons as priests for many years - until the Philistines captured the ark of the covenant (1Sam. 4) - in spite of the fact that the true house of God was in Shiloh, just south of Micah's house in the hill country of Ephraim.

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