We have to realize that the Bible is not put together in some hodge-podge way. There is a divine viewpoint framework of history. It starts off with the first eleven chapters in Genesis. This is why the events from the creation to the tower of Babel are so crucial, and why it is those eleven chapters that are attacked again and again and again by human scholarship, by academia, by those who reject the Bible. Because if you remove that foundation everything else falls. You need to take those events as happened literally and that those events occurred exactly as described in Scripture, or everything else falls. In those first few chapters there is a foundation of doctrine. We understand who God is as the creator. That emphasizes His sovereignty. Along with that we see that man fails: Adam sinned. So we see the correlation to the sovereignty of God which is human volition, human responsibility. That God decreed in eternity past that His sovereignty would coexist with human volition and He would not override or destroy man's responsibility and man's free will. We understand, too, from those first eleven chapters that God has a plan, and God has a purpose for mankind, and He is working out that plan and purpose in human history. So the foundation is laid in the first eleven chapters through the creation, the fall, and the flood, which gives us an understanding of what God is doing with the human race.
The next stage in the edifice is understanding grace. Grace was obviously there before the Abrahamic covenant, Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord, but grace is not fully developed as a doctrine until you start coming to the Abrahamic covenant: that God chose Abraham, not because of who Abraham was or what Abraham had done. When we study Abraham's life from chapter twelve to chapters eighteen and nineteen we realize that Abraham is just a clod and just as much a sinner as any of us, and that God chose Abraham because of who and what God is and not because of who and Abraham was. God establishes an unconditional covenant with Abraham so that God's blessings are not dependent upon what man does. God's blessing for Israel, therefore, ultimately is not going to be dependent upon obedience or disobedience but on an unconditional promise. That then helps us to understand that our salvation is based upon that same kind of unconditional promise, that it is not based on who we are or what we are, we can never lose it. Those people who think you can do something to lose your salvation are people who somehow think that there is something we can do to earn or gain our salvation. That is called works in the Scripture, and the Scripture says, "By grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the free gift of God, not of works lest any man should boast." Cf. Titus 3:5. So grace is first fully understood through the Abrahamic covenant.
Then the next concept that is developed through the Mosaic law is the concept of loyalty and love. That is really substantiated in the first five commandments. In the Mosaic law you have a framework of mandates which explain that love and loyalty are related to one another. This is clear in the New Testament. Jesus said, "If you love me you will keep my commandments." You can't separate loyalty and faithfulness from God. So what we learn from the Mosaic law is that loyalty always has a standard, it is always related to a series of absolutes. It gives us an objective measure of love for God. Love for God, then, becomes the foundation for all other loves. When you have an objective standard for defining and evaluating love what you begin to realize that love is not just emotion, it is not a feeling, it is not sentiment, nut love is rooted and grounded in knowledge of God and in volitional choices. Once you get away from that then love is reduced to just a fluid, mutating feeling; once you have it and the next day you don't. And people who don't understand the concept of the biblical relationship of loyalty to love will never have what we call impersonal or unconditional love. That is the foundation for all other love and when you don't have that then relationships are going to falter, marriages will fall apart, and ultimately it wipes out every one of the divine institutions. It destroys marriage, it destroys family, and it will break down a nation because without impersonal love people will not be able to have true tolerance for one another--not this pseudo tolerance that is popular today, which is basically approving what everybody is doing. True tolerance is to allow other people to do wrong without judging or condemning them but that doesn't mean that you accept the behaviour, accept what is right or wrong, or that you approve it. Yet today we have many groups that want their sinful activity to be approved of or simply tolerated and so they are trying to redefine the language. The Abrahamic covenant and the concept of grace is based upon previously revealed doctrine: creation, fall, and flood. If you were to take out the bottom foundation the Abrahamic covenant would be meaningless. If, on the other hand, you take out the first two floors then there is no foundation for loyalty and love. Furthermore, we know there is a connection between loyalty and love because one of the major Hebrew words that is used to speak of God's love in the Old Testament—sometimes translated steadfast love, loyal love—is the Hebrew word chesedh, and it refers to the loyal, faithful, steadfast love of God. It is based on His immutable character, not on any circumstances in our life. So God establishes the Mosaic law, and the Mosaic law promised at the end to Israel that if they obeyed God that at the end He would give them certain blessings, and if they didn't He would discipline them. And God was fully within His rights because of Israel's disobedience during the period of the judges to wipe out the nation. But He didn't because when the Mosaic law was abrogated by Israel God falls back on the unmerited grace as expressed in the Abrahamic covenant. This is why God develop these doctrine is a particular order in Scripture, and that is a doctrine known as progressive revelation. That is, over a period of time God progressively revealed and added to His revelation, not that He changed anything but there is an unpacking, an unfolding, a development of doctrine from the pages of Scripture so that what is contained in seed form in Genesis chapter three is more fully explained in the Gospel of John, as it were.
In order to understand the dynamics of Judges chapter 17 we have to go back and look at a particular passage in the Old Testament, Deuteronomy 12. The chapter is in the context of a restatement of the Mosaic law. Deuteronomy, in fact, is Moses' parting sermon to the nation. It was delivered to the nation just before Moses went to be with the Lord, and it is a restatement of the law, that is why it is called DEUTEROS (two) NOMOS (law) = law, part two. Here Moses restates all the stipulations of the Mosaic law to the conquest generation. Deuteronomy 12-16 is going to establish the basis for unity and unification in the nation, and this is foundational for understanding what goes on in the Old Testament. Chapter 12 lays the foundation for unity of worship. Chapter 13 is going to lay the foundation for unity of doctrine. Even in the New Testament our unity in the church is to be a unity of faith, faith being doctrine. Chapters 14 & 15 emphasize the unity of culture, and then in chapter 16 there is the unity related to national holidays, observance of special feast days in Israel's calendar that everyone in the nation was to follow, and it emphasizes their patriotism to the nation, loyalty to their country.
We need to look at a few things in Deuteronomy chapter 12 because this is foundational to what happens in Judges chapter 17. Notice in verse 1 the upper case LORD to indicate that in the original Hebrew text you have the name of God, Yahweh (wrongly translated Jehovah). Whenever we see this upper case LORD for Yahweh what that emphasizes is God in His covenant relationship to Israel. It was when Moses was called by God at the burning bush and God commissioned him to deliver the people, and Moses said, Whom shall I say sent me? and God said, Yahweh, because I AM that I AM. So this particular name of God is always a reminder of God's unconditional covenant relationship with Israel; "which the LORD God of your fathers", reminding them of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, has given you to possess as long as you live on the earth." Verse 2, they were to completely eradicate every competing worship place in the land—every temple, altar, high place, even if it had the name of Yahweh attached to it. Every competing worship place was to be completely wiped out and destroyed, except for the one that God designated. What happens today in religion—it happened then as it does now—is people try to justify their false ideas by attaching God's name to it. That is really what it means to take the Lord's name in vain. It means to assign in an empty or vain manner the name of God to some enterprise. God does not want His name attached to anything that is not the truth of God's Word. And they were to obliterate their name from that place. This tells us that there is a distinction, a radical difference between the way believers are to worship God and the way unbelievers worship their gods. One of the problems of the church throughout the ages is that it has always been influenced by ideas, thoughts and values in the worship setting of pagan, non-Christian religions. That was the problem with the Corinthians. So what we see in these four verses is that Deuteronomy eliminates all competitive religious systems in the land, authorized the destruction of all unauthorized worship centres, and emphasized exclusivity: There is only one way, God says.
Verses 5,6—this establishes one central sanctuary in Israel. There was only one place that the Jews were to come to worship God and that was at the tabernacle, and later the temple, and at the time of the judges the tabernacle was located at Shiloh. It also establishes a specific code of ritual and worship. That changed in the Church Age, now we worship God by means of the Holy Spirit and truth. Now we have the local church where worship takes place. But in every dispensation there is a specific code of worship, man is not to generate his own ideas of worship. Worship is designed objectively by God, it is on the basis of the Holy Spirit and on the basis of Bible doctrine.
Toward the end of the chapter we will see that there is a warning associated with this. Verse 30—"Take heed to thyself that thou be not snared by following them, after that they be destroyed from before thee; and that thou inquire not after their gods, saying, How did these nations serve their gods? even so will I do likewise." In other words, don't begin to think that because they seem to be blessed or seem to have some measure of success, seem to have an excessive amount of productivity in their crops, that that is somehow related to their false worship. This is a problem we get into today. People think that because they do certain things and also seem to have a level of prosperity, happiness or success, that somehow those are related and they validate whatever their religious practice is. The problem with that, and the appeal of it, is that people are always looking for that quick fix, the magic bullet, that somehow I didn't get it all at the cross. That is the basic heresy, err, in the charismatic thinking: that somehow, now I'm saved but I'm missing something, I just don't seem to have that joy that was there when I was first saved, so maybe I didn't get it all at the cross, so maybe there is some sort of post-salvation experience. That is a slap in the face of God because God gave us everything at the point of salvation—Ephesians 1:3. The only problem is we don't understand everything that God has given us because we haven't studied His Word, we don't know the doctrines that are there. Because of lack of knowledge we don't have the kind of growth that we should have and therefore we don't seem to have the kind of life that God has promised. This is exactly what happened with Israel during the period of the judges. They began to look elsewhere, they thought they could find prosperity, happiness and meaning in life by going after the false gods of the Baal worship, the Canaanites—fertility worship. But God warns against this.
Verse 31—"Thou shalt not do so unto the LORD thy God: for every abomination to the LORD, which he hateth, have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their gods. What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it."
It is the revealed Word of God then that is the basis for doctrine. Then in chapter 13 he goes on to talk about the unity of doctrine and in those verses what God warns is that no matter what supernatural signs or alleged miracles may accompany someone's religious claims, if it violates the doctrine of the Word then they are to be eliminated. Therefore there was the death penalty for anyone who prophesied and whose prophesies did not come one hundred per cent true. That is not an application today but it was in the Mosaic law.
Back to Judges chapter seventeen. From here until chapter 21 the author is giving an indictment of the people. What was it that undergirded the apostasy and the failure of the people at this time? We see that it is religious apostasy, and religious apostasy always precedes moral collapse and national destruction. It begins with negative volition. In the United States there have been positive things going on, but nationally from the mid-nineteenth century there has been a rejection of truth when American academia
in seminaries bought into liberal Protestant theology that was a clear, prominent rejection of absolute truth. We bought into the subjective relativism in our universities and colleges of the philosophies of people like Imannuel Kant and others. Now we have schools and colleges that are so dominated by moral relativism and academic relativism that it has produced academic arrogance, and if you are believer in the Lord Jesus Christ and you are taking a stand for truth of God's Word, and even if you don't mention you are a Christian but just voice opinions that are consistent with God's Word you will be graded down the classroom and laughed out of the classroom. There is no tolerance left for anyone that is a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ and positive to doctrine. There is tolerance for every other perversion in the country but there is no tolerance for doctrine, no tolerance for anyone who holds to biblical absolutes. Absolutes have been rejected and in their place people have moral relativism. This is exactly what happened with Israel.
So we see the development of apostasy with this one individual, Micah. He and his mother seemed to be very religious but they rejected the revealed will God. Micah even has a name which has religious overtones. But it is just the words, going through the motions, external ritual or form without any internal reality. We discovered in those first six verses that he was already in idolatry, he had a collection of idols, and because of his idolatry he has no values and steals from his mother. Upon the return of the silver his mother "wholly dedicates" it to the Lord but she kept most for herself. Then in verse 5 we are told that Micah had his own religious setting, in competition with the tabernacle at Shiloh. He has a whole ritual system and is developing his own cult, and he consecrates his own son as priest. Then we are told in verse 6 that there was no king in Israel. That is not a reference to necessarily to the Davidic monarchy or the monarchy of Saul but is a reminder that the people has rejected Yahweh as King. Once you reject God, He is out of the picture and what moves into the vacuum is man. Man becomes a god unto himself and begins to set his own standards, everyone wants to be god and so everyone starts to do what is right in their own eyes.
Verse 7, "And there was a young man out of Bethlehem-judah of the family of Judah, who was a Levite, and he sojourned there." The scene has shifted for Micah and his mother in their house to another individual. He is a young man, the Hebrew word means an adolescent, referring to anyone who was a young child to about puberty or adolescence. It seems to be a bit of a contradiction when it says he was of the family of Judah and a Levite, two different tribes. So it is verey possible that his mother was from one tribe and his father from another.
There are a couple of things we should note about this because it tells us something about his spiritual condition. First of all, he is young and the writer of Judges is emphasizing this because according to the Mosaic law a priest needed to be at least thirty years of age, according to Numbers 4:3, 30. Numbers 8:24-26 suggests possibly a lower age limit of 25 years, but the point of those passages is that for a man to function as a priest he had to be at least 25 years of age. So there is absolutely no concern whatsoever here for any of the requirements of the Mosaic law. They don't matter at all, he is considering himself a Levite even though he may be a half-Levite; he is going to do what he wants to do. The second things we note is that he is from Bethlehem, a fact repeated three times in this passage. Whenever the Holy Spirit repeats something even a couple of times we ought to pay attention to it, so we ought to ask the question as to why the writer want us to pay attention to the fact that he is from Bethlehem. Well, there are some people who think that Judges was really written as a sort of propaganda piece during the monarchy to establish and defend the Davidic monarchy. But this is not pro-David. David is from Bethlehem; Bethlehem is going to be called the city of David. Here the writer is clearly objective and he is going to paint a very nasty picture of Bethlehem. Bethlehem is tainted by this because they produced this heretic. So this is nothing positive about Bethlehem, in fact it is an embarrassment to Bethlehem and to Judah, as well as to all Israel. Then we are told that he is from the tribe of Levi so he is at least half Levitical, and he is living in Bethlehem. If we look at various passages in the Mosaic law what we will discover, for example Joshua 21:9-16, there is a list of cities given for the habitation of Levites. Remember that in the Old Testament every tribe was given an inheritance or a possession in the land, except the Levites. The Levites were in the land but they didn't possess it. Instead, God assigned 48 cities in Israel for the habitation of the Levites, so the Levites were spread throughout the land. So he is not living in a Levitical city, he is living wherever he wants to and is doing whatever he wants to. It just substantiates the idea that everyone was doing what was right in his own eyes, and this is showing that the religious leaders were doing what is right in their own eyes and have complete disregard for the Mosaic law. We see here that as he leaves he is going out and looking for the will of God for his life, like so many Christians. They don't have any doctrine and are just waiting for any kind of open door opportunity to come along, and with no doctrine it looks like an opportunity so this must be God's will. He is really just an opportunist. The thing is that God often leads through closed doors. Just think about it. God's will was for Israel top go into the land of Canaan and to conquer the people. The people were resistant so it must not be a closed door, despite what God said! So just because the door is open it doesn't mean it is God's will. Satan is an expert at opening doors for us and getting us distracted and deceived, and sometimes God is leading us through a closed door because it is in the process of overcoming difficulty and opposition and we are going to trust God and see His deliverance. This young man isn't following God's lead at all.
Verse 8, "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 journeyed." Notice, he is not joining with other Levites according to the prescription of the law, he's out there on his own. It's a solo act, he's going to do whatever he wants to do. Furthermore, we are going to see that he is not going to serve in the name of Yahweh but in the name of Micah. He goes to the hill country. We have just seen the apostasy of Samson and he is of the tribe of Dan, and where this is headed—chapter 17 is the background for chapter 18 where we are going to see the apostasy of the tribe of Dan and all the mechanics of that apostasy, and Dan is going to be unable to take their inheritance. They have an inheritance that God assigned to them but they failed to take it. The point of application there is to remind us that when we come to those inheritance passages in the New Testament which say that if you commit this sin, that sin, or this other sin, if you are a sodomite, a liar, etc., whatever it might be, if you practice any of these sins you are not going to inherit the kingdom of God. And everybody comes along and wants to make the point that to inherit the kingdom of God it is entry into heaven, so if you commit any of these sins or you practice any of these sins, you can't be saved. That is not what it is saying. Dan is saved, they're in the land, but they are not going to take their possession because of their apostasy. That is the same thing that happens with many Christians. They are given blessings contingently and an inheritance contingently, but they will never realize it because of apostasy. The root of apostasy is negative volition, and the root of Dan's apostasy is going to be the false religion established here by Micah. That is where this is going. Because Dan is going to be influenced by this one person's religion they are going to adopt it, and eventually they are going to take this young Levite for their own and offer him a bigger, better church, as it were, and offer him a higher salary, etc. So he is going to go with them all the way up north and steal somebody else's land, but it is not their God-defined inheritance. They are still in the land but they forfeit their inheritance. That is what will happen with many believers in heaven. They will forfeit their inheritance: they will still be in the kingdom but will not be an heir of the kingdom or possess the kingdom.
Verse 9, "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." Not where the Lord leads me but wherever I might find a place! This is the same kind of subjective means that many Christians use to find God's will—just whatever happens, whatever opens, that must be God's will. There is no doctrine here. This guy has no doctrinal framework for discernment. Whenever he gets an opportunity he thinks that somehow that must be God's will. This is how we practice religion. Something comes along, we slap God's name on it, that must be God's will. Now we validate it, justify our own agenda, and then we go our own way assuming that God must bless whatever we define. That is how Micah and this Levite operate.
Verse 10, "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 went in."
Notice, a father and priest to me, not to Yahweh. He is going to be a priest to Micah. So Micah is going to sweeten the pot and says he is going to give him ten pieces of silver a year, a secure salary that is fairly profitable, and a suit of clothes. Difficult to come by in those days. The Levite thinks obviously God must have provided this for me, it must be God's will, so he goes in and begins to operate and set up this false religious system.
Verse 11, "And the Levite was content to dwell with the man; and the young man was unto him as one of his sons." Notice the irony here. He said, "Be a father to me," and so the Levite is like one of his sons. So he is brought into his family and yet he is gong to be a father in the sense of leading him spiritually. It is sort of a self-invented religion. Verse 12, "And Micah consecrated the Levite; and the young man became his priest, and was in the house of Micah."
Some key points.
1) This chapter represents one of the lowest points in the history of Israel because it presents the foundation for the religious apostasy throughout the entire nation. It is the apostasy of this one man that is going to influence all of the other tribes in the nation and eventually lead to the fall of the nation. Warning: Whenever you meet someone who has wrapped themselves in the cloak of religion and ritual and a lot of religious terminology rather than the revealed Word of God, beware. They are like Micah and they are the enemy of truth.
2) The use of proper religious terminology is not a sign of spirituality or orthodoxy.
3) Religion does not restrain immorality. Notice they are very religious but he is stealing from his mother. Religion is not the answer. Religion apart from the truth is just as destructive as immorality because it is seductive and deceptive. Religion does nothing to restrain immorality, only truth does. Jesus said, "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free."
4) Spirituality is a relationship with God based on the finished work of Christ on the cross, walking by means of the Spirit, confessing sin where necessary, and applying doctrine. It is not emotion, ritual, feelings, religious activity, or religious devotion. Spirituality has to do with what Jesus said, "If you love me you will keep my commandments." The spiritual life of the church is energized by the Holy Spirit. Spirituality is not based on morality but on a walk and a right relationship with God the Holy Spirit.
5) Micah's rejection of the divinely ordained worship site in Shiloh is analogous today to the rejection of worshipping God through learning Bible doctrine. Today people don't want to learn the Word of God, they want to go to church, sing songs, feel good, to emote, get up and give testimonies, just to validate their own experience, but they don't want to sit for an hour in order to learn what God has to say. J. Vernon Magee: "You can learn nothing significant about the Word of God in under thirty minutes."
6) Religion doesn't always deny the teaching of Scripture; it often offers something additional.
7) The solution is that we are to become thoroughly trained in the truth of the Word of God so that we can avoid being seduced by all the false teaching and false idea in our culture.