Religion always has been a topic of controversy but it has particularly become a cultural flash point in our society over the past twenty or thirty years. On the one hand you have the secular atheistic crowd who always want to remove any semblance of religion from society. The problem is that whenever there is an action there is always an opposite and equal reaction, and the other side of it is the religious group. The religious group always includes a vast number of Christians who don't have enough doctrine between their ears to understand what the real issues are. So on the other side you have the pro-religious crowd promoting any kind of religion as valuable, as important, as the backbone of culture and society, and that any talk about spirituality, prayer, whatever the content or lack of content might be, is automatically good, positive and beneficial to society. The trouble is that we are going to learn in our study of Judges 17 that both of these groups are deceived, misguided and dangerous, and that if either of them wins society loses, the culture collapses and the nation is on its way to destruction. The reason that religion has nothing to do with biblical Christianity is that biblical Christianity is based on a relationship with God, not ritual forms or contentless prayer, meditation, or anything of that nature; it is not based on works. Religion is always based on some kind of works and puts an emphasis on certain practices and their value for their own sake—prayer, meditation, evangelism, giving, all of which seem to have some inherent value, and that is not what the Bible teaches. The Bible teaches that a relationship with God is based on grace. Satan always attacks grace so that religion is one of Satan's greatest tools of history to distract and destroy the human race. In Judges 17 we see how it was religion that introduced apostasy into Israel and it is religion that caused the cultural collapse during the period of Judges.
We come to a point in our study where we enter into a new section of the book of Judges. This section deals with the breakdown of the people and it demonstrates that if the majority of the people are negative to God and negative to establishment principles then even great leaders can't preserve that society. You can't look to a presidential election as some sort of magic bullet that is going to solve the problem. It has great application for us today. The problem has to do with the people in this nation. Until the people in this nation turn back to doctrine there is not gong to be a solution. It is not turning back to religion; it is not turning back to morality. Morality can't solve the problem. The ultimate problem is sin. Morality may provide a measure of stability, religion may provide a modicum of control to some degree, but eventually it will fall apart, and we are going to see that religion and morality are only temporary fixes, they are limited in their application, and morality never ever solves the fundamental problem of sin. It has to start with grace and an understanding of doctrine.
In Judges chapter 2 we see Joshua's perspective on this. We have to understand the overall time frame. In 1446 BC Israel came out of Egypt. They disobeyed God at Mount Sinai and got into idolatry there, and just as a note as we get into Judges 17, the only tribe that stood with Moses were the Levites, so God appointed the Levites to be the priest tribe of the nation. Then at Kadesh-barnea they sent the spies into the land. Ten came back and said they couldn't do it, there were too many giants in the land, too many people, and strong fortifications. In other words, they thought their problems were bigger than God's and they also misunderstood the Word of God. There is a tremendous lesson there and that is if you misinterpret the Word of God you will never be able to solve your problems. They thought God said, Go see if you can take the land, and God had said, Go see how you are going to take the land. God had already promised that He would give them the land, so they misunderstood and only two men got it right, Caleb and Joshua. And so the nation had to spend forty years in the wilderness in discipline until that rebellious generation died off and a new generation came along which was positive to doctrine. They sat under the Bible teaching of Moses, Joshua and Caleb, and they applied doctrine. So in 1406 BC they entered into the land, crossed the Jordan, and the conquest began under Joshua. It lasted about seven years, to 1399 BC, and they took all the major strongholds of the land. First they went into the centre part of the land, took out the major cities of Jericho and Ai. Then they headed south and then north, and then after that there was a mopping up operation. So after about forty years there is a mopping up operation where various tribes are trying to gain control of their territory. In the first chapters of Judges we saw how they failed. They gradually failed compromised, they failed, they didn't annihilate the population as they were told to by God. So starting in 1360 BC, after Joshua and his generation completely died off, there is approximately a 300-year period of deterioration and decline. There is this constant cycle of disobedience, discipline and deliverance.
Judges 2:6--"When Joshua had dismissed the people." This is a reference to Joshua 24 when he gathered the nation together to reaffirm their covenant with God at Shechem. "the children of Israel went every man unto his inheritance to possess the land. And the people served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders that outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great works of the LORD, that he did for Israel." There was objective historical reliable evidence in their lives. That was the generation that saw God tear down the walls of Jericho, the generation that saw the defeat at Ai, the generation that saw the sun stand still when they battled the Gideonites, that was the generation that saw the historical evidence of what God had revealed to them. They knew that God existed. Religion always ends up in subjectivity but Christianity is always objective, it is based on objective revelation of God's Word, that God communicated to us, He communicated certain things that He intends for us to understand. He did not communicate in order for us to have soome guessing game as to what he meant. He communicated to be clear, to be lucid, to have a clear perception of what God wanted. And they had an objective understanding of truth in that generation and they understood the acts of God in history, they understood that history was important because history gives us an understanding of God's plan and purposes. History is the outworking of His plan.
Verse 8 – but then we are told, "And Joshua, the son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died, being an hundred and ten years old. And they buried him in the border of his inheritance in Timnathheres, in the mount of Ephraim, on the north side of the hill Gaash. And also all that generation were gathered unto their fathers: and there arose another generation after them, which knew not the LORD, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel." What happened was that they rejected history. They had no concept or appreciation of history, they thought history was just a bunch of stories. And there are many people who rewrite history, many historical revisionists come in because they don't have an objective framework, and so they don't know how to interpret history, and history just becomes a tool of propaganda. This is exemplified most clearly in the Old Testament when Jereboam becomes the king of the northern kingdom. After there is a tax revolt against Solomon because of the oppressive taxes on them that he had raised, and then when his son Reheboam took over at the point of Solomon's death Reheboam followed the advice of all the young men to jack up the taxes so that they could have more. The people finally got fed up with it and Jereboam led a tax revolt and the ten nations went out and set up an alternative nation. But now he had to establish a religious foundation because he had to unify the people. He couldn't have his people as a separate nation always having to south into the other country to Jerusalem to worship God. So he decided that he would rewrite history. He had a golden calf made, established it in Samaria, and he established an altar and a worship site. And he said—and here is the historical revisionism—"This is the God who led you out of Egypt." So he began to rewrite history. Always be careful when people rewrite history, they have an agenda that will lead to the nation's destruction. So this generation that came up was negative to God and they had no appreciation for objective works of God in history.
There are three important principles to understand from this.
1) When a nation rejects the historical evidences for Christianity as being objectively valid the people always become subjective. Once you begin to reject the fact that Christianity is an objective reality, that there was a man named Jesus who walked on the earth and His ministry extended from about 30-33 AD, and that He went to the cross and died for our sins, and that He was buried and on the third day rose again, Jesus becomes just some idealized figure of morality, or some figure of somebody who is to motivate us to live for what we believe in, or any of the myriad of other ideas that destroy the person of Jesus Christ, then if there is no objectivity all you can know is your own impression, emotions, feelings. Once you destroy objective truth the only thing to replace it with is subjectivity.
2) Once you replace objectivity with subjectivity, then everything goes to mysticism and emotion. Subjectivity always leads to emotion and mysticism. Objectivity is based on clear, rational, objective thought. But one you destroy that then all you are left with is emotion. So the masses of people in a nation are moved by their emotions, not fact, not by thought, not by content. They are motivated by whatever the emotional appeal is of the day.
3) Subjectivity in a nation always leads to the destruction of that culture. It will always deteriorate and will always fall apart, because once you get into subjectivity it destroys values, it destroys objective absolutes, everything becomes relative, and then you get into the same situation Israel got into where everyone did what was right in his own eyes. Once you get into working out over time in history the results of relativism is fragmentation. The more people do what is right in their eyes the more desperate they become. One group wants this and another group wants that, and everybody is into political action. It just drives people further and further away until eventually you see some form of internal collapse.
In Judges 2:11, notice that Israel does not go into secularism. They go into religion! They reject God and the solution is religion. It is the fertility religion of the Canaanites but nevertheless it is still religion. And that is an immoral religion. We see an example of moral religion is the history of Israel later on after they return from the Babylonian captivity with the rise of the Sadducees and the Pharisees, specifically the Pharisaical Party. What happened was that when God disciplined the nation in 586 BC and took them out into captivity, the reason for that discipline was idolatry. After they got their divine discipline and had returned to the land Israel never again had a problem with overt idolatry. What they had a problem with now was legalistic morality. But the legalistic morality of the Pharisees didn't solve the problem either. Religion and morality can't solve the problem. What happened? The legalistic morality of the Pharisees ultimately led to the nation going out under the fifth cycle of discipline again in 70 AD. They are still out under discipline, and that shows that neither immoral religion or moral religion can solve the problem. The problem with man isn't a problem of morality, it is a spiritual problem: that we are born corrupt by Adam's nature, we have all inherited a sin nature, and because of that we are divorced from God, and until that problem is solved there is no solution. All attempts that come under the category of activism where people get out and march and carry on all kinds of activistic crusades in order to try and change society are going to fall apart and collapse. They are doing nothing to address the problem, they are doing nothing more than polishing the brass on a sinking ship. It is the devil's world and too many Christians are out there trying to clean it up, they forget that we are still living in the cosmic system. That doesn't mean that we throw up our hands and be just passive in the whole situation, we need to be involved but it needs to be the right kind of involvement.
Judges chapter two sets the stage, and the result of their rejection of historical evidences was idolatry. They intentionally rejected the God of their fathers who brought them out of the land of Egypt.
Judges chapter 16 is the end of the period. Samson and Samuel live at the same time. Samson can't deliver the nation, Samuel will be the one through whom the nation is delivered because he teaches doctrine, and there will be a return to positive volition under the ministry of Samuel. But that is the story that begins over in 1 Samuel. So what happens in chapters 17-21. These chapters describe what is taking place among the people at this time. It is parallel to what took place from chapter three to chapter sixteen. In fact, it will take us all the way back to the very beginning and we are going to understand from one particular illustration of how they got involved in apostasy.
In chapters 17 & 18 we have one event related to an apostasy system set up by an Ephraimite named Micah. These two chapters describe how the apostasy began. What we have seen again and again in Judges is that first there is religious apostasy and then there is the collapse of the culture. It is not the other way around. It is because of apostasy that there were economic problems and military problems, and you could add all of the many problems that people come up with today. All of that is a consequence of religious apostasy. That is why in chapters 17 & 18 the author of Judges focuses on how the religious apostasy began, and then in chapters 19-21 we have a description of the grossest immorality, vicious activity, violence, abuse, some of the most graphic abuse described anywhere in the Scriptures. The author sets it up this way to make a point: that religious apostasy always precedes cultural collapse. Apostasy precedes rampant immorality and violence and criminality. Notice: It is not a secular, humanistic, atheistic culture that produces this kind of violence. It is a religious culture, an apostate culture. The answer to problems is not a religious solution, it is a biblical solution, and until there is a return to understanding the grace of God, starting at the cross, there is no solution.
Notice Judges 18:30. This chapter describes the impact of this idolatry and apostasy and how it is accepted and assimilated, particularly into the tribe of Dan. There is a textual problem here, it is not "Jonathan, the son of Gershom, the son of Manasseh," it is "Jonathan, the son of Gershom, the son of Moses." This takes us back to the fact that it is a descendant of Moses. Moses died about 1401 BC when they were getting ready to go into the land, so Gershom would have been close to 80, and this could have been the youngest son that he had. This takes us right back to the beginning of that period only a couple of generations removed from Moses. It is this man who introduces apostasy into the nation. So for that reason we see that these events take us all the way back to the beginning now. This is approximately the same time as Othniel's judgeship. Othniel was positive, but even that early in the period of the Judges we see what is internal collapse that is taking place in the nation.
In these last chapters there are crises involved in both sections. Chapters 17 & 18 are one event, 19-21 relate to another event. In both accounts the crisis is precipitated by the actions of a nameless Levite. The Levites were the priest nation. The reason the author picks these two episodes is because they are going to be representative of many other things that are going on in the nation. So he is indicating that the crisis that is occurring in Israel comes from the spiritual leadership. We see the same kind of thing happening in our nation today. If a pastor isn't feeding the sheep he doesn't love Christ: "If you love me, feed my sheep." Today we have lost sight of what the real issues are, which is the studying of the Word of God and applying the Word of God. So we see here that the narrator chooses these episodes in order to emphasize the fact that the basic problem is a spiritual one and related to spiritual leadership. Then he also makes the statement four times in these chapters that "in those days Israel had no king" -- 17:6; 18:1; 19: Today we have lost sight of what the real issues are, which is the studying of the Word of God and applying the Word of God. So we see here that the narrator chooses these episodes in order to emphasize the fact that the basic problem is a spiritual one and related to spiritual leadership. Then he also makes the statement four times in these chapters that "in those days Israel had no king" – 17:6; 18:1; 19;1; 21:25. 1; 21:25. The writer is writing some years later, either when Saul is king or David is king. And there is a very positive view of the monarchy there because there is almost the suggestion that if they had a king we wouldn't have the problem with this moral relativism. That is not what he is saying. The reference is not to a human king. Look at Deuteronomy 33:5--"And he was king in Jeshurun, when the heads of the people and the tribes of Israel were gathered together." This is on Moses' parting blessing to the Jews before he was taken home to be with the Lord. Jeshurun is another name for Israel and it is a picture of Israel as spiritually mature. He is talking to the generation which is going to go be the conquest generation, and they were the spiritually mature generation. So the word Jeshurun—which has its roots in the Hebrew word for uprightness, integrity, righteousness—refers to Israel as spiritually mature. It says that "He [God] was king in Jeshurun." What that verse tells us is that God is the king. It was a theocracy. But Israel in the period of the judges rejected God. Kings never did solve the problem. In the northern kingdom every single king followed in the sins of Jereboam who introduced idolatry into the northern kingdom. In the southern kingdom there were also numerous kings did what was right in their own eyes, including Solomon, Jehu and Ahaz. Others were commended for doing what was right but they still fell short of the ideal which was to remove the idolatry. Only David, Hezekiah and Josiah received unqualified approval by the writers of the Old Testament. So kings were not the solution. In other words, the political solution is not a solution. The only solution is biblical Christianity relying on the grace of God and the sufficient and finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross.
Judges chapter 17:1, "Micah" is the Hebrew is Michaiah. In verses 2 & 3 he restores the money to his mother. Then his mother took two hundred pieces of silver (there were 1100—follow the money). It went from 1100 to 200. This is what you have in religion a lot. You get people commit, they are going to do big things for God! A lot of talk and no action. She said she was going to give it to the Lord. Well she is not giving it to the Lord, she's going to give it to make an idol and she is violating the law in numerous places, and then she is not even going to give all of the 1100 which was a lot of money. All of a sudden she is not being very generous with God any more. Anyway she is going to make a graven image, "and they were in the house of Micah." Verse 5 – "And the man Micah had a shrine." This is a participle of attendant circumstance in the Hebrew, which indicates that all along he has had this shrine, this little temple in his dwelling; "and made an ephod, and teraphim, and consecrated one of his sons [ordained him], who became his priest." So he is just setting up his own little religious operation there. And then we have the statement in verse 6: "In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes." "In those days" here refers to the very early days of the period of the judges, so this is something that occurs early on and it characteristic of the whole period of the judges.
As we look at this certain things appear positive. First of all, there is a name that suggests that he has a positive relationship to God. Micah is just a shortened form of a name that means "Who is like Yahweh." The thrust of the name is, No one. No one is like Yahweh. So we have someone who we expect to stand up for God. It has a religious-sounding name. That sounds somewhat positive but what we will discover is that like so many people who use God's name and religious terminology as a cover for their activity, their own actions and agendas. The facade of religion always attempts to wrap itself in the terminology of biblical orthodoxy, and that is why it is so deceptive and why we need to study doctrine and understand the backgrounds of various false teachings that are going on.
The second positive thing we see here is that Micah seems to own up to his responsibility. He is going to own up to his theft of the money. But the only reason he confesses his sin is because he is superstitious and he heard his mother utter a curse, so now he is afraid God is going to curse him and he is going to own up to it so as to avoid any extra punishment. There is also no mention of his father here. That should bring something to mind. Remember Israel is adopted by God, but they rejected God so there is no father for Israel right now. So the writer really sets this up to make us think about other things that are somewhat representative of what is going on in the nation as a whole. And what we have seen again and again in these cycles is that Israel only comes back to God when God has disciplined them and they cry out to Him--many times not because they recognize their sin but because of the pain of their punishment. So just like Micah there is a confession to avoid punishment with no real recognition of any fault, it is just that they don't want to suffer the consequences and get hurt.
The third thing we notice is that when he returns the stolen goods to his mother she blesses him. Her religion obviously isn't very good. She uses the name Yahweh: "Blessed be my son by Yahweh." But what we are going to discover is that she had no relationship with Yahweh. She is immediately going to set up an idolatrous situation. She is going to violate the first two commandments in the Mosaic law. It is instructive that she uses the name Yahweh, because Yahweh is related to God's covenant with Israel. It is the name that should remind us first and foremost that He is Israel's covenant God. She is violating that covenant almost with every breath.
The fourth thing we notice here that may seem positive is that the mother solemnly consecrates the money that has been recovered to Yahweh. So we expect that we are going to have something positive here, she seems to be devoted to the Lord, but as soon as we get past that she says, "I had wholly dedicated the silver unto the LORD from my hand for my son, to make a graven image and a molten image: now therefore I will restore it unto thee." We get to the second half of the sentence and realize that it is not so positive after all.
So here are several features that are negative about the whole situation.
1) There is a tremendous amount of religious verbiage here, a lot of pious-sounding language. Religion always has a lot of accurate verbiage but it doesn't mean anything.
2) Micah's motive is out of fear, not out of the desire to do what is right.
3) The woman, when she dedicates the silver to Yahweh doesn't take it to the priests at Shiloh but gives it to her son.
4) Despite her statement that her silver should go to god she keeps most of it for herself.
5) The woman's intention in dedicating the silver flies in the face of the second commandment, which is not to worship other gods or idols.
6) What we see through all of this is a flagrant disregard for the Mosaic law. Then Micah takes it, and he already has a cult shrine which he calls a house of God, in verse 5. Literally, it means "a house of the gods." Elohim is used there, it is not God but a house of gods, and he has his own little religious operation going and he is just going to add another god. That is what a lot of people do with God. They just add God to their life like one other thing, rather than making God the absolute authority in their life, and they never get anywhere in life as a believer until they recognize that God is the highest priority and He is over and above everything else.
7) He designs his own idols. He builds teraphim, cf. Zechariah 10:2, we learn that these are used in some kind of fortune telling operation.
8) He sets up one of his own sons as a priest. So this sets up a new religious system, and then he is going to really expand it in the second half of the chapter.