For the Love of God, Volume 1/August 3
From Gospel Translations
Judges 17; Acts 21; Jeremiah 30—31; Mark 16
THE SIGNS OF MORAL, SPIRITUAL, and intellectual declension in Israel during the time of the judges now multiply, some of them obvious, some of them subtle. Although Judges 17 is a brief chapter, it is charged with an abundance of them.
(1) A grown man named Micah has apparently stolen eleven hundred shekels of silver from his mother. That doesn’t say much for family relationships—though it is of course only one incident. He confesses the crime to his mother (17:2). Judging by his remarks, he is prompted less by love for his mother or consciousness of sin than by superstitious fear because his mother has pronounced a curse on the thief who was, to her, unknown until that point.
(2) Micah’s mother rewards him with a pious word: “The LORD [i.e., Yahweh] bless you, my son!” (17:2)—which shows that there is still a strong awareness of the covenantal God who brought them out of Egypt, or at least a retention of his name. But very quickly the reader perceives that only the shell of covenantal loyalty persists. Syncretism has taken over. Grateful for the return of her money, she gives it back to her son, solemnly consecrating it “to the LORD [Yahweh]” for the purpose of making “a carved image and a cast idol” (17:3), which of course was repeatedly forbidden by the covenant at Sinai.
(3) He promptly hands back the silver to his mother for this purpose. She gives two hundred shekels (which leaves her with nine hundred, despite what she had “consecrated”) to a silversmith to make an idol with it. Greed triumphs even over idolatry. The little idol is then placed in Micah’s house, both a talisman and a reminder of restored family relationships after a theft, perhaps even something to ward off the curse the mother had pronounced (17:4).
(4) Micah’s religious syncretism runs deeper. He has his own shrine, and installs one of his sons as his private priest for offering prayers and sacrifices, and prepares priestly apparel for him (the ephod, 17:5). The breaches are multiplying. Under the covenant, there was supposed to be only one “shrine”—at this point the tabernacle—and only Levites could be priests.
(5) Enough of these stipulations are recalled that when Micah finds a young Levite traveling through, he hires him as his private priest (!). Micah is convinced that this will ensure that the Lord will be good to him (17:13). Covenantal religion has lost much of its structure and all of its discipline and obedience. It is a sad mess of pagan superstition.
For the first time, we read the words, “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit” (17:6).