Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Wednesday, 21 April 21:
Judges 17:6 — “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”
This verse, which is repeated several times in Judges, can be considered the theme of the book, understood within the context of calamity which befalls a people who do what they truly believe is right as opposed to what God says is right. The power of this statement is often missed by the modern reader who does not understand how shocking the actions described in Judges were to the Jewish reader of the time. Let’s briefly review some highlights from today’s readings:
A man steals 1,100 pieces of silver from his mother (unthinkable), and when he confesses to this crime, his mother doesn’t scold him but rather blesses him (absurdity) and promises to use all this money for idolatry (though calling it worship to the Lord). As shocking as all that is, she then dedicates only 200 of the 1,100 pieces (not what she had vowed), to carve an idol, yes, an idol.
Micah “ordains” the idol and makes one of his sons the ‘priest’ (about as flippantly as people become ordained today) until a Levite comes along who agrees to be Micah’s personal priest (instead of serving God’s Temple, supported by the people, as God requires). In the midst of all this incredible, shocking sin, much of which is punishable by death in God’s Old Covenant Law, Micah says, “Now I know that the Lord will prosper me, because I have a Levite as priest (Micah 17:13).”
Then some Danites, on a mission of pillage, visit Micah’s house and the Levite actually blesses their evil journey: “Go in peace. The journey on which you go is under the eye of the Lord (Judges 18:6).” Have you seen examples lately of people or institutions offering benedictions for evil?
When the Danites return later to Micah’s house with a raiding party to attack a peaceful, unsuspecting village, they rob Micah’s house of its idols and take the Levite with them, whose “heart was glad” because he considered being the priest of the Danites a more prestigious position (again, shocking). Micah pleads with the Danites: “You take my gods that I made and the priest, and go away, and what have I left (Judges 18:24)?” Note that Micah’s idolatry has become everything to him. However, the Danites show no mercy. “But the people of Dan took what Micah had made, and the priest who belonged to him, and they came to Laish, to a people quiet and unsuspecting, and struck them with the edge of the sword and burned the city with fire (Judges 18:27).” This is the outcome of the Danite mission Micah had previously blessed in the name of the Lord.
The Nation had drifted into shocking lawlessness, completely rejecting God’s commands, while all the while, maintaining their religion and claims of godliness. They were both religious and heartless, abominable to the Lord. They conformed their religion to justify their own evil desires rather than pursuing the holiness of God. How did they get to this place? “Everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” They didn’t think they were doing wrong, but rather in their own eyes, they thought they were doing right. However, to anyone who knows God’s word, all of this should have been utterly deplorable. How is this account relevant today? Perhaps, what should be shocking to us is what is no longer shocking to us. Have you not noticed that the more the church drifts into sin the less we talk about sin? “Everyone did what was right in their own eyes.”
Judges 18:30, 31 — “And the people of Dan set up the carved image for themselves, and Jonathan the son of Gershom, son of Moses, and his sons were priests to the tribe of the Danites until the day of the captivity of the land. So they set up Micah’s carved image that he made, as long as the house of God was at Shiloh.”
Judges 17 and 18 mark a transition point in the Book of Judges, the third, final section of the book. In this section, no foreign oppressors are mentioned, no judges identified, and the many shocking sins of the protagonists are not even called out (it is left to reader to identify them). Most specifically, there are no longer accusations of idolatry – their syncretism was so complete that they thought that, in some strange way, their idol worship was actually acceptable to God, and it had become totally integrated into their worship. Note that there are no prayers to God, only blessings proclaimed in the name of God to validate sinful behavior.
This section in the Book of Judges reveals a disintegrated, lawless society where every important societal institution has been totally corrupted – the family, the church, the government, the economy. To paint this picture, the book artfully guides the reader to follow a thread that leads from 1,100 pieces of stolen and cursed silver to a permanent idol set up in an unauthorized and ungodly “church” on bloody stolen soil not far from both the land that had been allotted to the tribe of Dan by God through Joshua and the town of Shiloh, the place of worship authorized by God. Again, the numerable, appalling sins throughout the story are only mentioned, not specifically addressed.
To drive the point home concerning the depths at which the nation had fallen, the author reveals at the end of chapter 18 who the “young Levite” was who left Micah to join the Danites: “Jonathan the son of Gershom, son of Moses!” While scholars debate today over whether or not “Moses” should really read “Manasseh,” the point remains that this unfaithful, ungodly, idolatrous priest for hire had come from a once great and noble lineage – everything had been ruined.
I believe in this stage of the game, God has turned the people over to their own desires to face the consequences of their behavior, no Judges, no rebukes, no protection from themselves. At this stage, their worship is utterly worthless, and they are oblivious to that fact – keep in mind that we are talking about Israelites, not pagans. They are now on an inevitable path of terrible destruction.
The situation described in Judges is very similar to what Paul describes in Romans 1. Again, how does this story apply to us today?
- Matthew 16:3 — “And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.”
- 2 Timothy 4:2-4 — “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”
- Matthew 24:11-13 — “And many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.”
“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) – 21 Apr 21: Today, search yourself to see where you might be presuming that God will bless your idolatry, which you might not have being viewing as idolatry: “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” (Colossians 3:5) “For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry.” (1 Samuel 15:23)