Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Thursday, 18 August 2022:
Judges 17:6 — “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”
This verse, which is repeated several times in Judges and can be considered the theme of the book of Judges, speaks to the 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 on a quest 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.”
To review some of the points above:
Judges 17:10 — “And Micah said to him, ‘Stay with me, and be to me a father and a priest, and I will give you ten pieces of silver a year and a suit of clothes and your living.’”
God gave specific instructions to the Israelites on how to care for the Levites who were also given specific instructions on when, where, and how to lead worship. However, by this point in Judges, the Levites have become traveling Priests for hire. Turning religion into a profession can be a dangerous thing. Today, there are many talented people profiting from the Gospel message. Matthew 10:8 — “You received without paying; give without pay.”
Judges 17:12 — “And Micah ordained the Levite, and the young man became his priest, and was in the house of Micah.”
Micah thought he could ordain priests. Lawless brings highly presumptuous religious activity which does not honor the holiness of God.
Judges 17:13 — “Then Micah said, ‘Now I know that the LORD will prosper me, because I have a Levite as priest.’”
Deep in religious activity, Micah was completely out of touch with The Lord. Many claim to hear from God and presumptuously assume God is ordaining what they have chosen to do. However, their focus is self-serving rather than Christ-serving. God is not deceived. Spiritual talk is not the same as spiritual walk. Jesus said, if you haven’t started with denying self, and if you haven’t taken up your cross, you are not truly, wholeheartedly following Him, and God has not ordained it, regardless of how many Bible verses you attach to it out of context (Matthew 16:24). In the Old Testament, God condemns the defiled and lame sacrifices offered to Him by the people — “You offer defiled food on My altar, But say, ‘In what way have we defiled You?’ By saying, ‘The table of the LORD is contemptible.’ And when you offer the blind as a sacrifice, Is it not evil? And when you offer the lame and sick, Is it not evil? Offer it then to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you favorably?” Says the LORD of hosts (Micah 1:7, 8).” Don’t offer to the Lord what is acceptable to you, offer what is acceptable to Him.
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.”
Luke 19:7 — “And when they saw it, they all grumbled, ‘He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.’”
The account of Zacchaeus (along with other accounts such as the one about woman accused of adultery and those of the tax collectors described in Matthew and Mark) is often wrongly applied to suggest Jesus didn’t make a big deal out of sin or holiness and that those who do are “judgmental.” What they fail to notice in this story is that Zacchaeus is not just a sinner, he is a repentant sinner seeking Jesus, a sinner who desires reconciliation and is seeking to make restitution – “And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, ‘Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham.’” (Luke 19:8, 9)
Jesus isn’t making light of sin or simply partying with sinners – “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals.’” (1 Corinthians 15:33; see also Ephesians 5) Jesus is engaging Zacchaeus who is “seeking to see who Jesus [is].” (Luke 19:3) Concerning the tax collectors described in Matthew and Mark, the Bible says that they weren’t just Jesus’ sinful drinking buddies, they were followers of Jesus – “And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him.” (Mark 2:15) Perhaps these were the same tax collectors described in Luke 3:12 – “Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, ‘Teacher, what shall we do?’” In fact Matthew was a tax collector who had a close relationship with Jesus because he responded to Jesus’ call to “follow me.” The relationship these tax collectors had with Jesus was one of repentance and reconciliation. Jesus never compromised His holiness or His message in order to fellowship with them.
- James 4:8 — Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
- 2 Corinthians 6:14 — Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?
“And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’” (Luke 15:2) The Pharisees and scribes hated tax collectors, considering them to be traitors who partnered with Rome to take advantage of the Jews; and these tax collectors were well known for their unscrupulous collection practices. Unlike Jesus, the Pharisees and scribes acted “judgmental” toward tax collectors because they condemned them from a position of self-righteousness. Jesus’ message to these sinful tax collectors was different — “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 3:2) “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:32) It was understood that repentance meant turning away from sin and towards obedience to God – “And he said to them, ‘Collect no more than you are authorized to do.’” (Luke 3:13) The repentant tax collectors received forgiveness and grace from Jesus, but to the self-righteous Pharisees, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.” (Matthew 21:31, 32)
Jesus was “a friend of tax collectors and sinners,” repentant ones. (Luke 7:34) These are they who Jesus describes in Luke 18 – “But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’” Concerning the unrepentant tax collectors, Jesus continued to speak negatively of them; he didn’t make light of their sin or hang out with them. (Matthew 5:46, Matthew 18:17) Likewise, Jesus was a friend of adulterers, repentant ones. What was Jesus’ message to the woman accused of adultery? “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” (John 8:11) “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:3)
- John 15:14 — You are my friends if you do what I command you.
In our associations with the world, as we seek to fulfill the Great Commission, we must be careful not to partner with or conform to the world. We mustn’t water down the Good News message which calls sin, sin; describes the need for salvation from the wrath of God (not just from the consequences of sin); proclaims God’s grace and free gift of salvation through Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ alone; and proclaims the new life in Christ. If we make light of sin, we dishonor (even mock) the LORD, minimalize the demand for salvation, and cheapen God’s grace through the blood of Jesus. If we make light of sin, we are being very unloving.
Luke 19:8 — “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.”
Zacchaeus demonstrated repentance by offering restitution to those he had sinned against, and this was very costly to him. God expects us to make restitution and to seek reconciliation whenever possible. Restitution repays more than was taken.
Luke 19:11-27 – “…‘Lord, here is your mina, which I kept laid away in a handkerchief’…. He said to him, ‘I will condemn you with your own words, you wicked servant!’”
God does not appreciate you hoarding salvation to yourself but expects you to invest it in brining others to salvation as an instrument of the Holy Spirit.
Luke 19:28-38 — “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
Jesus has shown He is already King.
Luke 19:40 – “He answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.’”
Followers of Jesus cannot help but proclaim Him and cannot be prevented from doing so. In the Books of Acts (chapter 4), when Peter and John boldly proclaimed Christ to the rulers, elders, and scribes, Peter and John were warned not to speak to anyone else about Jesus. They replied, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” Later (Acts 5), the Apostles were imprisoned and beaten for talking about Jesus (nearly executed) and eventually released. “Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.” (Acts 5:41) Are you one of those people who simply won’t shut up about Jesus?
Luke 19:42 – “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.”
Peace can only come through Jesus. Those who seek peace in some other way miss Jesus all together.
Luke 19:46 – “My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers.”
Many practice the religion called Christianity to promote their own prosperity and self-interest. Christianity should not be a pursuit of God’s blessings on earth but rather a pursuit of an ever-increasing closeness with and love for Jesus.
“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) – 18 August 22: 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) Today, don’t just seek goodness and blessings from God but rather seek Jesus Himself.