A proud, young couple brought their newborn son to the pediatrician for his first checkup, and the doctor said, “You have a beautiful baby.” Smiling, the mom said, “I’ll bet you say that to all the new parents.”
“No,” the doctor replied, “just to those whose babies are really cute.” The mother responded, “So what do you say to the others?” The doctor replied, “I say, ‘He looks just like you.’”
This story hits close to home because as a follower of Jesus, I want to find creative ways of speaking the truth in love. I want to be positive and uplifting. I want to encourage others. Yet, there are times when I have to be brutally honest with other believers. Today, we are going to test the old adage: “Honesty is the best policy.” We will test this expression by working our way through the ugliest section in the entire Bible—Judges 17–21. Whew! Buckle your seatbelt because this is going to be a doozy!
The final five chapters of Judges function as an appendix to the entire book. Instead of focusing on the sins of Israel or of their judges, these chapters look closely at the lives of two Levites. Levites were the priestly tribe in Israel—the religious leadership of the nation. Sadly, we will discover that the religious leadership is not holding the nation accountable for its sin. Instead, the Levites are as messed up as the people they are supposed to lead! Their small, personal failures escalate to tribal and national dimensions and plunge Israel into political and moral anarchy. Thus, Judges concludes with a finger pointing in the face of the Levites. The overriding message is: When God goes, everything and anything goes.
The idolatrous Levite (17:1–6). Our story begins in 17:1–6 when a man by the name of Micah steals a large amount of silver from his mother. The exact amount is 1100 pieces of silver (about 28 lbs). An average yearly salary in Micah’s day was ten pieces of silver (17:10), so he ripped off a fortune – roughly 110 years worth of salary. Micah’s mom gets ticked and pronounces a curse on the thief. This is completely understandable. How would you feel if someone ripped off your retirement? Tragically, due to our crashing economy, perhaps you know first-hand the feelings Micah’s mom experienced. When Micah learns of his mom’s curse, he gets nervous and returns her silver. The Old Testament law required Micah to add a fifth to what he had stolen, but there is no record of him doing so. It is not the fear of the Lord that motivates Micah to confess his crime and restore the money; it is the fear of his mom’s curse. Micah is not broken over his sin; instead, he is merely trying to save his own skin. He is worried that he will get caught and the curse will haunt him – like winning the lottery cursed Hurley in the TV Show Lost.
To make matters worse, when Micah returns his mom’s silver, she doesn’t curse him…she blesses him! This mom’s values are upside down! Micah’s mom doesn’t discipline her son; instead she rewards him by hiring a silversmith to make her son idols that he then brings into his home. I don’t need to tell you that this is NOT a good thing!
She was cursing the one who stole her wealth yet the irony is that she is the one who will bring a curse on her family by her actions.
“‘Cursed is the one who makes a carved or metal image – something abhorrent to the Lord, the work of the craftsman – and sets it up in a secret place.’ Then all the people will say, ‘Amen!’” (Deuteronomy 27:15)
When these images were completed, they were placed in the house of Micah. We should not think that these are the first and only idols Micah owned. From verse 5, we learn that Micah had a “house of gods,” which included an ephod and “household gods.” We have already read of Gideon’s idolatrous ephod in Judges 8:27. The “household gods” would be similar to those Rachel stole from Laban’s house. These were the sort of personalized idols that were kept in many heathen homes.
ILLUSTRATION: Hideyoshi, a Japanese warlord who ruled over Japan in the late 1500s, commissioned a colossal statue of Buddha for a shrine in Kyoto. It took 50,000 men five years to build, but the work had scarcely been completed when the earthquake of 1596 brought the roof of the shrine crashing down and wrecked the statue. In a rage Hideyoshi shot an arrow at the fallen colossus. "I put you here at great expense," he shouted, "and you can't even look after your own temple."
Definitions of Idolatry
- Idolatry is the sin of paying homage (worship, service, priority or guidance) to any thing or image other than the true Creator God.
- Idolatry is the sin of worshipping a false god, a misrepresentation of the true God, or any person or thing that takes pre-eminence over the Lord Jesus Christ. SEE ISAIAH 44
Idolatry is seeking security, identity and meaning in someone or something other than God.
Apparently, this mother doesn’t condemn her son because she is a thief as well. In 17:3 she says, “I wholly dedicate the silver from my hand to the Lord,” however, in the very next verse she only coughs up 200 pieces of the silver! What happened to the other 900 pieces that she had promised to the Lord? It appears that she keeps this amount for herself!
The Bible says a lot about robbing God. This did not go well for Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5. In fact, it cost them their lives when they did not honor their vow to God. We learned a lot about the power of vows a few weeks ago.
Malachi 3:8-10 says:
“Will a man rob God?
Yet you have robbed Me!
But you say,
‘In what way have we robbed You?’
In tithes and offerings.
9 You are cursed with a curse,
For you have robbed Me,
Even this whole nation.
10 Bring all the tithes into the storehouse,
That there may be food in My house,
And try Me now in this,”
Says the Lord of hosts,
“If I will not open for you the windows of heaven
And pour out for you such blessing
That there will not be room enough to receive it.
She is a thief as well and she is not a woman of her word. She does not set a godly example and fails to pass biblical values on to her son. So the sad outcome is: like mother, like son. Micah follows up his mom’s sin and his own sin with even more sin. He consecrates one of his sons to become his priest. This is completely opposed to God’s plan. Micah and his son are Ephramites and the Bible declares that only Levites are to be priests. There is disobedience all over the place in this account. Consequently, the author pens these disturbing words in 17:6: “In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes.” This is the key verse of the Book of Judges. It is likely that the expression, “In those days there was no king in Israel” (17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25) refers to God as King (see Deut 33:5). Israel has completely ignored God’s ways and instead has chosen to go their own way. The phrase “every man did what was right in his own eyes” (17:6; 21:25) tells the sad story of human history. Even today, we live by the philosophy, “If it feels right, if it seems right, do it. What’s right for me must be right.”
Micah and his mom epitomize what happens when you do what is right in your own eyes. They managed to break seven of the Ten Commandments (Exod 20:1–17) without even leaving their home. As far as sinners go, this is fairly remarkable. Yet, Micah’s name means, “Who is like Yahweh?” He is a believer in Yahweh who is not living up to his name. Instead of honoring the Lord’s name, Micah calls the shots and lives for himself. It’s easy to do this…all it takes is just a few small compromises. These compromises can easily result in idolatry. Perhaps you don’t feel like you are guilty of idolatry. You sold your boat and one of your three cars, stopped spending so much time in your yard, and started to prioritize your family over your job. I commend you. But in this context, the idolatry is primarily spiritual. Is it possible that your idol is your ministry, your biblical or doctrinal knowledge, your spiritual gifts, your reputation, or your marriage and family? Remember, an idol is anyone or anything that usurps the place of God. An idol can be one of God’s gifts that is abused or misprioritized. Do you have an idol that needs to be surrendered to the Lord? If so, give it to Him today!
It should not take the reader long to discern the meaning of these words. In Deuteronomy 12, God clearly explains the meaning of these words by contrasting them with another statement:
“You are not to do as we are doing here today; everyone is doing whatever seems right in his own eyes” (Deuteronomy 12:8, CSB).
“Be careful to obey all these things I command you, so that you and your children after you may prosper forever, because you will be doing what is good and right in the sight of the LORD your God” (Deuteronomy 12:28, CSB).
Doing “what is right in your own eyes” is living according to your own personal standards. Doing what “is right in the sight of the LORD your God” is doing what God has declared to be right in His Word. Clearly, Micah and his mother were not living according to God’s commandments; they were living in accordance with their own corrupt value system. This does not bode well.
In 17:7–13, we are introduced to a young Levite named Jonathan (see 18:30) who has been living in Bethlehem, which is not one of the cities assigned to the priests and Levites. He is probably unemployed. With the spiritual collapse of the nation, there is little or no demand for priests. Sadly, instead of seeking the Lord to meet his needs, Jonathan set out to find a place to live and work, even if it means abandoning his calling as a servant of God. Quickly he runs into Micah who invited him to be his personal priest. Certainly Micah knows that the Lord had appointed the family of Aaron to be the only priests in Israel; and if anybody outside Aaron’s family served as priests, they were to be killed (Num 3:10). Micah continues his sinful choices. Jonathan is no better. Think about this for a moment: What did Micah have in his house? Shouldn’t a Levite who is to able to teach the law know that Micah has broken God’s law? If Jonathan is typical of God’s servants in the period of the Judges, then it’s no wonder the nation of Israel is confused and corrupt. Jonathan has no appreciation for his high calling as a Levite, a chosen servant of God. He gives up God’s call for comfort and security in the home of an idolater. The irony in all this is Micah now thinks he has God’s favor because a genuine levitical priest is serving as his private chaplain. Micah practices a false religion and worships false gods (with Yahweh thrown in for good measure), and all the while he rests on the false confidence that God is blessing him! Little does he know that the day would come when his priest and his gods will be taken from him and nothing will be left of his religion.
Look how easy it was to get too comfortable with God and His laws. To justify sin and suggest that it is even good. When we don’t spend time in the Word, we will lead by emotion – not by the Spirit. Thus, we will start to justify what feels right versus doing what God expects of us.
Jesus stated in Matthew 22:37-38 that “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.”
He then stated in John 14:15 that if we love Him, then we are to keep His commandments.
First Commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me.” Exodus 20:3
WHICH GOD DO YOU SERVE?
Today's idols are more in the self than on the shelf.
That for which I would give anything and accept nothing in exchange is the most important thing in my life. Whatever that is, is my god (cf. Isa. 44:6-20).
- FALSE GODS PROMISE WHAT ONLY THE TRUE GOD PROVIDES.
God wants all of our hearts – not just part of our hearts. Satan wants to hurt God by getting His children to worship false gods and to break the heart of God. He wants us to hurt Him – that is Satan’s goal.
Let’s look at Elijah for a moment in 1 Kings 18:
When (Ahab) saw Elijah, he said to him, "Is that you, you troubler of Israel?" "I have not made trouble for Israel," Elijah replied. "But you and your father's family have. You have abandoned the Lord's commands and have followed the Baals. 1 Kings 18:17-18
Monotheism—belief there is one God.
Polytheism—belief there is multiple gods.
- What is your false god?
- Wealth or Creature Comforts (future physical comforts)
- Social Status
If we are honest with ourselves and God – doing some real self-examination, we will find that our souls are polluted with idol worship. In fact, we are like idol factories.
Why do you think we don’t have the Ark of Covenant, Noah’s Ark or the Bronze Snake of the Wilderness – because we will worship them and we as people will worship the creation over the creator every time. We even try to manipulate God to give us what we want to serve our idol worship addictions – status, power, materialism - and pretend to care what He thinks by throwing His name around or putting a Levite in our home that is filled with idols.
King Hezekiah had to destroy the Bronze Snake made by Moses for example – along with all the items of worship because the items were being worship instead of God:
“He removed the high places and broke down the sacred pillars and cut down the Asherah. He also broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the sons of Israel burned incense to it…” 2 Kings 18:3-4
We say we are monotheistic but we live like we are polytheistic. Actions speak louder than words so what do your actions say to God and to others about who you really serve?
“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” Matthew 6:24
Illustration: Though we do not face a pantheon of false gods like the Israelites did, we face pressures from a pantheon of false values--materialism, love of leisure, sensuality, worship of self, security, and many others. The second commandment deals with idols. This may be something that most of us can’t relate to--unless we include life goals that revolve around something other than God Himself. What is the object of our affections, our efforts, and our attention? Where does the majority of our time go? On what do we spend the greatest amount of our resources?
What are we telling God through our actions?
Ezekiel 14:2-4 says it clearly:
“And the word of the LORD came to me, saying, 3"Son of man, these men have set up their idols in their hearts and have put right before their faces the stumbling block of their iniquity. Should I be consulted by them at all? 4"Therefore speak to them and tell them, 'Thus says the Lord GOD, "Any man of the house of Israel who sets up his idols in his heart, puts right before his face the stumbling block of his iniquity, and then comes to the prophet, I the LORD will be brought to give him an answer in the matter in view of the multitude of his idols.”
- IT IS TIME TO QUIT WAVERING.
Now summon the people from all over Israel to meet me on Mount Carmel. And bring the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel's table." So Ahab sent word throughout all Israel and assembled the prophets on Mount Carmel. Elijah went before the people and said, "How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him." But the people said nothing. 1 Kings 18:19-21
We are a Christian on Sunday and a heathen on Monday – quit wavering. Pick a side.
Jesus replied, "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God." Luke 9:62
You really aren’t doing anything well if you aren’t serving God. Truth be told. You don’t really workout with your whole heart if fitness is your god. You probably don’t have a home that looks like the White House if your house is your god. You probably don’t drive a Bugatti if automobiles are your god. So, you are falling short with all your gods of the earth. So, truth be told. You will never be good enough in the world. You won’t look gorgeous enough, be tall enough, strong enough or own enough. So you are falling short with all your gods of the earth.
But, you can do something right. God says, if we come to Him, repent and walk the path of Christ, in humility, then you will have it all.
19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-21
“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” Matthew 6:33
Back to Elijah’s story…
Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord. The god who answers by fire — he is God." Then all the people said, "What you say is good." 1 Kings 18:24
So they took the bull given them and prepared it. Then they called on the name of Baal from morning till noon. "O Baal, answer us!" they shouted. But there was no response; no one answered. And they danced around the altar they had made. 1 Kings 18:26
At noon Elijah began to taunt them. "Shout louder!" he said. "Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened."
1 Kings 18:27
At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: "O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again." 1 Kings 18:36-37
Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench. When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, "The Lord-he is God! The Lord-he is God!" 1 Kings 18:38-39
King Nebuchadnezzar had a real encounter with the power of God when Daniel interpreted his dream in Daniel chapter 2. The king fell to his face and said, “truly your God is the God of gods, the Lord of kings, and revealer of secrets…” (Daniel 2:47). Yet, the very next chapter, he is right back to his old ways and building a giant golden statue to himself.
So, here is the thing – you must choose whom you will serve. Does the God of the Universe continue getting the scraps in your life, or will your Universe start revolving around Him – Christo-centric?
“But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD." Joshua 24:15
If you want to serve with all you have to give, then come and tell me. We have ministry partners who need help serving the impoverished, abused women, camps for kids, and more. In fact, every Thursday from 4:00 – 6:00, you can go with me to Connections 4 Life to serve families in need right here in Fountain Valley.
I am not saying that time with your family, time at work, that any of this is bad – what I am suggesting is that should we find that even once a month, you would like to do something outside of your comfort zone and get involved in work that will help others, I will be happy to get you engaged. Let’s demonstrate through our prayer life and our time use that God is important. We say it, so let’s show it.
“This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” John 15:8