Judges 17: False Gospel
The False Tabernacle and the False Gospel
Commentators have postulated that chapters 17-18 are located in a chronology previous to that of the period of judges. V.6 is indicative of the period, though strictly speaking the judges were not kings. We must remember that the judges are placed firmly between the time when Israel was led entirely by the Angel of the LORD, when men like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were led also by His physical divine appearances alongside other mediators who typified the role of Christ in their lives; and the time when Israel finally received a rightful king like the surrounding nations – but neither these mediators nor judges nor kings are sufficient in themselves unless they brought the Israelites closer to Yahweh.
It is interesting to note the contrast between chapter 17 and the previous chapters of Judges. The noted pattern is that of fall, redemption; and fall, redemption. Here, we see a period where there are no judges. There is no typified redeemer. And what a chaotic period is must have been, because these Israelites in the latter chapters of Judges are no saints such that judges were not necessary, for they have not placed their faith in Christ.
1There was a man of(A) the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Micah. 2And he said to his mother, “The 1,100 pieces of silver that were taken from you, about which you uttered a curse, and also spoke it in my ears, behold, the silver is with me; I took it.” And his mother said,(B) “Blessed be my son by the LORD.” 3And he restored the 1,100 pieces of silver to his mother. And his mother said, “I dedicate the silver to the LORD from my hand for my son, to make(C) a carved image and(D) a metal image. Now therefore I will restore it to you.” 4So when he restored the money to his mother, his mother(E) took 200 pieces of silver and gave it to the silversmith, who made it into a carved image and a metal image. And it was in the house of Micah. 5And the man Micah had a shrine, and he made(F) an ephod and(G) household gods, and(H) ordained[a] one of his sons, who became his priest. 6(I) In those days there was no king in Israel.(J) Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
And so the chapter begins with a man called Micah – “who is like God?” From the name itself, the Hebrew reader is led to falsely assume that this is a man who wishes to be led by God; and in some sense, this is true, through not for Christ-glorifying reasons. This is a man who stole money from his mother, restored it out of fear of being cursed by her; this is a man who sought to create his own temple of God, sought to make his own tabernacle and equipment, sought to establish his own priest, so that he can give glory to the LORD. However, this is also a man much like he who is described in Matthew 7: 21(Z) “Not everyone who(AA) says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will(AB) enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who(AC) does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22(AD) On that day(AE) many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not(AF) prophesy in your name, and cast out demons(AG) in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23(AH) And then will I declare to them, ‘I(AI) never knew you;(AJ) depart from me,(AK) you workers of lawlessness.’
Matthew Henry reveals that in v.5, it is more fitting to describe Micah as having “a house of gods, a house of God, so the Septuagint, for so he thought it, as good as that at Shiloh, and better because his own, of his own inventing and at his own disposal; for people love to have their religion under their girdle, to manage it as they please. A house of error, so the Chaldee, for really it was so, a deviation from the way of truth and an inlet to all deceit. Idolatry is a great cheat, and one of the worst of errors. That which he aimed at in the progress of his idolatry, whether he designed it at first or no, was to mimic and rival both God’s oracles and his ordinances.”
Indeed, let us look at what he has tried to accomplish. Firstly, his production of teraphim, the images by which he might seek advice – these are his “oracles”, his own equivalent to the urim and thummim. Secondly, the usage of his house as a temple of God, with a copy of the ephod for his appointed priest. What ridicule this is, to create their own tabernacle, when Joshua 22 had so firmly taught that there is only one altar, the brazen altar of the true House of God. Adam Clarke describes these things:
“Perhaps the whole of this case may be stated thus: Micah built a house of God-a chapel in imitation of the sanctuary; he made a graven image representing the ark, a molten image to represent the mercy-seat, teraphim to represent the cherubim above the mercy-seat, and an ephod in imitation of the sacerdotal garments; and he consecrated one of his sons to be priest. Thus gross idolatry was not the crime of Micah; he only set up in his own house an epitome of the Divine worship as performed at Shiloh.”
As much credit as Clarke would wish to give Micah, it would seem that he is closer to idolatry rather than setting this up as a mere epitome. Why? Because he is worshipping the gods; he is denying the centrality of the one tabernacle by setting up a rival tabernacle which is clearly more than a mere epitome by its extravagant detail and nature in comparison to the altar of witness in Joshua 22. Even the eastern tribes were given an immensely difficult time to explain their copy, the altar of witness, which was not used for offerings but merely had an imposing size: and here, so soon after the chronological events of Joshua 22, do we find another copy: this time, not of a mere altar, but of the entire works of the Levitical system.
What is especially poignant about this piece of history is its placement in the latter half of the book of Judges instead of the first few chapters. I believe this has much to do with the silver and the tribe of Dan being a featured theme of chapter 16, where Samson, a judge of the tribe of Dan, was seduced by Delilah, who similarly received 1100 pieces of silver. Here, the silver is the source of similar seduction, affecting the tribe of Dan as their attempt to conquer Laish, or Leshem (as recorded in Joshua 19), is fully accounted for in the next chapter. Where the silver in chapter 16 is used to seduce Delilah, and that much of the Philistines had provided offerings to their god Dagon after the temporary victory over Samson, so also the silver here is not a true offering to the LORD. Micah, and his mother, are tarnishing the LORD’s reputation, though they are calling upon His Holy Name. In a re-iteration of the passage from Matthew 7, this is a pandemic: the pandemic of religion, of false pretension that true protection comes from such measly Spirit-less works. Clarke’s analysis of the Hebrew gives some insight here:
“[The Hebrew word for “priest” in this chapter is] cohen, which the Targum translates chumera. The word cohen is the common name in Hebrew for a priest of the true God; but sometimes it is applied to idolatrous priests. When it is to be understood in the former sense, the Targum renders it cahen; when in the latter, it uses the word chumera, by which it always understands an idolatrous priest. But that this was not a case of idolatry, and that the true God was worshipped here, is evident from the word Jehovah being used, Judges 17:4, and oracular answers being given at this house, as we see from Judges 18:6.”
This would therefore shed light on Micah’s knowledge of the illegitimacy of his own temple of God, as he desperately sought the help of a true Levite, rather than a false priest which he had no authority to anoint or ordain in consecration to the LORD.
7Now there was a young man of(K) Bethlehem in Judah, of the family of Judah, who was a Levite, and he sojourned there. 8And the man departed from the town of Bethlehem in Judah to sojourn where he could find a place. And as he journeyed, he came to(L) the hill country of Ephraim to the house of Micah. 9And Micah said to him, “Where do you come from?” And he said to him, “I am a Levite of Bethlehem in Judah, and I am going to sojourn where I may find a place.” 10And Micah said to him, “Stay with me, and be to me(M) a father and a priest, and I will give you ten pieces of silver a year and a suit of clothes and your living.” And the Levite went in. 11And the Levite(N) was content to dwell with the man, and the young man became to him like one of his sons. 12And Micah(O) ordained the Levite, and the young man(P) became his priest, and was in the house of Micah. 13Then Micah said, “Now I know that the LORD will prosper me, because I have a Levite as priest.”
Like Balaam who was a hired prophet, Jonathan (the Levite, who is yet to be named until the end of chapter 18) is a hired Levite. This Levite is a man who broke many of the ordinances of being part of this privileged and holy tribe – for he worked for money, rather than for the LORD. He was in the position to rebuke Micah, especially given the incident of the eastern altar of witness; instead, he was “content to dwell with the man”, Micah. To Micah, Jonathan was both a son and a father; a son, for he was presumably younger than Micah; a father, for he is the one who will enable Micah’s prosperity (v.13). Micah’s delusion runs deep – the LORD will only give him prosperity if he has Christ, if he has the living object of faith, rather than mere shadows. One can consume as much communion, have as many baptisms as one wishes – but only Christ can give one true food and living water. His delusion is at a height as high as his arrogance, as he presumes to consecrate even this Levite (v.12). The ESV footnote indicates the difficulty of the translation of v.12, which Clarke also investigates:
“vayemalle eth yad, he filled his hands [as noted in the ESV footnote], i.e., he gave him an offering to present before the Lord, that he might be accepted by him. He appointed him to be priest; God was to accept and consecrate him; and for this purpose he filled his hand; i.e., furnished him with the proper offering which he was to present on his inauguration.”
Thus we see a man, terribly fearful of the LORD, attempting to do all the right things to gain His reward though forgetting that these rituals are mere shadows; and despite being shadows, it is important to distinguish that the rituals still have a set procedure in order to display the gospel of Christ, rather than a gospel of Satanic works. Even the priest is not properly ordained, as the Hebrew reveals: he is not given the anointing of oil, the representation of the giving of the Spirit; in which case, how can the priest do any work for God? How is he ‘wholly consecrated’ if he was to freely serve different masters? A simple offering is a huge insult in denying the presence of the Spirit in the priest’s work.
In the following two cases, Micah has failed – by trying to please the gods, he did not find assurance in the prophesied Anointed One; in trying to please the gods, he re-invented his own rituals and failed to grasp what the more Spirit-led Israelites saw: the Son of God who must be sacrificed before the true Temple of God and bring his blood into the Holy of Holies. Micah’s pitiful rendition of the tabernacle provides none of that truth. It is entirely empty of the gospel and empty of the involvement of the Trinity whether symbolic or not.
Judges 18: The Unitarian God
Samson and Delilah; Dan and the Idols
1(Q) In those days there was no king in Israel. And in those days(R) the tribe of the people of Dan was seeking for itself an inheritance to dwell in, for until then no inheritance among the tribes of Israel had fallen to them. 2So the people of Dan sent five able men from the whole number of their tribe,(S) from Zorah and from Eshtaol,(T) to spy out the land and to explore it. And they said to them, “Go and explore the land.” And they came(U) to the hill country of Ephraim, to the house of Micah, and lodged there. 3When they were by the house of Micah, they recognized the voice of the young Levite. And they turned aside and said to him, “Who brought you here? What are you doing in this place? What is your business here?” 4And he said to them, “This is how Micah dealt with me:(V) he has hired me, and I have become his priest.” 5And they said to him,(W) “Inquire of God, please, that we may know whether the journey on which we are setting out will succeed.” 6And the priest said to them,(X) “Go in peace. The journey on which you go is under the eye of the LORD.”
As if echoing Judges 13, instead of one man Samson, we find five able men from Zorah and from Eschtaol, to spy out the land and to explore it. Samson had dwelled in the camp of Dan between those two places, and yet this one man Samson, being led by the Spirit, is far more capable than these men.
V.6 is the answer to their inquiry – and indeed it does come to fruition. However, it would appear that their methods are contrary to what was commanded of them in the “art of Christian warfare”. As the inquiry stems not from the tabernacle, not from speaking to Yahweh nor from standing before His shekinah presence, but merely from the priest himself (since the attention on the actual tabernacle at Shiloh is deliberately left till the last verse of this chapter). As Matthew Henry queried, “Should he be enquired of by them? Eze. 14:3. They seem to have had a greater opinion of Micah’s teraphim than of God’s urim; for they had passed by Shiloh, and, for aught that appears, had not enquired there of God’s high priest, but Micah’s shabby Levite shall be an oracle to them. He betakes himself to his usual method of consulting his teraphim; and, whether he himself believed it or no, he humoured the thing so well that he made them believe he had an answer from God encouraging them to go on, and assuring them of good success (v. 6): “Go in peace, you shall be safe, and may be easy, for before the Lord is your way,’’ that is, “he approves it’’ (as the Lord is said to know the way of the righteous with acceptation), “and therefore he will make it prosperous, his eye will be upon you for good, he will direct your way, and preserve your going out and coming in.’’ Note, Our great care should be that our way be such as God approves, and, if it be so, we may go in peace. If God care for us, on him let us cast our care, and be satisfied that we cannot miss our way if he go before us.” Indeed, but the Danites have not received true peace, because the LORD is not before them nor is He visibly with Micah or the Levite. Thus, the Danites go to spy on Laish (or otherwise named as Leshem):
7Then the five men departed and came to(Y) Laish and saw the people who were there, how they lived in security, after the manner of the Sidonians,(Z) quiet and unsuspecting, lacking[b] nothing that is in the earth and possessing wealth, and how(AA) they were far from the Sidonians and had no dealings with anyone. 8And when they came to their brothers at(AB) Zorah and Eshtaol, their brothers said to them, “What do you report?” 9They said,(AC) “Arise, and let us go up against them, for we have seen the land, and behold, it is very good.(AD) And will you do nothing?(AE) Do not be slow to go, to enter in and possess the land. 10As soon as you go, you will come to an(AF) unsuspecting people. The land is spacious, for God has given it into your hands,(AG) a place where there is no lack of anything that is in the earth.”
It is interesting how these five men compared the people of Laish with the Sidonians, both peoples part of cities ill-governed and ill-guarded. The translation of v.7 may be better read as them seeing “the people that [were] therein, how they dwelt careless, after the manner of the Zidonians, quiet and secure; and [there was] no magistrate in the land, that might put [them] to shame in [any] thing“. This is quite a different translation from the positive display of Laish in the words of the Danite spies, when in fact they are speaking of the sloth, carelessness, and laxness in terms of being ready for war. Did these men not know that the Danites are coming to conquer them? Or that they are in the middle of a war between tribes, nations and faiths? This is an idle city, which had no dealing with others surrounding it (or specifically, no dealing with Syria, the Hebrew word being aram as Clarke postulates; the confusion between adam [man] and aram [Syria] is easy to make, though the message of the chapter maintains the same); and it lived too far away from receiving support from others – ironically displaying the same truth as Micah, who turned to idolatry by creating a convenient temple of worship when he should have gone straight to Shiloh, however far he geographically might have been, to Jesus Christ.
So while Laish is an inward-looking idle city who could have sought proper support from fellow Canaanite brethren, Micah could have been truly shielded from the LORD’s wrath if he sought refuge in the true tabernacle as opposed to his own. While Laish is a city of sloth, possessing much wealth, “quiet and unsuspecting”, careless – so also Micah, a slothful man who possessed enough wealth to hire a Levite and lived a careless life for failing to observe carefully the true ordinances and revelations of God despite being a god-fearer.
11So 600 men of the tribe of Dan,(AH) armed with weapons of war, set out from Zorah and Eshtaol, 12and went up and encamped at Kiriath-jearim in Judah. On this account that place is called(AI) Mahaneh-dan[c] to this day; behold, it is west of(AJ) Kiriath-jearim. 13And they passed on from there to(AK) the hill country of Ephraim, and came to the house of Micah. 14Then the five men who had gone to scout out the country of Laish said to their brothers, “Do you know that(AL) in these houses there are an ephod, household gods, a carved image, and a metal image? Now therefore consider what you will do.” 15And they turned aside there and came to the house of the young Levite, at the home of Micah, and(AM) asked him about his welfare. 16Now the 600 men of the Danites,(AN) armed with their weapons of war, stood by the entrance of the gate. 17And(AO) the five men who had gone to scout out the land went up and entered and took(AP) the carved image, the ephod, the household gods, and the metal image, while the priest stood by the entrance of the gate with the 600 men armed with weapons of war. 18And when these went into Micah’s house and took(AQ) the carved image, the ephod, the household gods, and the metal image, the priest said to them, “What are you doing?” 19And they said to him, “Keep quiet;(AR) put your hand on your mouth and come with us and be to us(AS) a father and a priest. Is it better for you to be priest to the house of one man, or to be priest to a tribe and clan in Israel?” 20And the priest’s heart was glad. He took the ephod and the household gods and the carved image and went along with the people.
These Danites are such a contrast in comparison to Samson. Samson rarely resorted to weapons of war, and these Danites are fully armed even at the gate near Micah’s abode. These fully armed men, though fearsome, are still a small number compared to the Israelite armies and warfare between the books of Numbers and Joshua. They had camped at near Kiriath-Jearim, the city of woods, where the place is renamed Mahaneh-dan which is where Samson had grown up in the Spirit prior to his mission against the Philistines (c.f. Judges 13:25), displaying the chronology of these events are prior to Samson. However, where Samson grew in Spirit, these Danites did not bear the Spirit nor the wisdom – especially in failing to discern between seeking the advice from the true priests at Shiloh, and rather receive deluded advice from a hired, young Levite, whose heart was set on present worldly riches and glory (v.20). Although Jonathan had treated Micah as his own father, and that he had acted as a spiritual father to Micah, he would rather relinquish such intimate relations for a greater reputation, even though the Levitical tribe as a whole is dignified in its holy service.
The delusion of Jonathan, Dan, and Micah
It appears then that Jonathan, enticed by silver; and the Danites, who were dim and lawless; are a strong contrast with the period of the judges, when especially juxtaposed to the comparatively Spirit-led and lawful Samson, who in turn was led by truly God-fearing parents. Thus, the microcosm of the heresy of Micah, extends to the macrocosm of the heresy of the tribe of Dan within the nation Israel. This is a false gospel – to preach that Christ the priest would only represent one tribe, one pitiful 600-member clan of the entire Israel, when He is part of the non-exclusivist Trinitarian community for the whole church, the whole of Israel! What can these gods in v.20 do, but cause more destruction? How can they forcefully move these gods as to go before them, as in v.6 of this chapter, when the living Angel of the Father moves upon His sending and own volition?
21So they turned and departed, putting the little ones and the livestock and(AT) the goods in front of them. 22When they had gone a distance from the home of Micah, the men who were in the houses near Micah’s house were called out, and they overtook the people of Dan. 23And they shouted to the people of Dan, who turned around and said to Micah, “What is the matter with you, that you come with such a company?” 24And he said,(AU) “You take my gods that I made and the priest, and go away, and what have I left? How then do you ask me, ‘What is the matter with you?'” 25And the people of Dan said to him, “Do not let your voice be heard among us, lest angry fellows fall upon you, and you lose your life with the lives of your household.” 26Then the people of Dan went their way. And when Micah saw that they were too strong for him, he turned and went back to his home.
V.24 reveals that Micah is fully aware that the gods are made by his own hands, and yet he would approach the 600-strong men to retrieve them. The burly Danites, so selfishly keeping the gods and the priest to themselves, should provide some revelation to Micah who had been doing the same at the beginning of the chapter. The true tabernacle at Shiloh simply cannot be horded; it cannot be given to one family, let alone one clan or tribe. To keep “God” as if He is inanimate, as if He needs protection, is to deny his very livelihood and utter superiority over our feeble hands. Yet, this is the attitude of those who wish to protect such relics, such idolatrous worship, is as described by Hezekiah’s prayer in 2 Kings 19:
14Hezekiah received(V) the letter from the hand of the messengers and read it; and Hezekiah went up to the house of the LORD and spread it before the LORD. 15And Hezekiah prayed before the LORD and said: “O LORD, the God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim,(X) you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth. 16(Y) Incline your ear, O LORD, and hear;(Z) open your eyes, O LORD, and see; and hear the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent(AA) to mock the living God. 17Truly, O LORD, the kings of Assyria have laid waste the nations and their lands 18and have cast their gods into the fire, for they were not gods,(AB) but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone. Therefore they were destroyed. 19So now, O LORD our God, save us, please, from his hand,(AC) that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that(AD) you, O LORD, are God alone.”
27But the people of Dan took what Micah had made, and the priest who belonged to him, and they came to Laish, to a people(AV) quiet and unsuspecting, and(AW) struck them with the edge of the sword and burned the city with fire. 28And there was no deliverer because it was(AX) far from Sidon, and they had no dealings with anyone. It was in the valley that belongs to(AY) Beth-rehob. Then they rebuilt the city and lived in it. 29And they named the city(AZ) Dan, after the name of Dan their ancestor, who was born to Israel; but(BA) the name of the city was Laish at the first. 30And the people of Dan set up the carved image for themselves, and Jonathan the son of Gershom,(BB) son of Moses,[d](BC) and his sons were priests to the tribe of the Danites until the day(BD) of the captivity of the land. 31So they set up Micah’s carved image that he made,(BE) as long as the house of God was at Shiloh.
And such is the result of not having the LORD go before them – that they should attack a “quiet and unsuspecting” city like Laish; a city which did not launch any apparent attacks on the Danites – a defenceless city. Yet, the blood-lust of the Danites as they had been travelling around ready to attack with their armed weaponry, as opposed to being ready to provide acts of grace which was commanded of them (c.f. Deuteronomy 10-12), is the driving force of this campaign. In the words of Matthew Henry, ” the measure of the iniquity of the Canaanites was full, [and] that of the Danites was but beginning to fill.” It is a campaign of oppression; of brow-beating; of idolatry – with no parties in these two chapters truly inquiring of the LORD, though we see His name used carelessly, no-one bothering to truly go to Shiloh as the true tabernacle stands there, unused. Laish, though made into a somewhat innocent victim of the massacre, is not without guilt – for they, like the clan of Dan and like Micah, are also idle and lonely men.
The theme of these chapters manifests the truth of the false, Unitarian God where we see no fellowship and guidance of the spiritual church. The fact that there is no deliverer for Laish is also echoing the cities of refuge placed around Canaan so that one would have immediate help – and though the context is not applicable to this particular instance, the principle behind it is the same: that the unity of the church of Christ should mean that we are mutual intercessors, calling upon that one Redeemer. Laish had fallen into a false sense of security, and it has no church, no brother, no other nation, to turn to who can lead it to the one true God in times of the worst spiritual warfare. Thus, by the end of Judges 18, Laish, Dan, and Micah are all victims of self-delusions.
And so chapter 18 ends on two notes which emphasises on these delusions – that the false temple and the heretical Levite are both contrasted to the silent tabernacle at Shiloh. To find out by the end of this historical event that the Levite is called Jonathan (sarcastically meaning “the gift of Jehovah”), who descends from Moses, the meekest man on earth (Numbers 12:3). Some translations render it to be Manasseh, instead of Moses, but the ESV and Adam Clarke both seem to be in agreement:
“Who this Manasseh was, none can tell; nor does the reading appear to be genuine. He could not be Manasseh the son of Joseph, for he had no son called Gershom nor could it be Manasseh king of Israel, for he lived eight hundred years afterwards.
Instead of Manasseh, the word should be read Mosheh, MOSES, as it is found in some MSS., in the Vulgate, and in the concessions of the most intelligent Jews. The Jews, as R. D. Kimchi acknowledges, have suspended the letter: nun, over the word thus,
-which, by the addition of the points, they have changed into MANASSEH, because they think it would be a great reproach to their legislator to have had a grandson who was an idolater. That Gershom the son of Moses is here intended, is very probable. See the arguments urged by Dr. Kennicott, Dissertation I., p. 55, and see the Var. Lect. of De Rossi on this place.”
Jonathan is anything but meek; he has failed to give glory to his ancestor, and unlike Moses’ meekness which led him to constantly ask direction from the Angel and from the Father, there is no clarity as to who it is that Jonathan seeks direction from. That, I believe, is the crux of these two chapters – the aimlessness of the parties as they are led by their own desires, their own lusts: Jonathan’s reputation beyond the glory of being a Levite; the Danites’ hope to secure their own physical land; Micah’s obsession with pleasing the LORD; Laish’s false sense of security – all of which can be entirely satisfied at the “house of God [which] was at Shiloh”. This is the house where the Levite finds his true pride; this is the life of the Levite who needs no physical land as he looks to new creation; this is the life of the Levite, that he is no hired pawn, but that all should gather at the House of God rather than create their own religion; this is the house of the Levite where all can find eternal refuge from future harm.