MANIFESTATION OF THE RUIN AND FINAL RESTORATION.
Religious and Moral Corruption of Israel.
The Levite of Judah (Judges 17)
Chapters 17 to 21 form a kind of appendix to the book of Judges, an appendix of all importance for the completion of the moral picture of the declension of Israel, but which, in reality, as to time, precedes the opening of the book we are considering, and goes back to the last days of Joshua and of the elders that outlived him. It was important to show that if, on the one hand, declension was gradual, that on the other, the ruin was immediate and irremediable from the moment that God had confided to the people the responsibility of preserving the blessings bestowed on them at the beginning.
It was important, too, as we shall see later on, to demonstrate that the end God had in view was not the ruin, but the restoration of a people who might dwell before Him in unity, after the chastisements had run their course. It was, furthermore, of importance to show the connection of the priesthood with the ruin, and how it was associated therewith, and contributed thereto. All these weighty subjects, and many others besides, are touched upon in the small compass of the chapters, which we are about to consider. The date of them is shown us in three passages which I mention for those who are interested in the arrangement of the book, and also that it may not be necessary to refer to them again.
- The first of these is in Judges 18: 1. We learn from Joshua 19: 47, that the tribe of Dan took possession of Leshem (the Leshem of Joshua being the Laish of Judges), at the time when the twelve tribes were called to conquer their inheritance.
- In the second passage, Judges 18: 12, "Mahaneh‑dan" received its name from the expedition of Dan, whereas at the commencement of the history of Samson (Judges 13: 25) it was a place already known. - Finally, in Judges 20: 28, "Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, stood before it (the ark) in those days;" from which we necessarily conclude that those days followed immediately what is related in Joshua 24: 33.
These details established, we find in Judges 17 and Judges 18 the picture of the religious corruption of Israel whilst still in possession of their original blessings - a picture which does not offer a single spot where the heart can rest amid the ruin; and, when we come to examine it by the light of the word, we shall understand that our only refuge in this terrible flood of evil is God Himself.
These chapters are linked together by a characteristic phrase occurring four times. "In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes" (Judges 17: 6; Judges 21: 25). "In those days there was no king in Israel" (Judges 18: 1; Judges 19: 1).
Thus the state of the people is depicted by two facts. First: "There was no king in Israel." The time had not yet come when Israel would say: "Make us a king to judge us like all the nations" (1 Sam. 8: 5). Hitherto the people had Jehovah as their king; now, God was forgotten or set aside, although royalty after the manner of the nations was not yet established. The people had abandoned the system of divine government, without having as yet proclaimed that of the world, and this fact characterizes also Christendom in our days.
In the second place: "Every man did that which was right in his own eyes." They had, as in the present day, the reign of liberty of conscience. Each laid claim to having the "light of his conscience" for guidance, whilst the true light of the word of God was set aside and no longer referred to. How greatly these times differed from those of Joshua, when the word was the only guide and the only authority for Israel, in all that they undertook (Joshua 1: 7‑9; see also, amongst others, Joshua 3, Joshua 4: 6; Joshua 8: 30‑35, etc). Now in reality, conscience, notwithstanding its immense value for man, is not a guide, but a judge - a wholly different thing. This judge which he does not listen to, man pretends to honour by choosing him as a guide. But how will it lead him, when perhaps it may become asleep, hardened, or even seared? These chapters show us where it led the Israelites when every man did that which was right in his own eyes. Idolatry had taken root alongside of some religious forms which still continued. They followed the impulses of their own hearts provided they thought they were doing right, and were precipitated into frightful iniquities. "They thought they were doing right" is in the present day, as it was formerly, a current phrase used to sanction even what is apostasy from Christianity.
Utter disregard of the injunctions of God's word characterized Micah, this man of Mount Ephraim, and his mother. The one stole, when the law had said, "Thou shalt not steal" (Ex. 20: 15), and his conscience was untouched when he avowed the fact. The mother "had wholly dedicated the silver unto Jehovah" for her son "to make a graven image and a molten image" (v. 3), although it had been said: "Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image" (Ex. 20: 3, 4). She joined Jehovah's name to her idols, a worse thing than mere idolatry, and her conscience was silent. She set up a form of worship of her own, with which her guilty son fully identified himself. The so‑called worship of the religious world in the present day does not differ so much from this as would at first appear; for the Lord's name is mixed up with many things coveted by the natural heart, as to all of which it is said: "Little children, keep yourselves from idols" (1 John 5: 21). Art, music, gold, silver and articles of value adorn what is called divine worship; and man makes room for what the world esteems and runs after, wealth, influence and worldly wisdom.
"Micah had an house of gods, and made an ephod and seraphim," associating the false gods with the ephod, a valueless part of Jewish worship when separated from the high priest who wore it. Then "he consecrated one of his sons, who became his priest" (ver 5). More than ever was the word of God forgotten. His son had no right to the priesthood and Micah had no right to consecrate him.
A fresh circumstance arose. A Levite of Judah, having as such a connection with the house of the Lord, but without any right as to the priesthood, happened to pass that way looking for a place wherein to sojourn. Micah got hold of this man, who brought him a semblance of religious succession. "Dwell with me, and be unto me a father and a priest, and I will give thee ten shekels of silver by the year, and a suit of apparel and thy victuals" (v. 10). Micah was getting on; he had installed a bona fide Levite in his house; valuing him more highly than his son, he supported and paid him. This was a ministry of man's appointing, constituted on the same principles as what we have all around us in our days. Let us notice, in passing, how God recounts these things.
He does not censure, nor express indignation; He enumerates the facts, and places them before us. Those who are spiritual discern what God condemns and what He approves of, and learn also to keep aloof, as He Himself does, from all the principles of which this chapter gives us so sad a picture. The carnal man continues in his blindness. Micah, in doing that which was right in his own eyes, thought to conciliate the favour of Jehovah! "Then said Micah, Now know I that Jehovah will do me good, seeing I have a Levite to my priest" (v. 13).