Judges 17-18: Idolatry
April 20, 2020
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
Matthew Henry comments about this part of the story of Judges that “spiritual distempers are not so soon cured as caught.” It is a wise observation, because the story here tells how one man’s idolatry spread piece-by-piece to a great city, Shiloh, and had a great impact. It begins with some kind of guilt that was attempted to be parlayed not by recourse to the grace of God, but by a further and far more serious sin: idolatry (17:1-4). The degeneracy of the spirituality of Israel has become so bad that despite this idolatry, a simple priest is put in charge (17:5), as if Moses had never taught the Ten Commandments. “You shall not make for yourself a graven image.” The narrator finds this story so horrific that he cannot but interject his famous line: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did as he saw fit” (17:6). Spiritual chaos.
They now up the ante, and get a “proper” priest, a Levite no less (17:10-13)! And things begin to look worse and worse for the spiritual condition of this part of God’s people. Going in the wrong direction is not made better by having a pious benediction spoken over it. Having an ordained cleric does not make heresy any less heresy. The outward ceremonies of the church cannot be used to make up for the truth not being preached and the law of God not being followed. Such attempts to assuage the sin do not make things better, they make them worse: the priest should have reformed the situation, not joined himself to it and given it credence by his authority.
One part of the tribe of Dan has not taken its inheritance (Judges 18). Awaking now finally to do something about it, they go about it in the wrong way. They see a city they think they can take, and they purloin the idols and the priest to give them a false sense of spiritual power as they go ahead and do battle. They even use some of the same language that had been sanctioned by their forebears honorably and with godliness (v. 9-10). Employing slogans from the past does not change the reality of the present: what matters is not the slogan of “the Bible,” but actually preaching the Bible and following the Bible. The priest is “glad” (v. 20) that he gets taken by these people—for him it is a career advancement. Micah is not so pleased, but because he does not have the physical power to overturn things, he has to accept his loss (v. 26). When God no longer rules, physical might rules. The downgrade of morality will lead, if unchecked, to dictatorship, for someone or something must rule, and if God’s authority is not accepted, then some kind of dictatorship may eventually be enforced if chaos is not allowed.
So this idolatry is taken to Shiloh and probably continues there until Samuel deals with it in his ministry. It is possible that this “Jonathan” (18:30) and his successors who serve as priests there, were the grandsons of the famous Moses, the man of God. If so, it is not the first (or last) time that a godly man has had children or grandchildren who do not follow God. Just because your father or grandfather loves Christ does not mean that you do not have to seek him passionately yourself.
“Spiritual distempers are not so soon cured as caught.” Therefore, today refuse evil and seek God.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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