The book of Judges divides into three parts: 1. Introduction; 2. the main body of the book; 3. the conclusion. The introduction includes the first two chapters, of which the first sets forth the condition of Israel after the death of Joshua as being that of inaction with respect to its divine calling. The task that remained to the tribes west of the Jordan was to prosecute the conquest by freeing their respective allotments from the remnants of the heathen tribes, and especially to cleanse the land of the altars and shrines of their pagan worship. But this was not done, we learn from this chapter. What is worse, with the exception of Judah, the tribes concluded a covenant with the heathen, according to the articles of which they were allowed to continue in the possession of many of their cities on the condition that they pay tribute and their pagan temples and altars were not broken down.
The second chapter gives us a bird’s eye view of the history narrated in the body of the book,—a history of the apostasies of Israel and the deliverances sent by Jehovah through the agency of the judges, thus a history of sin repeating itself over and over, and of divine grace, constantly devising new means of deliverances.
The conclusion of the book is formed of chapters 19-21. Arriving at these chapters we notice that the narrative takes a sudden turn indicative of a new design which is to show that in the period of the judges “every man did that which was right in his own eyes,” in that “in those days there was no king in Israel.” This statement occurs only in the conclusion of the book and occurs there over and over. Thus, the design of these concluding chapters is to trace the self- will of individuals, of the priests and of the people, their licentiousness and passion, and thus to show that, by reason of the inability of the government of the Judges to cope with this sinful individualism, the hereditary kingship had to be set up. As I wrote in a former article, the need of the kingship rose from the sinfulness of the people, from their inability to be one in a common faith in Jehovah their God. What was therefore needed is a visible and central authority to curb the licentiousness of the people, constrain it to obey God’s voice and to abide in His law, thus a central authority to serve as a compelling unity for the whole nation. Without a king, the people of Israel were like a flock without a shepherd. They went astray. They turned everyone to his own way. In the conclusion of his book, the writer calls attention to this over and over in this language, “In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did what was right in his own eyes.” But if the institution of judges could not make the people one, neither could the hereditary kingship. The best of the kings that God chose to rule over His people were not equal to this task. For these kings were but sinful men, and the root of Israel’s troubles was sin, which had to be atoned and removed, if God’s people were to be truly one. Only sinless men, in whose heart is shed abroad the love of God, are truly one—one in the truth, one in Christ who is the truth. Thus, there was need of Him—Christ Jesus—who is “made unto us Wisdom and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.”
Let us now have regard to the examples of this sinful individualism presented to us in the concluding chapters of our book. The first is that of the setting up of a private sanctuary by Micah, a man of Mount Ephraim, and of his engaging a wandering Levite to be his priest,. The narration of these sinful doings follows after the story of Samson’s life and death.
There dwelt at that time in Mount Ephraim a woman who was rich. Her wealth amounted to at least eleven hundred shekels, at that time representing a considerable sum. How she had come into the possession of so much wealth cannot be determined. The view that she was a widow whose deceased husband had left her large sums is not unlikely, as no mention is made of the woman’s husband. She had a son whose name was Micah. Micah took the money secretly. The text indicates that his purpose was to manufacture an image for a private sanctuary. When the woman discovered the theft, she was beside herself. Doubtless, she suspected her son, for, as the text again indicates, she had learned from her son his plans and, what is more, in her carnal rage she was careful to curse the unknown thief in her son’s hearing, who, with his mother’s dreadful imprecations in his ears, was afraid. Going to his mother, he said to her, “The eleven hundred shekels of silver that were taken from thee, about which thou cursedst and spaketh also in mine ears, behold the silver is with me; I took it”—‘took it,’ he meant to say, and his mother well understood, To establish my private sanctuary, thus took it for an excellent purpose’. As driven by a superstitious dread for the effect of a maternal curse, he merely meant to inform his angry mother that the curse concerned him as he had taken the silver, which he was now returning. His telling her this, would have surprised the woman, had she been ignorant of his plans. But she was not surprised. Instead she was jubilant. Her terrible maledictions had had the desired effect. It had frightened the miscreant into admitting to her his guilt. The loot was returned. She had recovered her treasure. The Lord might now bless the culprit. So, in her elation of heart, she exclaimed, “Blessed be thou of the Lord, my son.” She resembled those people of whom James says (), “’Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing.” She was a wicked woman, whose heart was not with the Lord but with her gold. That she was this kind of a person is plain from her subsequent words and doings. With her eleven hundred shekels once more in her possession, she said to her son, “I had wholly dedicated the silver unto the Lord from my hand for my son, to make a graven image and a molten image; now therefore I will restore it unto thee.” But this son, still dreading the effects of the curse, was determined not to have the silver. So he, in turn, restored the money to his mother. The text indicates that she had expected this and that her generosity was therefore feigned. For she now took not the eleven hundred but a mere two hundred of the eleven hundred shekels of silver “and gave them to the founder, who made thereof a graven image and a molten image.” Thus, in saying that she had wholly dedicated the silver unto the Lord, she had lied. It is unlikely that she had dedicated any of it unto the Lord, and that her blessing her son in turn was indicative of a carnal joy over the recovery of her money and thus not even a joy over the discovery that her son had taken the money for what she considered a good purpose and that his plans coincided with hers. She was not interested even in a spurious sanctuary. Her god was her money. But to make up to her son for having cursed him and to screen her avariciousness, she forced herself to dedicate at least a small portion of her treasure to his sanctuary. And her donation she had shaped into an image. That, she knew, was according to her son’s liking.
The form of the image cannot be determined. Had it represented a calf, the writer would have taken occasion to say so. Neither is it likely that the image work was an imitation of the cherubim of the tabernacle. For the cherubim were not accessible for public inspection. Certain it is, that, whatever the shape of the image, it formed or soon came to form, a contrast with Jehovah through its being worshipped so that the sin that was here committed by this woman and her son and by as many as were to worship with them in their spurious sanctuary was that of changing, under the impulse of hatred of God, the glory of God into an image made like unto the creature, and this notwithstanding the pious assertion of the woman that she dedicated the silver unto Jehovah. According to Holy Writ, all image worship is the service of a false deity.
As the man Micah plainly intended to establish a perfect imitation of the true worship of Jehovah at Shiloh, he made also an ephod and a teraphim, and consecrated one of his sons, who became his priest. Micah’s ephod was, in all likelihood, a copy of the linen coat which the Lord had designed only for the lawful priesthood, His teraphim was a pagan oracle designed for divining purposes. He meant it to take the place in his spurious worship of the Urim and the Thummim which were intended for Israel’s high- priests in order that by means of them they might be the organ of divine revelation for the people.
Micah’s sin was great. He inaugurated in Ephraim not the worship of Jehovah by the aid of an image—this was never either possible or intended, the pious assertions of the image worshippers in Israel notwithstanding—but the worship of a devil-god in opposition to the worship of the one true God at Shiloh. True, Micah’s image may not have represented a calf. It certainly did not represent any of the monstrous creations of the Baal worshippers, for that would have defeated the purpose of the man; but it was an image, and the worship was the worship of an image nevertheless. And this worship—this sanctuary with its spurious oracle and priest—this man presumed to pass off as the worship, the sanctuary, the oracle and the priest of Jehovah. For his object was to draw away the people from Jehovah and His ministers in the tabernacle and to attract them to his idol. And to reach his object he vested his carnal and sensuous worship in the forms of the service of Jehovah. And his motive was pride and unbelief. And the impulse under which he acted was hatred of God. Micah was a dangerous man. His spiritual kin of this day and age are not the avowed enemies of the true religion, of the God of the Scriptures, but the heretic, whose heart is far from God but who poses as God’s friend by paying Him lip service and who smuggles his lies into the church by vesting them in the forms of the truth to ensnare, if this were possible, even the elect. But those ensnared are not the elect but the carnal seed. The true believers in Israel continued to serve at the tabernacle in Shiloh.
It seems that the growth in popularity of Micah’s sanctuary was slower than lie had anticipated so that he concluded that what was needed is a priest from the house of Levi. He first may have inquired among the Levites residing in Ephraim. If so, it speaks well for them that none of their number proved willing to attach himself to his idol temple. But help came to him from another quarter. A young Levite, who was settled in Judah, tired of his home and took to travelling about in search of a new field of service. He set out on a way that took him over the mountains of Ephraim. As he journeyed, he came to the house of Micah, who learned from the young man, on questioning him, that he was unengaged and was looking for a place. Micah then made him an inviting offer. “Dwell with me,” he said to him, “and be unto me a father and a priest, and 1 will give thee ten shekels by the year, and a suit of apparel, and thy victuals.” The young man consented and was taken in with great joy and “was unto Micah even as one of his sons. Micah consecrated the young man, and he became his priest in his house. It mattered little to this Levite that the house in which he consented to serve was the temple of a devil god and that the worshippers whom he should bless were such as prostrated themselves before the shrine of an idol. The young man was now in good circumstances. He had strayed into a lucrative place and if to hold that place he must bless when he should curse, he would bless. His god being his belly, he was a pleaser of men. Loving the world and the things of the world, he renounced his calling, forsook the temple of Jehovah and was set over the temple of an idol. And Micah was glad. He now looked for blessings to Jehovah. “Now I know,” he said, “that Jehovah will do me good, seeing I have a Levite to my priest.” These words indicate the self-deception of the man. His soiled conscience built hopes on the name of an apostate Levite.