THEY DID THAT WHICH WAS RIGHT IN THEIR OWN EYES
I bet you’ve never heard a Sunday School class or sermon from any of the last five chapters of Judges. There are two case studies in chapters 17-21, the first one about a man named Micah in Judges 17-18, and the second about a disgusting incident and the bloody aftermath that occurred between two of Israel’s tribes. It’s a bleak picture of what life looks like when people forget God and follow their own impulses. The writer does not pass judgment, as we might expect, nor does God. The writer just paints the picture of sin in all its ugliness. In some ways, the story of Judges ends at chapter 16 with the death of Samson. He is the last judge.
Yet there are five more chapters to go, and they are different from the ones that proceed them. No new enemies are mentioned who oppress them. You won’t see the familiar refrain: “Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD.” That’s not because they had stopped doing evil, but because they are so far gone in their own sin that they are being destroyed by the cancer within. Dale Ralph Davis says these last five chapters “portray the confusion of a depraved people.”
A man named Micah is the central character in Judges 17-18. He is a man of such weak character that he steals money from his mother and returns it only after he hears her call down a curse on whoever stole it. No pangs of conscience, no repentance. Her response to his actions is no better. She doesn’t correct him, doesn’t demand an apology, and ends up reversing the curse and blesses him. With part of the money she tells Micah to make an idol, which he displays in his house, even though making and worshiping idols is a clear violation of the second commandment (Exodus. 20:4-5; Deuteronomy 4:15-17).
Since Micah is not from the tribe of Levi, he nor his sons can serve as a priest, but that doesn’t stop Micah from appointing one of his own sons to fill that role. Why did they do this? Verse 6 says, “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.” Later they find a young Levite and do a priest-swap, presumably to make things right, but the whole thing is a farce. Verse 13 reveals Micah’s selfish motive; he thinks having a Levite as his priest guarantees God’s blessings on him.
The real problem with idolatry, then and now, is that it’s an effort to shape God into a god to our liking, a god made in our own image, a god we can manipulate and control. We prefer a god who says “yes” to our every desire, a god who never disapproves of our bad attitudes and misbehavior. We want an easy god, a comfortable god, a god who pardons our wrongs without it costing us much.
We favor a god who smiles when we go to church on Sunday and still lets us do as we see fit the rest of the week. We don’t want to abandon God altogether; we just want to mix our human concoction of religion in with Him. The essence of idolatry is to worship self, and that’s why God despises it so much. Lord, God, you alone are God. There is no other. Yet, I sometimes allow my own desires and emotions creep into that space in my heart that is meant only for you.
Forgive me, Father, when I try to manipulate you, or persuade you that my way is better than your way. Forgive me for my selfishness that leads me to put myself on the throne instead of you. Please help me recognize when idolatry of any kind begins to invade my heart. I want to serve only you. In Jesus’ name. Amen!
Dr. Dan Dozier
Dan Dozier preaches for the Rural Hill Church of Christ in Antioch, TN. Dr. Dozier holds degrees from Lipscomb University, Harding School of Theology, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and a Doctorate from Abilene Christian University. He has been married to his high school sweetheart, JaneLee, since 1972. They have three married children and eight grandchildren.