1. It would be easy to turn this into an allegory or a morality play or to treat this as one of Aesop’s fables. We tend to do that with Biblical characters. They are no longer real but simply a means of teaching lessons. Their lives are not neat and tidy. Like our lives, they are not consistent or simply good and bad. They are a mixture. They are complicated.
2. It’s all one account but in three chapters.
3. Section 1 – Chapter 17:
a. The mother’s confusion and what we would call heterodoxy today. She genuinely thinks her dedicating silver to make a carved image is consistent with her religious beliefs. How does that happen? How do people get so confused when the commandment is so clear? Two ways that are still true today. First, it was a time when every man did what was right in their own eyes. They had managed to make every standard relative. If you don’t like it – either amend it or ignore it. Second, she was completely disconnected to sound teaching. Another part of the text (the last verse of chapter 18 ) says the people continued to use idols all the time the house of God was in Shiloh. In other words, they had allowed something other than the Law to become their source of right beliefs. She was not connected to sound teaching but to practices and beliefs that gradually moved people to distorted theology. We see the same today when people are disconnected from sound teaching and accountability. It’s never sudden. It’s gradual…and always makes sense but ends in confusion. Read Deuteronomy 29:9-19. Moses’ instruction for the people…and those who follow.
b. Micah is as confused as his mother. He ordains his son and then we see what happens when faith becomes superstition.
c. The Levite is a young and ambitious religious entrepreneur. He has mistaken a calling for a career. I meet donors and ministry leaders who have fallen into the same trap. The ministry leader becomes the lucky charm for the donor and the donor is a meal ticket in return. There is no way to be a priest or prophet this way. All credibility is gone. All ability to hold people accountable is sacrificed. They become what one writer has called “chaplains to power.” Besides that, the Levites were never to be priests. They were to serve the priests in Shiloh and later in Jerusalem. This Levite did not want to be constrained by the rules and he found a way to do what he wanted.
“I’m no curio”. It was too much but it was in the right direction. Finding the balance between being an employee and a prince is as hard for the ministry leader as it is for the congregation. Our natural tendency is to go to one extreme or the other.
In this first chapter you see all the basic themes in the rest of the story: disloyalty, confusion, isolation and people deciding themselves what is right and wrong – and then covering it with all kinds of God language.
4. Section 2 – Chapter 18:1-26:
a. The Danites are unsuccessful in conquering the Canaanites in the territory assigned to them and are looking for an easy way out.
b. They find an accommodating Levite who will tell them what they want to hear. They ask him to inquire of God and he immediately tells them they have God’s approval. He is completely independent of God and a free agent. They are not looking for guidance but for permission and they have come to the right place. “He has hired me and I am his priest.” He encourages them to take advantage of these “unsuspecting people” and to think God has put them into their hands. More God language. What else do they find in this ambitious young man? They find someone they can seduce with a bigger opportunity and more influence. They find someone whose loyalty is for sale.
c. They find people who are unsuspecting and secure and, like everyone else, isolated and cut off from others. “And since their land lacked nothing, they were prosperous. Also, they lived a long way from the Sidonians and had no relationship with anyone else.” Later, we read that “there was no one to rescue them because they lived a long way from Sidon and had no relationship with anyone else.”
5. Section 3 – Chapter 18:27-31:
a. For me, this is the saddest irony in the story. Who is the young ambitious and accommodating Levite? He is the son of Gershom, the son of Moses. His grandfather is Moses.
b. Read Deuteronomy 31:24-29. He could not have known it would be his own grandson he was describing.
c. The end result of Jonathan’s lack of character is the destruction and enslavement of Israel. As we know, the ten tribes go into captivity and completely disappear from history. The ultimate effect of the grandson’s life is the unraveling of his grandfather’s life work. It was not intentional. Still, it was a tragedy. The combination of so many small elements leads to the end of a nation – self-indulgence, isolation, disloyalty, pride, misuse of power, distorted theology, and ambition over time brings down an entire country. It was not obvious. It’s beginning seemed like such an insignificant thing – a mother’s confusion and a spoiled son. But, as in our own lives, one thing leads to another that we could never predict. 2 Kings 17:15: “They followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves.”
We are all, to some extent, susceptible to the mother’s confused beliefs, Micah’s superstition and manipulation, God-talk that masks selfish motivations, the Danites rationalizing, the Canaanites prosperity that leads to unsuspecting independence and Jonathan’s self-serving ambition. We all are prone to define God the way we would like and to wander from what He desires for us. The life with a memory of God but without a relationship with Him is true for every generation. As you know, there is another Micah in Scripture and through him God speaks to all of us. “With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”