by Pastor Mark Hudson
I always thought these last few chapters of Judges are stories when the Israelites go off the rails. This is when the readers shakes his head, when she say, “Oh, no. Not this.” I remember when I first became a Christian, I heard a sermon called Ten Shekels and a shirt by Paris Reidhead (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9d7mhAY5FVwm ) which may one of the best sermons on any chapter in Judges IMHO.
This is a narrative where the viewpoint of the narrator is not obvious. Not obvious but still present. Sometimes the narrator is front and center like II Sam 11:27, “But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord.” Other times, we know but only by picking up subtle comments: a mother cursing a thief and then blessing his son for his confession (17:2). Making idols in 17:3-5. Micah ‘ordaining’ one of his sons to become ‘his’ priest. Then in the midst of all this religious talk in vs. 2-3, Micah makes idols. This is narrated as if nothing is unusual. But then like a trumpet blast this refrain is repeated, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in their own eyes.”
That phrases probably written in David or Solomon’s time (after the divided kingdom, the kings got as bad as the judges so the author was probably writing before the time when the kings devolved into sin), would be welcome news for most people in our age. The secular westerner prefers this zeitgeist. (They just don’t like the consequences. But they never link we get to do what we think is right with those consequences). From a Biblical perspective everyone doing what is right in their own eyes is moral chaos. That represents a people in rebellion to God. It is the worst of all possible worlds.
We have a king, our Lord Jesus Christ who rules in our church and over our lives. We do not live our lives, govern our church, worship the Lord in a way that is right to our eyes. Wait, most churches in North America do. I stand corrected. But in true churches God rules and governs through His appointed leaders. In the Westminster Larger Catechism Q 45 How does Christ executes the office of a King.
The answer is: “Christ executes the office of a king, in calling out of the world a people to himself, and giving them officers, laws, censures, by which he visibly governs them; in bestowing saving grace upon his elect, rewarding their obedience and correcting them for their sins, preserving and supporting them under all the temptations and sufferings, restraining and overcoming all their enemies, and powerfully ordering all things for his own glory, and their good; and also in taking vengeance on the rest, who know not God, and obey not the gospel.” If you read and understand this, ask yourself if you have ever been in a church that teaches and acts on this?
Back to our story where religious hypocrites use the language of God but live like God does not speak, govern, or express His will. So, the refrain of “In those days there was no king in Israel” to signal this is going to be bad. So, the people of Dan were given land but did not take it. In Judges 1:34, the Amorites oppressed them and in Judges 14, it is the Philistines. So, instead of taking the land that God wanted them to be in, they travel north of the sea of Galilee. As they pass by Micah’s home, they heard a familiar accent. They find out about this Levite and ask for a word from God. The Levite, not knowing what to say, offers some vague religious words to these soon-to-be warriors.
The find the people of Laish prosperous and peaceful. They return to the area they should have taken and tell their brothers we can kill all the people in Laish and live there. So, 600 men travel to Laish to kill. On the way there, they return to Micah’s house and steal his idols. The ‘priest’ protests until they offer him a better life so with an army to protect, a job to bless people who will fall on unsuspecting people, so he is happy to be an idolator with them.
All is fine until Micah and his neighbors catch up to the Danites protesting their thievery. These wonderful Jews answer by threatening their lives if Micah and company keep it up. So Micah is forced to go home and his ‘priest’ has a new ‘calling.’ They arrive in the murderous band of troublemakers in Laish. Not exactly. They are “a people quiet and unsuspecting” (18:7,10, 27). This is a brutal attack, condemned by the author in every way possible. One might think the Danites would be ashamed but they name the city after themselves. As the people are lying dead, the city still smoking from the brutal fires, Dan proudly names the city Dan. To make matters worse, v. 30 claims that a grandson of Moses served as priest to Dan. Some Jewish scholars try to amend that word so it is Manasseh to avoid the embarrassment of Moses mentioned in the awful chapter.
These actions, words, characters are roundly condemned by the author. People who listened to this story initially (since many would not be reading it but listening) had to be shaking their heads or hanging their hands in shame. They just finished the story of Samson, from the tribe of Dan, and now this. Well, if you think that is bad, wait until the next chapter. How quickly the evil escalates in these chapters.
Lord, we are not like You. When You lived on earth You knew no sin. We, on the other hand, love sin and are fully acquainted with sin. In our pride, jealousy, self-pity, self-righteousness, and stubbornness we see (or should see) ourselves in these stories. Sadly, we are not adding to the level of righteousness in the world. But we have a Savior who forgives our sins, governs us by His word and gathers us into a body. We confess it is tempting to look at our sin and the sins of others and be discouraged. Remind us that we are to look up and keep our eyes on the Savior, not neglecting this world, but glancing at it yet focusing on Christ. We pray this in the perfect name of Jesus. Amen.