Friday, February 21, 2014

Micah and his Levite: The Progression of Idolatry

In Judges 17, we hear of a man from Mount Ephraim who is known as Micah. The very first thing we learn of Micah is that he has stolen eleven hundred shekels of silver from his mother, but that he for whatever reason (I speculate guilt) did nothing with this silver and ultimately restores it to his mother. 

His mother's response is a bit odd. Instead of rebuking him for stealing it, she asks that he be blessed of the Lord. However, the real oddness of her response is what she said after that. In Judges 17:3-5, we learn, 
"And when he had restored the eleven hundred shekels of silver to his mother, his mother said, 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. Yet he restored the money unto his mother; and his mother took two hundred shekels of silver, and gave them to the founder, who made thereof a graven image and a molten image: and they were in the house of Micah. And the man Micah had an house of gods, and made an ephod, and teraphim, and consecrated one of his sons, who became his priest."

Wait, what? In some of the first commandments that the Lord gives the Israelites after their exodus from Egypt, he tells them,
"Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth."

Now Micah and his mother are trying to serve God by disobeying Him?  This is nonsensical, but before we judge too hard, let us remember that we do similar things. Although we may not violate specific written commands, we still try to serve the Lord based on our desires and not those of the Lord. 

We may reject specifically what the Lord desires for our life and still try to serve the Lord by living our own will for our life. Sure, we aren't violating the Ten Commandments in this instance, but we are still disobeying God when we refuse to listen to his calling in our life. 

So you see, Micah is guilty of a sin that plagues many Christians. They decide that they can ignore God's will for their lives and still serve the Lord. 

I myself had this tendency when the Lord was calling me to the ministry. I wanted to reject this idea and still serve God as an economist, a lawyer or something related to those interests. But we all know that never would have worked. 

Indeed if we follow the rest of Micah's story, we will see how well he is able to serve God by disobeying his commandments. 

Micah is not ignorant of the law, and he is trying hard to do right by it. However, he is still holding onto his idea that the idols he has made can be used in this purpose. But he knows that his sons are not adequate priests to the Lord. The Lord did after all consecrate the Levites to serve Him.

Thus, when the opportunity presents itself, Micah hires himself a Levite to be the priest of his household at ten shekels of silver a year. At this point, Micah thinks that his use of a Levite as a priest redeems his sins of the graven images. His worship he thinks should now be acceptable unto the Lord. Judges 17:13 proclaims, 
"Then said Micah, Now know I that the Lord will do me good, seeing I have a Levite to my priest."

The fact that the Levite accepted this arrangement indicates many flaws in his character unbecoming of a religious leader, but alas, that is not the focus of this post.

Micah incorrectly believes that adding in certain elements of God's plan of worship will eliminate all the evil he has done while serving the Lord. But the sin he has committed is still incompatible with the will of God and simply having a Levite is not enough to redeem him.

Similarly, if we have disobeyed in our service to the Lord, we can't redeem ourselves by doing anything but changing course to obedience. If we have neglected God, we cannot hope to serve Him until we approach Him.

This disobedience eventually means that we no longer even hold an illusion of serving God. In Judges 18, we continue to hear of Micah and his idols. Here the tribe of Dan "buys out" the Levite's service and steals the images that Micah has made.

When Micah learns of this, he does what we would expect. He gathers as many people together to fight to bring his items back. He confronts the children of Dan, asking why they have stolen his images. But he does not say they have stolen his instruments for serving the Lord. No, he has given up on that illusion. The Danites have stolen "his gods." Micah's rebuke in Judges 18:24 dictates,
"And he said, Ye have taken away my gods which I made, and the priest, and ye are gone away: and what have I more?"

My gods? It is not surprising to any of us when we see this in Micah. He started out just trying to serve the Lord with his own devices, but ended up serving the works of his own hands. Yet when the same thing happens in our own lives, we are shocked. We don't understand how our good intentions didn't pan out into effective service of the Lord.

But as we see through Micah, it's not just about our intentions. We may intend to serve the Lord, but are we willing to leave aside our desires and serve the Lord by his standards? Micah was unable to, and thus, he found himself serving false gods. We must put aside all our own plans for our life if we wish to serve the Lord and not just serve ourselves. We can't try to mix the two. "No man can serve two masters." We must, as Joshua proclaimed,
"Choose you this day whom ye will serve... but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."

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