The nation of Israel is adrift spiritually and morally. No more judges will appear on the scene to fight or pray or preach. It is no surprise that this book closes with tragic tales of disobedience, superstition, immorality, theft, murder, and eventually Israelite fighting against Israelite. What is the root problem? The same problem we're experiencing today: everyone does what is right in his his own eyes.
Judges 17, 18
The Book of Judges is coming to a tragic close. The nation is adrift spiritually and morally - no more judges will appear on the scene to fight or pray or preach. The popular ballad of a few years ago would have been a hit in Israel is the music plays - "How can it be wrong when it feels so right."
It is no surprise that this book closes with the tragic tales of disobedience, superstition, immorality, theft, murder and eventually, Israelite will fight against Israelite.
What is the root problem? In the remaining 5 chapters you will read 4 times, with some variation, the refrain, "In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes."
What does that tell us? It tells us that Israel is without civil authority and Israel has rejected God's authority.
And all the writer of Judges attempts to do now is hold a mirror in front of Israel's face (and ours) and say, "Here you are Israel, take a good hard look at what happens to a nation that rejects the authority of God."
Primarily two things happen - 1) a false religions are created
2) moral absolutes are destroyed
This morning we'll study first issue, the creation of false gods and a false religion. I will attempt to parallel Israel's confusion with America's confusion.
On the next Lord's day, as we conclude our study of this Book, we will deal with the second issue, somewhat ironic in it's timing, for a moral perversion exposed is homosexuality.
If following in notes, section B handled next session.
Our story opens in Judges 17, and continues through ch. 18. It is a story that reveals the development of false religions. In fact, these two chapters give us some of the characteristics of false religions that still exist today.
I want to highlight 4 of these characteristics, we'll allow these 4 things to serve as major points in our discussion.
1) A false religion is stimulated by personal convenience
17:1-5 Now there was a man of the hill country of Ephraim whose name was Micah.
2. And he said to his mother, "The eleven hundred pieces of silver which were taken from you, about which you uttered a curse in my hearing, behold, the silver is with me; I took it. And his mother said, "Blessed be my son by the Lord."
Get the picture - this son stole 1,100 pieces of silver from his mom. His Mom who evidently had adopted the pagan practice making spell or curses, casts this eerie curse upon whoever stole it. She had a good idea it was her son because the text tells us she uttered the curse in his hearing.
It worked! v. 3 He then returned the 1,100 pieces of silver to his mother, and his mother said, "I wholly dedicate the silver from my hand to the Lord (so good so far. . .look further), for my son to make a graven image and a molten image. . . A Jewish mother steeped in idolatry. I love what she does next! 4. So when he returned the silver to his mother, his mother took 200 pieces of silver and gave them to the silversmith who made them into a graven image. . .
She is not even giving what she said she would give.
- She praises God for her dishonest son fessing up
- She then promises to dedicate to God the money
- She then uses the money instead to make idols, in God's name
- She shortchanges the false gods by only using 200 or the 1,000
Even this false religion was shortchanged by a mother who found it much more convenient to keep 900 silvers to herself.
Here are Israelites bound by idolatry. Why - it's always been more convenient to make your own gods than serve the true and living God.
Why bother with trips to shiloh when you can worship at your own self-made shrine. Why bother with the tremendous expense of unblemished animals for sacrifices. . .
False religion is popular because it demands nothing more than what you are willing to give.
One Talk-show host recently had this to say about religion in America:
- There are some people who think religion is like a faucet - to be turned on only when needed.
- In our day the most popular religion is confusionism. We want beliefs that make us feel good; and when they don't, we see a psychiatrist.
- Most people have some sort of religion; at least they know what church they are staying away from.
- Many people use their religion as they do a bus - they ride on it only if it is going their way.
Now notice 5. And the man Micah had a shrine and he made an ephod and household idols and consecrated one of his sons, that he might become his priest. How convenient it all was.
Here comes the important statement - this is what God things about it all - 17:6 In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes."
Why bother with Shiloh. . .we can have everything we want here! We can have religion our way!
George Gallup and David Poling conducted the very first survey to assess the religious life of our nation. Glamour magazine conducted the second survey, to which 25,000 people responded. Under close scrutiny, what all three surveys revealed is the people chose to believe only what appealed to them and ignored teachings that ran contrary to their personal goals or felt needs. Their religious commitments were a "convenient and comfortable form of Christianity."
No wonder Howard Hendricks observed that the Christian church in America is about 500 miles long and an inch thick.
2) A false religion is concealed by religious appearances
A new character is added to the plot in verse 7. Now there was a young man from Bethlehem in Judah, of the family of Judah, who was a Levite; and he was staying there. (learn later it's Jonathan)
8. Then the man departed from the city, from Bethlehem in Judah, to stay where ever he might find a place; and as he made his journey; he came to the hill country of Ephraim to the house of Micah. (Remember, Micah has his son play acting the role of the priest - not too convincingly either I imagine.
9. And Micah said to him, "Where do you come from?" And he said to him, "I am a Levite from Bethlehem in Judah, and I am going to stay wherever I may find a place."
10. Micah then said to him, "Dwell with me and be a father and a priest to me. . . This is great Micah thought.
You see, Micah wanted a more authentic line to God; Jonathan wanted a more appealing ministry for God.
Look further at how good it gets - 10b. Be a priest to me, and I will give you ten pieces of silver a year, a suit of clothes, and your maintenance." So the Levite went in.
Hey this is really a blessing. I get a regular paycheck, a brand new suit and an expense account. Isn't God great?!
Make no mistake - God isn't smiling! This priest had no right to be wandering form the central sanctuary; no right to set up a priests office; no authority to serve an individual or a family.
This system was totally contrary to God's Word. But it had all the appearances of religiosity! All the right words were said = look, we even have a Levite playing priest!
Does America do this - you'd better believe it.
- Think of how many thousands of families will want their babies baptized, but will care little if they are taught anything of Christ's claims.
- Think of how many thousands of couples will expect a church wedding, in white with all the trimmings - a smiling minister sounding so official, but whose marriages will have nothing to do with the head of the church - Jesus Christ.
- Can you think of anyone who does not expect a minister to conduct his funeral, eulogizing with flowery words.
Yes, this country has fallen into the same pit - it wants all the appearances of religion without any commitment; it wants all the benefits of God's blessing on the marriage - on the home - on death, without ever considering God's principles.
Look at verse 13. Then Micah said, "Now I know that the Lord will prosper me, seeing I have a Levite as priest."
Notice the not so subtle motivation - "Now God can make me a prosperous man."
Don't overlook Micah's sin:
- mad his own gods
- mad his own shrine
- employed his own priest
He is considering himself under God's blessing - in reality?!
3) A false religion is motivated by disobedience
Chapter 18 broadens the list of characters in this drama to include the rebellious Danite tribe.
18:1 In those days there was no king of Israel; and in those days the tribe of the Danites was seeking an inheritance for themselves to live in, for until that day an inheritance had not been allotted to them as a possession among the tribes of Israel.
2. So the sons of Dan sent from their fifty five men out of their whole number, valiant men from Zorah and Eshtaol, to spy out the land and to search it; and they said to them, "Go search the land." And they came to the hill country of Ephraim, to the house of Micah, and lodged there.
It appears on the surface that Dan is looking to possess it's inheritance - this is written to reveal their point of view! They have already failed to possess their inheritance - Judges chapter 1 - they ran from the Amorites in unbelief.
In Judges 5, Deborah laments about several tribes who would not help the nation and she reveals that the tribe of Dan was huddled in ships, waiting to set sail should the Israelites lose in battle.
What's really happening here is that Dan is a tribe who since disobeying then has been wandering, looking for a handout or someone to prey upon! They are about to find the perfect victim.
18:3. When they were near the house of Micah, they recognized the voice of the young man, he Levite; and they turned aside there, and said to him, "Who brought you here? And what are you doing in this place? And what do you have here?"
4. And he said to them, "Thus and so has Micah done to me, and he has hired me, and I have become his priest.
5. (The Danites know better) And they said to him, "Inquire of God, please, that we may know whether our way on which we are going will be prosperous"
6. And the priest said to them, "Go in peace; your way in which you are going has the Lord's approval."
Of course this priest would say that - he'll say whatever his hearers want to hear - trouble is, they do prosper! They do win the battle - and guess who's credibility goes up - this fake priest.
Had this priest been genuine, he would have excoriated the Danites for their rebellion and shiftless ways. . .and sent them to Shiloh to make sacrifices for their violation of God's word.
Instead, upon his advise, they will massacre a peaceful people in Laish and set all their idols up and use Jonathan and his sons as their false priests.
It's interesting that in the book of Revelation chapter 7 where we are introduced to the 144,000 Hebrew believers who carry out a special ministry for God in the Tribulation, after the rapture of the church, in that list of tribes, Dan is not mentioned. They refused to follow God's mission for them in the land of Israel, they chose to perpetuate a false religion, God later will refuse to give them this special ministry of blessing for Him in the future.
One final characteristic of false religion, back then and today!
4) A false religion is attracted to superstition
Whenever God is set aside - we must believe in something, or someone! Everyone places his faith in something. . .even the atheist has placed his faith in his own reason that God doesn't exist.
A denial of God's authority opens the door to unbelievable confusion.
The fact that America has become the new focus for eastern religions, the new age movement should be no surprise to us.
Dr. Andrew Greeley of the University of Chicago, in the results of a massive survey concluded that 67% of Americans now believe in the supernatural, 29% believe in reincarnation and 42% believe that hey have been in contact with someone who has already died.
There's little doubt that Americans have found a new world of reality that a previous generation did not know existed. It's a world of miracles, out of body experiences, conversations with spirit entities that lived thousands of years ago.
Another Gallup poll release 12 years ago reported that already 10 million Americans were engaged in some aspect of Easter religion.
Perhaps the most popular is Yoga - which in Hindu means "to yoke" with Hindu spirits by emptying the mind - it's repackaged for spiritually confused Americans - relieve stress and increase productivity.
Millions of dollars have spent by Fortune 500 companies on meditation, self-hypnosis, visualization, biofeedback and other New Age mind-control techniques. Clients have included IBM, AT&T, Coca Cola, General Electric, RCA, Sears, Proctor and Gamble, Boeing, General Dynamics, Allstate, and Hewlett-Packard.
In the last year I have had two professionals come to me and reveal that their company or line of work has required seminars that teach new age theology.
One of them, a nurse told me of the session called "Therapeutic Touch. . .Therapeutic Touch has its roots in Eastern superstition. It was interesting that seminar leader began by saying, "Therapeutic touch is not anti-Christian."
Today, supposedly 60 million Americans have bought, in varying degrees the same lie the Danites and Micah and the Levite bought into - you can find fulfillment and direction, not by denying or even ignoring God - but by rewriting who God is, and what the spiritual world is really all about.
Go back to Judges 18:18. And when these (the Danite warriors) went into Micah's house and took the graven image, the ephod and household idols and the molten image, the priest said to them, "What are you doing?"
19. And they said to him, "Be silent, put your hand over your mouth and come with us, and be to us a father and a priest. Is it better for you to be a priest to the house of one man, or to be priest to a tribe and family in Israel?"
20. And the priest's heart was glad, and he took the ephod and household idols and the graven image, and went among the people.
(idols or not, the priest is a thief too!)
30. And the sons of Dan set up for themselves the graven image; and Jonathan, the son of Gerhsam, the son of Manasseh, he and his sons were priests to the tribe of the Danites until the day of the captivity of the land. (Look in your cross-reference section and you'll discover the shocking fact that this false priest who goes to the highest bidder is actually Moses' grandson.)
31. So they set up for themselves Micah's graven image which he had made, all the time that the house of God was at Shiloh. (That last phrase re-emphasizes that they are rejecting true worship - they've set up their own gods though -
WHY? Because they know they need direction from somewhere, and they believe that they can receive it from another source!!!
Is it any surprise that the New York Telephone system handles one million calls a month on its dial-a-horoscope lines. Is it any surprise that one out of every three newspaper readers consults his daily horoscope. From former first-ladies to the common people, this nation is looking elsewhere, anywhere for guidance!
David Virckler writes, "In 1956, I purchased a set of The Encyclopedia Americana. . .recently referred to the section on astrology (printed only 36 years ago). The section concluded with this remark "Astrology still flourishes however in Asia and Africa, and is a means of livelihood to many charlatans who prey upon the ignorant.
A Times columnist wrote clearly, "The Christian who believes in divine providence is bound to reject the idea that the motions of these tars and planets govern human affairs." Why can an unbeliever see it so clearly when the religious world cannot!
Another entire subject is visualization - if you see it in your mind, you can make it yours. Also called "imaging"; major religious leaders write about it; the New Age promotes it.
Recently in Edinburgh, Texas, teachers in forced to teach what is called E-K curriculum based on the 4,000 year old belief that universal cosmic energy or light flows through the body in channels. The source of energy can be tapped by visualization and other Hindu techniques.
In Los Angeles, Dr. Beverly Galyean developed a "Holistic curriculum" that requires first graders to lie motionless and visualize their bodies filled with light. They could tap into a universal mind through spirit guides. . .
There's no much more to this subject - two years ago we did a five part series on the New Age - that's available if you'd like to dig a lot deeper.
Shirley MacLain, who's journey into the New Age world led her to believe she was a god. . .she was on television promoting Hinduism - New Age ism, she asked her audience, "What do you have to lose?"
The answer is, everything, everything.
Let me apply the problem here in Judges and in America:
1) Those who use spiritual words may not necessarily lead in spiritual ways.
3) Rejection of God's counsel ultimately results in man's confusion.
You want to know how to live - in this Book.
You want to know God - in this Book.
You want direction and wise counsel - in this Book.
In this Book there is safety and security and counsel - there is the one and only God revealed - you'll have to throw away your homemade gods if you want to know him.
Jesus Christ said, "You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free."
We have everything to gain by following Him. . .everything.