People who reject the true God inevitably create their own gods. This is the sad lesson of Israel’s history and the enduring legacy of humanity. Judges 17–18 presents not only a warning against rebellion but also a plea to embrace and cling to the truth of God’s Word.
Following the death of Samson, no more judges are going to be sent by God to fight for Israel, pray for Israel, or even preach to Israel.
Here’s the main point: Four times in these final chapters of Judges we read, “There was no king in Israel.” That’s Samuel the prophet’s way of saying Israel was rejecting the authority of King Jehovah. And when you reject the authority of God, ultimately, you are going to create your own false religion.
Judges chapters 17 and 18 give us several characteristics of false religion, revealing what it looks like for any person in any generation, in any nation—to this very day.
First, false religion is driven by personal convenience. Judges 17 begins with these words:
There was a man of the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Micah. And he said to his mother, “The 1,100 pieces of silver that were taken from you, about which you uttered a curse, and also spoke it in my ears, behold, the silver is with me; I took it.” And his mother said, “Blessed be my son by the Lord.” (verses 1-2)
Now this is strange. This man stole money from his mother, and his mother pronounced a curse upon whoever stole the silver. This must have scared the man, because he gives the money back. But then she gives a blessing to basically counteract the curse. Then she takes it a step further:
[She] said, “I dedicate the silver to the Lord . . . to make a carved image.” . . . So . . . his mother took 200 pieces of silver and gave it to the silversmith, who made it into a carved image . . . And it was in the house of Micah. (verses 3-4)
This little narrative tells us that the Israelites might use the name of God, but they are given over to idolatry. Frankly, it’s more convenient to make their own little idol of silver than to make a trip to Shiloh to visit the tabernacle of the true and living God.
False religion is always popular because it’s convenient and comfortable and never convicting.
Second, false religion is robed in religious appearances. Verse 5 says: “The man Micah had a shrine, and he made an ephod and household gods, and ordained one of his sons, who became his priest.”
In other words, Micah goes along with his mother’s idolatry. He makes his own priestly garments and even ordains one of his sons to pretend to be a priest. It all looks so sacred, but it’s actually sinful. It looks impressive, but God isn’t impressed with the way things look.
Now a new character shows up in verse 7. He’s a traveling Levite who is invited to stay in Micah’s house for the night.
You will remember the Levites were set apart to serve the Lord. Only one branch of the tribe of Levi, those descended from Aaron, were allowed to serve as priests. The other Levites, which included this man, were supposed to assist the priests and provide spiritual direction to the nation.
Well, when this Levite travels through town, Micah sees an opportunity to “upgrade” his little fake religion with a genuine Levite.
So, he offers this Levite, whose name is Jonathan (as noted later in Judges 18:30), a great deal:
“Be to me a father and a priest, and I will give you ten pieces of silver a year and a suit of clothes and your living.” . . . And the Levite was content to dwell with the man. (verses 10-11)
Now this Levite doesn’t have any more right to serve as a priest than Micah’s son. This is totally contrary to God’s Word.
To this day, millions of people around the world have fallen into this same error. They want the appearances of religion without a relationship with God, through Christ. They’re going to get their babies christened in some cathedral; they’re going to get married by some minister; they’re going to want somebody religious conducting the family funerals. They want the benefits of God while ignoring the Word of God. That’s false religion.
Third, false religion justifies sin. Chapter 18 now brings in the rebellious tribe of Dan, as the plot thickens:
And in those days the tribe of the people of Dan was seeking for itself an inheritance to dwell in, for until then no inheritance among the tribes of Israel had fallen to them. So the people of Dan sent five able men . . . to spy out the land and to explore it . . . and they came to the hill country of Ephraim, to the house of Micah, and lodged there. (verses 1-2)
The tribe of Dan had failed to conquer the land God had allotted to them. And rather than obey the Lord and remove the enemy nations, they started looking around for another place to live.
So, they sent out five men to check out the land, and they end up staying overnight in Micah’s house. They are surprised to discover a Levite living there, and they ask him for his advice. This Levite doesn’t ask God for wisdom; he simply gives them false assurance, saying in verse 6, “The journey on which you go is under the eye of the Lord.”
“God is with you.” Well, that’s just a bunch of baloney. He should have rebuked them for disobeying God, but instead he tells them what they want to hear.
By the way, how many so-called preachers are telling people what they want to hear, rather than what the Word of God says? They are satisfying the “itching ears” of their audience, the apostle Paul writes, rather than delivering sound doctrine (2 Timothy 4:3).
Now there’s one final characteristic of false religion here: False religion opens the door to even more superstition.
Later, when the tribe of Dan marches over to steal the land from a peaceful community of people who can’t put up any resistance, they stop over at Micah’s house and hire Jonathan to go along with them. We read in verses 19-20:
They said to him . . . “Is it better for you to be priest to the house of one man, or to be priest to a tribe . . . in Israel?” And the priest’s heart was glad. He took . . . the carved image and went along with the people.
The priest is happy to go along with them. After all, he is getting a promotion.
The tribe of Dan then conquers the peaceful city of Laish and renames the city Dan. Verse 30 says, “And the people of Dan set up the carved image for themselves.” In other words, they set up their false god and their false religion and their false priest. They want spiritual direction; they just don’t want it from God.
Let me tell you, beloved, today most people get their spiritual direction from those who deny the Word of God. In fact, today more people believe in reincarnation than in the reality of Jesus; millions of people today think their lives are influenced by the stars and planets, but they reject the Creator; many people today believe they have had contact with someone who died, all the while ignoring Jesus Christ, who rose from the dead.
And what happens? Well, rejecting God’s counsel always leads to greater spiritual confusion.
Jesus Christ said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). Let’s follow His way. Let’s find the truth about God in this Book we are journeying through together. We are on a true Wisdom Journey.