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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

Judges 17

 

 

Introduction

THE SO-CALLED "APPENDIX" OF THE BOOK OF JUDGES;

ALLEGED EXAMPLES PROVING THAT ISRAEL "NEEDED" A KING (Judges 17-21)

We reject the designation of these last five chapters of Judges as "an appendix added to Judges by a later hand." There is NO break in the text, and nothing except the theories of critics supports such a view.

The reason why some critics (as Dalglish did, for example) attempt to date these last five chapters in "a period following the fall of the Northern Israel at a time after 734 B.C.,"[1] is obviously due to their efforts to avoid the positive proof of the existence of the Pentateuch at a time long PRIOR TO the Book of Judges, as dramatically indicated by the undeniable references to the Book of Moses abounding in these chapters. Of course, the acceptance of these references as having existed when Judges was written effectively proves that the dating of the Pentateuch in the times of Josiah is nothing but a rather clumsy fairy tale.

Again, from Dalglish, these five chapters are included here because, "They illustrate the absolute need of a king in Israel."[2] It seems never to have occurred to Dalglish that if these chapters had been added for that purpose at such a date as he suggested that, at that time there was NO NEED whatever to prove that Israel needed a king. They had already had one for over three hundred years - GOD! (Nevertheless, Dalglish's statement of the purpose of these chapters is most surely correct).

On the other hand, if, as we believe, Samuel authored the Book of Judges at a time in Samuel's life when the kingship of Saul appeared to be a great success, that would have been the time when these chapters were needed, and it is the conclusion of this writer that it was precisely in those days that Samuel wrote these chapters, and that they form a vital, necessary part of the Biblical Book of Judges.

In the successive judgeships of Gideon, Jephthah and Samson, the progressive deterioration of the institution of the judgeship itself became painfully evident, and the author of Judges concluded the narrative by registering two special events, both of which occurred DURING the period of the Judges, as his concluding argument that Israel had to have a king in order to survive. Those two events were: (1) the apostasy and migration of Dan, and (2) the horrible outrage at Gibeah. Samuel wrote Judges near the end of his life in the early and popular period of King Saul's reign, because, at first, Samuel opposed the institution of the monarchy, and therefore, Judges must have been written AFTER the change had occurred and at a time when it APPEARED to be successful.

EXAMPLE I

THE MIGRATION AND APOSTASY OF THE TRIBE OF DAN (Judges 17-18);

A HOUSE OF GODS WAS ESTABLISHED IN THE TERRITORY OF EPHRAIM

This chapter (Judges 17) is actually a preliminary introduction to Judges 18, explaining the origin of that Danite shrine. It tells of the founding of an illegal center of worship in the hill-country of Ephraim. A part of God's Old Covenant with Israel was the restriction of the worship of God to the authorized tabernacle. What Micah did in this chapter was a gross violation of God's commandments.

The evil character of Micah, as well as that of his mother, contrast sharply with the righteousness of Manoah and his wife, the parents of Samson.


Verses 1-3

REGARDING THE

1,100 PIECES OF SILVER

"And there was a man of the hill-country of Ephraim, whose name was Micah. And he said unto his mother, The eleven hundred pieces of silver that were taken from thee, about which thou didst utter a curse, and didst also speak it in mine ears, behold, the silver is with me, I took it. And his mother said, Blessed be my son of Jehovah. And he restored the eleven hundred pieces of silver to his mother; and his mother said, I verily dedicate the silver unto Jehovah from my hand for my son, to make a graven image and a molten image: now therefore I will restore it unto thee."

Josephus placed these events shortly after the times of Joshua in the days of Othniel the Judge,[3] and Campbell pointed out that, "Many scholars agree with this, because of the mention of Jonathan the grandson of Moses (Judges 18:1) and because of the presence of Phinehas, the son of Eleazer in Judges 20:28."[4]

"Micah" (Judges 17:1). This is the short form of the name "[~Mikayehuw], with the meaning, `Who is like Yahweh.'"[5] Boling paraphrased this name as "Yahweh-the-incomparable" in order to give ironic force to the conclusion in Judges 17:4."[6]

"Thou didst utter a curse" (Judges 17:2). The marginal reading indicates that the Hebrew here is "an adjuration" instead of "a curse." This is a direct reference to Leviticus 5:1 which lays down God's law that anyone under such an adjuration shall respond with the truth under the penalty of God's judgment, if he should fail to do so. Both Micah and his mother were aware of this Mosaic teaching, and Micah immediately confessed to his sin. Significantly, Jesus Christ himself responded to such an adjuration in Mark 14:61-62.

"Blessed be my son of Jehovah" (Judges 17:2). "This is the formula used by Melchizedek in his blessing of Abraham (Genesis 14:19)."[7]

The mother's prompt pronouncement of a blessing upon her son reflects another passage from the Pentateuch, namely Exodus 12:32. "The adjuration could not be removed, but it could be counteracted by a blessing (see Exodus 12:32)."[8]

It appears that the purpose of the narrator here is to expose the wretched, sinful history of that despised sanctuary constructed by Micah. "Its venerated image was made of silver stolen from his mother, and when the money was recovered and dedicated to Jehovah, the greater part of it was kept back by fraud."[9]

"A graven image and a molten image" (Judges 17:3). "A graven image was something carved or hewn; a molten image was cast in a mold."[10] This, of course, speaks of "two images," but, since it is spoken of with a singular pronoun in the following verse, it appears that ONLY ONE IMAGE was made. What was apparently intended, as indicated by Yates was "actually one image consisting of carved wood overlaid with silver."[11]

With regard to what that image actually was, Keil stated that, "There can hardly be any doubt that it was a representation of Jehovah as a bull, like the golden calf that Aaron made at Sinai (Exodus 32:4), and the golden calves that Jeroboam set up in Northern Israel, and one of which was set up at Dan (1 Kings 12:29)."[12]


Verses 4-6

MICAH SETS UP HIS OWN CENTER OF WORSHIP

"And when he restored the money unto his mother, his mother took two hundred pieces of silver, and gave them to the founder, who made thereof a graven image and a molten image: and it was in the house of Micah. And the man Micah had a house of gods, and he made an ephod, and teraphim, and consecrated one of his sons, who became his priest. In those days, there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes."

"His mother took two hundred pieces of silver ... gave them to the founder, who made a graven image and a molten image" (Judges 17:4). The question that rises here is "What did she do with the other nine hundred pieces of silver?" Moore tells us that, "Some say that the two hundred pieces were the wages of the founder and that the rest of the silver was made into the image. Lyra and others think the rest of the money was used for furnishing and adorning the shrine."[13] The simple truth of the matter seems to be that, "The woman through avarice broke her vow and gave to God only a small part of the consecrated treasure."[14]

"An ephod" (Judges 17:5). This was a part of the ceremonial dress of Israel's high priest, "A sacramental vestment, richly decorated, and in design somewhat like an apron with pockets."[15] It is by no means sure, however, that the ephod spoken of here was like that. It might have been some kind of an idol.

"Teraphim" (Judges 17:5). It is not certain what this was. Dalglish thought that, "It was a figurine or image of some kind."[16] In Genesis 31:19, Rachel is said to have stolen the teraphim of her father, and from this, it is supposed that these small idols were associated with the pagan habit of adoring household gods. Significantly, it is Rachel's posterity who in this chapter are involved in such pagan worship.

"Consecrated one of his sons ... his priest" (Judges 17:5). "The Hebrew here rendered `consecrated' is actually `filled the hand of.'"[17] "This was the regular God-given formula for the investiture of priests (Exodus 29:35; Leviticus 8:33)."[18] Thus, we have five references to the Pentateuch in as many verses, indicating, not merely, the existence of the Pentateuch long prior to the times of Joshua and Othniel, but also the general acquaintance of the Israelites with its provisions, especially with those procedures in which they were particularly interested.

It is strange indeed that such knowledge of the Books of Moses did not prevent the kind of departure from God's Word which is presented in this chapter.

No, Micah was not intent on worshipping Baal. He was merely adopting pagan practices in a kind of syncretistic worship of Jehovah. "Micah intended to worship Israel's God with his idols, but God not only had condemned idolatry but also the worship of the one true God by the use of images."[19]

"No king in Israel" (Judges 17:6). This verse is obviously the comment of the author of Judges; and as Campbell said, "He declares in effect that, "A king would have put a stop to that kind of corrupt worship."[20] Yes, that is exactly what is implied in the repeated use of this Judges 17:6, not only here, but several times subsequently, as in Judges 18:1; Judges 19:1, and in Judges 21:25,

This is one of the most important statements in Judges 17. The author of this narrative evidently believed that a king in Israel would have prevented the formation of such an illegal shrine. Hervey thought that this indicates that the author might have lived in the days of Asa or Jehoshaphat.[21] However that cannot be correct. No author who lived after the first few honeymoon years of Saul's reign could have supposed such a thing. The record of Israel's kings from Solomon and afterward was one of shameful compromise with idolatry and the open acceptance of it. This verse practically nails down the time when our author (of Judges) lived as being in those first few years of the reign of Saul. This points to SAMUEL. The truth of the business is that "If Israel had had a king," he would have led the way in idolatry, as proved by the vast majority of them. Only the innocent SAMUEL could have supposed such a thing as that which is implied here. Anyone except him would have implied, that, the right kind of a king was needed to prevent every man from doing what was right in his own eyes.

"The lesson here is clear, `If people do what is right in their own eyes, they will end up doing what is wrong in the eyes of God.'"[22]

When Micah rejected the Word of God as the standard of regulation for his behavior, he was left to determine what was right or wrong upon the basis of his own evaluations, and it was this departure from objective truth that led to the moral and spiritual degeneration of Israel and the ushering in of the Dark Ages of Israel's period of the Judges.


Verses 7-10

A LEVITE COMES TO THE HOUSE OF MICAH

"And there was a young man out of Bethlehem-judah, of the family of Judah, who was a Levite; and he sojourned there. And the man departed out of the city, out of Bethlehem-judah, to sojourn where he could find a place; and he came to the hill-country of Ephraim, to the house of Micah, as he journeyed. And Micah said unto him, Whence comest thou? And he said unto him, I am a Levite of Bethlehem-judah, and I go to sojourn where I may find a place. And Micah said unto him, Dwell with me, and be unto me a father and a priest, and I will give thee ten pieces of silver by the year, and a suit of apparel, and thy victuals. So the Levite went in."

Strahan's comment on this labeled, "The young man as a native of Judah and a Levite by profession, adding that, `it is a contradiction to say that he sojourned among his own people.'"[23] This is an erroneous view. That the young man was a Levite indicates his tribal connection, not a so-called profession. The mention of his being from Bethlehem-judah of the family of Judah is a somewhat ambiguous reference to his residence, as proved by the simple declaration that "he sojourned there." The background of this is that the Levites received no inheritance when Canaan was allotted to the Israelites, but they were scattered throughout the tribes, being assigned to certain cities. It was illegal and sinful for anyone to be a `Levite,' except those belonging to that tribe. This Mosaic regulation was well known to Micah, as indicated by his pleasure in being able to employ a real Levite. "The reference to Judah does not signify that he descended from that tribe, but simply denotes that he belonged to the particular group of Levites who had been assigned to Judah, thus being reckoned in all matters as belonging to that tribe."[24]

"Of the family of Judah" (Judges 17:7). The failure of critics to understand what this means has led them to declare it a gloss and to erase it from the text. Keil cited the error of such in the following:

"There is no reason to pronounce these words a gloss. Their omission by the Codex Vaticanus rendition of the Septuagint (LXX) cannot warrant this, because the words are retained in the Codex Alexandrinus rendition of the LXX, and their omission in the former is easily accounted for by the difficulty which was felt in explaining their meaning. Also, it is impossible to imagine any reason for the interpolation of such a phrase into the text."[25]

We may only pity the poverty and distress of the Levite who could be bribed to accept a sinful assignment for such an insignificant stipend.


Verses 11-13

THE VAIN CONFIDENCE OF MICAH

"And the Levite was content to dwell with the man; and the young man was unto him as one of his sons. And Micah consecrated the Levite, and the young man became his priest, and was in the house of Micah. Then said Micah, Now know I that Jehovah will do me good, seeing I have a Levite to my priest."

"The Levite was content to dwell with the man" (Judges 17:11). Boling pointed out that, "Here is an echo of the Moses-Jethro agreement in Exodus 2:21."[26]

"Now know I that Jehovah will do me good" (Judges 17:13). This arrogant superstition for which Micah was so soon to atone, "Proves that at that time (shortly after the death of Joshua) the tribe of Levi held the position assigned to it in the Law of Moses, that is to say, that it was regarded as the tribe elected by God for the performance of divine worship."[27]

 


Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Judges 17:4". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/judges-17.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

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