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Bible Commentaries

Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary

Judges 18

 

 

Verses 1-31

THE IMAGE WORSHIP EXPANDING INTO TRIBAL IDOLATRY

HOMILETICS

I. The straits to which unbelief reduces the strong. Jud .

"The tribe of Dan sought them an inheritance to dwell in." Not that they had had no inheritance till now. When a distribution was made of the land by Joshua, a considerable territory was allotted to the tribe of Dan (Jos ). The other tribes, having received their proportion first, a small area comparatively was left for this tribe. But Judah gave up to them several of its northern towns, such as Zorah, Eshtaol, Bethshemesh, etc. This latter town, however, was afterwards given to the Levites. Ephraim also gave to Dan some of its southern towns. Stretching from the west of Benjamin on to the Mediterranean, the territory included first the hill country, and then all the lowlands, or the shephelah, being a large part of the extremely fertile plain of Sharon, having in it such towns as Jehud, Bene-barak, and others, all the way to Joppa.

But a large part of this terrestrial paradise was, at the time of the appointment, occupied by the Philistines, or Amorites, and these had to be subdued ere the Danites could enter on possession. This was no easy matter, for these enemies had iron chariots. The all-conquering faith, through which the Israelites gained all their victories, was awanting in this tribe, so that they did not succeed in driving out these doomed inhabitants. On the contrary, the Amorites forced Dan up into the mountains, and would not let them come down into the plain (Jud ). As the plain, or valley, was much the larger part of their inheritance, this confined the Danites within very narrow limits indeed, and hence the great straits to which they were reduced. Yet that tribe was strong in numbers, and not deficient in courage. At the latest enumeration, previous to this date, they had upwards of 64,000 men able to go forth to war. Their weak point was their unbelief. They could do nothing without their God, and He would do nothing for them, unless in so far as they trusted Him. If they had had but a strong faith, not an Amorite would have been left in all the plain, and the whole expanse of Sharon would have been theirs.

In the Christian life, from how many causes of trouble and disquiet on every side would the Saviour's friends be set free, were their trust in "the Angel that redeems from all evil," only more complete! Over how many green pastures would they roam, and beside how many still waters would they sit down, telling to all around that one day spent in the presence of the Rose of Sharon was worth a thousand of the best days the world could give!

II. Discontent with a Divinely marked lot leads to evil. Jud .

The Danites would have been pleased with the shephelah, or rich plains between the hill country and the sea. But with the conditions attached, that they must drive out the Amorites, they were greatly offended. It was not impossible to comply with that condition. The fathers of that generation had conquered the larger part of the land through that faith, and in the same manner, they might have finished the conquest through faith. But it was irksome, and they wanted the faith; so that they refused to take their inheritance in God's appointed way, and sought another way of their own. It is always dangerous to reject the lot which God has appointed for us, and instead, to take the ordering of our lot into our own hand. The consequence in this case was, that God left them to fall into idolatry. For if they had remained on their own proper soil, they would not have entered into the house of Micah, nor have been tainted with his forbidden image-worship (Psa ; 2Ch 15:2). We cannot walk long in ways of our own devising, without meeting with checks to show that we are wrong.

III. Trifling circumstances often lead to the discovery of sinful schemes. Jud .

"They knew the voice of the young man." Some say, it should be "the sound of"—not his voice, but of the bells that were attached to the priest's dress, and which the Levite was wearing (Jud ). The reference here is to the passage in Exo 28:35—an explanation more ingenious than accurate, for it was not at all likely, that there was a supposed need for bells in Micah's house. Either these spies had known the Levite before, and now recognised the voice of their old friend, or they noticed at once from his speech, that he wanted the peculiar accent of the Ephraimites. This led to their questions, and those again revealed the whole truth of Micah's evil arrangement. How simply it is done! and yet how complete is the revelation! What an illustration of the solemn assurance, "Be sure your sin will find you out." This story must soon have come to be known all over Israel. Very numerous are the instances where dark plots against the ways of righteousness and truth are unexpectedly brought to light, and men are made to know that there is a God that judgeth in the earth.

IV. Silent neglect at first, leads afterwards to open rejection of God's ordinances. Jud .

These Danites seem never to have given one thought to God's appointed way of worship at Shiloh, and they must have gone near to it in passing through Mount Ephraim. They simply entirely neglected the worship which God had instituted in connection with His people, through the Ark of the Covenant, but the moment they hear of an illegitimate method of worship of Micah's invention, they turn aside and ask counsel at this new shrine. They practically renounce Shiloh, and place their confidence in Micah's priest, and Teraphim. This was an advanced step in the downhill road, and ere long they ceased to acknowledge Shiloh at all, and set up a system of idol-worship systematically, when they reached their new settlement in the north (Jud ). Sin grows.

V. The most inoffensive people are not safe from the attacks of evil men. Jud ; Jud 18:9-10.

When God's claims are put aside, the rights of fellowmen are but lightly regarded. The fear of God is the true restraint on man's lawless passions everywhere, and in every form. What a relief to Joseph's brethren, when in the hands of those who seemed to be rough men they heard the ruler say, "I fear God!" (Gen ). How uncomfortable did Abraham feel when residing for a little time in Gerar, he was constrained to say to himself, "Surely the fear of God is not in this place!" In the antediluvian age, "the earth was filled with violence," because all fear of God was gone. Lot had a very troubled life in Sodom for the same reason. No chain is so binding, no clasp is so secure on its victim, as the fear of God on the conscience of man. Among the Danites, the knowledge of the God of Israel had already become very faint in their minds, and placed little or no restraint on their evil desires. On how many sides is the wisdom of true religion as a benefit to man vindicated.

VI. Religion is sometimes invoked to aid the plots of the ungodly. Jud .

Though there is no real reverence for God's name and character with this class, there is yet a secret conviction that it would be safe to have Him on their side. However intense the wish of the heart to get away from the thought of God, that is not able to smother the conviction of the understanding, that there is a God, and that our lot and life are really in His hands. So strong is this conviction, that even when the knowledge of the true God is lost, false gods start up in the mind in His stead (2Ki ).

VII. Indirectness is a character of the world's counsel. Jud .

How vague the reply of the Levite priest. It simply said nothing. To the ear it had the sound of success, but to a calm analysis it might be construed into either success or failure. But this is a feature of the world's speech on religious subjects. It seems to sound well, yet it wants the true ring. A haze hangs over their language, and there is no direct coming to the point. Instead of plain, straightforward statement, there is a certain indefiniteness in the expressions employed; you see the crook of "the old serpent," and the meaning is left in doubt and uncertainty. On the contrary, when the heart is right with itself, and with its God, everything is distinct, direct, and unhesitating. These are the characters impressed on truth.

VIII. False worshippers take refuge in imitating the appearances of the true. Jud ; Jud 18:17, etc.

The symbols of worship which Micah adopted were a copy of those made use of at Shiloh. The ephod was the most important part of the priest's vestments, the graven image and molten image corresponded probably with the Shekinah and the ark, the teraphim answered to the Urim and Thummim, and the Levite belonged to the sacred tribe. Now be felt sure of the Divine blessing, though everything was but a caricature of the true. Thus multitudes believe that if they but wear the semblance of religion, keep up an external form of respect for its requirements, show reform of manners, and go through certain observances, all will be well with them, though there is no real giving of the heart to the Lord. They retain their idols, and so many of their evil ways, but because they proudly "do many things, and hear the gospel gladly," they think themselves in a good way for the Divine blessing here, and for heaven itself hereafter. The Jews also thought that because they had Abraham as their father, because they had the temple of God among them, and had the name of being God's people, therefore it was, and must be, well with them, though they lived wicked lives, and refused to walk in the way of God's commandments. Many still build similar hopes on their having pious parents, being enrolled as members of a Christian church, and enjoying the privileges of Christian society, though they have nothing of the spiritual life in their hearts.

IX. Divine Providence often offers no interruption to the execution of the designs of the wicked.

We assume that the designs of the Danites were wicked, because, first—the district of Leshem appears to have been beyond the doomed territory of the Canaanites that was marked out for destruction; and second—because the motives by which they were actuated were simply lust of territory, without regard to any question of title or right. And besides Leshem was not any portion of the land given to them. They were therefore guilty of robbery on the one hand, and of wholesale murder on the other. Yet no thunders roll, and no lightnings flash, to show the anger of righteous heaven against such conduct. Thus it often is in daily life. Men are allowed to go on in their wickedness meantime, and even atrocious deeds are done while God keeps silence. Yet for all these things God will bring them one day to judgment (2Pe ; Rom 2:4-9; Ecc 12:14).

X. The sudden destruction of the man-made religion. Jud .

Micah's religion was, like that of many others, only an appearance, not a reality. It had no foundation of principle to stand on. It was a case of building on the sand. Job .

XI. Prayer will not secure the Divine blessing on a wrong action. Jud , also Jud 18:18-19.

The Danites wished prayer to be offered for them by the priest, that God might prosper their journey. Yet that journey meant high-handed robbery and murder. How could they presume to expect that God would prosper such villany? How could they dare to ask God's countenance in sin?

XII. Worldly minds care little for accuracy in spiritual things. Jud .

They would stand out for rigid accuracy as to the measure of land allotted to them. And in any mercantile transaction, they would see to it with the keenest particularity that the exact thing stipulated for was given. But when it is a matter of paying to God the reverence which is due, they make small inquiry whether they do it in the appointed manner or not. "Those that are curious in their diet, in their purchases, in their attire, in their contracts, are yet in God's business very indifferent."

XIII. Neither moral principle nor sound reason can be expected of those who deny to God His natural rights.

It was base in the extreme for those very men whom Micah had so hospitably entertained to turn upon him, and callously rob him of all that he counted most sacred in his dwelling. To take away forcibly his graven and molten images, his ephod, and his teraphim, along with the priest himself, was a rough act of brigandage at the very least, if it should not rather be called sacrilege. True it was a righteous judgment from God on the transgression of Micah, but the Danites did not mean it so, neither in their hearts did they know it to be so.

And what a miserable mockery of reason was it, for the lawless men to set up as gods, objects that could not save themselves from being stolen! How could they expect the gods, to bless the men that stole them—men who had virtually been guilty of sacrilege! Why make so much of objects that are graven by art, or man's device? Why should rational creatures worship the work of their own hand?

XIV. Success in evil is no proof of the Divine approval.

God gives temporal gifts (not blessings) or successes to the wicked—spiritual good things only to His own children.

XV. True service is not to be expected from a false priest. Jud .

The Levite priest was a mere mercenary. Good wages were all that he cared about; and having no religion he had no morality. What a miserable caricature of a priest!

XVI. The excessive importance which an idolater attaches to his gods. Jud .

The exclamation, "Ye have taken away my gods, and what have I more?" was the truest thing to which Micah gave utterance in this short but sad history. It may have arisen from two causes.

(1.) The apparatus of images, ephod, teraphim, and priest, was really all the religion he had. In his heart of hearts he had none. When the externals were taken away he was left absolutely bare. He had the delusion, that he was a religious man, and he could not afford to want the delusion. Alas! how many are in the same predicament. It is a fancy, not a power. It is all paper money with no gold in exchange; or rather when the cheque is presented, the reply is, "No effects." But the mere name of having something, such persons cannot want. When the consciousness breaks in on the soul that it is utterly religionless, in a moment the inward monitor is aroused, and the very thunder in the heavens is too feeble, to echo the voice that rolls through the soul of the poor spiritual bankrupt! Also.

(2.) His worldly estate was invested in his gods. True, only 200 shekels were given to the founder for making the images, but the remaining 900, spoken of may have been expended on the ephod, the teraphim, the fitting up of the house as a temple, the support of the priest, and other matters not mentioned. But the main idea is, that for the future, he looked to the proceeds that might be derived from consulting his oracle as his real income. He meant in fact to trade on the superstitious fears of the community all around him. His "house of gods" was his mint. He coined money thereby. How easily is the formalist deprived of his religion! It is not shut up in the iron safe, and doubly, trebly locked, but is left outside the dwelling, exposed to the fierce winds, and a prey to the passer by. Only that religion we can keep safely in all circumstances, which is laid up in our heart of hearts, and which gives colour, variety and force to all the outgoings of the life.

How different from Micah's complaint is that of the truly pious man! The light of God's countenance is his riches, and his language is, "O that I knew where I might find Him!" "I beseech Thee, show me Thy glory!" "Take not Thy Holy Spirit from me; restore to me the joy of Thy salvation," &c.

XVII. The extraordinary development of an evil seed. Jud .

Little did the mother and son think that day, when the one told the other, that the supposed lost money was after all safely treasured up, and when the proposal was made to carve a graven image with it, that the little seedling would in a few months' time wax into a wide-spreading tree, covering hundreds of homes in Israel with a deadly night-shade. It was the opening of a little poisonous spring which soon acquired the breadth and force of a river, and for many years proved a curse to a large section of a tribe among the people of God.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Judges 18:4". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/phc/judges-18.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.

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