Judges - 12 Spiritual Departure

Chapter 12

“Right in His own Eyes”
Spiritual Departure

The writer of Judges has not placed the last five chapters chronologically, since other references indicate that they occurred much earlier in Israel’s history. The events of Judges 17-18 must have taken place possibly during the days of Joshua or soon after, if we link Joshua 19:47 and Judges 1:34 with Judges 18:7, 28-29. In addition, Judges 20:28 indicates that the events of the last three chapters took place earlier, since Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron was yet functioning. He would not have been serving if that chapter describes events at the close of Judges, assuming that the period of Judges covers 450 years (Acts 13:20). He began his official duties as high priest at the close of the book of Joshua (Joshua 24:33).

We can conclude, then, that the Spirit of God has given us an “appendix” to the events of this book and has placed these chapters here for a different purpose. Since we are looking at the book, in part, as an allegorical presentation of the history of the church period, we suggest that their placement indicates that this departure is characteristic of conditions in the “last days.” They would teach us those characteristics that we would expect to see in the end of those last days, or the conditions at the end of the church period.

The repeated phrase, “there was no king in Israel,” (Judges 17:6, Judges 18:1, Judges 19:1, Judges 21:25) means more than that those were days prior to the kingdom. It does mean that, of course, for these were the days of the judges. It means, typically, that these represent days before the Lord comes to set up His kingdom on earth and to rule over all. Being linked with the expression found twice, “every man did that which was right in his own eyes,” (Judges 17:6, Judges 21:25) it tells us that these days are connected with Laodicean conditions, when men reject the Lord’s authority and His rule both personally and in the church. When writing to the assembly in Laodicea, the Lord exposes their attitude toward themselves and toward Him and His authority. They seemed not to need His presence and they rejected His position among them. Being satisfied with their condition, they were also self-directed and determined to plot their own course of activities without seeking to know His will. Sadly, this has been seen in a multitude of cases among those who profess to uphold the authority of Christ and to represent Him on the earth by their testimony.

When men ignore the Lord’s authority, it is inevitable that every man will do that which is right in his own eyes. It means that men simply do what they think is right according to their own estimation, without seeking to know God’s mind for them. However, the fact that there was no king in Israel never meant that they could or should do what they thought was right. Was not the Lord “king” in Israel? God intended Israel to be a theocracy. Did not Gideon remind them that the LORD would rule over them (8:23)? If they had sought to know His will, He would have directed them and preserved them from this terrible apostasy and sinful behavior!

Sin of Israel Duplicated

The practices in these five chapters duplicated the sin of Israel at Mt. Sinai in Exodus 32:1-6. There, Israel had gotten their eyes off the Lord and had fixed them on a man, Moses. He having been absent from their presence for 39 days, (Judges 24:18) they gathered around Aaron and demanded that he make them gods. Notice that they said, “As for this Moses, the man that brought us up. . . we wot not what is become of him,” (Exodus 32:1). In their minds, there was no king in Israel, so they did that which was right in their own eyes. Is not that characteristic of the last days? Is it not normal for men to get their eyes fixed on some great man and to ignore the Lord? Notice that what Israel did took place only one day short of Moses’ return. His going up into the mount and having charged them to be obedient in his absence (24:14), pictures the present day when our risen Lord is absent, since He has gone back to the Father in heaven. How sad that it was only one day short of his return when they rebelled against the LORD! Do we account that we are likely in the last days prior to the coming of the Lord Jesus? Let us seek to remain faithful for one more day, until He comes again!

The actions of Israel at Mt. Sinai followed the same order as those of Judges 17-21. First, they committed spiritual evil; they demanded that Aaron make them gods, so he made the golden calf. They had seen this form of worship in Egypt prior to their deliverance and were duplicating it. Following that deed of idolatry, they degenerated further and committed moral sin (Exodus 32:6, 18-19, 25, 1 Corinthians 10:7). God gave the law on two tables on which He wrote the Ten Commandments. Those commandments divide into two; the first four deal with God’s rights and the last six treat man’s rights. The action of Israel in Exodus 32 and again in these last five chapters violated both parts of the law. There is a principle that we can learn from God’s Word, and it is that rejection of Divine authority always results in moral degeneration. When God does not get His rights from men, neither will his fellow man receive his due.
Rejection of Christ’s Authority

Man cannot uphold moral standards without right knowledge of God and recognition of His authority. We see this clearly taught in Romans 1. Man, knowing God in the beginning but rejecting that knowledge (Romans 1:21), commenced a degenerating slide that does not end until the final verses of the chapter that describe the resulting conditions of mankind. The conditions of last days that Paul describes in 2 Timothy 3:1-9 are only the result of religious man’s rejection of the truth of God (3:8). We should not be surprised by the increasingly degenerate conditions of our society, even of “religious men” and professing churches; those conditions are only the result of their having rejected the knowledge of God and His authority over them in the past. Permissiveness in practices, even to the extent of allowing homosexuals into “church fellowship,”  or “ordaining” them as preachers, is only one result of their having rejected the absolute authority of God and the binding directives of His Word.

There is a statement by A. W. Tozer in a very interesting and provocative article called, “The Waning Authority of Christ in the Churches,” in which he states, (and it is worth quoting extensively):

“Let me state the cause of my burden. It is this: Jesus Christ has today almost no authority at all among the groups that call themselves by His name. By these I mean not the Roman Catholics nor the liberals, nor the various quasi-Christian cults. I do mean Protestant churches generally, and I include those that protest the loudest that they are in spiritual descent from our Lord and His apostles, namely, the evangelicals.

The present position of Christ in the gospel churches may be likened to that of a king in a limited, constitutional monarchy. The king…is in such a country no more than a traditional rallying point, a pleasant symbol of unity and loyalty much like a flag or a national anthem. He is lauded, feted and supported, but his real authority is small. Nominally he is head over all, but in every crisis someone else makes the decisions…

Among the gospel churches Christ is now in fact little more than a beloved symbol…Not only does Christ have little or no authority; His influence also is becoming less and less. I would not say that He has none, only that it is small and diminishing. . . What church board consults our Lord’s words to decide matters under discussion? Let anyone reading this who has had experience on a church board try to recall the times or time when any board member read from the Scriptures to make a point, or when any chairman suggested that the brethren should see what instructions the Lord had for them on a particular question. Board meetings are habitually opened with a formal prayer or “a season of prayer;” after that the Head of the Church is respectfully silent while the real rulers take over. Let anyone who denies this bring forth evidence to refute it. I for one will be glad to hear it.”

The entire booklet is worth reading and presents an accurate critique of the condition that exists among the majority of “churches” today.

Micah and His Idolatrous House
The events of these last five chapters of Judges are linked in a number of ways. They are all associated with activities in the area of Mt. Ephraim, or the hill country of Ephraim and they both involve Levites (17:1, 7; 19:1). The first event involved breaking the first table of the law and the second event broke the second table of the law. Every one of these sordid actions touched negatively on the Name of God or the Law of God, as does every evil act that men express.

We find Micah and his mother living in Mt. Ephraim at the opening of this story. We note, first, that his location in Mt. Ephraim was near where Joshua had lived and where he was buried (Joshua 24:30) and where Eleazar, the high priest of Israel was buried (Joshua 24:33). In addition, it was not far from Shiloh, where the tabernacle was located at that time (Joshua 18:1, 1 Samuel 1:3, Judges 18:31). This feature places these events in a more serious light. This did not take place among those who were at great distance from the house of God nor was it due to the lack of any link with an illustrious, spiritual past. Apostasy and departure can take place even in those who are linked with blessed and precious memories as well as in those who may be near the place of God’s truth. It illustrates the truth expounded in Romans 1:21-23: “Because that when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful, but became vain in their imaginations and their foolish heart was darkened . . . and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man . .” The sin of Aaron in Exodus 32 took place in the shadow of Mt. Sinai, near the place where God was speaking to Moses.

Possibly this chapter occurred during the time when Israel was already practicing Baal worship, at least to some extent, at this early stage of their history. If this is true, then Micah and his mother likely thought that their images, ephod and teraphim were not so serious a form of departure and could have justified them. His mother’s intentions were good (Judges 17:3), but the entire matter was contrary to God’s Word. Intentions are not the most important criterion for judging any action!

The entire beginning of this matter reeks of sin and compromise. Micah had stolen the silver from his mother and only confessed his sin after she pronounced a curse on the one who had stolen it. Then, after he confessed, she blessed him without any recorded rebuke. What kind of environment is this out of which to start a religious practice? It is much like what has marked Christendom in its practices:  deceit, toleration, acceptance of any behavior for the sake of peace and prosperity. Bad beginnings will always result in bad endings!

Justification of Wrong
One could imagine how the religious objects that he possessed could be justified. The images? Was there not a precedent for them since Aaron, the high priest, had made one at Mt. Sinai? An ephod? It was a garment of the priest, and Gideon had made one in his latter days (Judges 8:27). Teraphim? These were household gods, relatively innocuous and of long-standing practice. Had not Rachel stolen the teraphim from her father’s house in Genesis 31:19? Possibly almost every person in Israel had them in their homes.

Those same justifications are brought out to argue for many wrong practices today. Someone of high standing has done this in the past, or “this is an object that will enable us to worship God better.” It may be, “Our denomination (or our group) has done it this way for a long time.” Since these things have been done in this way for many years, they are assumed to be right. But they are not! If any practice is not according to God’s Word, it is only another example of “every man did that which was right in his own eyes.”

Jehovah’s Name Linked with Idolatry
One of the worst aspects of this action, as well as that of Aaron in Exodus 32, was that it joined the name of Jehovah with an idolatrous system. Aaron proclaimed that these were Israel’s gods that brought them out of the land of Egypt (instead of ascribing that honor to the LORD) and then he made the proclamation that the next day was a feast unto the LORD. That was blasphemy, to link the LORD’S name with an idol. This case in Judges 17 is the same; his mother had dedicated the silver “unto the LORD” to make the images from and in the end of the chapter, Micah expected that the LORD would do him good with a Levite for a priest. It is a practice often repeated for men to link the name of the Lord with what they are doing out of self-will. They make their own rules, determine their own practices, erect their own idols, and then call the entire thing by the Lord’s Name and drag that blessed Name into association with what is essentially evil. Sadly, like Micah, this is an evil that most fail to recognize.

Micah put these religious icons in a house, consecrated his son to be a priest (note that Jeroboam made two houses of gods and consecrated anyone as his priests, even the lowest of the people in 1 Kings 12:3. Wrong practices seem to persist for a long time). Therefore, Micah had a man-made house of worship and a man-made priest to officiate. However, “better things” were yet to come.

The Levite-Priest seeking a Place
A Levite from Bethlehem-Judah came that way. Why was a Levite from that city? It was not a Levitical city. There were certain cities that had been set apart to be the Levites’ possessions, but this was not one of them. It seems to indicate that he was already wandering from the place that God intended him to occupy, and subsequently, he went further in his quest for a place. He was a man seeking a “better call,” climbing to a higher position. Micah contracted with him to perform his religious services for a set fee, and all were content with the arrangement. Does it not seem strange that a Levite, knowing the law of God and already having a work to do in God’s House, would so willingly agree with Micah to become something that God never intended him to be? His action indicates that mere knowledge never preserves anyone from doing wrong. A deeper commitment to the Lord and His truth is essential. Yet Micah was satisfied. He expected God’s blessing, now that he had a Levite as his priest (17:13). Do we hear echoes of that in our world today? “Get the right man, hire him to fill the job, and we are sure that God will bless us. We will see increase in numbers, great revival, and all will go well,” even though it is contrary to God’s order for His people. Be careful, brethren and sisters, that we do not accept those conditions as “normal.”

No Outrage in Israel
It is worth interjecting an observation at this point. Do we notice that this kind of activity did not fill the tribes of Israel with indignation? However, in Judges 19-21, they reacted so strongly to moral evil that they almost destroyed an entire tribe from among Israel. It reminds us of the “under” judgment in 1 Corinthians 5:2 and the “over” judgment in 2 Corinthians 2:6-7. To this sin Israel never responded; in that sin they over-reacted! Why? There may be a few reasons involved:

    1. It could be that Israel in general did not know what Micah was doing as well as what the men of Gibeah did.

    2. They were all guilty of this sin to some extent, and therefore they could not judge their brethren for something that they were also doing. When men are doing wrong, it ties their hands when it comes to dealing with it in others.

    3. They did not recognize this as the more serious sin. It is normal to consider moral sin more serious than a spiritual sin that infringes on God’s rights. We should see spiritual evil as the cause of the following act and should deal with it as God requires.

    4. It is easier to judge moral sin than spiritual evil. In the case of moral sin, there is a specific deed to act upon, whereas in spiritual departure, it is more difficult to identify the problem and respond appropriately. Only a spiritual person can do this and it must be done with wisdom and in the fear of God.

This seems to be a constant pattern in church history, and it can exist even among saints in assemblies. It is normal to tolerate the introduction of practices that may not be completely consistent with the Word of God; but the same persons who permit those practices will react swiftly and severely to judge any kind of moral misbehavior. May we learn that what begins in a spiritual way will also be seen in moral actions eventually.

The Tribe of Dan Seeking a Place
Chapter 18 opens with Dan seeking an inheritance where they could dwell. This would not have been wrong, had it not resulted from their failure to drive the Philistines out of their possessions that Joshua had allotted to them. In addition, we read in Judges 1:34 that “the Amorites forced the children of Dan into the mountain; for they would not suffer them to come down to the valley.” They had sufficient territory given to them; to say that they did not is to say that the Lord had not given them enough land. He had known their needs and had given the land, but in their weak state, the Philistines possessed a good part of it. Not being able to drive them out (because of their unbelief), they were seeking an easy place to conquer and possess.

We can see this limited possession in the spiritual realm as we apply this to the church age. It was true of the believers who lived in Corinth. Carnal reasoning (Amorites) had forced them into an unproductive area of life and testimony that resulted in severe spiritual loss. It has been true even to our day; the church, instead of enjoying all that Christ has provided as a spiritual inheritance in the heavenlies (Ephesians 1), has allowed the false reasoning of the world to dominate and direct its course so that actual practice has been on a lower level than God intended.

The failure to possess and be satisfied with all that has been given to us in Christ as our inheritance is often the cause of much restless activity among God’s people today. Many “run to and fro” because they have no settled place where they can say with assurance that the Lord gave it to them and brought them into it.

A passing comment on Dan’s condition is that believers often seek to take an easier pathway of life. The result is that they fail to move forward with confidence in God to enjoy all that He intends for them. Seeking an easier path with less difficulty has resulted in many believers falling into practices that are contrary to God’s Word, even leaving an assembly for an easier place with fewer responsibilities. As with Dan, when a believer leaves the place where God has placed them, they usually end up much farther away than they anticipated. This tribe was searching for a place without seeking the mind of God in the decision, and this exposed them to the snare of the devil as they passed Micah’s house. Faithfulness in the Christian life will always result in conflict with enemies and encounters against obstacles and opposition; however, it is the safest pathway, and by staying where God wants us to be, we will be preserved from those things that will result in ruin to our lives and testimony.

Encounter with the Levite
Evidently the band of Danites knew the Levite in Micah’s house from previous encounters. It makes one wonder just where this young man had been! Hearing his voice made them stop to speak to him, and they asked him three questions. Those questions had to do with “Who brought him,” “what he was making (or doing),” and “what did he have there,” (Judges 18:3). His unabashed answer was that it was himself and Micah all the way, and God had never brought him to that place. Man brought him there, he was working for a man, and he received his wages from a man. What a comedown for a Levite!

Not desiring to be overly severe, can we not see that these questions apply to anyone who accepts a place or position that is man-determined in a “church”? Isn’t it the normal practice in Christendom for a man to agree to undertake a work and to do so much for so much pay. We don’t want to be derogatory, for we know that there are many conscientious and dedicated men who are in such positions. It is the system more than them that is wrong, and nothing about it can be justified from God’s Word. To be hired by men usually limits and hinders the ability of a man to speak the entire truth to the congregation. It is all too common for those who seek to do so, to find themselves terminated and sent on their way. Brethren and sisters, let us stay far away from anything that is even similar to this practice!

Three Important Questions
We could ask ourselves those three questions with regard to our fellowship in any activity or place where we might be found, including the local assembly. Who brought us to that place? If we are away from God and away from the assembly, who caused it? Some might say that God led them to leave, but it is hard to understand how God would lead anyone contrary to His Word! If we are in a local assembly, do we appreciate Who it was that brought us there? Are we only there because of our family, or because our friends are there? Far better to be able to answer honestly, “It was the Lord Who brought me here and I am here because of His presence.”

Then, what are we doing there? An honest answer might be, that we are only coming and going, enjoying the fellowship and receiving spiritual food. But are we contributing? Are we a help to the work? Do we have any exercise about our responsibilities? We all have a part in an assembly fellowship, and if we all do our part according to the Scripture, wouldn’t the assembly be a better place that would honor the Lord?

The last question is, “What do you have here?” The Levite had a house of gods, images, ephod, etc., but at least he knew what he had and what he was receiving from Micah for being there. But, what do we have when we are in assembly fellowship? Do we ever consider what we have received by the grace of God and what we have been brought to enjoy by our being there? Surely, words cannot express what has come our way by being a part of an assembly. These blessings come by way of appreciating the work of God in our lives and by establishing convictions that are settled on God’s Word. Knowing these truths personally will always change our attitude and will encourage our full participation in the place where the Lord has brought us to be with Him.

The Danites confided in the Levite and asked counsel of him. Of course, he knew what they wanted to hear, so he gave them a smooth answer that they could apply in almost any way they desired. So on they went, and they found that, amazingly, the Levites’ words were true. They found a people at ease, undefended, easy to be overcome and with a land that portended prosperity. The fact that it was far from God’s house, and far from the people of God seemed to be unimportant. They saw the potential for prosperity, so they followed in the steps of poor Lot as he moved into the well-watered plains of Jordan and pitched his tent toward Sodom (Genesis 13:10). What they saw, no doubt, gave them the assurance that it was of the Lord to pursue that course. That may have seemed right to those who were “doing what was right in their own eyes,” but to “walk by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7) is always a dangerous course. They never practiced what James emphasizes in his epistle (4:13-17), that is, seeking to know and practice the will of God in all our decisions.

The Danites Move
Then, on their favorable report, (Judges 18:8-10) a large part of the tribe of Dan began the journey north to possess the country. Once again, they came by the house of Micah, with the result that they robbed him of his house of gods and took his Levite-priest with them. A mild remonstrance by the Levite (18:18) was all that came from him, and when he saw the prospect that they offered, he was glad, vs. 20. It did not bother him to take part in stealing what actually belonged to Micah. He saw a greater position, more power and influence, and a better salary and went with alacrity to join them. It was a “better call,” so off he went. This has been replicated times without number in the practices of our religious world down to the present day, so we need not comment.

Of course, Micah protested (Judges 18:22-24) but to no avail. They were too strong for him, so he had to bear the loss and keep silence. It may be that his loss was actually his gain, if it rid him of a house of idols!

Closing Observations
The chapter closes with the report of their success and their establishment in the land of their choosing. The passage draws our attention to several very important facts. The first is in 18:30; it tells us that the Levite-priest was Jonathon, the son of Gershom, the son of Manasseh (KJV). However, we know that the father of Gershom was Moses (Exodus 2:22, 18:3) and it seems clear from other translations and from respected scholars of the text, that this is what was meant. It seems possible that the thought of a grandson of Moses being thus involved was so revolting to the Masoretes (who were responsible to copy the Scriptures) that they made this change that only involved a small letter in the name. The idea that a grandson of Moses would be among the first of Israel to fall into idolatry was repulsive and abhorrent to their minds. It reminds us of the possibility that children of an illustrious father might be involved in departure from the Lord. No matter how great or spiritual a man might be, he cannot guarantee the faithfulness of his own family after him.

The second thing to note is that this spiritual evil continued until the day when they were taken captive. That could mean the day when this book was written, but possibly, it refers to what occurred in 2 Kings 15:29. This part of the nation was among the first to be taken into captivity and this statement shows that departure such as this is usually long-standing. One would judge that this form of idolatrous worship merged with Jeroboam’s religion when he came to power. One of his altars was in Bethel but the other was placed in Dan (1 Kings 12:29). It is notable that in Bethel, Jeroboam had to place the priests that he had ordained (1 Kings 12:32) but there is no mention of those priests in Dan. Could it be that it was because there was a priesthood already in place as a result of what occurred in Judges 18? Possibly. There was not much difference between the two forms of worship in these passages, so they would likely have formed his priesthood in that center.

The last observation is that this departure took place “all the time that the house of God was in Shiloh,” (Judges 18:31). This is the first mention of the term “house of God,” in our Bibles after Genesis 28. It emphasizes that this was a rival “house of gods” but its existence was not because they lacked a proper place where they should have worshipped. The tabernacle, the house of God at Shiloh, was the place that God had ordained for His people to gather and where they should have focused their spiritual attention (Deuteronomy 12:5, 11, 14, 18, 21, 26). The existence of the house of God in Shiloh was a rebuke to their pretensions to have a proper center for worship.

This condition, seen at this point in the book, only emphasizes to us what has been a consistent point of departure in the church age. It is only another expression of the self-will of men, another example of men “doing that which was right in their own eyes.” God never instituted many patterns of worship in one place, but we learn from His Word that His purpose is that one pattern should be duplicated in many places (1 Corinthians 1:2, 4:17, 7:17, 14:37). In Israel there was to be only one place of worship and it is still God’s mind that the assembly in a locality should be the gathering center for all His people. The assembly is an expression of the unity of the saints, representing the unity of the body as seen in that place. The assembly is not a miniature of the body of Christ, but the assembly should represent it in that locality. God’s Word teaches this truth only, and anything else is a departure from it. May the Lord help us, with humbleness of spirit and acknowledgement of failure, to continue in that pattern until our days of service will come to an end.