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Judges 17-18: Worship in Our Own Eyes Print E-mail
Sunday, 14 June 2015

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We cannot worship God however we want. We might think that God does not really care how we worship Him as long as we are worshipping Him. But Godís glory and goodness and worth do not just demand that we worship Him, but that we worship Him according to His instructions. We donít have the right to make things up. The One who is worthy of worship is worthy of our obedience to His instructions concerning worship. He has given us His Word so that we can know Him and behold His greatness and so that we can respond faithfully in worship.

Why is it so important that we stick to the Word in our worship? What happens when Godís people go their own way? The story of Micah and the Danites in Judges 17-18 give us a clear answer to that question. Up to this point in the book of Judges, we have seen the downward spiral of Israelís sin and idolatry. Repeatedly we have seen them forsaking the Lord, being given to their enemies, crying out for help, and being delivered by Yahweh through a judge. Yet, after the story of Samson, the author tells us two stories about events that happened during the time of the judges to help us better see just how bad things had gotten in Israel. The first is the story of Micah and the how the Danites established their own place of worship. It is a story about Ďworldly worship.í It is not so much about idolatry as it is trying to worship the true God in the same way that the other nations worshipped their gods. The people in the story want to worship Yahweh, they just want to do it in their own way. And the author of the book wants us to see the error in such an approach to the Creator of the Universe. He wants us to see it as absurd. So then, how do we see the absurdity of worldly worship in this passage?

Worldly worship begins in sin (and confusion)

The story begins with the introduction of Micah as a thief. Look at 17:1-2. Micah confesses to stealing a large sum of money from his mother after she had uttered a curse on the thief. Not exactly the most noble of confessions. Yet, she is pleased with him and offers a blessing instead of the curse. So he returns the money and she comes up with a plan. Look at verses 3-6. Micahís mother decides to dedicate the money that Micah had stolen and returned to the Lord. How is she going to do this? By making a graven image of course! She took some of the money (notice that she did not take all of it) to the silversmith who formed it into an image. Micah set up a shrine, made one of his sons a priest, and began worshipping the image. All to please the Lord, right?

But things only get worse in verses 7-13. Look at those with me. Since we may not be all that familiar with the law, we can read this chapter and not really think that much about it. I mean, Micahís mom just wants to dedicate some money to the Lord and Micah just wants to hire the Levite to be his priest so that the Lord will prosper him. No big deal right? Actually, if the Levite was actually following the Law, then Micah should have been stoned for idolatry (Deuteronomy 13:6-11). At the very least, they both should have known the second commandment: You shall not make for yourself a carved image (Exodus 20:4). They should have known not to do this. Yet, Israel had forsaken Yahweh and His Word. They had decided to worship the pagan gods along with the One True God. And once you start down that road, it is not long before the worship of God is polluted by worldly practices. They were sincere, but they were wrong. Their ignorance of the Word or ignoring of the Word led them to breaking the second commandment. Their sin and confusion had led them to worldly worship.

Wordly worship is fueled by half-truths

Micahís mom wants to dedicate some of the money to the Lord. She wants to honor Him and bring blessing on her son. Her problem is not that she is falsely motivated but that she does not know or care about Godís Word. She is just doing what is right in her own eyes (v. 6).

Micah wants to have a home that acknowledges God. He sets up a shrine to worship God. He sees the opportunity to have his own priest, after all, the Levites were supposed to be the priests. Heís not really doing anything wrong, he is just worshipping God in his own way. He is just doing what is right in his own eyes (v. 6).

Micah and his mother had enough truth to feel good about what they were doing. Micah just knew that the Lord would bless him for his actions. But half-truths are not enough. Yes the Levites are to serve as priests, but they are to serve in obedience to the Law not at some personal shrine that included a graven image. And this particular Levite appears to only be in it for the money. Heís not interested in truly honoring the Lord, he just wants his ten shekels and his shirt. In fact, if Micah keeps paying him, heís probably willing to ignore all the other nine commandments as well. You know, you gotta keep the congregation happy, right? So he will serve and go through the motions and say whatever Micah wants to here (or anybody else for that matter) as long as the money keeps coming in. Ministers serving just for money is apparently not a new thing!

All of this is the result of Israel moving away from God and His Word. They should have known better. They should have known that such worship was unacceptable to the Lord. But they found comfort in their half-truths and it conveniently helped them ignore the whole truth. Worldly worship is fueled by such an approach.

Wordly worship expands to others

Chapter 18 tells the story of how Micahís image made its way into hands of the tribe of Dan. The story begins with some spies visiting Micahís house. Look at 18:1-6. The tribe of Dan is looking to secure some more land. They were promised land by Yahweh but their disobedience has kept them from securing it. So they try to go in another direction and get some land for themselves. When their five spies show up at Micahís house, they like what they see. Micah has his own shrine and his own priest. Nice. Then when they ask him for a blessing, he is more than willing to accommodate them. They could get used to this.

And so they go and spy out some land, make their way back to their tribesman, and decide to return to take the land they found. And they do not forget Micah and his priest. In fact, they decide to make a return visit. Look at verses 14-20. The Danites figured that if it was working for Micah, then surely this worldly worship could work for them. They steal the Ďgodsí, convince the priest with more money and more prestige (ĎWhy preach to one manís household, when you could preach to a whole tribe?í), and set out to take their land. Of course, Micah is not happy about this situation. He tries to get them to stop, but they refuse. Look at verses 24-26. Do you see the irony in this? Micah wants them to bring back his gods, the ones that were made from the money he stole from his mother. And if your god can be stolen by a group of marauding men, then he is not worth your worship! But Micah could not see it and was left longing for a god that was no god at all.

The story ends with the tribe of Dan setting up their own worship shrine. Look at verses 27-31. They take the city, rename it, and make it their own. The set up Micahís image, secure the priest who was actually a member of Mosesí family (which adds insult to injury), and begin their worldly worship. They did not have to follow Godís instructions and travel all the way to Shiloh to worship God. They could do that in their own town, in their own way, and God would still be pleased. They could just do what was right in their own eyes and He would never care. Yet, did you catch how long this worldly worship lasted? Until the Lord sent the Assyrians to take the land from them because of Israelís continued idolatry. Do you seen any connection? What began from sin and confusion in the home of one man led to the corruption of a whole tribe and impacted the whole nation of Israel.

Wordly worship continues to tempt the people of God today. The Church is not immune to its lure. People still want convenience (like Micah and the Danites). People still like the idea of doing things their own way. Ministers still compromise on the truth to make a buck. Whole denominations can be lead astray by a few men going the wrong direction.

So how do we avoid it? What can we do to fight against wordly worship in our day?

First, we keep the Word central. When the Word of God loses its rightful place among the people of God, then worldly worship will follow. We must know the Word so that we can worship God in the ways that He has commanded. It must be preached and taught and studied and memorized. Biblical illiteracy is not only tragic, itís dangerous. Every move we take away from Godís Word is a move toward compromise and eventually idolatry. So enough with the excuses. Spend time in Godís Word each day. Pay attention when it is taught. Hold your ministers accountable to what it says. Keep it central in everything you do.

Second, we never forget the cross. Israel was a people because God had rescued them from the Egyptians. He gave them His Word after He brought them out of slavery. Yet, they struggled to remember what He had done for them and so they were easily taken in by the allure of the pagan gods. The Church has been delivered at the cross of Christ. He lived a perfect life and died on a cross and rose again so that we could be free from our slavery to sin and Satan and self. We must never forget that sacrifice. We must never lose sight of our Savior. It is why we observe baptism and communion. It is why we gather each week to focus on the Word. It is why we pattern our lives as followers of Christ. We never want to lose hold of our first love. The story of Micah and the Danites is a warning of what can happen when people forget God and His Word. Through His grace, may we never experience that in our own lives. Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Friday, 03 July 2015 )

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