One of the odder little stories in the book of Judges concerns a man named Micah (Judges 17). He stole 1100 pieces of silver from his mother and then confessed. When he returned it, she dedicated 200 pieces of it to the Lord and took it to a silversmith.
She commissioned a graven image and a molten image. Then she gave them to Micah. He promptly set up a shrine and consecrated one of his sons as priest.
Lest anyone think this ancient story has nothing to do with us in the 21st century, today’s newspaper has a story with the headline, “Atheists find solace in prayer.” I’ll be thinking about that a lot and have more to write later.
But one person interviewed in the story actually made up his own god, well, goddess really. One of her main attractions is that she doesn’t exist, but he prays to her and finds comfort!
Back to Micah. At about the same time, a young Levite from Bethlehem decided to leave his hometown, apparently to seek his fortune. He met up with Micah. Micah offered him a handsome salary to stay with him and be his priest.
I don’t suppose he consulted with his son about the matter, but the chapter ends with Micah saying, “Now I know that the Lord will prosper me seeing that I have a Levite as priest” (Judges 17:13, NASB).
So they all lived happily ever after? Just wait!
The sweet fruits of Micah’s sin
“In those days there was no king in Israel;” says v. 6 and lots of other places in Judges, “every man did what was right in his own eyes.” Apparently there weren’t any priests or Levites who cared about instructing people properly in the ways of the Lord, either.
First we have a young man who steals from his mother, but apparently he had some conscience, too. He returned it and confessed, with no apparent remorse.
Second we have an overindulgent mother. Far from saying anything to him about basic honesty and trustworthiness, she blessed him in the name of the Lord. And even though she should have known that the same Lord expressly forbade making idols, she made several from the silver and gave them to Micah.
So Micah sets up forbidden objects in his house, consecrates a priest, and worships them. He must have felt very religious and very comforted by them.
But third, a Levite enters the picture. All priests were from the tribe of Levi, but not all Levites were priests. This one was from one of three groups that were supposed to assist the priests in prescribed ways. God had set aside several towns for the Levites. This one should have had a sense of calling to minister in and from Bethlehem, but that wasn’t good enough for him.
So the renegade Levite met the man, Micah, who had his own gods, with all the trappings, and agrees to become his household priest. And as a result of this compounding of sin, Micah figured that God must be pleased with him.
The sweet fruits of modern sin
In the absence of any structure for instructing society as a whole in the ways of righteousness, people prefer unrighteousness. Everyone chooses his personal favorite style of unrighteousness.
Tolerance means accepting any style of unrighteousness. Righteousness therefore commits the unpardonable sin of intolerance. Then as now, plenty of religious leaders stray far from their calling. They willingly bless any kind of unrighteousness in the name of God. And since they have a religious calling, or at least credentials, they expect God and everyone else to be pleased.
Except for those ridiculous people who still cling to their outdated and intolerant notion that there is something called righteousness that everyone ought to pursue, the world is basically content in their unrighteousness. Or they say they are. And if other people prefer a different kind of unrighteousness, well, that’s quite all right.
The bitter reality of sin
Micah’s story doesn’t end with his blissful contentment in Judges 17:13. In the next chapter, the tribe of Dan had been unable to dislodge the Philistines from the land assigned to them. So they decided to move somewhere else and find someone easier to pick on.
On the way to their new digs, they came upon Micah and his “priest.” They made the young Levite a better deal. He could be priest for a whole tribe. He did what was right in his own eyes and went with them. Oh, and they all took Micah’s gods with them for good measure.
Micah gathered up some friends to try to take back what was rightfully his, but the Danites were too strong for him. Just as he had done what was right in his own eyes, so did they. And what happens when someone’s rights conflict with someone else’s rights and all that tolerant peace and harmony go away? Might makes right.
Nowadays, we have various levels of government. We have laws. We have courts to enforce the laws. It might seem on the surface that what happened to Micah couldn’t happen today. But then again, doesn’t it happen all the time? Time and time again, legal cases are settled not by the triumph of principle, but by who can hire the cleverest lawyers.
The refrain of Judges was “everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” Another refrain runs through the Bible: “There is no one who does good.” (Psalm 14:1, 3; Psalm 53:1, 3; Romans 3:12). No not even one.
That’s why Jesus came into the world. Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, we sentimentally think, stood firmly intolerant of unrighteousness. The most religious people of his time had him crucified for it. They never expected that he would rise again from the dead.
Apart from liturgical lip service, a lot of them today don’t seem to think that he really did. And so they don’t seem to think that he’s coming back again.
The only antidote to everyone doing what is right in his own eyes is to do right in God’s eyes. And no one can to that except by the same power that raised Jesus from the dead. It’s freely available to anyone who wants it, but everyone must first become intolerant of his own sin and unrighteousness. (Leave everyone else’s to God.)
Turning from sin to God is a kind of death. That’s what makes it do difficult, even terrifying. But Jesus rose from death to unending life. In exchange for our sin, he gives us his life.