Sunday, November 21, 2010

Judges series - Judges 17 (Micah, his mother & Levite)

The way to read this article is that the orange underlined texts are the verses of the Bible (NIV, unless otherwise stated). The black texts following the Bible verses (and enclosed by square brackets) are my commentaries. At the end of these Bible texts and commentaries, I have inserted a section on "Points to take note/What we have learnt/can learn".
{For full listing of all articles in this series, click here}

Judges 17

[Preamble: This and the other narratives that follow in subsequent articles(Judges 18-21) form a miscellaneous collection, or appendix to the Book of Judges. It belongs to a period when the Hebrew nation was in a greatly disordered and corrupt state. This story here (Judges 17) speaks not of any judge, but only serves to illustrate the great disorder, even disorder in the matter of proper administration of priestly matters or acts of worship or devotions unto the Lord.

Those who had gone into the Book of Ezekiel, would know that even a few hundred years later, when the judges period was over, many kings had passed on, and the Hebrews were exiled, the northern kingdom people, to territories of the Assyrians, and the southern kingdom (Judah) people, to Babylon, God still spoke to prophet Ezekiel about His displeasure at the Levites, saying that only the Zadokites (of the Levites) were faithful to the ways of God.]

1 Now a man named Micah from the hill country of Ephraim 2 said to his mother, "The eleven hundred shekels of silver that were taken from you and about which I heard you utter a curse—I have that silver with me; I took it."
Then his mother said, "The LORD bless you, my son!"
[Here, a man by the name of Micah, and living in the Ephraim country, told his mother that he had taken her 13 kg of silver, after hearing his mother uttered a curse on discovering the loss of her silver.

The verses speak of the readiness of people at that time to curse others. No one is to curse another unless the curse is instituted according to the Word of God. Curses instituted according to the Word of God are curses sanctioned by God. Any others are not, and cannot be given. Curses are a grave matter; that was why the Word of God had it recorded for us that one of the specific powers of the Cross of Jesus Christ, is the power to nullify curses. Jesus became the curse that we might be released from any curses made on our lives. Before God sent Abraham out to the Canaan land to populate the earth, he said this to Abraham:

I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you." (Gen 12:3)

Just on the account of this, we can see that people of God cannot curse another. We who are believers are children of Abraham by faith (Gal 3:7). Because we are created in the image of God, our words have powers. Curses have powers in them. Bless people, do not curse. It is wicked to curse another, and wickedness is detestable to God.

If the account of Abraham was a little too far off, consider the account of the Balaam and the talking donkey. This account probably happened towards the end of the 40 years of wandering in desert. The Israelites had again come near the Jordan, and they had already defeated Sihon, king of the Amorites, and Og, king of Bashan. The Moabites (descendants from one of the sons of Lot, Abraham’s nephew) who also lived in the plains of Jordan got frightened. The Moab prince, Balak, went to consult Balaam, a prophet who had gone astray, who was believed to be an Ammonite (Ammonites, were also in the plains, they were the descendants from the other son of Lot).

Some said Balaam was a wicked man and a non-Israelite. The latter was true, he was not a Israelite since he descended from Lot, who though came from the same bloodline as Abraham, both were the descendants of Shem, one of the 3 sons of Noah; was separated from Abraham after the destruction of Sodom (and Gomorrah). An Israelite is a descendant of Israel (aka Jacob), son of Issac, son of Abraham. Since Lot was not directly descended from Abraham, Lot’s descendants were not Israelites.

The account of Balaam and the talking donkey revealed that Balaam knew the LORD and the LORD knew him, which was not surprising because he was an Ammonite, descendant of Lot. The LORD, on pleading by Abraham (Gen 19), spared Lot and his two daughters (Lot’s wife turned back and was turned into a pillar of salt). Many years after that, when the Israelites came out of Egypt and first came to plains of Jordan again, God told the Israelites to only pass through, and not to take, the lands of the Moabites and Ammonites because He said those lands were given to Lot and his descendants. The favor of God was evidently on the bloodline of Shem, one of the 3 sons of Noah; and in those early days, extended down to Lot.

So much for the little background on Balaam, but what did he has to do with curses? You see, Balak, the Moab prince, because of his fear of the Israelites, sent for Balaam to curse the Israelites. Balaam, on his way to Balak, on his donkey, had his donkey refusing to obey him, and turned 3 times. After the 3rd time, the donkey spoke to Balaam, the donkey was mad that her master had beaten her when what she did, was to avoid the angel of the LORD who had stood in front of the donkey with a drawn sword, for those 3 times. Finally, the angel of the LORD opened the eyes of Balaam to see him, the angel of the LORD, and the latter told him that, had the donkey not turned, Balaam would have been killed by him. To cut the story short, Balaam gave a number of oracles on the occasions he was supposed to curse the Israelites; oracles according to the words of the angel of the LORD (instead of curses). In his first oracle, he included,

How can I curse
those whom God has not cursed?
How can I denounce
those whom the LORD has not denounced? (Num 23:8)

In his second oracle, obviously referencing Gen 12:3 (given above) he included,

God is not a man, that he should lie,
nor a son of man, that he should change his mind.
Does he speak and then not act?
Does he promise and not fulfill? (Num 23:19)

In the third oracle, he included,

Like a lion they crouch and lie down,
like a lioness—who dares to rouse them?
"May those who bless you be blessed
and those who curse you be cursed!" (Num 24:9)

So, don’t curse, only bless.]
3 When he returned the eleven hundred shekels of silver to his mother, she said, "I solemnly consecrate my silver to the LORD for my son to make a carved image and a cast idol. I will give it back to you."
4 So he returned the silver to his mother, and she took two hundred shekels of silver and gave them to a silversmith, who made them into the image and the idol. And they were put in Micah's house.
[In those days, people just did what they thought was the “proper” thing to do without regard to the commandments of God. Of course, one of the 10 Commandments of God said that people were not to set up carved images or cast idols. Furthermore, Moses instituted a number of curses, called the Curses of Mount Ebal, recited over the Israelites by the Levites from Mount Ebal, just before the Israelites crossed the Jordan River to the Promised Land. Moses, because he was not crossing over with the Israelites, because God had not permitted him to enter the Promised Land (Those who want to know why God did not allow Moses to enter, see my article, “Do you know why Moses did not enter the Promised Land?”), specifically instructed the Israelites not to forget the commandments of God after they crossed over, and instituted the curses mentioned. They can be read from Deu 27:14-26. The relevant curse is quoted below:

"Cursed is the man who carves an image or casts an idol—a thing detestable to the LORD, the work of the craftsman's hands—and sets it up in secret." Then all the people shall say, "Amen!" (Deu 27:15)

The mother of Micah thought she did the proper thing, getting the silversmith to make an idol out of the silver, and had it put in Micah’s house. She thought it was an act of thankfulness for the recovery of the silver, and the honesty of his son, but what she did was detestable to the LORD. We should not make such mistakes, and we can only avoid these mistakes if we are bothered with the things of the LORD, what the Word says, and be sensitive to the Holy Spirit which the Word of God says would reveal to us nothing but the truth.]
5 Now this man Micah had a shrine, and he made an ephod and some idols and installed one of his sons as his priest. 6 In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit. [With the silver idol from his mother, Micah effectively had a shrine in the home. Micah got hold of some more idols, made an ephod (special piece of clothing worn for performing priestly function), and made one of his sons as his priest. Indeed, people just did what they saw fit.

If we read about God’s specific instructions given in the Book of Numbers (particularly Numbers 3) to the Tribe of Levi (Levites) concerning the proper handling of the Tabernacle, you will realize the Israelites then had become so complacent about the things of the LORD that no wonder the LORD was greatly displeased, that He sometimes lifted his hands of protection off the Israelites, as a chastisement to the people.]
7 A young Levite from Bethlehem in Judah, who had been living within the clan of Judah, 8 left that town in search of some other place to stay. On his way he came to Micah's house in the hill country of Ephraim.
9 Micah asked him, "Where are you from?"
"I'm a Levite from Bethlehem in Judah," he said, "and I'm looking for a place to stay."
[I thank the LORD for allowing me, very quickly and easily, to understand much of the surrounding circumstances to events in the Old Testament; and I believe this will continue.

A little background information is good here: In the Exodus from Egypt to the Promised Land, God moved with the Israelites in a portable tent called The Tabernacle. Of the tribes of the Israelites, the LORD had chosen the Levi tribe as his own (Numbers 3:44 & 45). The role of the Levites is singular – do the work of the Tabernacle. That was to say that a Levite’s life was to work at the house of the LORD, and nothing. In those days, the LORD’s instructions to the Israelites were very specific – the Levites were the LORD’s directly, they were not even counted together with the other tribes in census. Because they were the LORD’s, the LORD was their inheritance, and as such, they, as a tribe, would not be entitled to any territorial land allocations which all the other tribes were entitled to, and the Israelites were to take care of them, and not to neglect them, as they were the LORD:

"Command the Israelites to give the Levites towns to live in from the inheritance the Israelites will possess. And give them pasturelands around the towns (Num 35:2).Be careful not to neglect the Levites as long as you live in your land (Deu 12:19). And do not neglect the Levites living in your towns, for they have no allotment or inheritance of their own (Deu 14:27). If a Levite moves from one of your towns anywhere in Israel where he is living, and comes in all earnestness to the place the LORD will choose, 7 he may minister in the name of the LORD his God like all his fellow Levites who serve there in the presence of the LORD. 8 He is to share equally in their benefits, even though he has received money from the sale of family possessions (Deu 18:6-8).

So, now we read of this young Levite; he was not staying in The Levitical City of Shiloh, or any levitical city. He had been living amidst the tribe of Judah, in Bethlethem, which was not a levitical city, for it was only about 10km south of Jerusalem. He was going to find another place where he could do what he was supposed to do in a house of the LORD. On his way, he met Micah.]
10 Then Micah said to him, "Live with me and be my father and priest, and I'll give you ten shekels of silver a year, your clothes and your food." 11 So the Levite agreed to live with him, and the young man was to him like one of his sons. 12 Then Micah installed the Levite, and the young man became his priest and lived in his house. 13 And Micah said, "Now I know that the LORD will be good to me, since this Levite has become my priest." [Micah asked that the Levite live with him and be his priest, to take care of the shrine in his house.

I believe this passage showed 2 things, not one, as is commonly written in commentaries. The one that was written in commentaries was about Micah, that he mistakenly thought that by doing this thing, having a Levite as a priest, the LORD would be pleased. The commentators were right: how could the LORD be pleased, when things were not done according to his specific instructions, and idols were found to be worshipped together with the LORD in his house? Do not be mistaken, I am not saying that there could not be other houses of the LORD apart from the Tabernacle at the Levitical city of Shiloh; that was not the case, if you look at Deu 18:6-8, already quoted above.

The other issue, which was not talked about, was the complacency of the Levi tribe. Theirs was a special tribe with a special specific lifetime calling for every man in the tribe. The privileges were instituted by God Himself, but the calling was also by God. They must not fail to pass on the responsibilities of their calling to their descendants. This young Levite here clearly was not properly guided, ended up being a stumbling block to others, who were looking to him for guidance for spiritual matters. On the subject of whether a Levite could at all be installed as a priest, based on strict Biblical records that I know of, the answer was no (Exo 29:1-9, Num 3:9-10), only the descendants of Aaron (Kohanim) could be priests. All Kohanim were Levites but not all Levites were Kohanim.]

What we could learn here:

At the opening of my exposition of this chapter, I have already said that this chapter, and the subsequent ones, in the Book of Judges, did not address particular judges, rather it served to paint the background of the time – disorder and corruptness. Nonetheless, from this, we can still learn some important things, for this chapter had touched on curses, idolatry, spiritual adultery, complacency, and presumptuousness.

1. We must not curse people, rather we should bless.

2. All forms of idolatry are unacceptable, and are detestable to God

3. Spiritual adultery, even the slightest, is not acceptable to God. We are to have the LORD as the only God, He and He alone shall we worship and turn to. We cannot have another god, beside Him.

4. We are not to be complacent with the things of the LORD, and this includes His ways, His Words, which include His instructions, laws, commands, and precepts, and sensitivity to His Holy Spirit.

5. We are also to be careful that we do not act presumptuously. Here, Micah’s mother was presumptuous; Micah himself was, also.

6. To avoid the pitfalls of ignorance, complacency, presumptuousness, we must make an effort to be diligent in the things of the LORD.

7. It is our responsibility to ensure our spiritual heritage be passed down to the generations. The Levite above was ignorant of the requirements of the LORD, had he not be taught by his father? Also, ignorance was prevalent in the general population of the people of God, then.

Anthony Chia – Even as I thank you for the ease with which I have understanding of your Word; by your grace and revelation, I look forward to more of the same, from you. Lord, may I be faithful to hold fast to what you have revealed through your Word, and your Spirit, and remember, always, that when much is given, much is expected, also, by you. Amen.

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