New European Commentary


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Deeper Commentary

Jdg 17:1 There was a man of the hill country of Ephraim whose name was Micah-
Jud. 17-21 contain various pictures of and insights into the apostacy of the tribe of Dan, providing the backdrop for a character study of Samson. These chapters seem chronologically out of place; they belong before the Samson story. Jud. 18:30 speaks of Jonathan the grandson of Moses, and Jud. 20:28 of Phinehas the grandson of Aaron (cp. Num. 25:11), which would place these events at the beginning of the period of the Judges, once Israel had first settled in the land. Dan's apostacy is suggested by the way in which he is omitted from the tribes of the new Israel in Rev. 7. Zorah, Samson's home town, was originally Judah's inheritance (Josh. 15:33-36), but they spurned it, and passed it to Dan (Josh. 19:41), who also weren't interested; for they migrated to the north and too over the land belonging to the less warlike Sidonians (Jud. 18:2,7-10). Their selfishness is reflected by the way they chide with him: "What is this that you have done unto us?" (Jud. 15:11). See on Jud. 13:1.

Jdg 17:2 He said to his mother, The eleven hundred pieces of silver that were taken from you, about which I heard you utter a curse - I took them. His mother said, Yahweh bless you my son-
One theme of the history of Dan is the mixture between flesh and spirit, and this was to come to full term in the life of Samson. His idolatrous mother blesses him by Yahweh, and she is an idolater. 1100 pieces of silver would imply that this woman was very wealthy, for 10 pieces of silver a year was a good salary (:10), and so the apostacy we are to read of would likely have been amongst the wealthy leadership class. She had cursed the thief, but when she found it was her son, she turns the curse into a blessing. We compare this with how Jephthah didn't feel he could change such an oath once uttered. 1100 pieces of silver was exactly the amount of money which each prince of the Philistines was to pay Delilah for Samson's betrayal (Jud. 16:5). We wonder whether this woman may have been Delilah, or connected with her; for I gave some reasons for believing she was perhaps an Israelitess.

Jdg 17:3 He returned the eleven hundred pieces of silver to his mother and she said, I solemnly dedicate my silver to Yahweh for my son to make an engraved image and a molten image. Then I will give it back to you-
The idea seems to be that she would dedicate the money but somehow retain within her power. His repentance therefore cost him nothing, and neither really did her supposed sacrifice to Yahweh; whereas it is a principle of sacrifice that it must cost us something, we must be left in deficit after it, in real terms (2 Sam. 24:24). We see how deeply Israel had fallen into thinking that idolatry was justified, because it was a form of Yahweh worship. Their later placing of idols in the temple of Yahweh could only really have happened on that basis. And this has been the abiding temptation and tendency for God's people; to mix the flesh and the Spirit, to have a little of both, rather than making wholehearted commitment to Him. And it is seen too in the mixture of paganism with Biblical truths in the theology of standard Christianity. 

Jdg 17:4 So he returned the money to his mother and she took two hundred pieces of it and gave them to the silversmith, who made it into an engraved image and a molten image, and they were put into Micah’s house-
And then the rest of the money she returned to Micah (see on :3). "Micah" means 'who is like Yah!'. His mother had named him like this and he probably would have agreed with his name, hence he kept it; but this was the mere externality of religious devotion. For clearly they were idolaters, wrongly claiming to serve Yahweh through serving idols. See on :3.

Or we can translate: "So he restored the money to his mother (and his mother took two hundred shekels), and she gave it to the founder". The 200 would be roughly one fifth of 1100, which means he may have given this to his mother in obedience to the Mosaic command of Lev. 6:5. In which case we see how confused they all were, keeping parts of God's law and having a genuine conscience towards God; whilst being idolaters and very ignorant of His ways.

Jdg 17:5 This man Micah had a shrine, and he made an ephod and household gods and consecrated one of his sons to be his priest-
Micah was clearly a passionate religionist. The apostacy of such people was partly due to the failure of the priesthood. He therefore consecrated one of his sons to be a priest. Part of his apostacy, making his own holy place and ephod, was perhaps due to the fact that the sanctuary of Yahweh wasn't functioning properly. It was still in Shiloh (Jud. 18:31), but perhaps being abused as it was at the time of Eli, so that people didn't wish to attend it. Individual failure is always personally culpable, but this isn't to say that spiritual leaders aren't also to be held accountable by God for it.

Jdg 17:6 In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes-
This implies that the book of Judges as we have it was edited, under Divine inspiration, some time after Israel began to have kings. Perhaps during the exile, when again they had no king; and therefore the book becomes a warning to the exiles about likely apostacy. The lament may be that there was no authority, no teacher, no modelling of Godly living; because every man did what was right in his own eyes, rather than doing what was right in the eyes of Yahweh. For so often we read of Israel being condemned for doing what was wrong in His eyes. This is clear enough evidence that 'just follow your heart' is poor advice. For what is right in our own eyes results in the Godless confusion of what we find now at the time of the Judges. However it could be argued that having no human king was a good thing; for God didn't want them to have one. And therefore a situation where everyone judges things by their own judgment is in fact good; the problem was that the people didn't base their view upon God's word, His "eyes" or perspective, but solely upon their own unenlightened opinions. 

Jdg 17:7 There was a young Levite who had been living in Bethlehem Judah-
I suggested on :3-5 that the apostacy of Micah and others like him was partly a result of the Levites to teach them a better way. And the absence of Levitical teachers, and the apparent non functioning of the sanctuary, would in turn have been a result of the people not paying tithes to the Levites so that they could do this teaching work. And so everything had spiraled downwards. Bethlehem was not a priestly city, and so this Levite had been living there but not working as a Levite. Presumably because his home city was a place where the tithes were not paid, this Levite had gone to live in Bethlehem looking for work. 

Jdg 17:8 and he left the city to find a better place, and came to the hill country of Ephraim to the house of Micah-
The Levites has no inheritance of land, and so life was extremely difficult for them when they were not paid tithes by the other Israelites. They became like this man, wandering labourers who went looking for any kind of work just to keep them alive. He perhaps went to the house of Micah because he was evidently wealthy; for his mother had 1100 pieces of silver to spend on religion, when  a good salary was 10 pieces / year. That money was 110 years of good salary. The Levite likely went there in the hope of finding work in the house of a rich man.

Jdg 17:9 Micah said to him, Where have you come from? He said to him, I am a Levite of Bethlehem Judah, and I am looking for a place to live-
Not having their own land, the Levites were homeless when the tithes weren't paid, or if their priestly allotment was taken from them by the tribe where the priestly city was. I noted on the distribution of the priestly cities in Joshua that many were in areas not subdued by Israel, or in remote, peripheral regions. So the Levites became landless labourers, often homeless.

Jdg 17:10 Micah said to him, Live with me and be unto me a father and a priest, and I will give you ten pieces of silver per year, a suit of clothing and your food. So the Levite agreed-
Micah asked the young Levite, who was “unto him as one of his sons”, to “be unto me a father and a priest” (Jud. 17:10,11- note the paradox), resulting in others likewise asking him to “be unto us a father and a priest” (Jud. 18:19). The point is, no matter how unqualified a person may be for the job, they may be pressed into being leaders because that’s what nominally religious people so desperately need. They need someone to call 'father'; and it seems Pharaoh treated Joseph in the same way (Gen. 45:8). It is very noticeable amongst those who are themselves senior or heads of some kind of group, be it domestically or in the workplace. The way the Lord forbad this (Mt. 23:9) was therefore tantamount to disallowing any merely 'religious' approach to God. He personally was to be understood as Father, and a personal relationship developed with Him. 

Jdg 17:11 The young Levite was content to dwell with the man and became unto him as one of his sons-
The paradox is that this young man was wanted by Micah as a father to him. Even though he was of an age and maturity to merely be Micah's son. It was as if Micah's religious impulse led him to by all means want someone to be his spiritual senior, no matter how young or unqualified they were. And we see precisely this mentality in all cultures of our world today. 

Jdg 17:12 Micah consecrated the Levite, and the young man became his priest, living in his house-
It was priests who were to consecrate Levites; but Micah is just taking bits and pieces from God's true religion and making them part of his own do it yourself religious system. And we see this going on all the time, both now and historically. Biblical verses and precedents are taken quite out of context, and mixed in with paganism and human ways.

Jdg 17:13 Then Micah said, Now know I that Yahweh will do good to me, since I have a Levite as my priest-
We feel almost sorry for Micah. He had a basic conscience, feeling struck by guilt that he had stolen a huge sum from his mother, equivalent to 110 years of good salary. He wants Yahweh in his life and His blessings, but he thinks it can be attained by mere externalities, and through worshipping other gods. He was desperate for teaching; and the Levite failed him in this, perhaps because he too had not been taught God's ways and law.