From Your Pastor, March 23

From Your Pastor, March 23

A Whole Lot of Nothing

You take my gods that I made and the priest, and go away, and what have I left?” Judges 18:24

Have you ever thought: “wouldn’t it be nice if there was no authority or structure in the Church?” “Wouldn’t it be better if we were free to worship Jesus unrestrained by liturgies and guidelines of the past?” Judges 18 gives us a glimpse of what life and faith were like shortly after Israel entered the land. Verse 1 summarizes the situation well: “In those days, there was no king in Israel.” What follows completes the thought of this verse, as if to say, “and people did what was right in their own eyes.” Prepare for absurdity and chaos.

If you recall, in Judges 17 an Israelite named Micah had begun collecting idols, had built a shrine to house them, and was actively seeking (on his own terms) the blessing and favor of God. As it turned out, Micah met a Levite, a member of the priestly class, and quickly secured his services, thinking to himself: “Now I know that the Lord will prosper me, because I have a Levite as a priest (17:13).”

But, as is so often the case in life, you get what you deserve. It wasn’t long before a group of five men from the tribe of Dan (spies) befriended the Levite and were impressed with his prophetic abilities. Even though he had just met the men, he was able to pronounce a benediction on their journey and assure them their purposes were “under the eye of the LORD (v.6).” It wasn’t the first time and it wouldn’t be the last that a minister of God told a group of people what they wanted to hear. And it would soon pay off for the Levite when the five spies returned (as a type of pulpit committee).

As we read on to v.7, we learn of the mission of these spies. It seems the tribe of Dan (see Judges 1:34) had not defeated the Amorites and thus had not received their inheritance. But a new opportunity had presented itself—hence, the five spies were sent to explore the area of Laish (people God had not permitted them to attack) and report back. The report was good news: the people were quiet and unsuspecting, possessed wealth, and were remote (i.e., unprotected). All this meant they would be easy to defeat (v.7), which, we read in v.27-28, was exactly what happened. But the “chance” encounter with Micah’s priest was an added bonus. As such, the five spies took a slight detour on the way to battle and returned with 600 armed men to collect the Levite and Micah’s idols.

As a minister, I find this section almost comical and wonder what self-respecting pastor would except such a call. What we read is that 600 armed men stood at Micah’s gate while the spies looted thousands of dollars’ worth of idols. Micah and the Levite just stared in disbelief. And then came the new and unexpected call to ministry for the Levite: “come with us and be to us a father and priest. Is it better for you to be priest to the house of one man or…to a tribe and clan (v.19)?”

I’m sure the priest felt bad about the circumstances—the theft and the armed intimidation—but at least he would finally get the recognition he deserved and, no doubt, a bump in salary. With his mind on the money and a bigger congregation to oversee, we read in v.20, “…the priest’s heart was glad.”

Micah was not going to give up on his gods that easily—or his priest—and he and whatever local help he could find pursued the thieves and tried unsuccessfully to reclaim what was rightfully his. It’s in this section and Micah’s speech where we read of the folly of the entire affair: You take my gods that I made and the priest, and go away, and what have I left (v.24)?”

There are other details worthy of consideration, but take away one major truth. You and I don’t want to bring God down to our level. Home-made, personal religion is worthless. While in America it doesn’t appear as bloody as it did in the book of Judges, its end is the same. We wind up, like Micah, with nothing left.
—Pastor Harrington