When We Make Our Own Way

Judges 17:1–13
1There was a man of the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Micah. 2And he said to his mother, “The 1,100 pieces of silver that were taken from you, about which you uttered a curse, and also spoke it in my ears, behold, the silver is with me; I took it.” And his mother said, “Blessed be my son by the Lord.” 3And he restored the 1,100 pieces of silver to his mother. And his mother said, “I dedicate the silver to the Lord from my hand for my son, to make a carved image and a metal image. Now therefore I will restore it to you.” 4So when he restored the money to his mother, his mother took 200 pieces of silver and gave it to the silversmith, who made it into a carved image and a metal image. And it was in the house of Micah. 5And the man Micah had a shrine, and he made an ephod and household gods, and ordained one of his sons, who became his priest. 6In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. 7Now there was a young man of Bethlehem in Judah, of the family of Judah, who was a Levite, and he sojourned there. 8And the man departed from the town of Bethlehem in Judah to sojourn where he could find a place. And as he journeyed, he came to the hill country of Ephraim to the house of Micah. 9And Micah said to him, “Where do you come from?” And he said to him, “I am a Levite of Bethlehem in Judah, and I am going to sojourn where I may find a place.” 10And Micah said to him, “Stay with me, and be to me a father and a priest, and I will give you ten pieces of silver a year and a suit of clothes and your living.” And the Levite went in. 11And the Levite was content to dwell with the man, and the young man became to him like one of his sons. 12And Micah ordained the Levite, and the young man became his priest, and was in the house of Micah. 13Then Micah said, “Now I know that the Lord will prosper me, because I have a Levite as priest.”

Many year ago, my husband had an inquiry from a congregation to be their pastor. This was a wealthy church in a metropolitan suburb. Upon further investigation of this parish, he spoke with another pastor in the area who told him, “At this church, the people have a nanny to do the parenting, a maid to do the cooking, and a pastor to do their religion.” In other words, you were their “hired worshiper”. While I have no idea if that was actually the case, it was certainly an interesting way to typify these people. In our reading for today, we find something very similar to that situation.

The death of Samson wraps up the time of the judges and now the people are without any real leadership whatsoever. They are making it up as the go along and there are very few national ties for any of the tribes. In that setting we find Micah and his mother. She has recently been robbed of 1,100 pieces of silver and as it turns out, her son is the culprit. Because she spoke a curse over the one who took her property he becomes afraid and turns himself in to her. She is so grateful to have her money returned that she commissions the construction of an idol for her family to worship. Micah obliges her by making sure that her wishes are met and an idol and shrine are constructed in their own home. Micah even goes as far as to “ordain” one of his own sons as the family priest; not the way things are done in God’s Israel.

Into this scene comes a Levite who apparently suffers from wanderlust. He wanders into Micah’s camp and is embraced by Micah as the “family priest.” He is offered a salary, clothing, and a place in the family. He becomes the “hired worshiper.” Also, not the way things are done in God’s Israel. We learn later that this Levite’s name is Jonathan. Jonathan’s service as a Levite was for hire when it should have been for love of God and in obedience to his Word. We call Jonathan’s sin simony. (This title is first coined by the church, based on Acts 8:18, 19; the story of Simon the Sorcerer.)

Micah created a god of his own making to worship and we can most certainly relate to that practice for we can be guilty of doing the same. Whenever we tell God what to do, how to do it, or how to behave we are guilty of this same sin. Our idols may not be fashioned out of silver coins but instead out of our wishes and desires. Most subtly we want God to condone our lazy faith, half-hearted worship, or outright neglect of Him. We want God to be always accepting of our sin and look away from our apostasy. He does not. Instead, He poured out His wrath over those exact sins on His own dear Son, Jesus Christ. He has chosen forgiveness for all who believe rather than the punishment we deserve because Jesus paid the price for even our idolatry. There is no need to bow down to a silver idol. We have a Savior who bought us back from sin into the Father’s sight so that our lives can be expressions of His love rather than false worship. Micah’s bad example screams to us to turn away from our own idolatry and instead bow before the feet of Jesus – right where we belong.