Judges 17 The Idol of Micah

The altar of Micah. Located in the village of Givat Harel in Samaria.

Judges 17

There was a man in the hill country of Ephraim whose name was Micah. 2 He said to his mother, “The eleven hundred pieces of silver that were taken from you, about which you uttered a curse, and even spoke it in my hearing, — that silver is in my possession; I took it; but now I will return it to you.” And his mother said, “May my son be blessed by the LORD!” 3 Then he returned the eleven hundred pieces of silver to his mother; and his mother said, “I consecrate the silver to the LORD from my hand for my son, to make an idol of cast metal.” 4 So when he returned the money to his mother, his mother took two hundred pieces of silver, and gave it to the silversmith, who made it into an idol of cast metal; and it was in the house of Micah. 5 This man Micah had a shrine, and he made an ephod and teraphim, and installed one of his sons, who became his priest. 6 In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes.

7 Now there was a young man of Bethlehem in Judah, of the clan of Judah. He was a Levite residing there. 8 This man left the town of Bethlehem in Judah, to live wherever he could find a place. He came to the house of Micah in the hill country of Ephraim to carry on his work. 9 Micah said to him, “From where do you come?” He replied, “I am a Levite of Bethlehem in Judah, and I am going to live wherever I can find a place.” 10 Then 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, a set of clothes, and your living.” 11 The Levite agreed to stay with the man; and the young man became to him like one of his sons. 12 So Micah installed the Levite, and the young man became his priest, and was in the house of Micah. 13 Then Micah said, “Now I know that the LORD will prosper me, because the Levite has become my priest.”

This begins a “collection of unhappy stories” (Mobley, 2005, p. 225) which illustrate the precarious position of the tribes and families of Israel during the ending of the narrative of Judges. The final two stories which make up the final five chapters of Judges demonstrate how far Israel has strayed from its identity as the people of God and how confused and chaotic this lawless time had become. In a time when, “They did it their way.” (Webb, 2012, p. 421) we see all of the Ten Commandments systematically broken (NIB II: 864) in these unhappy stories as Israel stands in danger of dissolving into the surrounding Canaanite and Philistine community. While it is possible that both stories happen chronologically after the death of Samson it is likely that the editor of Judges placed these two stories as a conclusion of the book to prepare the reader for the people’s desire for a king to unite this scattered people and to unite them in their identity.

The initial story shows how the worship of the LORD the God of Israel has been corrupted to where it becomes patterned after the worship of the Canaanites and other nations. Names are often important in Hebrew stories and the name Micah means “Who is like God?” It is a name that implies that no god or idol is a substitute for the LORD, and yet this man named Micah will capture God in a cast image and use the image as a focus of worship. He has taken an exceptionally large sum of money, eleven hundred pieces of silver-the same amount each Philistine lord promised to Delilah to betray Samson, from his mother but when his mother utters a curse he confesses his guilt and returns it. Micah’s mother attempts to turn the curse into a blessing and to consecrate the silver to the LORD but then we immediately see the corruption of this by consecrating it for an idol. Worship of the LORD has lost one of its essential elements, that they are not to create an image of God. The story becomes even more confounding when two hundred of the eleven hundred pieces are turned over to a silversmith and the remaining nine hundred are held back. In a shrine Micah places this idol alongside an ephod and teraphim (household gods). The idol is placed as one image among multiple images and his son is set up to preside over this corrupted version of worship of the LORD the God of Israel. In a time and place where everyone does what is right in their own eyes and the laws and the covenant seem to have been forgotten we end up with a parody of what the devotion to the LORD was intended to be.

When a Levite looking for a new place to reside comes to the house of Micah he is offered the position of being a priest in this shrine. Micah’s son recedes to the background as this Levite becomes priest and becomes like a father to Micah. The annual pay of the Levite, ten silver a year plus home and clothing, illustrates how rich Micah’s household is where eleven hundred pieces of silver can be ‘consecrated to the LORD.’ The creation of a shrine presided over by a Levite gave Micah’s household a great deal of status in the hill country of Ephraim and yet his desire that it will make him prosper is contrasted by the confused combination of the practices the LORD commanded with the Canaanite and other religious practices the LORD forbade the people to follow. This strange story of a household in Israel is reflective of the loss of distinctive practices and identity that we have seen throughout Judges. The religious practices of the people have been corrupted and despite Micah’s confidence that in his own eyes he is doing the right thing, it will not lead to his future prosperity.

1 thought on “Judges 17 The Idol of Micah

  1. Pingback: The Book of Judges | Sign of the Rose

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