Judges 17 is the beginning of the closing section of the book of Judges. The book contains no further record of the judges of Israel or of deliverance from enemy oppression. However, these final chapters do give us a better sense of a phrase we have seen repeatedly throughout the book – “Then the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD” (2:11; 3:7,12; 4:1; 6:1; 10:6; 13:1). There was widespread religious corruption among the Israelites. They were not remaining true to God and His word, and it shows in these final five chapters.
“Now there was a man from the mountains of Ephraim, whose name was Micah. And he said to his mother, ‘The eleven hundred shekels of silver that were taken from you, and on which you put a curse, even saying it in my ears–here is the silver with me; I took it.’ And his mother said, ‘May you be blessed by the LORD, my son!’ So when he had returned the eleven hundred shekels of silver to his mother, his mother said, ‘I had wholly dedicated the silver from my hand to the LORD for my son, to make a carved image and a molded image; now therefore, I will return it to you.’ Thus he returned the silver to his mother. Then his mother took two hundred shekels of silver and gave them to the silversmith, and he made it into a carved image and a molded image; and they were in the house of Micah. The man Micah had a shrine and made an ephod and household idols; and he consecrated one of his sons, who became his priest. In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Jud. 17:1-6).
Micah had stolen a large sum of money from his mother but then restored it since he feared her curse. She desired to make images that Micah could put in his shrine. There are numerous problems with Micah’s behavior when measured against the standard of the Mosaic law. Besides the sin of stealing, he had no right to possess household idols (his mother had no right to commission them), nor was there a need to create a shrine, an ephod, or one’s own priesthood! Indeed, Micah’s actions here are tragic indeed, but he wasn’t alone in this type of behavior. Since the nation lacked a leader (or, more accurately, weren’t following God as their true leader) the people did whatever they thought was right and good, but sometimes what they believed to be good was far from it. Being guided by one’s own opinions is always dangerous (cf. Prov. 14:12). The Israelites should have been sacrificing at the tabernacle only by means of the Levitical priests God appointed. Also, creating idols was wrong–even if they were only intended to be representations of Jehovah and not some pagan deity (cf. Exo. 20:4-6; e.g., Exo. 32:4; I Kings 12:28). Micah is inventing his own worship and religion, and God is not pleased!
“Now there was a young man from Bethlehem in Judah, of the family of Judah; he was a Levite, and was staying there. The man departed from the city of Bethlehem in Judah to stay wherever he could find a place. Then he came to the mountains of Ephraim, to the house of Micah, as he journeyed. And Micah said to him, ‘Where do you come from?’ So he said to him, ‘I am a Levite from Bethlehem in Judah, and I am on my way to find a place to stay.’ Micah said to him, ‘Dwell with me, and be a father and a priest to me, and I will give you ten shekels of silver per year, a suit of clothes, and your sustenance.’ So the Levite went in. Then the Levite was content to dwell with the man; and the young man became like one of his sons to him. So Micah consecrated the Levite, and the young man became his priest, and lived in the house of Micah. Then Micah said, ‘Now I know that the LORD will be good to me, since I have a Levite as priest!'” (17:7-13).
Under the Mosaic law, the Levites were to be provided for indirectly, primarily through the sacrifices and offerings of the nation. Why is this young man out looking for work and a place to stay? The most likely answer is that much of the nation was not following the pattern of true worship God had set forth, and the young man’s needs are not being met. If true, this conveys much about the widespread nature of Israel’s spiritual decay. Micah invites this man to be a priest for him and a spiritual father. Micah will take care of him if he would be willing to worship as Micah prescribes. Evidently the young man lacked conviction for truth since he gladly agrees. Micah “consecrated” the man as a priest, not by God’s authority but by his own! He deceives himself into a false sense of security by thinking that now God will be pleased with him since he has a Levite for a priest. Micah evidently realizes that there is a pattern, and he wants to imitate it to the extent that it is convenient for him. He believed that rituals and forms of religion would bring him blessings, but he was mistaken (cf. I Sam. 15:22). This is tragically quite similar to the behavior of many today who want to live for themselves yet have a dose of Christianity on the side. It just doesn’t work that way, friends (cf. Matt. 6:33; 16:24)! God expects complete submission to His will!