Bible Commentaries

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable

Judges 17

Verses 1-6

Micah"s unlawful worship17:1-6

The writer told us nothing about Micah"s background, except that he originally lived in the Hill Country of Ephraim, with or near his mother ( Judges 17:1-2). Micah"s name means "Who is like Yahweh." As is true of so many details in this story, Micah"s name is ironic. He was anything but like Yahweh. The fact that Micah"s mother blessed him in the name of Yahweh creates a positive impression, but other features of the story demonstrate that her veneer of orthodox Yahwism was extremely thin.

Micah was a thief who stole a fortune from his own mother. The amount of silver he stole could have sustained one person for a lifetime in Israel (cf. Judges 17:10). Apparently he confessed his theft because he feared his mother"s curse ( Judges 17:2). Instead of cursing him she blessed him, a very unusual reaction in view of the amount of money involved. Perhaps she believed that her blessing would undo her previous curse. [Note: Wolf, p481.] Micah"s mother then claimed to dedicate all1,100 pieces of the recovered silver to Yahweh. However she gave only200 pieces to a silversmith to make an image. The Lydians first produced coined money in the sixth century B.C. Therefore these were not1,100 silver coins but1,100 measures of silver. The writer did not identify how much silver was in each measure, but this was a fortune by any estimate. [Note: See The New Bible Dictionary, 1962ed, s.v. "Money," by A. F. Walls.] She stole from God as her son had stolen from her. Micah had evidently learned dishonesty at home.

The "graven image" (Heb. pesel) was apparently the idol, and the "molten image" (massekah) was its base. Both of these words occur at the head of the list of curses ( Deuteronomy 27:15) to describe what the law forbade making for idolatrous purposes. The Hebrew word that describes the graven image occurs almost exclusively in relation to the golden calves that Aaron made ( Exodus 32:4) and King Jeroboam made ( 1 Kings 12:28-30). Micah"s mother evidently intended this image to represent either Yahweh or the animal on which pagan people visualized gods standing. [Note: See Amihai Mazar, "Bronze Bull Found in Israelite "High Place" From the Time of the Judges," Biblical Archaeology Review9:5 (September-October1983):34-40; Hershel Shanks, "Two Early Israelite Cult Sites Now Questioned," Biblical Archaeology Review14:1 (January-February1988):48-52; and Amihai Mazar, "On Cult Places and Early Israelites: A Response to Michael Coogan," Biblical Archaeology Review15:4 (July-August1988):45.]

"The gods were often depicted as standing, or more rarely sitting, on the back of a bull, which by its strength and power of fertility well represented the essence of the nature cults." [Note: Cundall and Morris, p184.]

Obviously Micah and his mother were either ignorant of, or more probably chose to disregard, God"s law against making graven images ( Exodus 20:4; Exodus 20:23; Deuteronomy 4:16). They also seem to have been unaware of, or unconcerned about, Israel"s tragic experience with the golden calf at Mt. Sinai ( Exodus 32:19-35).

"Micah and his mother are sharply distinguished from Samson and his mother [and even more from Samuel and his mother] by their materialism and idolatry. Here there is no evidence of the presence or call of the Spirit in their lives." [Note: Lewis, p88.]

God commanded the Israelites not to multiply sanctuaries in Canaan ( Deuteronomy 12:1-14), but Micah built one in or near his house ( Judges 17:5). He did not need to do this because he lived close to Shiloh, where the tabernacle stood (cf. Judges 17:1; Judges 18:31). In his convenient shrine Micah kept an ephod that he had made, probably for divination (cf. Gideon"s ephod, Judges 8:27). This was evidently an imitation of the high priest"s ephod (cf. Judges 8:27). He also kept household gods that probably had some connection with ancestor veneration and divination (cf. Genesis 31:19). [Note: Davis and Whitcomb, p144.] He also disregarded the Aaronic priesthood by ordaining his son as the family priest.

"The by-passing of the Levitical priesthood by Micah may be due either to a breakdown in the distribution of the Levites amongst the community or to an overlooking, wilful [sic] or ignorant, of the provisions of the law." [Note: Cundall and Morris, p185.]

The writer explained editorially that there was no king in Israel at this time and everyone did as he pleased ( Judges 17:6). That is the reason Micah could get away with such flagrantly disobedient behavior. Even though there was not yet a human king, Yahweh reigned as Israel"s monarch from heaven. Since His people paid no attention to His authority by disregarding His Law, Israel was practically without a king. Kings enforce standards, but in Israel the people were setting their own standards.

Verses 1-13

1. The idolatry of Micah ch17

The story of Micah (ch17) introduces the account of the setting up of image worship in the North (ch18).

Verses 7-13

Micah"s Levite17:7-13

Judges 17:1-6 stress the sin of self-styled worship. Judges 17:7-13 emphasize the folly of self-determined service.

The writer did not call the young Levite who came to live with Micah a priest. He was evidently not a descendant of Aaron, though he was from the tribe of Levi. The Levites were, of course, living throughout Israel having received no tribal allotment of land but only cities within the territories of the other tribes. This young man had been living in Bethlehem of Judah, which was not a Levitical city ( Judges 17:7). His disregard for God"s will is obvious in his choice to live somewhere other than where God told the Levites to live (cf. Judges 17:6).

"Unlike Abraham, who also set out for an unknown destination but who went with a keen sense of the calling of God, this person is shiftless. He has no passion for God, no sense of divine calling, no burden of responsibility. He is a "laid back" professional minister following the path of least resistance and waiting for an opportunity to open up." [Note: Block, Judges . . ., p487.]

This young Levite decided to move elsewhere and during his travels met Micah who, desiring to "upgrade" his priesthood, invited him to live with him and become a priest to his family. Micah had been content to have his son function as his family priest, but a genuine Levite would be even better, Micah thought. Family priests had passed out of existence in Israel since God had set the tribe of Levi aside for priestly service ( Exodus 32:28-29; cf. Numbers 3:12-13). Since Micah promised to support him financially, the Levite agreed to the arrangement that Micah proposed, which involved being a spiritual adviser to his patron. Micah proceeded to set the young man apart to his service ( Judges 17:12) and superstitiously concluded that Yahweh would bless him since he had a Levite as his priest ( Judges 17:13). He was wrong, as the following chapter shows.

"The apostasy of the Judges period, according to this chapter, was characterized by three observable trends1. Religious syncretism ( Judges 17:1-5).... 2. Moral relativism ( Judges 17:6).... 3. Extreme materialism ( Judges 17:7-13)." [Note: Davis and Whitcomb, pp143-45.]

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Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Judges 17". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". 2012.