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Judges 17:1 . A man of mount Ephraim, whose name was Micah. This was soon after the death of Joshua, says Josephus, and before the civil war with Benjamin.
Judges 17:2 . About which thou cursedst. See on Genesis 9:25.
Judges 17:4 . Two hundred shekels. The little idol would weigh about a hundred and twenty ounces; small indeed, but pregnant with the most disastrous consequences. Satan could not draw Micah to gross idolatry all at once, but was obliged to mask it with the worship of Jehovah.
Judges 17:5 . Ephod; in imitation of Aaron’s, or of Gideon’s. Teraphim; a human figure intended to resemble the angel of God. Michal, Saul’s daughter, put one of these into her bed, that it might be taken for David, in case Saul should send to kill him. 1 Samuel 19:13. To those idols the gentiles committed the care of their families, and consulted them on secret and future events; and vocal answers were sometimes returned. Zechariah 10:2. Ezekiel 21:21. So they joined the worship of God with that of devils; and they were not unfrequently deceived in the answers which Satan returned. Those penates or household gods, with other detestable consequences of idolatry, the good Josiah removed. 2 Kings 23:24. This Teraphim of Micah laid the foundation of Israel’s ruin. See Hosea 3:4. Micah consecrated one of his sons to be a priest; his firstborn, no doubt. Here was a total recession from the Mosaic law, to the patriarchal rights of the firstborn.
Judges 17:6 . No king in Israel; for they were all kings. This agrees best with an approximation to Samson’s times; or had it happened during the presidency of Othniel, he might have visited Micah’s house with a military force. The magistrate who is supine in the suppression of vice and irreligion betrays his country.
Idolatry, we here find, began in Israel by a superstitious woman, and was aided by an immoral son, who robbed his mother of all her hoarded wealth. The evil entered in the tribe of Ephraim; it was confirmed by Jeroboam; and never wholly eradicated till the Babylonians, and other previous visitations had exterminated, or nearly so, the whole of this great tribe; for we find no mention of Ephraim sealed in the seventh chapter of the Revelations. Truly the God of Israel kept faith with an apostate people, by inflicting upon them all the denunciations of his law. Idolatry originated also in covetousness, which is in itself an idolatry of a fatal kind. This superstitious woman, it is probable, oppressed her family to hoard up money. What a pity that any aged people should become more and more attached to the world, as the time approaches when they must leave it. How much does any inordinate passion, lurking in the heart, and fostered from youth, degrade old age.
This woman loved her hoard to so great an excess, that she cursed her own son as the thief for taking it away. And is it possible for the heart to become so deeply attached to earth? Surely then St. Paul has wisely said, that the covetous shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
Mark the arguments which operated on Micah to restore his mother’s plundered hoard. She cursed the thief; and conscious of his guilt, he feared the curse would fall upon him. She averred also that the crime was sacrilege, for she had devoted this money to the Lord; and he feared the more for the anger of heaven. Fear, combined with the power of conscience, is the most powerful motive of reforming the wicked; they can have no rest in their minds for secret wickedness, till confession and restitution are made.
Mark how Satan introduced idolatry into this family; it was by affecting to imitate the tabernacle in the ephod, and the teraphim. He would suggest to this woman that she was aged and infirm; that Shiloh, though not very distant, was yet too far for her to travel; that Laban had gods of this kind, Genesis 31:19; and that God would bless her in this way, as he had blessed the patriarchs. So this family would serve God for corn and wine. They would love him for his gifts, but not for himself. But how dreadful the crime, notwithstanding the ignorance of the times, to make an inroad on religion revealed from heaven, and figurative of the glory of Christ. How dreadful to violate the ritual law, accompanied with so many blessings, guarded by so many curses, and sealed by so many miracles.
The cause of sin being introduced, and not nipped in the bud, is ascribed to the want of a judge, and of vigour in the civil government. Every man did, not that which was right in the Lord’s eyes, but what was right in his own corrupt imagination. Had Moses been alive, he would have showed an indignation like that when the calf was made, or when Israel committed fornication with the women of Moab. Had Josiah now reigned, he would have visited this house with his guards, and either reformed or burnt it with fire. By the removal of this abomination in its infancy, Israel might have been saved from the curse which spread more and more till the nation was destroyed.
See lastly, how Micah was mistaken in his piety. “Now, I know that the Lord will do me good, seeing I have a levite for my priest.” No, Micah: thy soul shall be impoverished, and thy house robbed of its gold, and its gods. But had his piety been according to the will of God, blessed he surely would have been: for that house shall indeed be blessed where the fear and the worship of God are preserved.
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Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Judges 17". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19