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Bible Commentaries
Judges 17

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

Verses 1-13

Judges 17:1-13


Micah’s mother

In the second verse of this chapter Micah makes a clean confession of a great wrong which he had done to his mother. “It seems,” says Matthew Henry, “that this old woman, with long scraping and saving, had hoarded a considerable sum of money--eleven hundred pieces of silver. It is likely she intended, when she died, to leave it to this son. In the meantime, it did her good to count it over and call it her own.” On discovering that she had been relieved of her treasure, Micah’s mother became justly indignant. She scolded and called down curses on the one who had robbed her. This she did in her son’s presence, and though she made no direct charge of the offence upon him, her conduct greatly disturbed his conscience. Some time later he made an open acknowledgment to his mother of the whole matter, and restored the stolen treasure. The reappearance of the lost shekels had a remarkably soothing effect on her disposition. She forgot all about the wrong done to her, and all about her own distemper. “Blessed be thou of the Lord, my son,” said this forgiving mother. Is it not wonderful what a difference a little money makes in one’s disposition and feelings? She who could curse at its loss now as readily blesses with its return. One can imagine a very different state of things had Micah come to her with his confession, but without the eleven hundred pieces of silver. Note now another incident in this transaction. After this money had been stolen Micah’s mother gave as one reason for feeling so badly that “she had dedicated it wholly to the Lord.” When she had it in her possession she had not the heart to do this, but as soon as it was gone she made known her good intentions. For some reason Micah was moved to restore to his mother the money which belonged to her. What did she do with it? Did she give it to the Lord; according to her reported oath of dedication? The record shows she gave to Him but the veriest part of it. Nine hundred shekels she kept for herself. The remaining two hundred she devoted to religious uses. What a picture in this conduct of Micah and his mother of poor, weak, vacillating, human nature, sinning and confessing, cursing and blessing, as circumstances determine! “What wonder,” says Matthew Henry, “that such a mother had such a son! She paved the way for his theft, by her probable stinginess.” In her poverty she professed generous feeling towards the Lord’s cause. When her money came back, she gave to it less than one-fifth of the all she had promised. (W. H. Allbright.)

There was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes.


At the first, one would think that it were a merry world if every man might do what he listed. But yet sure those days were evil. This, a complaint. To let you see, then, what a monster lurketh under these smooth terms, “doing that which is right in our eyes.” Two parts there be, the eye, and the hand. To begin with the eye, and that which is right in the eye. There began all evil in the first temptation--even from this persuasion, they should need no direction from God, or from any; their own eye should be their director to what was right. Three evils are in it. It is not safe to commit the judgment of what is right to the eye; and yet it is our surest sense, as that which apprehendeth greatest variety of differences. But I know withal, the optics (the masters of that faculty) reckon up twenty several ways, all which it may be and is deceived. The object full of deceit; things are not as they seem. The medium is not evenly disposed. Take but one: that of the oar in the water. Though the oar be straight, yet, if the eye be judge, it seemeth bowed. And if that which is right may seem crooked, that which is crooked may seem right.. So the eye is no competent judge. But admit we will make the eye judge, yet not every man’s eye; that were too much. Many weak and dim eyes there be, many goggle and mis-set; many little better than blind; shall all and every of these be allowed to define what is right? Some, it may be (perhaps the eagle), but shall the owl and all? I trow not. Many mis-shapen kinds of right shall we have if that may be suffered. We all know self-love, what a thing it is, how it dazzleth the sight; how everything appeareth right and good that appeareth through those spectacles. Therefore, not right by the eye. At least, not every man’s eye. Nay, not any man is right by his own eye. I now pass to the next point. Here is a hand, too. For here at this breaketh in the whole sea of confusion, when the hand followeth the eye, and men proceed to do as lewdly as they see perversely. And sure the hand will follow the eye, and men do as seemeth right to them, be it never so absurd.

1. Micah liked an idol well; Micah had a good purse; he told out two hundred shekels, and so up went the idol.

2. The men of Dan liked well of spoiling; they were well appointed, their swords were sharp; they did it.

3. They of Gibeah, to their lust, rape seemed a small matter; they were a multitude, no resisting them; and so they committed that abominable villainy. But what, shall this be suffered and no remedy sought? God forbid. First, the eye, error in the eye, is harm enough; and order must be taken even for that. For men do not err in judgment but with hazard of their souls; very requisite, therefore, that men be travailed with, that they may see their own blindness. But, if they be strongly conceited of their own sight, and will not endure any to come near their eyes: if we cannot cure their eyes, what, shall we not hold their hands neither? Yes, in any wise. We see, then, the malady; more than time we sought out a remedy for it. That shall we best do if we know the cause. The cause is here set down. If the cause be there is no king, let there be one: that is the remedy. A good king will help all, if it be of absolute necessity that neither Micah, for all his wealth, nor Dan, for all their forces, nor Gibeah, for all their multitude, do what they list. This is then God’s means. We cannot say His only means, in that there are states that subsist without them, but this we may say, His best means--the best for order, peace, strength, steadiness. The next point is, no king in Israel. That this is not noted as a defect in gross, or at large, but even in Israel, God’s own chosen people. It is a want, not in Edom or Canaan, but even in Israel. Truly Israel, being God’s own peculiar people, might seem to claim a prerogative above other nations, in this, that they had the knowledge of His laws, whereby their eyes were lightened and their hands taught. Of which there needeth no reason but this: that a king is a good means to keep them God’s Israel. Here, for want of a king, Israel began, and was fair onward, to be no longer Israel, but even Babel. I come to the third part: and to what end a king? What will a king do unto us? He will in his general care look to both parts, the eye and the hand--the eye, that men sin not blindly for want of direction; the hand, that men sin not with a high hand for want of correction. But this is not all; the text carrieth us yet further--that it is not only the charge of the king, but the very first article in his charge. (Bp. Andrewes.)


The tragical antecedent: In those days there was no king in Israel.

The terrible consequent: Every one did that which was right in their own eyes.

The infallible connection between that cause and this effect. (Thos. Cartwright, D. D.)

The evil of unbridled liberty

To live as we please would be the ready way to lose our liberty, and undo ourselves. Tyranny itself were infinitely more tolerable than such an unbridled liberty. For that, like a tempest, might throw down here and there a fruitful tree, but this, like a deluge, would sweep away all before it. Many men, many minds, and each strongly addicted to his own. If, therefore, every man should be his own judge, so as to take upon him to determine his own right, and according to such determination to proceed in the maintenance of it, not only the government, but the kingdom itself would quickly come to ruin; and yet admit of the former, and you cannot exclude the latter. Diseases in the eye, errors in the judgment, are dangerous; and there being not one reason in us, there is the more need of one power over us. Yet they who see amiss, hurt none, they say, but themselves; but how if their unquiet opinions will not be kept at home? but prove as thorns in their sides, and will not suffer them to take any rest, till from liberty of thinking, they come to liberty of acting! Nor is there any reason we should be lawless, to do what we please, for we cannot fathom the depth and deceitfulness of our own hearts, much less of the hearts of other men. Only this we know, we are all the worse for that which we mistake for liberty (mistake, I say), for to live as we please is indeed to lose our liberty, of which the law is so far from being an abridgement that it is the only firm foundation upon which it must be built. (Thos. Cartwright, D. D.)

The Levite was content.--

The young Levite; or, rich content

His morals were bad, but his spirit of general contentedness was good. Can it be said of men now that they are content? How much unrest is there all around us! The discontented spirit is easily discovered. The merchant, in his office or on the market, makes certain profits, but frets himself that he has not made more. The tradesman bitterly complains of the badness of trade, and the artisan of slackness of work. When he has succeeded in finding employment he will be found quarrelling with the rate of payment. Nor is the discontented spirit confined to the town; it is found in rural districts too. Speak with the occupier, and what a string of complaints he has about home or weather; speak with the wife, and she complains of her wayward family; with the son, and you find that he is weary of country life, and longs for the excitement of a city; with the daughter, and she is annoyed that school life has to be followed by what she terms “home drudgery.” You may go away from such a place of beauty in complete disgust. The appearances have completely belied the reality. Even the Indian, for whom a blanket and weapon would appear to suffice, is ofttimes discontented because game is scarce or his maize plot unproductive. It is difficult to find any person who is without some reason for discontent, or any position which places a man beyond its reach. The joy of the early Church (Acts 2:46) grew out of its contentedness. Its first experience of the results of religion was so joyous that it was a foretaste of millennial bliss. It lasted, unfortunately, too short a time, and yet long enough to show what should be the ideal of life.

1. This “simplicity of heart,” this contentedness of mind, is not always inherited, does not always come by nature, but may be obtained. It can only come fully when the heart is at peace with God through Christ. The man is “alive to God.” He gives all his affection to God, because he lives in the love which God has to him. His greatest desire is to have his whole nature subdued to Christ, and serve Him in “singleness of heart.”

2. Again, this state is not one which comes to all suddenly. Indeed, it comes to most gradually. Paul, the apostle, only attained it by degrees.

3. There is a temporary advantage in discontent. But for dissatisfaction with our spiritual state and progress, we should not strive to make any advance.

4. Look at some of the results which follow the attaimnent of the contented spirit.

(1) There will be a readiness to make the best of any position in which we may be placed. There was a schoolmaster among the Cumberland Hills, of whom Robertson speaks in one of his lectures--a man who rested content with a very small school, small salary, and small house; though his abilities would have obtained for him a position much higher in the eyes of the world, but who refused every inducement to remove. He said, “I reckon that the privilege of living amid beautiful scenery much more than compensates for a large salary with work in the stifling atmosphere of some town.” It is possible, therefore, to gain contentedness in respect to position, and the more surely if we can have the assurance that Christ has taken up His abode in our hearts.

(2) Where this spirit obtains, there will be a more cheerful view of life cherished. A little girl once inquired, “Mamma, did the cheerful God make all the beautiful flowers?” The child’s idea of God was far higher than of many Christians. Her expression, which was apparently bold, was one indicative of sweet simplicity and “singleness of heart.” Would that we could be in spirit as that little child.

(3) Where this spirit of content obtains, there will be a more earnest performance of any duty that may fall upon us. That which our hands find to do we shall do with our might. We shall ever search out occasions of usefulness. If we see any wrong, we shall not be content to let it rest. If we see ignorance and sin around, we shall strive to remove it.

(4) Where there is this rich content and true “singleness of heart” there will be a clearer and yet clearer perception of God’s truth and will. There is a clearness of vision following on “singleness” of desire.

(5) Moreover, there will be perfect willingness to leave everything in God’s hands. Much of the fret and worry of life will thus be saved. (F. Hastings.)

Micah consecrated the Levite.--

An unauthorised ordination; or, a pastor-elect’s recognition services

The pastor.

1. A recognised minister.

2. Without a charge.

3. Very poor.

4. In search of a ministry.

5. Of a good character.

6. A young pastor.

The call.

1. Its nature.

(1) To a small church.

(2) Unanimous.

(3) With little inquiries.

(4) Upon his own merit.

(5) By a very rich church.

2. Its condition.

(1) Much respected.

(2) Poor stipend.

The acceptance of the call.

1. Immediate.

2. Without a scruple.

The recognition service.

1. An unauthorised ordination.

2. Without any ceremony.

3. With a good purpose.

The great satisfaction of the church in their choice. (M. Jones.)

Now know I that the Lord will do me good.--

The great religious want and mistake of humanity

. The great religious want of humanity.

1. A friendly relation with the Eternal.

2. Some mediator to procure this friendship.

The great religious mistake of humanity. This man concludes that he shall obtain the Divine favour simply because he has a priest in his house. He may have drawn this false and dangerous conclusion from one of the following popular assumptions:

1. That there was something morally meritorious in merely supporting a minister of the Lord.

2. That the priest would have some special power with Heaven to obtain “good.”

3. That by his formally attending to the religious ordinances which this Levite prescribed “the Lord would do him good.” (Homilist.)

Micah and the Levite

Selfishness in religion. This lies at the foundation of Micah’s trouble. The institution of Micah’s new form of worship had its root in this vice. He did not break away from the old form of things because he was dissatisfied with it, but because it caused self-denial and money to support the established order of worship at Shiloh. It took time to go up there, and means to convey himself and family. Why could he not manage the matter more economically and just as satisfactorily at home, and thus avoid the annoyance and expense? Many a man has made this mistake of Micah, in think- ing he could worship God as acceptably in his own way as in any other--in thinking there is no difference between a man-made and a Divinely-appointed religion. In Micah’s case selfishness defeated itself, as it does invariably. In departing from the true religion he soon came to have no religion at all. And is not this the inevitable course of religious declension? If I could paint a picture that would preach a sermon, it would be Micah running after his gods and his renegade priest, and crying: “Ye have taken away my gods and my priest, and what have I more?“

Imitation in religion. Micah’s worship was a cross between Judaism and heathenism. He had the priest and the ephod on one side, and the molten and graven images on the other. Either he did not perceive the incongruity, or he thought it would make no difference. Some form of worship he considered a necessity. He was not ready to throw religion overboard. His difficulty was in thinking it made little difference after all what kind of religion a man has so long as he has some form of worship. Having no true idea as to the place of worship, he came soon to have no true idea of worship itself. This is a natural order of declension. Men nowadays break away from the sanctuary, not meaning to give up all religion. Having no stated place of worship, they go here and there for a time, and then cease to go altogether. Breaking with the established order of worship, Micah manufactured a worship of his own. He mistook the sign for the thing signified. His religion was an imitation--a counterfeit--and a counterfeit is more or less a copy of the genuine. Many a man has made this mistake of Micah, in thinking that some religion was better than none--that a poor thing was better than nothing at all. Counterfeits and shams abound in religion. Imitations and incongruities are seen on every hand. One is forced to inquire, “Is there anything real and genuine?” Is every man the maker of his own idols? Is each and every one to be guided by his own ideas of worship? God forbid! If it be so, then unity is impossible, and confusion and bitterness and babble are the inevitable sequence.

Self-complacency. With his young priest and his heathen gods Micah was satisfied. Because he was, he thought God would be. Hence his complacent utterance: “Now know I that the Lord will do me good, seeing I have a Levite to my priest.” We have seen, even in our day, instances not altogether dissimilar. Families depending on the orthodoxy of the Church for the Divine approbation; Churches expecting all will go well from the ecclesiastical standing or ordination vows of their ministers. How often families and Churches and ministers have been disappointed! The truth is, there can be but one way of securing God’s blessing, whether for the individual, the family, or the Church. That one way is the way of loving and faithful obedience to His requirements. Not what we think, but what He thinks; not what we consider best, but what He commands, is our duty and happiness. Religion is not a human invention, but a Divine obligation. It is not a matter of mental caprice, but of joyful submission to the will of Heaven. (W. H. Allbright.)


Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Judges 17". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/judges-17.html. 1905-1909. New York.
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