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The high demand for false religion

May 3, 2010

Judges 17-18 chronicles a fairly obscure, and, I’ve always thought, slightly weird, account of the lengths to which people will go in their attempts to create God in their own image. Take this guy Micah. He steals 1,100 shekels from his mother, and she blesses him. It strikes me that he’s kind of used to getting his own way. His mom had already planned to dedicate the money to making a carved image and molded image for her son to worship, when the money was apparently stolen. So the fact that her son had stolen the money was merely efficient.

But Micah returned the money to his mother, who in turn gave part of it to a silversmith and commissioned the idols. Micah procured a shrine and an ephod, consecrated one of his sons to be a priest, and he was all set to worship the god of his wishful imagination.

A Levite showed up, and Micah made the Levite an offer he couldn’t refuse, and now he really had something enviable: a member of the priestly tribe of the Levites, consecrated, no less, by Micah himself; a shrine, an official ephod, and some genuine silver household idols. The mind reels at all the power he must have believed he now had over God.

Some Danites came along and, not to be outdone by an untalented Ephraimite, robbed Micah of the (perhaps stupidly grinning?) idols and had no trouble convincing the Levite that he would be a better priest to the lot of them than just to Micah and his household. After all, a bigger church is always a better church. It was like a promotion for the Levite. The Danites were fairly persuasive, threatening to kill Micah and everyone in his household if he didn’t turn over the goods.

False religion has always been an in-demand commodity. It’s fairly cheap because it requires so little effort. Its hallmarks are the downplaying of God’s glory and sovereignty, and the minimizing of man’s sinfulness.

“But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.” (John 3:21, NKJV)

  1. Vic permalink
    May 3, 2010 2:32 pm

    Yes, that is a weird story, but seemingly not that unusual.

    “Then said Micah, Now know I that the LORD will do me good, seeing I have a Levite to my priest.”

    Poor Micah found out the hazards of interpreting Providence to be God’s blessing and approval.

  2. Heidi permalink
    May 3, 2010 5:18 pm

    Lauren, we are just reading this story now in our evening reading (I haven’t read it in such a long time, that I actually don’t know how it ends — so I’ve only read one half this post, not to spoil the plot): however we also thought it quite possible that this mother was one of those foolish fond doting souls whose child can do no wrong so long as he emerged from her own womb — but her son got so terribly creeped out (being obviously the superstitiously religious sort) by the curse she unknowingly pronounced on him, that he was tormented until he returned it. She then tells him she dedicated all of it for him to make idols with, he pushes it back (probably feeling that it’s ‘cursed’) and she gives merely a tithe of it after all to a false god (so convenient is false religion after all). The whole scene is a bit comical. But her son still has this idea of being cursed hanging over him, and he keeps trying to set himself right — he’s so relieved to have an actual Levite because surely *now* he’s free of that darn curse with this ‘official’ symbol of spiritual blessing! It really is such a terribly telling story about our own attempts to reverse the curse and earn God’s blessing. At least so it seemed last night. I can’t wait to find out what happens this evening — Ruben asked me innocently why I thought *anything happened next*. HA! I was clinging to my pillow for fear of sudden lightning bolts frying everyone in the passage.

    I am trying to be very good and stay quietly in my very own reader, but (logs complaint) I cannot get your whole posts in my reader now, & naturally, hence, my foray onto this public forum :-) (I just thought it too neat that you blogged about this the very day I am on tenterhooks and needles to find out how it all ends . . . )

  3. May 3, 2010 5:45 pm

    Heidi, I had some Freudian interpretations going, but decided to stick with just the facts, ma’am.

    I wonder what the Original Blessing people do with this.

  4. May 4, 2010 6:36 am

    Just a note that I loved the rest of the story — it actually made me laugh out loud: it was better than lightning. It seems like the perfect comic interlude of people behaving exactly as people do, greedy and selfish, unjust, foolish, ambitious, vaguely troubled in conscience and trying to soothe fears with formalities, uninterested in righteousness but with a high regard for ‘religion’ — fighting over images of the supernatural they can carry around under their arms and a representative of the supernatural who can be ordered to shut up if he says anything inconvenient — and what they never seem to notice in all the squabbling over the deity, with the perfectly predictable outcome of might, ruthlessness, and personal advantage making ‘right’ — *nothing supernatural ever happens*. It’s such a perfect comment on the futility of false religion, in every way — Ruben & I thought it would make a great play :-) I do feel genuinely sorry for Micah, whose surety of blessing was so easily taken from him.

  5. May 4, 2010 9:19 am

    I find it significant that chapters 18 and 19 — chapters 19 and 20 deal with the rape and resulting death of the Levite’s concubine and the retaliation against the tribe of Benjamin — both begin with the reminder that there was in those days no king in Israel. And it isn’t the case, of course, that the period of time during which there were kings in Israel was peaceful and lawful, either. I think that is probably why I find Question 26 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism such a heartbreakingly wonderful breakthrough: “Christ executeth the office of a king, in subduing us to himself, in ruling and defending us, and in restraining and conquering all his and our enemies.”

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