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How Does False Worship Take Root: The Idols and Ephod of Micah

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How Does False Worship Take Root

the Idols and Ephod of Micah

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How Does False Worship Take Root: The Idols and Ephod of Micah

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From beginning to end God’s word tells us to be alert and on guard against false worship and false teaching. Judges 17 and 18 give us a case study on false worship and 6 lessons on how it takes root in our lives.

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How False Worship Takes Root

The book of Judges gives us insight into the struggles of Israel as they moved into the promised land. The central theme of Judges is confusion, and failure to fulfill the mandate of YHWH to move into the territory and drive out the present inhabitants [Canaanites]. We mostly learn about what went on in those days through the exploits of the judges and deliverers, Samson, Jephthah, Gideon etc. [the Great Man Theory of history].

But at the end of the book... starting with chapter 17... you'll find a series of episodes that give a glimpse into the spiritual and moral condition of the people in the towns and villages. Today we are going to read through the first of these episodes, which is found in chapters 17 and 18. The account of Micah, Jonathan, and the warriors of Dan.

I want to focus on: how false worship takes root. I’ll itemize these as a series of “lessons”

False Images of God Judges 17:1-6 Judges 17:1-6 [1] And there was a man of mount Ephraim, whose name was Micah. [2] And he said to his mother, The eleven hundred shekels of silver that were taken from you, about which you cursed, and spoke of also in my ears, behold, the silver is with me; I took it. And his mother said, Blessed be you of the LORD, my son. [3] And when he had restored the eleven hundred shekels of silver to his mother, his mother said, I had wholly dedicated the silver to the LORD from my hand for my son, to make a graven image and a molten image: now therefore I will restore it to you. [4] Yet he restored the money to his mother; and his mother took two hundred shekels of silver, and gave them to the founder, who made thereof a graven image and a molten image: and they were in the house of Micah. [5] And the man Micah had an house of gods, and made an ephod, and teraphim, and consecrated one of his sons, who became his priest. [6] In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes.
American King James Version×

From the beginning Micah is presented to us in an unfavorable light. He has stolen money from his mother. This is the sort of detail the OT writers include to show disapproval of what the person is up to. So, Micah is a thief... but that's a small thing compared to what he and his mother do next.

They melt down the metal and cast it into an idolatrous image... the phrase “cast idol” is often used in relation to making a "golden calf" [Good examples are Exodus 32 or 1 Kings 12:25-33 1 Kings 12:25-33 [25] Then Jeroboam built Shechem in mount Ephraim, and dwelled therein; and went out from there, and built Penuel. [26] And Jeroboam said in his heart, Now shall the kingdom return to the house of David: [27] If this people go up to do sacrifice in the house of the LORD at Jerusalem, then shall the heart of this people turn again to their lord, even to Rehoboam king of Judah, and they shall kill me, and go again to Rehoboam king of Judah. [28] Whereupon the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold, and said to them, It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem: behold your gods, O Israel, which brought you up out of the land of Egypt. [29] And he set the one in Bethel, and the other put he in Dan. [30] And this thing became a sin: for the people went to worship before the one, even to Dan. [31] And he made an house of high places, and made priests of the lowest of the people, which were not of the sons of Levi. [32] And Jeroboam ordained a feast in the eighth month, on the fifteenth day of the month, like to the feast that is in Judah, and he offered on the altar. So did he in Bethel, sacrificing to the calves that he had made: and he placed in Bethel the priests of the high places which he had made. [33] So he offered on the altar which he had made in Bethel the fifteenth day of the eighth month, even in the month which he had devised of his own heart; and ordained a feast to the children of Israel: and he offered on the altar, and burnt incense.
American King James Version×
]. In both these cases the idol made of molten metal is intended to represent YHWH. I believe this is the way it should be understood here in Judges as well. The summary provided in Judges 18:30 Judges 18:30And the children of Dan set up the graven image: and Jonathan, the son of Gershom, the son of Manasseh, he and his sons were priests to the tribe of Dan until the day of the captivity of the land.
American King James Version×
implies this as well.

The ephod was a special vest worn by the high priest of the tabernacle. Its function and meaning are not clearly spelled out in scripture… but they appear to be connected to the priestly activity of “inquiring of the Lord”.

Micah is not turning to other Gods... rather he is seeking to worship YHWH in false ways. Worship that 1) mixes with and mimics what the pagans are doing... 2) suits his own idea of how worship ought to be done... 3) violates YHWH's specific commands concerning acceptable worship [Exodus 20:4-6 Exodus 20:4-6 [4] You shall not make to you any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. [5] You shall not bow down yourself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; [6] And showing mercy to thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.
American King James Version×
, Deuteronomy 12:29-32 Deuteronomy 12:29-32 [29] When the LORD your God shall cut off the nations from before you, where you go to possess them, and you succeed them, and dwell in their land; [30] Take heed to yourself that you be not snared by following them, after that they be destroyed from before you; and that you inquire not after their gods, saying, How did these nations serve their gods? even so will I do likewise. [31] You shall not do so to the LORD your God: for every abomination to the LORD, which he hates, have they done to their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their gods. [32] What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: you shall not add thereto, nor diminish from it.
American King James Version×
].

Lesson 1: false worship begins with an improper image and understanding of God.. the who, the what, the when, the where. Using a golden calf to represent YHWH typifies this problem. The modern day equivalent to this is the teaching of the trinity… which is a source of confusion that goes way beyond what God actually says.

Worship Without Unity Judges 17:5-6 Judges 17:5-6 [5] And the man Micah had an house of gods, and made an ephod, and teraphim, and consecrated one of his sons, who became his priest. [6] In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes.
American King James Version×

Micah makes a place where he can worship in his own home [shrine], he makes a fake ephod and ordains his own son his priest. There are three major problems here:

  1. The proper place for him to go worship and inquire of YHWH is the tabernacle in Shiloh.
  2. Exodus 28 and 29 tell us only Aaron and is descendants were to be consecrated as priests. The ephod was for them to wear and no one else. The true priest of YHWH was to serve in the tabernacle located in the place God would designate
  3. Micah also mixes in some idols [teraphim = household gods, which are probably pagan]. These violate the 1st commandment.

 The whole set-up appears to be a creation of his own imagination built to serve his own needs.

In making his own household religion and making his son the priest, Micah is rejecting YHWH's authority... his so called "priest" will really be subject to Micah... they want to fool themselves that they are inquiring of YHWH and seeking His will... but really they are trying to force YHWH's stamp of approval on what they do. All the while doing what the please rather than God’s will.

The phrase everyone does as he saw fit reminds us of Deuteronomy 12:9-11 Deuteronomy 12:9-11 [9] For you are not as yet come to the rest and to the inheritance, which the LORD your God gives you. [10] But when you go over Jordan, and dwell in the land which the LORD your God gives you to inherit, and when he gives you rest from all your enemies round about, so that you dwell in safety; [11] Then there shall be a place which the LORD your God shall choose to cause his name to dwell there; thither shall you bring all that I command you; your burnt offerings, and your sacrifices, your tithes, and the heave offering of your hand, and all your choice vows which you vow to the LORD:
American King James Version×
.
 YHWH gave very specific instructions: he wanted them to gather together in the place He chose. YHWH was the true king of Israel... but it says here "there was no king in Israel" at that time because people would not accept God's terms of engagement… or accept His authority. God is not your king unless you do what He says.

Lesson 2: false worship begins when we put aside God's authoritative words on how He wants things  done and replace them with our own... no matter how "Christian, or spiritual" we make stuff look if we are not doing what God clearly says to do, we are looking for trouble.

Corrupting the Ministry Judges 17:7-12 Judges 17:7-12 [7] And there was a young man out of Bethlehemjudah of the family of Judah, who was a Levite, and he sojourned there. [8] And the man departed out of the city from Bethlehemjudah to sojourn where he could find a place: and he came to mount Ephraim to the house of Micah, as he journeyed. [9] And Micah said to him, From where come you? And he said to him, I am a Levite of Bethlehemjudah, and I go to sojourn where I may find a place. [10] And Micah said to him, Dwell with me, and be to me a father and a priest, and I will give you ten shekels of silver by the year, and a suit of apparel, and your victuals. So the Levite went in. [11] And the Levite was content to dwell with the man; and the young man was to him as one of his sons. [12] And Micah consecrated the Levite; and the young man became his priest, and was in the house of Micah.
American King James Version×

According to God's instruction the Levites were dispersed across the nation to serve the people and promote the ways of God on a local level. The Levite here has left his assignment looking for a better set-up... what we learn about him in chapter 18 confirms that he's willing to minister to whoever is the highest bidder [this approach to ministry is "the error of Balaam"]. Also, in chapter 18 we find out this Levite is a descendant of Moses… so he’s a minor celebrity!

For obvious reasons, Micah is pleased to get this Levite on board as priest. Having an actual Levite as priest will improve the credibility of this humanly devised worship of YHWH, especially a man from a prestigious family… Micah is willing to pay very well for the added prestige… and because Micah's still writing the checks his priest will be subject to him.

The whole OT system of ordination based on family lineage and the use of tithing would have the effect of making the priesthood independent of the wealthy and powerful, an not based on popularity. Churches were the members select their won minister and directly pay them have a built in conflict of interest… the United Church of God uses a system of appointment and indirect payment through tithing which avoids that conflict.

Lesson 3: false worship begins when people begin searching around for other ministers who will teach what they want to hear.

Micah also seems to think that lavishing lots of money on this project will give him favor with God. But he is wrong... praising God is nice but what God really wants is obedience [1 Samuel 15:22-23 1 Samuel 15:22-23 [22] And Samuel said, Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams. [23] For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has also rejected you from being king.
American King James Version×
].

Lesson 4: false worship begins when lavish display and praise are used to cover over disobedience; music, decorations, facilities etc.

Dan Makes a Plan Judges 18:1-6 Judges 18:1-6 [1] In those days there was no king in Israel: and in those days the tribe of the Danites sought them an inheritance to dwell in; for to that day all their inheritance had not fallen to them among the tribes of Israel. [2] And the children of Dan sent of their family five men from their coasts, men of valor, from Zorah, and from Eshtaol, to spy out the land, and to search it; and they said to them, Go, search the land: who when they came to mount Ephraim, to the house of Micah, they lodged there. [3] When they were by the house of Micah, they knew the voice of the young man the Levite: and they turned in thither, and said to him, Who brought you here? and what make you in this place? and what have you here? [4] And he said to them, Thus and thus deals Micah with me, and has hired me, and I am his priest. [5] And they said to him, Ask counsel, we pray you, of God, that we may know whether our way which we go shall be prosperous. [6] And the priest said to them, Go in peace: before the LORD is your way wherein you go.
American King James Version×

The men of Dan are having a hard time establishing themselves in the territory allotted to them by God [a nice parcel of land right in the middle of Israel]. At this time the people of Dan are hiding in the hills conducting guerrilla warfare against the Philistines. {A more thorough record of these troubles are found in the record of Samson's period of judgement].

So, the men of Dan send spies out to find easier pickin's somewhere else!

This seemingly trivial detail about the sending out of spies is an interesting literary allusion to further indicate disap proval of what these people were doing: just as the spies Joshua sent into Jericho ended up in a house of prostitution [Rehab's Inn]... these spies from the tribe of Dan end up in a house of spiritual prostitution... Micah's house! Judges 8:27 Judges 8:27And Gideon made an ephod thereof, and put it in his city, even in Ophrah: and all Israel went thither a whoring after it: which thing became a snare to Gideon, and to his house.
American King James Version×
the use of a false ephod is specifically referred to as prostitution.

What these men of Dan are planning to do is not part of the commission God gave them. God had spelled out the lands they were given, told them He would support them, and commanded them to go forth. But... they are struggling... mostly through their own lack of faithfulness towards God [as noted in the record of Samson]... and so, Dan comes up with an alternate plan.

Just as Micah's household shrine sought the appearance of credibility through installing a high profile   Levite as priest... the Danites seek the authority and blessing of this illegitimate priest. Using his bogus ephod and assorted teraphim idols he tells them "God is with you"… which I’m sure pleased the men of Dan!

Note: this proclamation by a false priest should not be accepted as a record of YHWH's actual approval of their plan... rather based on the circumstances it should be seen as activity which the scriptures disapprove!

Lesson 5: false worship [false teaching] begins when someone has already decided in their heart what they want to do... then goes looking for some sort of proof that its God's will. Once again, this could be:

  1. searching about for a self proclaimed minister who agrees...
  2. perhaps plucking some proof text from the bible… taking it out of context… and using it to validate a plan you already had in mind...
  3. example of fasting?

Adding to God's Commands Judges 18:11-2 Judges 18:11-2
American King James Version×
5

The warriors of Dan set out to attack and take over Laish which is at the very northern tip of the promised land. To my eyes it appears to be territory outside the lands God promised Israel [refer to map].  

… the main point is THIS WAS NOT PART OF THEIR COMMISSION…. instead of fulfilling their original mandate [which was down in the middle of the promised land] they went somewhere else.

Notice also that the Levite who Micah installed as priest is pleased to go where the money and prestige are.

This whole project cooked up  by the Danites is cast in a very negative way by the writer who put the book of Judges together.

Lesson 6: false worship [and teaching] begin when we add to what God has commanded with concepts and ideas of our own imagination. I believe more deception and error is created by "adding" to God's word than by "taking away". Although both are wrong.

Judges 18:27-31 

The scripture emphasizes that the people of Laish are "peaceful and unsuspecting”, isolated from the powerful towns, secure, and prosperous. The description makes them sound like the innocent victims who are treated badly by the vicious warriors of Dan.

Another possible indication that what the warriors of Dan were up to was problematic is the conspicuous absence of any reference to God's influence, guidance, or presence with these people when the attacked Laish… the only guidance they get is from the false priest who is mixing idolatry in with look-alike copies of true YHWH worship.

The summarizing statements about this episode is that the false worship and the false priesthood set up in Laish… were the precursor to the "sins of Jeroboam" who divided the kingdom after the days of king Solomon, formally instituted the image of the golden calf, changed the dates of God’s appointed feast, and appointed a completely bogus priesthood filled by men who were looking for easy money.

Here is where we learn that he Levite in question here happens to be one of the grandsons of Moses...

Conclusion:

Dan's false worship center was done in defiance of God... it was a system of human design... human reasoning from start to finish... and so it is with most false worship and false teaching.

False worship stems from a false understanding of who and what God is… from replacing god’s instructions with ideas of our own… from searching for ministry who will tel us what we want to hear… from substituting lavish display for obedience… from using scripture to validate ideas of our own imagination… and from adding to what God says

From beginning to end God’s word tells us to be alert and on guard against false worship and false teaching. I hope this helps.