Religious Dysfuntion in Canaan | part 2

Judges 17:1-6

In part one of this short study we took a look at some history in order to be able to better take these two chapters in context. After Joshua and the elders of His generation passed away, there arose a new generation which practiced evil, they worshiped the gods of the very people God had commanded Israel to drive out (remember due to the wickedness of the land before God). Due to Israel’s disobedience God allowed the pagan nations that were left to remain in order to test or prove Israel (Judges 3:1-4). When God allows us to be tested the true nature of our hearts, our motivations, are revealed. Do we truly want to follow God and cling to Him with all of our hearts and minds like Joshua 23:8 reminds us or do the things and circumstances of this world draw us away? When Israel failed to obey God they opened themselves up to a myriad of temptations.

“I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land I swore to give to your ancestors. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you, and you shall not make a covenant with the people of this land, but you shall break down their altars.’ Yet you have disobeyed me. Why have you done this? So now I say, I will not drive them out from before you; but they shall be as thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare to you. Judges 2:2-3

Between the beginning of Judges and chapter 17 many years of history are recorded, God raised up many judges (Othneil, Ehud, Deborah, Gideon, Tola, Jair, Jephthah, Ibzan, Elon, Abdon and Samson) and the people had pretty much continued on a cycle of playing the harlot by worshiping false gods, suffering the consequences and then crying out to God which is when He would deliver them with a judge, they would continue serving Him until the judge died then again they’d be ensnared by the idol worship and suffer the consequences. We could shake our head and think to ourselves “wow, those Israelites sure didn’t know how to learn a lesson”. However, if we were honest with ourselves, the bad cycle on repeat sounds a lot like human behavior void of true repentance. How many times have you witnessed or caught yourself leaving God as the emergency solution, when things have gotten so bad largely due to your own sin that the only way out is to call to Him and “really commit” this time. True repentance is marked by the steady worship of and obedience towards God through not only the rough spots but the smooth ones too.

The book of Judges does not end with the account of a judge; instead the lawlessness, idolatry and sin are highlighted in the next few chapters. It is here that we take a look into a family living in the hill country of Ephraim – in particular a man named Micah. His mother had 1,100 shekels of silver that went missing. Of course she was frantic – cursing as she realized that 28 lbs of silver was gone-stolen. 28 pounds is a lot, not something that can be casually stolen either! She must have felt violated and deeply wronged. She of course was going on about it and she cursed in Micah’s presence. Her reaction stirred Micah’s heart, you see – he had stolen it! He had taken that money from his own mother….he felt bad enough to fess up though and confessed. She was so happy that he was telling the truth returning it to her. She even blesses Him in the name of the Lord and dedicates a portion of it in her thanksgiving to God. Her dedication to the Lord may seem awesome…but then things turn weird. In her joy to the “Lord” she dedicates the silver to the Him…by making an idol!! This should blow your mind. It was so backwards…so weird! God hates idolatry! It is the first commandment, “Thou shalt not have no other gods beside Me”….there are so many verses throughout God’s word supporting this but Deuteronomy 32:16-17 gives us some insight as to how serious idol worship is:

They provoked Him to jealousy with strange gods, with abominations they provoked Him to anger. They sacrificed to demons, not to God–to gods whom they knew not, to new gods lately come up, whom your fathers never knew or feared.

Idolatry is terrible not only because it is us worshiping anything other than God (taking our focus and priorities off of Him and seeking something else to satisfy which is the greatest tragedy among mankind) but also because it is sacrificing time, resources and life to a lie brandished and upheld by the powers of darkness. Cling to God! (Joshua 23:8) He is the light (John 1:4-5,9), He is our hope! When we turn our backs on God we are essentially shutting the door on the light and without the illumination of the light we are blind and deceived, held captive by our sin, by our idolatry.

Given the fact that worshiping and sacrificing to an idol was the same thing as worshiping the powers and forces of darkness – is the weight of the shock sinking in? Micah’s mother “worshiped God” by worshiping idols – which means she wasn’t really worshiping God at all. Her understanding of God was way out of whack and so was Micah’s. The dysfunction didn’t stop with the idols. His house was a described as follows:

“And the man Micah had a house of gods…” Judges 17:5 [AMP]
“And the man Micah had a shrine…” Judges 17:5 [ESV]

A “house of gods” or I guess we could say it was a house held in the noose of demonic power under the guise of religious zeal…For you see he crafted multiple household gods, made an ephod and he even went as far as dedicating one of his sons to be his own personal priest….Religious zeal – yes, missing the mark – you betcha.

To confirm what an ephod was I looked it up using Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance. An ephod is first mentioned in Exodus 25 and described in 28. It was a piece of the High Priest’s uniform that had shoulder straps, rings and bands which attached to the breastplate. Now when I read Micah 17 I was on my journey through the book of judges and the word “ephod” stuck out to me. Backtracking to Judges chapter 8:24-27:

24And he said, “I do have one request, that each of you give me an earring from your share of the plunder.” (It was the custom of the Ishmaelites to wear gold earrings.) 25 They answered, “We’ll be glad to give them.” So they spread out a garment, and each of them threw a ring from his plunder onto it. 26 The weight of the gold rings he asked for came to seventeen hundred shekels, not counting the ornaments, the pendants and the purple garments worn by the kings of Midian or the chains that were on their camels’ necks. 27 Gideon made the gold into an ephod, which he placed in Ophrah, his town. All Israel prostituted themselves by worshiping it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and his family.

Doesn’t this break your heart? My heart is saddened. God does great exploits through Gideon, leading the Israelites to victory against Midian and Gideon had seen the Angel of the Lord, spoke with him and  torn down idols. Yet in spit of all of this a snare, an ephod that became an object, of worship distracted him, his family and the Israelites from worshiping God. I’m not sure if the tradition of worshiping an ephod was passed down to Micah’s neck of the woods from the one Gideon had or not -perhaps though since Manessah and Ephriam were both of the house or tribe of Joseph (Genesis 46:20). Nonetheless the ephod, again, became a snare along with all of Micah’s other objects of worship.

Verse 6 drives the point home – that this was an example of when “…there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes” Judges 17:6. In I Samuel 8:6-8 we learn that God’s desire was for the Israelites to live and operate with God as their King:

6 But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the LORD. 7 And the LORD told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. 8 As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you.

I’m trying to picture this today – in the 21st century. Sadly we don’t really have to look too far. I checked, the latest poll on religion was in 2010 and a total of 75% of Americans identified themselves as Christian (counting the protestant, catholic or Christian unspecified). Yet if you look around you 75% of Americans aren’t obeying the first commandment. They aren’t humbly obeying God as their King, submitting to His authority in all their ways, idolatry is as prevalent today as it was in ancient Israel. There are many “houses of gods” whether it is of money, ambition, shiny gadgets, relationships or even food and slumber. We all worship something – but even if we claim it is God we could be way out of whack like Micah and his mom. Additionally there are “religious” or “spiritual” people who believe in the “many paths to heaven” concept and who may say they believe in God but have a house containing relics and objects from many faiths like good luck charms – which sounds a lot like Micah too.

Even honest Christians struggle with not putting idols before God since they are still dwelling in their fleshly body. There is a key difference between the two lifestyles however that makes all the difference. Is your heart troubled at and repentant of the idolatry when God opens your eyes to recognize it? Is there is an awareness, a desire and the action of tearing down those altars? Is there is the sacrifice of time and self to earnestly seek the Lord?

The Lord promises if you will seek Him you will find Him, if  you knock He will answer (Matthew 7:7-8). That is a guarantee, but are you willing to be corrected, are you willing to recognize your sin and humbly repent…or do you want to fit God into a religious box that fits into your lifestyle, your culture? God is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8, Malachi 3:6). His word is unchanging (Matthew 5:18, John 1:1, I Peter1:25). The standards, morals and commandments of God do not change even if they become unpopular with the culture that surrounds us. What it comes down to is what is more important, you or God? Who is your object of worship, who is your king?

4 You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 *Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? 6 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says,
“God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.”
James 4:4-10

16 What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,
“I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them,
and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people.
II Corinthians 6:16

 *Cross comparison of James 4:5 [AMP]:
5Or do you suppose that the Scripture is speaking to no purpose that says, The Spirit Whom He has caused to dwell in us yearns over us and He yearns for the Spirit [to be welcome] with a jealous love?