Notes on Judges 17
by Jonathan Spurlock
(Holts Summit, MO)
Judges 17:1, KJV: And there was a man of mount Ephraim, whose name (was) Micah.
Ephraim’s territory was located in about the middle of Israel. Judah and Benjamin bordered Ephraim to the south, western Manasseh to the north. The Book of Joshua has detailed descriptions of which parts of Canaan were given to the various tribes of Israel.
The “Micah” of this story is definitely not the same as the prophet Micah who lived many years later. The Micah of this story eventually worshiped idols and corrupted a Levite. The prophet Micah who lived hundreds of years later tried to bring God’s messages to people who had begun a dangerous slide towards idol-worship and eventually destruction of the kingdom.
2 And he said unto his mother, The eleven hundred (shekels) of silver that were taken from thee, about which thou cursedst, and spakest of also in mine ears, behold, the silver (is) with me; I took it. And his mother said, Blessed (be thou) of the LORD, my son.
It is nearly impossible to estimate the worth of 1100 shekels of silver in terms of today’s currency. At the least, it seems to be a good deal of money: this same price, 1100 silver coins, was the promised payment to Delilah, by each of the “lords of the Philistines (chapter 16)”, in exchange for Samson.
Now Micah confesses to his mother that he had stolen 1100 silver coins, proving he had broken at least one and possibly more of the Ten Commandments: “thou shalt not steal”—which he confesses, he did this—and most likely “thou shalt not covet”. Why would he have stolen the money if he had coveted or lusted after it? Further, by not immediately confessing to his mother (or anyone else) he seemed to be guilty of “thou shalt not bear false witness”. Strangely, his mother accepted his confession and gave him a blessing, “blessed be thou 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 unto the LORD from my hand for my son, to make a graven image and a molten image: now therefore I will restore it unto thee.
Again a strange encounter: Micah gives the silver back to his mother, who says she had dedicated the silver so Micah could make a graven image and molten image—idols! This shows some incredibly twisted thinking, namely, that the LORD would be pleased with money dedicated to Him but intended to be material for idols. Then, stranger still, Micah’s mother gave the silver back to Micah!
4 Yet he restored the money unto 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.
And he gives the silver back to his mother. She uses two hundred shekels of the silver as material to be melted and worked into the graven and molten images (idols). These idols were in Micah’s house, in clear violation of God’s commands in Ex. 20:4, Lev. 26:1, and Deut. 4:25, 5:8. Why did he or his mother make these idols, in clear violation of God’s commands?
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.
It is not certain if Micah already had a house of gods or if he developed one after his mother helped make the graven and molten images. The “ephod” is most likely a garment, perhaps more or less patterned after priestly robes. “Teraphim” seem to be small household idols, such as the images Rachel stole from her father, Laban, in Genesis 31.
This was bad enough but Micah consecrated one of his sons to be a priest to these various idols. Micah seemed to be an Ephraimite, so there was no legal or spiritual connection to the true priesthood as prescribed by the LORD in Leviticus.
6 In those days (there was) no king in Israel, (but) every man did (that which was) right in his own eyes.
A sad but true commentary on the state of affairs in Israel during those days. Implied with this statement is that the Israelites seemed to have little regard
for the Law of the LORD.7 And there was a young man out of Bethlehemjudah of the family of Judah, who (was) a Levite, and he sojourned there.
Bethlehem-judah was not one of the cities dedicated or provided to the Levites (see Joshua 21). Why this one Levite was staying there is not specified further.
The age of this Levite is not stated but according to Numbers 8:24 25 he could not begin his service to the LORD unless he was between 25 and 50 years of age.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.
After he—the Levite—had stayed in Bethlehem-judah for an unspecified period of time, he left there to find another place. He made his way to mount Ephraim, specifically to Micah’s house. Note that the name of the city or town where Micah lived is not given anywhere.9 And Micah said unto him, Whence comest thou? And he said unto him, I (am) a Levite of Bethlehemjudah, and I go to sojourn where I may find (a place).
Micah asked the Levite where he was coming from, and the Levite replied he was coming from Bethlehem-Judah. He added that he was going to wherever he could “find a place”. The meaning of that phrase is not certain. Again, it is not clear why this Levite was looking to “find a place” when there were cities dedicated to Levites in many locations throughout Israel. These cities are mentioned in Joshua 21.10 And Micah said unto him, Dwell with me, and be unto me a father and a priest, and I will give thee ten (shekels) of silver by the year, and a suit of apparel, and thy victuals. So the Levite went in.
This does not seem to be a very good bargain or deal: the salary was less than one “shekel” or silver coin each month. Micah still had anywhere between 900-1100 silver coins in his possession but didn’t seem to want to truly support the Levite.
It is nowhere directly stated what clothing Levites were supposed, or required to wear. The Levites were not priests and as such had no command to wear priestly garments. Micah promised the Levite who was apparently considering Micah’s offer a “suit of apparel”—but note, there is no mention of how long the Levite was supposed to wear the apparel. In all fairness, Micah offered the Levite food (“victuals”), most likely on a regular basis although it is not stated. Levites were supposed to receive their food from the tithes and offerings brought to the Tabernacle by the Israelites (see Deut. 26:11-13) The Levite, perhaps not surprisingly, accepted Micah’s offer.11 And the Levite was content to dwell with the man; and the young man was unto him as one of his sons.
Micah was probably middle aged at this point, Although his age is not stated, he most likely lived during at least one of the “see-saw” days when Israel would reject the LORD, suffer under the control of a foreign nation or group of nations, and later repent, turning back to God. How he could be so far in defiance of the Law is anybody’s guess/
He was at least old enough to have at least two sons—note the plural in this verse. Now the Levite was part of the family, so to speak, and Micah treated him like one of his own sons.12 And Micah consecrated the Levite; and the young man became his priest, and was in the house of Micah.
Micah had already consecrated one of his sons to be a priest (to the idols); now he adds the Levite. Why the Levite remained in a situation like this, a home full of apostates, is amazing.13 Then said Micah, Now know I that the LORD will do me good, seeing I have a Levite to (my) priest.
How could Micah expect the LORD’s blessings, especially now that he had broken more of the Ten Commandments: “no other gods before Me,” “no graven image” to name two. Incredibly, Micah really thought he would receive the LORD’s blessings, even though he was in defiance of the LAW!
Scripture quotations taken from the King James Version of the Bible (KJV).