“THE CANAANIZATION OF ISRAEL”

JUDGES 17-18

JUNE 17, 2012

 

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             Someone coined a catchy subtitle for the Book of Judges.  He subtitled it “The Canaanization of Israel.”  It wasn’t supposed to be that way.  It was supposed to be the other way around.  Israel was to possess The Promised Land ... the Land of Canaan ... and from this base Israel be God’s vehicle for bringing truth to all nations.  Unfortunately, that did not happen.  Instead of impacting the Canaanites, the Canaanites began impacting the Israelites.  Like those who have moved to our shores, and became “Americanized,” the Israelites, after stepping foot in Canaan became Canaanized.  They began adopting the practices of those around them.  

            We see the full result of that in our chapters for today.  We aren’t looking at a judge today.  No Gideon, no Samson, no Deborah, no Jephthah.  Instead, we will peak into the windows of a Jewish family living in Ephraim.  If this story seems somewhat familiar, it’s because I preached a sermon on these chapters three years ago.  It was part of an Advent sermon series on the times Bethlehem was mentioned in the Bible prior to the birth of Jesus.  As we pick up the story once again this morning, let’s look at how this Canaanization of the Israelites plays out in the lives of the three people.  

            First, we have Micah’s mother.   She was a wealthy woman.  Anyone with 1100 pieces of silver would be considered quite wealthy in those times.  And she was understandably upset when her silver goes missing.  What does she do?  Does she go to God and ask for help finding the missing money?  No, in her anger she pronounces a curse on the perpetrator of the crime.

            Her son apparently believes in the power of this curse and confesses to her that he took the money.  Her response to her son’s confession speaks volumes about how she raised her boy.  As soon as she knows it’s her precious son who stole the money she changes her position.  Instead of a curse comes a blessing.  She says, “May my son be blessed by the Lord!”  Now consider her course of action.  The Jewish Law laid down in Leviticus required that he go to the temple in Shiloh, confess his sin, offer a guilt offering for atonement and pay restitution of an additional one fifth of the principle to his mother.  But none of that happened.  Instead Mom extends some sloppy agape—sloppy grace which has probably been going on all his life.  

            So, we know she’s wealthy and we learn two other things about her here.  First, she has a lack of respect for God’s word.  In her response to her son she follows her emotions rather than God’s commandments.  Then, to top it off, she commissions a silversmith to fashion an idol in thanksgiving to God for her son’s coming clean.  An idol?   What happened to the second commandment?  This woman either does not know God’s word or has little respect for it. 

            Second, there is a lack of integrity.  She says one thing - even in the name of the Lord - and does another.  She consecrated the 1100 shekels to God, but she followed through with only 200.  When it got down to it she decided to keep most of it for herself.

            Her lack of integrity and her lack of respect for the Scriptures is passed down to her son.  Let’s look at him next.  Micah’s name means “Who is like Yahweh?”  She gave him a very spiritual name, but note this strange mixture of God-talk/spirituality with compromise and the lack of integrity.  We see the same mixture today.  We hear people talk the talk, say spiritual things, but not walk the walk.  I can see Micah’s mother living today with a fish symbol on her lapel, a shinny cross on her necklace, and wearing a “what would Jesus do” bracelet yet doing little that Jesus would do.  Talking the talk.  Not walking the walk.

            Now what about this man Micah?  What kind of man is he?  Well, what kind of man steals from his mother?  What kind of man has no qualms about cooperating with his mother in making an idol?  What kind of man will not submit to the spiritual authority at Shiloh?  The amazing thing that we see after peaking into this window is people who have so compromised their understanding of God that they can be stealing, lying, making idols and talking about God’s blessings all at the same time.  

            There’s more.  Look with me at Judges 17:5.  This man Micah had a shrine, and he made an ephod and some idols and installed one of his sons as his priest.  Every bit of that ran contrary to the revelation the Israelites had received from God.  In Deuteronomy God had commanded that they worship only at the place God designated for them.  At that time the place was Shiloh and it was near to where they lived.  They had absolutely no excuse for setting up their own worship center, but Micah had a nice replica of the real thing.  He even had his own priestly robe or ephod, and all this seems very spiritual to these people.

            And I wonder just how much accountability Micah felt toward his own son?  I suspect, not much.  Micah had found a way to do spiritual things—even have his own church—keep his own tithe in the family—and stay in control of the situation.  It all looked spiritual but in reality it was all a sham, and the author of Judges makes no bones about it.   After peeking into the window with us he writes In verse 6, In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes.

            That sums up what we’ve seen so far in this chapter and what we’re about to see.  Tragically these people do not even recognize the inconsistency of their actions. They have so compromised their understanding of what the Lord requires that they can be grossly violating God’s word and think they are serving God while doing it.

            But we are not done yet.  Let’s add one more person to the mix.  In Judges 17:7 we are introduced to a new character in this narrative.  He is a Levite.   

            Notice first that this Levite is young, and his age is most significant when we examine Micah’s relationship with him.  In verse 10 we have Micah’s offer to the young man is Stay with me, and be to me a father and a priest ...  That is a flattering offer—a title of respect and position— ...be to me a father and a priest...  But notice in the verse 11 what the relationship really becomes.  So the Levite agreed to live with him, and the young man became to him like one of his sons.  That is to say, Micah retains control.  But by putting a Levite, the priestly tribe of Israel, in charge of his house church has given it more legitimacy. 

            Now consider this Levite.  He is a wandering opportunist and he jumps at the opportunity to be Micah’s priest.  What should he have done when the offer was made?  As a Levite he should have warned Micah about his idolatry.  He should have reminded him of the scriptural insistence that worship be only at God’s designated place—the place where the Ark of the Covenant was in Shiloh.   But he didn’t.  He accepted the room and board and kept his mouth shut.  The Canannization of Israel, not only affected the rank and file like Micah and his mom, but also the priests of Israel.

            The Levite’s character flaws are even more obvious in chapter 18.  There scouts from the Israeli tribe of Dan come to Micah’s shrine and talk to this Levite.  They ask him “What are you doing in this place?”  “Why are you here?”  That would have been a good time to wake up, to admit that he shouldn’t even be there, but his answer is revealing. Instead of talking about God’s call on his life and the assignment God had given him his focus is on the money.   Judges 18:4 - Micah did such and such for me, and he hired me, and I have become his priest.

            And lest we think, we peaked into the wrong window.  We need a larger sample to evaluate the state of the Israelites.  Well, we have it.  The Danites.  The Danites come to this Levite hireling who is totally messed up spiritually and they ask him to prophesy to them.  They want to know if their quest to find land for their tribe to settle in will go well.  Now, why would they consult this guy?  Why didn’t they know that this idolatrous place was the wrong place to ask for a prophecy from God?

            Have you seen the Holiday Inn Express commercials, about people staying at a Holiday Inn Express, and then thinking they can do anything?  Like, a man getting ready to crack someone’s chest and another person asking, “Are you a doctor?” and the person replying, “No, but I stayed in a Holiday Inn Express last night.”  Isn’t it clear he must of stayed at a Holiday Inn Express?  Nevertheless they ask, Inquire of God that we may know whether the mission we are undertaking will succeed.  

            The Levite doesn’t need to inquire of the Lord.  He knows what they want to hear and is very willing to give them a flattering prophecy.  Judges 18:6 - Go in peace.  The mission you are on is under the eye of the Lord.  Oh really?  The Danites are scouting out a territory that God hasn’t given them instead of taking the land they were supposed to conquer.  There is absolutely no way God’s favor could be on this venture.  The people they will attack at Laish are not the people God had told them to attack.  Laish is just an easier target.

            These Danite spies go back to camp after and bring 600 warriors with them.  On their way to Laish they drop by Micah’s shrine and take all his idols and make an attractive offer to this opportunistic Levite.   Note what happens next, Judges 18:19 -Keep quiet!  Put your hand over your mouth, and come with us, and be to us a father and a priest.  Is it better for you to be priest to this one person, or to be a priest to a tribe and clan in Israel?   What a promotion!  This guy is going from a small church to a mega church.  He has no problem turning on Micah and going with these people when the opportunity presents itself.  After all his ministry is not about obeying God—it’s about success and this is success big time.

            Then note how the Levite’s decision to accept the offer now takes him deeper into sin.  Judges 18:27 - The Danites, having taken what Micah had made, and the priest who belonged to him, came to Laish, to a people quiet and unsuspecting, put them to the sword and burned down the city.   The blood that is shed in Laish is now on his hands as well as the Danites because he became a partaker of these Danite’s sin.  But that’s not all.  This city is rebuilt and named Dan and guess who becomes the spiritual leader there?  None other than this Levite.

            By the way, at the end we finally learn this Levite’s name.  It’s Jonathan.  And to our horror we also learn that he is a descendant of a great, godly man—Moses.  Look at verse 30 - Then the Danites set up the idol for themselves.  Jonathan son of Gershom, son of Moses, and his sons were priests to the tribe of the Danites until the time the land went into captivity.  What a tragedy that a descendant of Moses would end up with this kind of ungodly legacy. 

            One comment as we close—did you notice how successful the Levite and the Danites seem to be?  They are completely out of God’s will but it all “seems” to work from a worldly standpoint.  The Danites easily conquer Laish.  This Levite started out as an unemployed preacher and became one of the most prominent men in the whole area.  He went from no followers to thousands of followers.  But oh what a tragedy it really is.  These people were far from successful in God’s eyes.

            What goals are we pursuing in life?  By what standard of conduct do we live?  We have seen in these characters the kind of people we do not want to become.  We witnessed the Canaanization of Israel, but what about us?   Have we, too, compromised without knowing it?  Could there be such a thing as the Americanization of the Church?  If so, it’s not too late to wake up.