A Portrait of a Spiritual Implosion


Two stories form an epilogue to the book of Judges, they serve as illustrations of the spiritual and social climate of the nation Israel during the time of the judges. The first is told in Judges 17 and 18 and while the events of the story happened in the very early days of Israel as a nation, they contain profound insights for us even today.


A. The Ignorance of a Family (Jud 17:1-6)

The story begins as all good stories do with a family, a family where God’s name was honoured and where there was a desire to worship him. As we begin, we are introduced to Micah (translated, “Who is like Yahweh?”) a man who had stolen more than a thousand silver coins from his mother who, unhappy about her loss had placed a curse on the thief, not knowing the culprit was her own son. Thankfully, after some time most likely labouring under the guilt of his actions and fear of the potency of his mother’s curse, he restored the stolen money. Joyfully, his mother who named her son after Jehovah reversed the curse by blessing him in the name of Jehovah.

Curiously, in her gratitude for regaining her loss she dedicated about one-fifth of the money to the Lord by making an image and an idol! Micah took these idols, prepared a shrine and installed one of his sons as a priest to lead in worship.

To anyone versed in the mosaic law, these actions are clear contraventions of the first three of the ten commandments and far from honouring God, actually are examples of disobedience and rebellion against his revealed will.

Immediately we wonder how an Israelite family where the name of Jehovah is well known can descend into such a flagrant disregard for his law, and the writer explains the reason as the lack of proper, God-given leadership in Israel.

In this leadership vacuum, there was no objective standard for right or wrong, everyone simply followed the inclinations of their depraved hearts.

B. The Apostasy of a Levite (Jud17:7-13)

As the story unfolds, we learn about a Levite (here unnamed) who left his base at Bethlehem in Judah in search of greener pastures. Recall that the Levites were not given any particular piece of land but were scattered so to speak all over Israel in Levitical towns and were to assist the Priests, Aaron’s descendants in the tabernacle service and instructing Israel in God’s law (Num18, Deut33:8-10).

This young Levite however was not living in any of the Levitical towns (Num35, Jos21) but in Bethlehem from where he relocated again and in his further sojourn met with Micah. Micah was taken with this young Levite and wanted him to be his priest. Why would Micah want a new priest seeing he already had one in his son? Well, Micah must have known that only the sons of Aaron were to be priests in Israel (Exod28&29,Num16-18) but a Levite while not called to be a Priest is the best counterfeit Micah could get.

Unfortunately, since Micah promised renumeration, accommodation and feeding, our young Levite agreed to remain with him and to be the Priest leading the family in Idol worship. Happily, Micah concluded that Yahweh will bless him seeing he has now got for himself a Levite priest, and so the chapter concludes.

From the chapter, we see a man who wanted to curry God’s favour— a really religious man who reminds us of the superstitious Athenians who in their efforts to worship even had an altar to an unknown god (see Acts17); however unlike Paul who set out the truth about worship on Mars Hill, here our Levite promoted false religion and maintained Micah’s false confidence for the sake of financial reward.

C. Micah, the Levite and the Danites. (Jud18)

The plot thickens in chapter 18 where we see the Danites seeking a place to settle. Although they were allocated land by Joshua (Josh 19:40-48), they could not possess their God-given lot and here we see them trying to settle elsewhere instead.

They sent out scouts who spent some time at Micah’s house and there interacted with the Levite who purported to bless their endeavour with divine approval. Subsequently the entire tribe came to the neighbouring peaceful community of Laish, captured the city and annihilated everyone there. As if that was not enough, they stole Micah’s gods and offered a better contract to his priest who then left Micah’s employ and went with the Danites.

In this new community named after their ancestor, the Danites set up a parallel idolatrous religion in Israel with the Levite and his descendants, ministers of this pseudo-faith.

The anticlimax in the story comes when we realise that the young Levite previously unnamed is none other than Jonathan, the grandson of Moses the man of God! In fact, some versions of the Bible are silent about the relationship with Moses and instead introduce him as the grandson of Manasseh; this is due to a textual tradition where Jonathan’s apostasy is denounced, using a narrative device that replaces Moses with an almost identical name in the Hebrew, Manasseh.

Clearly faith is not genetic— or how else do you explain the fall from the height of Mosaic revelation, a man who spoke with God face-to-face (Exod33:11) to this egregious falsification of truth in just two generations?


We have just read a fascinating and bizarre story and while we are centuries removed from the recorded events, the social climate then is the same as we have it now. As in the days of the judges, we also live in a time when objective truth cannot be accepted and everyone desires to do what is right in their own eyes. There are no standards of right and wrong, truth is relativized and anyone who claims to have an handle on the truth is denounced as an egotistical, narrow-minded bigot.

In trying to apply the text to our own context, there are at least three truths that stand out and are worth thinking about.

1. The absence of God-given leadership that sets and maintains the standard for right and wrong does not bring the freedom it promises, instead confusion, heartache, loss and an implosion of the culture.

2. How much of God we know is revealed more in our deeds than our creeds and how much we resist the lure of apostasy in a world that promotes relativism and material/financial reward at the expense of truth, righteousness and fidelity to God’s revealed will.

3. Godliness is not inherited, one generation must deliberately and diligently transmit the faith to the other and even when that is done, faith in God remains an individual choice everyone has to make.


We live in times marked by relativism and individualism, almost everywhere we turn we are encouraged to follow our hearts, do what feels good and chart our own solitary course in life. However we must remember that irrespective of how genuine or honest our intentions, a heart untransformed by the grace of God is but a broken compass (Prov3:5-8, Jer17:7-9, Jam1:13-16) that will ultimately lead one into moral, spiritual and social ruination; if we want to live life as God will have us live it, we must follow a higher ethic— the revealed will of God. His word must be our authority for life and we must trust his Holy Spirit to reveal the Word to us and help us apply it in our individual contexts. It is by ordering our lives by God's Word and his Spirit that individuals, families, ministries and communities are built.


  1. Thank you very much for reading!

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