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Judges 17:1-6 begins with a story showing a degenerate priesthood during the time that there was no king in Israel.
1 Now there was a man of the hill country of Ephraim whose name was Micah. 2 And he said to his mother, “The eleven hundred pieces of silver which were taken from you, about which you uttered a curse in my hearing, behold, the silver is with me; I took it.” And his mother said, “Blessed be my son by the Lord.”
Apparently, Micah had stolen eleven hundred shekels of silver from his rich mother. She had pronounced a curse upon the thief, not knowing that the thief was her own son. Micah was then afraid on account of the curse, for he believed that the curse would affect him negatively—or perhaps the curse was already affecting him in some way. At any rate, Micah confessed his crime to his mother and returned the silver to her, at which time, she reversed the curse upon him.
Commentators agree that a “piece” of silver was understood to be a shekel. The KJV renders it “shekels.” The number eleven is used in Scripture to mean “imperfection, disorder, incompleteness.” (See The Biblical Meaning of Numbers from One to Forty.) The number portrays disorder in Israel as the moral degeneration grew.
It also reminds us of the eleven hundred shekels of silver that Delilah was paid to betray Samson (Judges 16:5). Hence, Micah’s theft suggests that he had betrayed his mother, even as Delilah betrayed Samson. In the big picture, the people had betrayed God Himself. Such lawlessness was the underlying reason for Israel’s many captivities in the main portion of the book of Judges.
Judges 17: 3, 4 continues,
3 He then returned the eleven hundred pieces of silver to his mother, and his mother said, “I wholly dedicate the silver from my hand to the Lord [Yahweh] for my son to make a graven image and a molten image; now therefore, I will return them to you.” 4 So when he returned the silver to his mother, his mother took two hundred pieces of silver and gave them to the silversmith who made them into a graven image and a molten image, and they were in the house of Micah.
Micah’s mother decided to do the religious thing and to dedicate the silver to Yahweh, the God of Israel. They took 200 pieces of silver and constructed “a graven image and a molten image,” ironically violating the Second Commandment (Deut. 5:8). The idol was dedicated to Yahweh.
The number 200 means “insufficiency” when used in Scripture. A good illustration is the story in John 6:5-9, when Jesus was about to feed the 5,000. He first asked Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, that these may eat?” (John 6:5). In John 6:7 we read,
7 Philip answered Him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, for everyone to receive a little.”
This suggests that the 200 shekels of silver were not sufficient to worship the true God of Israel. Micah’s name means “who is like Yah,” and in this case it relates to the graven image which is supposed to be “like Yah” but actually is not Yah Himself.
Perhaps Micah and his mother were totally ignorant of the Second Commandment forbidding the use of graven images, or perhaps they saw no contradiction in this. The teraphim that they constructed were for the purpose of divining the will of God.
Perhaps they did not realize that to inquire of a graven image was unlawful. An idol is an artist’s carnal concept or understanding of the nature of God. This side of the glorified body, one’s understanding is imperfect, and so any image is a reflection of the idol of one’s heart (Ezekiel 14:3). To keep the Second Commandment, one must worship God Himself, rather than one’s imperfect “image” of God. In that way, our understanding is able to change and grow as we learn His ways through experience as led by the Holy Spirit.
Judges 17:5 says,
5 And the man Micah had a shrine [beth-el, “house of God”] and he made an ephod and household idols [teraphim] and consecrated one of his sons, that he might become his priest.
Micah formed his own religious denomination, built a church, and created his own priesthood, thereby worshiping the idol of his own heart according to his understanding of God’s nature. In those days a priest had to be descended from Aaron in order to truly have that calling. Today, one must be a son of God that is spiritually descended from the true High Priest, Jesus Christ. More than that, a priest under the New Covenant must function in his/her specific God-given calling.
Micah, then, represents all those who go into the ministry as a mere profession, rather than through the call of God upon their lives. Samuel concludes in Judges 17:6,
6 In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes.