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Book 2: No King in Israel: Chapter 4: Idols of the Heart

Samuel’s second story in Judges 17:7-13 is a continuation of the first in regard to the corruption of the priests. Micah the Ephraimite ordained his own son as his family priest, though neither he nor his son were called by God into the priesthood. In those days under the Old Covenant, God had called the tribe of Levi to minister to Him at the Tabernacle in Shiloh, but only the sons of Aaron were called as priests who could minister directly to God in the Holy Place.

Micah was of the tribe of Ephraim, and Samuel was showing how men who were not truly called by God were entering the priesthood. Under the New Covenant today, the only ones truly called as priests are those of the Melchizedek Order, because a change of priesthood was instituted when Jesus was ordained as the High Priest of that order (Heb. 7:11-14). Today the problem is that the vast majority of priests and ministers of man-made denominations are not qualified as Melchizedek priests but use the office as a mere profession.

As the story of Micah shows us, just because one is consecrated by men into the priesthood does not mean that God recognizes him/her as a priest. In fact, many denominations have gone to great lengths to imitate the Levitical priesthood which was abolished at the cross, and many even teach that at the second coming of Christ, the Levitical priesthood will be revived to offer animal sacrifices in a rebuilt temple in Jerusalem!

This shows us how easy it is for men today to manifest the problem seen in Judges 17:1-6, where “every man did what was right in his own eyes.” The church today is not immune from this corruption and blindness. As in the case of Micah, they have created an idol and dedicated it to Yahweh.

The Levite from Bethlehem

Samuel then gives us another illustration, which adds to the picture. Judges 17:7-10 says,

7 Now there was a young man from Bethlehem in Judea, of the family of Judah, who was a Levite; and he was staying there. 8 Then the man departed from the city, from Bethlehem in Judah, to stay wherever he might find a place; and as he made his journey, he came to the hill country of Ephraim to the house of Micah. 9 And Micah said to him, “Where do you come from?” And he said to him, “I am a Levite from Bethlehem in Judah, and I am going to stay wherever I may find a place. 10 Micah then said to him, “Dwell with me and be a father and a priest to me, and I will give you ten pieces of silver a year, a suit of clothes, and your maintenance.” So the Levite went in.

Here we see a Levite from Bethlehem of Judah who decided to take a job as a priest. We are not told why he left Bethlehem, but apparently, he saw his Levitical ministry there as a dead-end job. The fact that he was from Bethlehem provides us with another link to the story of Ruth and Boaz, and it is likely that Samuel heard this story from Boaz or from his son, Obed.

The fact that the man came from Bethlehem (and was probably born there) suggests that he serves as a prophetic type of false priest who is to be contrasted with Jesus, the true High Priest, who also was to come from Bethlehem. Yet this story is more than an illustration of a corrupt priesthood in the days of the Judges. It also prophesies of the corrupt priesthood in the first century during Jesus’ ministry on earth. In the time of the Judges, the story was about a Levite being ordained unlawfully as a priest, but as a prophecy, it was a contrast between the two priesthoods: Levi and Melchizedek.

True Callings

Both of Samuel’s illustrations portray in different ways men being consecrated who were not called by God to be in the priesthood. That is the main point. Samuel himself was from the tribe of Ephraim (1 Sam. 1:1), but he had been consecrated to God in a lawful manner and actually functioned as the high priest of the Melchizedek Order—as did Moses two centuries earlier. That calling was later passed down to David himself (Psalm 110:4). Both of the priestly orders existed side by side, though the older of the two was the Melchizedek Order.

Samuel had grown up at the Tabernacle in Shiloh, and he had observed the corrupt sons of Eli. He was keenly aware of the problem of priestly corruption. Shiloh was a priestly town in the tribe of Ephraim. Just as Micah ordained his son as an illegitimate priest in Ephraim, so also did Eli allow his own corrupt sons to continue as priests in Ephraim.

Samuel’s stories bring together the three leading tribes of Israel: Ephraim, Judah, and Levi. Ephraim was the birthright holder (Gen. 48:14, 15); Judah was given the scepter (Gen. 49:10); and Levi—specifically, Aaron—was given the priesthood (Num. 3:3, 12). These three tribes, then, represented all Israel and the fullness of the birthright calling. Samuel shows how the priesthood was corrupted in the entire nation, wherever the Levites were found.

Judges 17:11-13 continues the story, saying,

11 The Levite [from Bethlehem] agreed to live with the man; and the young man became to him like one of his sons. 12 So Micah consecrated the Levite, and the young man became his priest and lived in the house of Micah. 13 Then Micah said, “Now I know that the Lord [Yahweh] will prosper me, seeing I have a Levite as a priest.”

The irony here is that Micah again believed that Yahweh, the God of Israel, would be pleased with his actions. Apparently, he understood the law well enough to know that his own son, being an Ephraimite, was not really qualified as a priest. So he upgraded his man-made denomination by ordaining a Levite who was not descended from Aaron but was a bit closer to having the calling as a priest.

Samuel warns both them and us today that the priesthood is not based upon a man’s desire to be a priest but upon God’s calling. Ordinations by men, based on education or speaking ability. do not qualify a man for the priesthood. One may give financial benefits to denominational priests and pay all of their living expenses, as Micah did, but that does not mean their priests are truly called by God.

Ordinations ought to be ceremonies where men bear witness to the fact that God has called the person—not a ceremony where we expect God to bear witness to man’s calling. Just because men ordain a priest does not mean that God has called him.

Once again, this illustration ends with the statement in Judges 18:1,

1 In those days there was no king in Israel….

We then come to the next story that reveals the progression of corruption. It is the story of a band of Danites who set out to find an inheritance, since they were not strong enough to take their allotted land from the Philistines. We find that they went north and came to the house of Micah. Hence, the first two stories lay the groundwork for the disaster that was about to unfold.

Danites Seek an Alternative Inheritance

Judges 18:1, 2 says,

1 In those days there was no king in Israel; and in those days the tribe of the Danites was seeking an inheritance for themselves to live in, for until that day an inheritance had not been allotted to them as a possession among the tribes of Israel. 2 So the sons of Dan sent from their family five men out of their whole number, valiant men from Zorah and Eshtaol, to spy out the land and to search it; and they said to them, “Go search the land.” And they came to the hill country of Ephraim, to the house of Micah, and lodged there.

The five “valiant men” were from the small towns of Zorah and Eshtaol, located on the ridge overlooking the plain where the Philistines lived. Zorah was the place where Samson’s family lived (Judges 13:2), and Eshtaol was not far away. It may well be that one of Samson’s ancestors were among these valiant men.

They headed north into the territory of Ephraim and drew near to the house of Micah. We then read in Judges 18:3, 4,

3 When they were near the house of Micah, they recognized the voice of the young man, the Levite, and they turned aside there, and said to him, “Who brought you here? And what are you doing in this place? And what do you have here?” 4 And he said to them, “Thus and so has Micah done to me, and he has hired me, and I have become his priest.”

The Levite was from Bethlehem, but these Danites recognized his voice. They obviously knew him well, although we are not told any details about their connection. Perhaps they had met the Levite at the feasts when they gathered at the Tabernacle in Shiloh. Judges 18:5, 6 says,

5 And they said to him, “Inquire of God, please, that we may know whether our way on which we are going will be prosperous.” 6 And the priest said to them, “Go in peace; your way in which you are going has the Lord’s approval.”

If these five Danites knew the Levite so well, surely they would have known that he was not a legitimate priest according to the law. However, they accepted him as legitimate and asked him for a word from God. They were already on their way, so they did not ask the more foundational question as to whether or not they ought to be seeking an alternative inheritance. They only wanted to know whether or not they would succeed in their venture. Hence, within the context of their question, the answer they received was positive.

Heart Idolatry

We know from earlier in the story that the house of Micah had set up household gods made of silver. These teraphim were used in some way to determine the word of the Lord, though in an unlawful manner. Hence, we would expect these gods to answer them according to the idols of their heart, as Ezekiel 14:4 says.

The Levite’s answer sounds strangely similar to another incident that occurred many years later when Ahab of Israel and Jehoshaphat of Judah inquired about going to war with Syria. The 400 prophets of Ahab all said, “Go up … and prosper” (1 Kings 22:12). Then the prophet Micaiah was brought in at the request of Jehoshaphat. He gave them the same word that they wanted to hear (1 Kings 22:15), because God was answering them according to the idols of their heart.

But the king adjured Micaiah to tell the truth (1 Kings 22:16), so he told them the whole truth. God was sending a lying spirit into the mouths of their prophets to deceive Ahab into going into battle, where he would be killed. That, of course, is precisely what occurred, but our point is that this is a good example of God deceiving those who inquire with wrong motives. God tells them what they want to hear, because He speaks through the idols of their heart.

In other words, when a person inquires of God but only wants God to bless his own desires or preconceived beliefs, God will leave him in his ignorance and deception. If a person truly wants to know the truth, he must be willing and able to hear that which is contrary to his own will and desire. This is not as easy as it sounds. It may take a long time to prepare one’s heart to be able to hear the truth.

The main purpose of prayer is not to ask God to bless our plans and intentions, but to prepare our own hearts to seek Him, His direction, and His truth with all our hearts. In that way we know His plan and can then find the path that we ought to follow.

This is a timeless truth that few have heard, because almost no one preaches about Micaiah in 1 Kings 22 or teaches the lesson in Ezekiel 14. Later, we will see how the same heart idolatry caused the people to ask the wrong questions again. The result was disastrous, for it nearly destroyed the tribe of Benjamin.