What is the story of Micah and the idol in the book of Judges?

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Micah and the idol

The book of Judges chapters 17 and 18 tells the story of the life of Micah (not the prophet Micah) from Ephraim. It shows the migration of a part of the tribe of Dan from its selected territory between the sea and the southern boundary of Ephraim to the northern section of Palestine next to the territory of Naphtali.

The story has three parts: (1) the origin of Micah’s idolatry (ch. 17:1–6), (2) how an apostate Levite became the priest of this idolatrous worship (ch. 17:7–13), (3) how the idol was transferred to Dan. The story perhaps happened during the time of the elders that followed Joshua (Judges 2:6–10; 18:29).

The origin of Micah’s idolatry

Micah stole money from his mother, who not knowing that her son was the thief, placed a curse on the thief and vowed the money to God. Fearing the consequences, Micah confessed his sin to her and returned the money. Then with that money, he built a shrine and placed an idol on it and set it in his house.

Micah and his mother claimed to worship God but their worship had become so degraded, to the point that they erected a graven image to the Lord in direct violation to the first and second commandments which state,  “You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image…” (Exodus 20:3,4).

Then, Micah consecrated one of his sons to be a priest (Judges 17:5). Thus, Micah had apostatized to a great extent that he not only set an idol and a private shrine but actually assigned one of his sons as the priest of the sanctuary, which was a direct violation of the law of Moses (Deuteronomy 18:1) .

The apostate Levite offering an idolatrous worship

Micah found a wandering Levite and asked him to dwell with him and be a priest to him instead of his son. And he paid the Levite his wages (Judges 17:10).  And Micah said, “Now I know that the LORD will be good to me, since I have a Levite as priest!” Micah thought that the act of hiring a Levite to officiate his private shrine is a good fortune to his house. Thus, he attempted to worship God according to his own ways and not according to the clear instructions of God.

The idol transferred to Dan

When the people of Dan came to spy the land looking for another place to settle, they inquired from Micah’s priest about God’s plans for them. Micah’s priest gave them a message from himself instead from God. He said, “Go in peace. Your journey has the LORD’s approval” (Judges 18:6). Yet, the Danites’ journey was not according to God’s plan.

And the Danites stole the idols from Micah’s house and convinced the Levite to leave Micah and join them (Judges 18:18,19). The disloyalty of the Levite was clear. He had first betrayed God by serving idols for the sake of money. And now, he left Micah who treated him as a son (Judges 17:11). None of the characters of the story was honorable. Micah was a thief. The Levite was greedy. The Danites were freebooters.

Then, the heartless Danites captured the city of Laish which was defenseless. And they struck the peaceful inhabitants and burned their city. And part of the Tribe of Dan migrated to that location. And “The Danites set up for themselves the idol, and Jonathan son of Gershom, the son of Moses, and his sons were priests for the tribe of Dan until the time of the captivity of the land. They continued to use the idol Micah had made, all the time the house of God was in Shiloh” (Judges 18:30–31). Thus, Micah’s false gods were transferred to the entire tribe of Israel for several generations.

This migration of the tribe of Dan and the idolatry connected with it were shown by the author of Judges as an example of the apostasy of that period which resulted in the successive invasions and oppressions. One man’s sin affected many people for many generations.

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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