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Judges chapter 17

English Standard Version

New International Version

New American Standard Bible

Christian Standard Bible

New Living Translation

King James Version

1And there was a man of mount Ephraim, whose name was Micah. 2And he said unto his mother, The eleven hundred shekels of silver that were taken from thee, about which thou cursedst, and spakest of also in mine ears, behold, the silver is with me; I took it. And his mother said, Blessed be thou of the Lord, my son. 3And when he had restored the eleven hundred shekels of silver to his mother, his mother said, I had wholly dedicated the silver unto the Lord from my hand for my son, to make a graven image and a molten image: now therefore I will restore it unto thee. 4Yet he restored the money unto his mother; and his mother took two hundred shekels of silver, and gave them to the founder, who made thereof a graven image and a molten image: and they were in the house of Micah. 5And the man Micah had a house of gods, and made an ephod, and teraphim, and consecrated one of his sons, who became his priest. 6In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes. 7And there was a young man out of Bethlehem-judah of the family of Judah, who was a Levite, and he sojourned there. 8And the man departed out of the city from Bethlehem-judah to sojourn where he could find a place: and he came to mount Ephraim to the house of Micah, as he journeyed. 9And Micah said unto him, Whence comest thou? And he said unto him, I am a Levite of Bethlehem-judah, and I go to sojourn where I may find a place. 10And Micah said unto him, Dwell with me, and be unto me a father and a priest, and I will give thee ten shekels of silver by the year, and a suit of apparel, and thy victuals. So the Levite went in. 11And the Levite was content to dwell with the man; and the young man was unto him as one of his sons. 12And Micah consecrated the Levite; and the young man became his priest, and was in the house of Micah. 13Then said Micah, Now know I that the Lord will do me good, seeing I have a Levite to my priest.
New King James Version

What does Judges chapter 17 mean?

Beginning with this chapter, the book of Judges shifts its focus. Chapters 3 through 16 described how God routinely saved Israel from oppressive enemies through His deliverers: the judges (Judges 2:16–19). The rest of the book discusses the everyday lives of Israelites during this time before Israel had kings. The final chapters show how far the people of Israel had fallen from faithful service to the Lord.

The first story is about a man named Micah and his family. They live in the hill country of Ephraim. Micah is introduced by his confession to his own mother. He admits that he has stolen a considerable sum of money from her. His motive for confessing is selfish: he overheard her speaking a curse on the thief. He seems to want her to ask for a blessing from the Lord for him instead of harm. She presumes to declare a blessing on her son on behalf of the Lord. She also dedicates part of the stolen silver to creating at least one idol. The purpose of the image is apparently to provide Micah with a protective sacred object of blessing in his house shrine. This home-arranged temple was apparently filled with other religious objects and relics (Judges 17:1–5).

This passage indicates that even if Micah and his mother have some respect for the One True God, Yahweh, they also disobey most of the basic commands given by the Lord. This single incident involved covetousness (Exodus 20:17) leading to dishonor for a parent (Exodus 20:12), theft (Exodus 20:15) and likely lies (Exodus 20:16), followed by the creation of idols (Exodus 20:4–5) and the worship of false gods (Exodus 20:3). More importantly, this is not an isolated incident. In this phase of Israel's history, they were without a monarch or other centralized government. But the people were also in a state of spiritual anarchy: there was no king and everyone simply did as he chose without regard to God's will (Judges 17:6).

One day, a man from the tribe of Levi arrives at Micah's house. The Levites were the priestly tribe of Israel with no territory of their own (Numbers 3:5–10). The law allowed them to live in designated cities throughout Israel (Joshua 21) or, if led by God, to settle elsewhere. The young man has left behind his previous home in Bethlehem of Judah and is traveling around, looking for somewhere new to live (Judges 17:7–8).

When Micah learns the young man is a Levite, he offers him a job. The position is to become Micah's personal family priest. Micah uses the term "father" in the context of a revered spiritual leader (Genesis 45:8). For the price of clothes, room and board, and a salary, the Levite agrees to become the leader of the family's own personal religion. As a member of the tribe of Levi, he should have known better. Whether he does, or does not, he makes no effort to correct this gross violation of God's plan for Israel's faith (Judges 17:9–11).

Micah "ordains" the Levite as his priest. Despite all his violations of God's commands, and his nonsensical approach to faith, Micah is convinced God will give him prosperity, simply because he has a genuine Levite priest (Judges 17:12–13).

As it happens, this Levite will not prove to be a wise investment, nor will his presence bring an overall benefit to Micah or his family (Judges 18:19–20).
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