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Judges chapter 17

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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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