Summary: Like a hiker without a map, compass, or landmark - Israel has gone off the trail and into danger. How can that happen to us and how to get back on the trail to God?
Perspective is a nice thing. When you are on a long hike, like in my Boy Scout days, it was always great to come up on the top of a ridge so you could have a look around and get your bearings and chart the course ahead, knowing that once you plunged down into the forest it’d be hard to get the big picture again till you came up on top of the next ridge.
That’s why maps and reckoning points are so important. We were taught in orienteering to look at the map, set the compass on top of it to "orient" ourselves, and then look out and see a landmark in the direction we were supposed to go. Hopefully as we went down back into the trees we could keep that landmark in view and follow the compass heading until we reached it, where we would once again do a reckoning.
It’d be nice if we could do that in life as well. Sadly, often times we just plunge into the forest where all the trees look the same. We have neither map, nor compass, nor landmark and we end up either going in circles or heading off in some direction that is not where we want to go but have no way to tell that we’ve gone way off course until we are completely lost or fall off of a cliff.
By this time in the book of Judges, Israel has been traveling for so long without a map, compass, or landmark in their relationship with Yahweh that they think they are somehow serving the LORD but are completely off course and lost spiritually.
This portion of the book, and all of Judges for that matter, can be summed up in chapter 17, verse 6: "In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes."
Navigating life by your own eyes is a sure way to wind up lost. We need a map: God’s Word, which shows us where we’ve been and where are going. We need a compass: the conviction of the Holy Spirit that keeps us tuned to God’s Word. And we need a landmark: a Savior, Jesus Christ, who is our head, and the person we are to strive, through the Spirit, to follow.
In Chapters 17 and 18 we see a people so lost on the trail that they serve other gods and think they are serving Yahweh. It’s is a danger sign for us on the trail of life. By the way, the events from here to the end of the book are not in chronological order. In fact, they happened well before Samson in chapters 14-16. Each of the characters in this story lost direction, pulled off the path by a powerful magnet - the only thing that can affect a compass. At the end we’ll look at what did it to each of them.
Chapter 17 Verses 1 - 6 A mother’s broken compass
Moral compass broken: the woman’s money is stolen, but somehow she doesn’t get mad at her son when he tells her. A normal yearly wage was 10 shekels so this is a fortune. It’s possible that mom’s curse of the thief was the motivator for Micah to confess his crime. Perhaps she uttered the blessing to undo the curse or something.
Spiritual compass broken: makes an idol, in direct violation of God’s Law, and claims to be following Yahweh with it. Oddly, she dedicates only 200 of the 1,100 pieces of silver to the making of the idol so both why she is doing this (was the money really dedicated to God?) and how (making an idol to worship God) are in question.
The idol (possibly in the shape of a calf), the ephod, and the teraphim (household gods) were all used for divination. Further, Micah sets up a shrine and ordains one of his own sons as a "priest." This is just so wrong in absolutely every way. But Micah and his mom either no longer know or just don’t care about following God; they just use His name and go on about their business. How many people like that live in our world today?
Verses 7 - 13
Jonathan was a Levite - living in Bethlehem, not one of the cities given to the Levites, probably because the people no longer supported the Tabernacle or the priesthood. Not only did he abandon his calling as a priest of Yahweh, but he became nothing more than a priest for hire - kind of like "have gun will travel." Wherever the money was, that was the place he’d serve and whatever gods they worshipped, those were the gods (or idols) he’d use. We’ll see that come to play in chapter 18.