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Week Seven: Don’t Seek What Glitters

Light for Living

This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.

Jesus quoting Isaiah to the Pharisees in Matthew 15:8-9 (ESV)

There’s something broken in the human heart that draws us to things like success, fame, money and popularity. The history of mankind is marked by stories of tragedy that result when people seek what glitters. Whole nations have been destroyed by leaders who seek power and bring defeat on themselves and their own people. Many tragedies, however, involve the destruction of families or relationships: parents who pursue success over the needs of their children; husbands and wives who look for self-fulfillment rather than self-sacrifice in marriage; pastors who’ve built their own kingdoms rather than God’s. This week we read a sad story that can be traced back to one man’s desire for what glitters.

Background

At this point we begin the last of the three sections of the book of Judges. We’ve read the double introduction (Judges 1:1-3:6) and the judges’ stories (Judges 3:7-16:31). The rest of the book shifts to stories of religious anarchy and moral chaos. They aren’t chronological, so they actually happen before Samson’s story. Clues suggest that they occurred within a few years after Joshua’s death. Some call this a double conclusion as it balances the double introduction.

God can use the darkest and saddest chronicles of history in order to teach us about himself and alert us to danger. The Old Testament has great profit for the church:

Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall. No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it (1 Corinthians 10:11-13, NASB).

Applying the scriptures helps avoid God’s discipline (Hebrews 12:2-11), so let’s look within ourselves initially and at the church secondly. These aren’t lessons for non-Christians or the nation; they’re about believers being the people we’re supposed to be. Just as God’s people embraced the darkness in Judges, we can also be guilty.

Four times in the last section we read this phrase: “In those days there was no king in Israel” (17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25, ESV). In two of these instances the author adds this note: “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6; 21:25, ESV). We’ve just read that Samson did what was right in his own eyes (Judges 14:3), and now we’ll see the same attitude in the larger population.

Part One Study

The first conclusion is a story in three parts, like episodes in a series. Today we’ll look at Episode One.

Recognizing the disobedience to God’s will and commands involved in this story requires knowledge of some Old Testament laws, so don’t skip the cross-references in your reading.

The main character of the first episode is Micah, “a shortened form of Mikayabu, meaning who is like Yahweh? This is ironic since he is so absent from the story.”1

Read Judges 17:1-6, and note the word LORD in all caps, which indicates God’s personal name Yahweh. Journal as you consider these questions and cross-references:

  • What do you learn about the character of Micah and his mother from this story? (Read Exodus 20:1-5, 15; 28:1-14; Numbers 30:9; Deuteronomy 12:1-7, 13-14, 26-28.)
  • How does Romans 1:19-25 help explain why God is so opposed to idols, even if those images are dedicated to worshiping him? What does this show about God?
  • What is God saying to you about areas where you excuse your conduct or ignore God’s Word, essentially doing what’s right in your own eyes?

*** How do this week’s Light for Living verses on p. 43 connect to this story?

Part Two Study

Micah imitated the religious observances given to the Jews by God: a temple, priests who wore ephods, and ways of worship. Micah believed that he could worship Yahweh as he pleased.

Now let’s look at Episode Two of the story.

Read Judges 17:7-13, again paying attention to where God is referred to by name as the God of Israel. Write down your insights as you think about these questions:

  • Compare the story the Levite told Micah with God’s instructions for the Levites in Joshua 21:1-3. What insights do you have into the Levite’s character from Judges 17? (FYI: We see in Numbers 3:1-13 that the tribe of Levi was ordained for God’s service, but only the descendants of Aaron, also Levites, were designated as priests.)
  • How is Micah’s view of God distorted?
  • What glittery things draw you? Where are you seeking things such as success, approval, comfort, safety, love or happiness? What is God saying to you from this story?

*** Read Hebrews 10:23-25, and write down your insights as to why God commands us to worship with the church in community.

Part Three Study

Episode Three gives us clues that this entire story occurred early in the Judges’ Era (Judges 18:1). Joshua had allotted the tribe of Dan land near the Mediterranean, but the Amorites forced them to stay in the hill country (Judges 1:34). In our first lesson we learned that Israel’s failure to obey God’s instructions to rid the land of its inhabitants brought on idolatry and the cycles.

As you read this part of the story, consider the ripple effects of one man’s sinful actions—Micah.

Read Judges 18:1-31.

FYI: There’s debate as to whether recognizing a voice (v.3) means identifying an accent from a different area or being acquainted with a particular person.2 Also, Laish is described as land outside the allotments God made and not listed in the areas that God commanded to be cleared of their inhabitants.3

Journal your thoughts on these questions and the one below the quote:

  • What does this story add to what you know about Micah’s character? What does it tell you about the Danites?
  • What were the long-term effects of Micah’s false worship both to himself and to others?

The story’s big surprise is the identity of the Levite, who is unnamed until the end of the story. The term “son of Gershom” in Judges 18:30 may mean descendant, allowing the story to be a little later in the time of the Judges, but it may also be that he was Moses’s grandson, which would date it early in the Era of the Judges.4

“James 1:27 states that pure religion in God’s sight has two basic components: concern for the weak and vulnerable (this is, an ethical dimension that makes the best interests of others a priority) and spiritual purity (defined as keeping oneself unstained by the pagan world and its standards). Judges 17-18 depicts the antithesis of pure religion.”5

  • What insights do you have into this story in light of the quote on the previous page? What is God saying about your life?

*** False worship and false teaching is a danger in our churches too. What do you learn about identifying false teachers and their teaching from these verses, and how do those qualities relate to idolatry? Matthew 7:15-23; Acts 20:28-31 (Paul to the elders of the Ephesian church); Galatians 1:6-10; Colossians 2:8; 2 Timothy 2:15-19; 2 Pet. 2:1-2; 1 John 4:1-3.

Our idols not only affect our own lives, but we also spread them through our influence with our families, friends, communities and churches. Although it’s hard and uncomfortable, we each need to uncover and root out our idols before we infect others. Beware of what glitters lest it draw you and those you love away from true worship of the one and only God.

Susan’s Story

I grew up in a Christian home and in a very strong church that taught the Bible. I participated in the youth group, the Wednesday night activities, and the youth choir tours. I was there virtually every time the door was open. I loved my church, my friends, and the strong Bible teaching and music. I worked at a Christian camp after I graduated from high school. And I was very excited to be going to a Christian university after having spent 12 years in public school. I was sure that this would enhance my walk with the Lord. I would finally be able to relax and enjoy school with other believers.

When I got to college, I immediately felt accepted and successful and I began to acquire recognition and honors. I gradually began to substitute this for a growing relationship with the Lord. I still went to church but the Word wasn’t being taught. I prayed every day, but they were short prayers of thankfulness or prayers for help or prayers of desperation. I became a double-minded person (James 1), thinking that I could worship and serve God and do my own thing at the same time. I substituted human logic for divine revelation and I lost all discernment. I used my own reasoning to sort out situations and I enjoyed the passing pleasures of sin. When I reached the pinnacle of the achievement track I was on, I felt totally empty inside and was truly miserable. I knew that I should be happy. I had achieved the goals that I had set, but, I had drifted away from the truth and the rest of my life had lost its meaning.

Thankfully, God prevented me from making some disastrous decisions at this time in my life. (Most notably, he prevented me from marrying the wrong person by having that person decide it was not right.) Eventually, through God’s painful, loving discipline I began to think through some things and saw that he would not let me go my own way.

A friend invited me to a conference taught by the top speakers at Campus Crusade for Christ. I went night after night and I realized what I had left. These Bible teachers were exciting and challenging and I remembered that God’s Word was “alive and powerful and sharper than a two-edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12). I was challenged to confess sin and to be filled with the Holy Spirit. It was all coming back to me. I had left my “first love” (Revelation 2:4-5). I had drifted off on my own but God called me back to himself. How grateful I am today that he would not let me go my own way. His Word is truth, and I cannot make up my own way to serve him or to worship him. I have to do it his way.

I had avoided Bible studies when I was having so much “fun” in college because I knew I would feel convicted. I prayed that God would give me a desire to study his Word, and he has! The joy, peace, purpose, and fulfillment that I have now are the result of his working in and through my life. He has filled the emptiness that I tried to fill with position and relationships with himself. The plans I had for my life pale in comparison with what God planned. He has given me his best for me and I am still in the process of learning to trust him fully and not “lean on my own understanding” (Proverbs 3).


1 Younger, 336.

2 Chisholm, 455.

3 Ibid., 459-460.

4 “This Levite is a descendant of Gershom, the son of Moses (Ex. 2:22; 6:18-20), which means that he is a member of the Kohathite clan of the Levites . . . . Thus, this Levite should not have been living in Bethlehem in Judah.” Younger, Jr., 339.

5 Chisholm, 463.

Related Topics: Christian Life

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