From Worse to Worst (Judges 17-21)Related Media
A proud, young couple brought their newborn son to the pediatrician for his first checkup, and the doctor said, “You have a beautiful baby.” Smiling, the mom said, “I’ll bet you say that to all the new parents.”
“No,” the doctor replied, “just to those whose babies are really cute.” The mother responded, “So what do you say to the others?” The doctor replied, “I say, ‘He looks just like you.’”2
This story hits close to home because as a follower of Jesus, I want to find creative ways of speaking the truth in love.3 I want to be positive and uplifting. I want to encourage others. Yet, there are times when I have to be brutally honest with other believers. Today, we are going to test the old adage: “Honesty is the best policy.” We will test this expression by working our way through the ugliest section in the entire Bible—Judges 17–21. Whew! Buckle your seatbelt because this is going to be a doozy!
The final five chapters of Judges function as an appendix to the entire book. Instead of focusing on the sins of Israel or of their judges, these chapters look closely at the lives of two Levites. Levites were the priestly tribe in Israel—the religious leadership of the nation. Sadly, we will discover that the religious leadership is not holding the nation accountable for its sin.4 Instead, the Levites are as messed up as the people they are supposed to lead!5 Their small, personal failures escalate to tribal and national dimensions and plunge Israel into political and moral anarchy.6 Thus, Judges concludes with a finger pointing in the face of the Levites. The overriding message is: When God goes, everything and anything goes.7
Scene 1: The idolatrous Levite (17:1–18:31). Our story begins in 17:1–6 when a man by the name of Micah steals a large amount of silver from his mother.8 The exact amount is 1100 pieces of silver (about 28 lbs).9 An average yearly salary in Micah’s day was ten pieces of silver (17:10), so he ripped off a fortune. Micah’s mom gets ticked and pronounces a curse on the thief. This is completely understandable. How would you feel if someone ripped off your retirement? Tragically, due to our crashing economy, perhaps you know first-hand the feelings Micah’s mom experienced. When Micah learns of his mom’s curse, he gets nervous and returns her silver.10 The Old Testament law required Micah to add a fifth to what he had stolen, but there is no record of him doing so. It is not the fear of the Lord that motivates Micah to confess his crime and restore the money; it is the fear of his mom’s curse. Micah is not broken over his sin; instead, he is merely trying to save his own skin.11
To make matters worse, when Micah returns his mom’s silver, she doesn’t curse him…she blesses him! This mom’s values are upside down! Micah’s mom doesn’t discipline her son; instead she rewards him by hiring a silversmith to make her son idols that he then brings into his home.12 I don’t need to tell you that this is NOT a good thing! Apparently, this mother doesn’t condemn her son because she is a thief as well. In 17:3 she says, “I wholly dedicate the silver from my hand to the Lord,” however, in the very next verse she only coughs up 200 pieces of the silver! What happened to the other 900 pieces that she had promised to the Lord?13 It appears that she keeps this amount for herself! She is a thief and she is not a woman of her word. She does not set a godly example and fails to pass biblical values on to her son. So the sad outcome is: like mother, like son. Micah follows up his mom’s sin and his own sin with even more sin. He consecrates one of his sons to become his priest. This is completely opposed to God’s plan. Micah and his son are Ephramites and the Bible declares that only Levites are to be priests. There is disobedience all over the place in this account. Consequently, the author pens these disturbing words in 17:6: “In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes.” This is the key verse of the Book of Judges. It is likely that the expression, “In those days there was no king in Israel” (17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25) refers to God as King (see Deut 33:5).14 Israel has completely ignored God’s ways and instead has chosen to go their own way. The phrase “every man did what was right in his own eyes” (17:6; 21:25) tells the sad story of human history. Even today, we live by the philosophy, “If it feels right, if it seems right, do it. What’s right for me must be right.”
Micah and his mom epitomize what happens when you do what is right in your own eyes.15 They managed to break seven of the Ten Commandments (Exod 20:1–17) without even leaving their home.16 As far as sinners go, this is fairly remarkable. Yet, Micah’s name means, “Who is like Yahweh?” He is a believer in Yahweh who is not living up to his name. Instead of honoring the Lord’s name, Micah calls the shots and lives for himself. It’s easy to do this…all it takes is just a few small compromises. These compromises can easily result in idolatry.17 Perhaps you don’t feel like you are guilty of idolatry. You sold your boat and one of your three cars, stopped spending so much time in your yard, and started to prioritize your family over your job. I commend you. But in this context, the idolatry is primarily spiritual. Is it possible that your idol is your ministry, your biblical or doctrinal knowledge, your spiritual gifts, your reputation, or your marriage and family? Remember, an idol is anyone or anything that usurps the place of God. An idol can be one of God’s gifts that is abused or misprioritized. Do you have an idol that needs to be surrendered to the Lord? If so, give it to Him today!
In 17:7–13, we are introduced to a young Levite named Jonathan (see 18:30) who has been living in Bethlehem, which is not one of the cities assigned to the priests and Levites.18 He is probably unemployed. With the spiritual collapse of the nation, there is little or no demand for priests. Sadly, instead of seeking the Lord to meet his needs, Jonathan set out to find a place to live and work, even if it means abandoning his calling as a servant of God. Quickly he runs into Micah who invited him to be his personal priest. Certainly Micah knows that the Lord had appointed the family of Aaron to be the only priests in Israel; and if anybody outside Aaron’s family served as priests, they were to be killed (Num 3:10). Micah continues his sinful choices. Jonathan is no better.19 Think about this for a moment: What did Micah have in his house? Shouldn’t a Levite who is to able to teach the law know that Micah has broken God’s law? If Jonathan is typical of God’s servants in the period of the Judges, then it’s no wonder the nation of Israel is confused and corrupt. Jonathan has no appreciation for his high calling as a Levite, a chosen servant of God.20 He gives up God’s call for comfort and security in the home of an idolater. The irony in all this is Micah now thinks he has God’s favor because a genuine levitical priest is serving as his private chaplain. Micah practices a false religion and worships false gods (with Yahweh thrown in for good measure), and all the while he rests on the false confidence that God is blessing him! Little does he know that the day would come when his priest and his gods will be taken from him and nothing will be left of his religion.
In 18:1–31, the author of Judges focuses on the Danites—a small tribe in Israel21 who begin “seeking an inheritance for themselves to live in” (18:1b). The Lord had assigned the tribal allotments under the direction of Joshua, with the help of Eleazar, the high priest, and the elders from the tribes (Josh 19:51). God put each tribe just where He wanted it. For the tribe of Dan to reject God’s assigned territory and covet another place is to oppose His divine will. Dan eventually discovers Laish—a place of security and comfort. Dan ends up conquering this land and claiming it for themselves in the name of ease and prosperity. This sounds a lot like you and me, doesn’t it? Instead of submitting to God’s will and waiting on Him, it is easy to go after what somebody else has.22 TV and the Internet compel us to crave more and to never be satisfied with what we have. Therefore, we go out and spend money that we don’t have on things we don’t need to impress people who don’t really care. At some point, we must recognize that we don’t need a better car, a larger house, a better job, a new spouse, different children, or the perfect church. Rather, God wants us to learn to be content and to trust that He alone can satisfy our restless hearts.
On their way to conquer Laish, the Danites send out five men to spy out the land. On their journey they come across the house of Micah, where they spend the night. When they hear the young priest speaking, they recognize his accent and know he is not from Ephraim. He probably said, “Shalom ya’ all.” Upon recognizing that he is a Levite priest, they immediately pepper him with a trio of questions: “Who brought you here? And what are you doing in this place? And what do you have here?” (18:3) It’s always disturbing when those who are in sin “call out” other believers who are in sin without first examining their own hearts.23
Jonathan’s response is hilarious. In 18:4 he says, “Thus and so has Micah done to me, and he has hired me and I have become his priest.” In other words, Jonathan lays a pile of baloney on the Danite men. He justifies his decision to work for Micah. The Danites realize that they have come across a two-timing spiritual compromiser. This pleases them because they are interested in Jonathan’s services. So they reply, “‘Inquire of God, please, that we may know whether our way on which we are going will be prosperous.’ The priest said to them, ‘Go in peace; your way in which you are going has the LORD’S approval’” (18:5–6). This priest resorts to ear tickling and confidently approves what God disapproves. What a sell-out! On another front, if the tribe of Dan had really wanted God’s counsel, they could have consulted with the high priest. But they were actually rejecting God’s counsel by refusing to remain in the land He had assigned to them. Therefore, it wasn’t likely God would have revealed anything to them. So with the blessing of the priest, the Danites scope out Laish and then return home to tell their brothers of the paradise they have discovered (18:7–13).
The Danites then prepare to conquer Laish, but first they make another visit to Micah’s house (18:14–17). This time they discover the idols! Instead of being incensed with Israelite idolatry, they decide that they want these idols for themselves! So with 600 men waiting at the city gate, the five spies waltz into Micah’s house and steal his idols. When Jonathan realizes what is going on he says, “What are you doing?” The men reply, “Shut up, boy! Mind your own business.” Actually, they say: “‘Be silent, put your hand over your mouth and come with us, and be to us a father and a priest. Is it better for you to be a priest to the house of one man, or to be priest to a tribe and a family in Israel?’ The priest’s heart was glad, and he took the ephod and household idols and the graven image and went among the people” (18:19–20). Jonathan is a priest for hire. He goes to the highest bidder. After all, every priest has his price, right? In doing so, he leads the Danites into idolatry.24
On their way out of town Micah returns and finds the idols from his crib are gone! So he tears out of his house and shouts at the departing Danites. Micah’s pathetic words are found in 18:24: “You have taken away my gods which I made, and the priest, and have gone away, and what do I have besides?’” Micah is so far out of fellowship with God that he feels like he has nothing else of value besides his idols! Consequently, he is willing to risk his life for his gods! After all, a man must protect his gods! What a sad state of affairs. When God goes, everything and anything goes. Since the Danites outnumber Micah and his neighbors they have to turn around and go home defeated.
The Danites continue on their merry way and destroy the people of Laish as they are minding their own business. Chapter 18 concludes with the Danites experiencing no visible consequences, apart from their idolatry (18:27–30). Yet, this is not the end of the story.25 In the Book of 1 Chronicles, when the list of the tribes and families in Israel is given, Dan is the only tribe which is totally ignored. They had vanished into obscurity, probably because of intermarriage with the Philistines. Dan did not take what God had given to them, and they took what God had not given them. In the process, they lost all that they had. Furthermore, in Rev 7, we are introduced to the 144,000 Jewish believers who will carry out a special ministry for God in the Tribulation. In that list of tribes, Dan is not mentioned. They refused to follow God’s mission for them in the land of Israel, and they chose the easy way. Therefore, God refused to give them this special ministry of blessing for Him in the future.26 The lesson here is that there is pleasure in sin for a season (Heb 11:25), but eventually God brings His discipline (Heb 12:5–11). If you are thinking about divorcing your spouse, having an affair, sleeping with your boyfriend or girlfriend, stealing from your employer, or walking away from the church, don’t do it! The consequences may not hit at once, but when they do they will be devastating! Interestingly, the sin of Micah, his mom, and a Levite priest profoundly affected those around them. In the end, the Danites were eliminated from usefulness. What a powerful reminder of the consequences of sin! One person’s seemingly inconsequential actions can carry a hefty price tag. The converse is also true: A righteous person’s obedience can be a blessing to others for generations to come.
Scene 2: The violent Levite (19:1–21:25). These three chapters are hideous! In these closing pages of Judges there is wife abuse, blatant homosexuality, gang rape leading to murder, injustice, brother killing brother, and even kidnapping. Yet, if you watch the news or scan your newspaper, you will see that the Book of Judges prophetically describes the sad state of affairs in our country as well. The author begins 19:1 for the third time with the familiar phrase “Now it came about in those days, when there was no king in Israel...” The rest of the chapter then tells the story of another Levite. If you thought that the Levite Jonathan (17:7–18:31) was bad, then you’ll probably conclude that this next unnamed Levite is the worst of the worse. This fellow is living temporarily in the hill country of Ephraim. He, too, seems to be unemployed or displaced. He is not at Israel’s legitimate place of worship—Shiloh (see 18:31). He has acquired a concubine27 from Bethlehem, but she is sexually unfaithful and runs home to her father in Bethlehem for protection.28 She is gone for four months and her husband misses her; so he travels to Bethlehem, forgives her, and reconciles. He and his father-in-law discover they enjoy each other’s company and spend five days eating, drinking, and being merry. Little did the Levite realize that he really has nothing to be happy about because tragedy is stalking his marriage (19:1–9).
Finally, after five days the couple decides to leave. As they journey, the Levite’s servant asks to spend the night at Jebus (Jerusalem). Since Jebus is not an Israelite town at the moment, the Levite wants to press on until they are in Israelite territory. So they travel another four miles until they arrive at Gibeah—a town in Benjamite territory. They arrive at Gibeah in the darkness29 and come into the town square, where they expect to be greeted and offered hospitality.30 Finally, an elderly fellow passes by who is returning from the fields. He is not a Benjamite; his home is in the hill country of Ephraim, but he is living temporarily in Gibeah. When the old man sees the weary travelers he invites them to his house for the night, insisting that he provide food for them. After they have just finished eating, the men of the city come to the door and insist that the old man send out the Levite, so that they can sexually assault him. The men of Gibeah turn out to be as wicked as the heathen around them! In 19:23–26 the author writes, “Then the man, the owner of the house, went out to them and said to them, ‘No, my fellows, please do not act so wickedly; since this man has come into my house, do not commit this act of folly. Here is my virgin daughter and his concubine. Please let me bring them out that you may ravish them and do to them whatever you wish. But do not commit such an act of folly against this man.’ But the men would not listen to him. So the man seized his concubine and brought her out to them; and they raped her and abused her all night until morning, then let her go at the approach of dawn. As the day began to dawn, the woman came and fell down at the doorway of the man’s house where her master was, until full daylight.” Our hearts revolt at the thought of a man so insensitive to the feelings of a human being made in the image of God, so indifferent to the sanctity of sex and the responsibility of marriage, and so unconcerned about the laws of God, that he would sacrifice his wife to save his own skin. Was he punishing her for being unfaithful to him? If so, the punishment was far greater than the sin. It is also incredibly disturbing that this Levite was able to lie down and go to sleep while they were abusing her in the street! How calloused can a man become? This is Sodom relived (Gen 19)! The covenant nation had fallen to the level of the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah. Instead of driving the Canaanites out of the land, Israel becomes like the Canaanites. But before we point the finger at these Israelites and say, “What a bunch of sickos; I would never do anything like that!” we need to recognize that there have been plenty of times we have failed to love and respect our spouse the way God intends.
We return to this awful account in 19:27–30: “When her master arose in the morning and opened the doors of the house and went out to go on his way, then behold, his concubine was lying at the doorway of the house with her hands on the threshold. He said to her, ‘Get up and let us go,’ but there was no answer. Then he placed her on the donkey; and the man arose and went to his home. When he entered his house, he took a knife and laid hold of his concubine and cut her in twelve pieces, limb by limb, and sent her throughout the territory of Israel. All who saw it said, ‘Nothing like this has ever happened or been seen from the day when the sons of Israel came up from the land of Egypt to this day. Consider it, take counsel and speak up!’”
What a despicable account! The Levite desecrates and mutilates his wife’s corpse by cutting it into twelve parts and fed-exing one part to each of the twelve tribes of Israel.31 Of course, he wants to mobilize the support of the tribes and punish the men of Gibeah who have killed his wife, but in fact, he was the one who had let them kill her! Surely there were other ways to call attention to Gibeah’s crime. Had the Levite gone to Shiloh where the tabernacle stood (18:31), and had he consulted with the high priest, he could have dealt with the matter according to God’s law and avoided causing a great deal of trouble. Once tempers were heated in Israel, however, it was difficult to stop the fire from spreading. The outrage escalates into a full-scale civil war that almost destroys the tribe of Benjamin.
In chapter 20, the tribes of Israel gather together in unison and prepare to pour out their wrath on the perverts of Gibeah.32 They take three vows: (1) No one will go home until Gibeah is attacked and destroyed. (2) Anyone who does not join against Gibeah will be killed. (3) No one will allow his daughter to marry a Benjaminite. Ironically, Israel is finally unified as “one man.” However, they are unified in their quest for vengeance. Unfortunately, the Levite testifies against the men of Gibeah without owning his sin. Naturally, not knowing the full story, the Israelites are all the more infuriated. When the Israelites approach the Benjamites, they refuse to hand over the men who committed the atrocity.33 Instead, they decide to go to war with Israel. So 26,000 plus Benjamites go to war with over 400,000 Israelites! While this civil war is certainly not God’s will, the men of Gibeah are evil men and have to be punished before the Lord could be pleased with His people and cleanse His land. When sin isn’t exposed, confessed, and punished, it pollutes society and defiles the land. The wicked men of Gibeah are like a cancerous tumor in the body that has to be cut out.34 When God’s people refuse to obey God’s Word, the results are always tragic. The spiritual life of a church is crippled and eventually destroyed when the congregation shuts its eyes to sin and will not discipline offenders. There can never be unity among the people of God as long as some of them cover up sin and allow it to infect the body.
At the Lord’s instruction, Judah leads the charge against the 26,000 Benjamite warriors. The Benjamites manage to kill 22,000 Israelites the first day of battle. The Israelites weep before the Lord because of their loss and question whether they should continue their attack. Perhaps this was one reason why God permitted the Israelites to lose that first battle. It gave them an opportunity to reflect on the fact that they were fighting their own flesh and blood. The Lord instructs them to attack, but the Gibeonites kill 18,000 Israelites that day. The whole Israelite army went up to Bethel where they fast and weep before the Lord. They offer sacrifices to the Lord and inquire once again if they should continue to attack. The Lord instructs them to attack once again, but this time He assures them of victory (20:28). The Israelites set an ambush and then feigned defeat, so that the Benjamites pressed their attack, leaving the safety of the city. The retreating forces then turned around and went on the attack. The battle was fierce, but when the day was over 25,100 Benjamite warriors had been slain in battle. The Benjamite army was decimated. Only 600 soldiers survived and fled to the rock of Rimmon (20:47). The Israelites then completely destroyed the Benjamite cities, just as they had annihilated the Canaanites (20:48).35 What a price the tribe of Benjamin paid for refusing to obey the Law of the Lord!
In chapter 21, it appears that Israel develops a hint of a conscience. They weep over the fact that the tribe of Benjamin will be eliminated from Israel. So instead of consulting the Lord, they develop a scheme to preserve Benjamin. But instead of getting directions from the Lord, the eleven tribes depend on their own wisdom to solve the problem. The 600 men who were left from Benjamin would need wives if they were going to reestablish their tribe, but the eleven tribes had sworn not to give them wives. Where would these wives come from? The Israelites solved the problem by killing more of their own people! Nobody had come to the war from Jabesh-gilead, which meant two things: They hadn’t participated in the oath, and the city deserved to be punished.36 The executioners found 400 virgins in the city, women who could become wives to two thirds of the soldiers on the rock. These men had been on the rock for four months (20:47), but now they could take their brides and go home. What a price was paid for these wives!
The elders held another meeting to discuss how they could provide wives for the remaining 200 men. Somebody remembered that many of the virgins from the tribes participated in an annual feast at Shiloh. If the remaining 200 men of Benjamin hid near the place, they could each kidnap a girl and take her home as a wife. The tribes wouldn’t be violating their oath because they wouldn’t be giving the girls as brides. The girls were being taken. It was a matter of semantics, but they agreed to follow the plan. Thus, the 600 men got their brides, the eleven tribes kept their vow, the citizens of Gibeah were punished, the tribe of Benjamin was taught a lesson, and the twelve tribes of Israel were saved. The 600 men of Benjamin, with their brides, returned to their inheritance, cleaned up the debris, repaired the cities, and started life all over again (21:19–24). In some ways, it is a fitting end to this record of such a tragic period in Israel’s history. In the end, the Israelites are no better than the Canaanites whom they were to dispossess.
For the fourth time (17:6; 18:1; 19:1), the writer tells us that “there was no king in Israel;” and for the second time (17:6), he adds that “every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (21:25). Today, there is no king in Israel because the nation chose Barabbas instead of Jesus (Luke 23:13–25). They said, “We will not have this man to reign over us” (Luke 19:14). Because there’s no king in Israel, people are rebelling against God and doing whatever pleases them; and it will be that way until the King returns and takes His throne on earth. All of this carnage and destruction happened because one Levite didn’t have the courage to stand up for what was right and treat his wife honorably. Once again, as with Jonathan, Micah, and the Danites (17:1–18:31), the problem started in the home, among God’s people. When God goes, everything and anything goes.
1 Corinthians 5:6–8
1. Why did Micah choose to have idols in his home (17:1–13)? Note: Micah’s idols became an impetus for worship in northern Israel for hundreds of years (1 Kings 12:25–33; 2 Kings 17:22–23). What are the repercussions of my sinful decisions? How has my past sin haunted my family and those within my sphere of influence? What will I do today to avoid sin and put a stop to future consequences for my family and me?
2. How do little compromises lead to disastrous results? Read 1 Corinthians 5:1–13. Is there a sinful area in my life that I have been dismissing or justifying? Perhaps I am not in sin, but am I abusing a good gift from God? If so, who will I enlist to help me overcome my sin or reprioritize my life? Will I be honest with this individual and ask for accountability?
3. The Levites, the priestly tribe, led Israel into sin. How could this have been avoided? In what ways are contemporary Christian leaders responsible for the health of the church? Read Luke 12:48; James 2:13; and Hebrews 13:17. Why is it so difficult to be a faithful leader? How can I support and encourage my leaders? How can I be a more effective leader over those God has given me influence?
4. The clause that summarizes the Book of Judges is “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (17:6; 21:25). How does this typify our country? In what specific ways has this mentality crept into the church? What can I do to help my church remain committed to a biblical world view? Will I lovingly challenge believers who refuse to adopt and live out biblical doctrine?
5. Is God an angry God? If so, when and how does He become angry? Read Isaiah 1 and Nahum 1. In what specific ways does God reveal His anger in Judges 21? How can I balance God’s wrath with His love? Is there a balance or are both attributes equally important aspects of God’s character? Why or why not? How can I avoid God’s discipline in my own life?
1 Copyright © 2009 Keith R. Krell. All rights reserved. All Scripture quotations, unless indicated, are taken from the New American Standard Bible, © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1975, 1977, and 1995 by The Lockman Foundation, and are used by permission.
2 PreachingNow Vol. 8, No. 11: May 16, 2009.
3 See Paul’s words in Eph 4:15: “…but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ.”
4 As Waltke states, “The tribe that the Lord chose to preserve Israel’s piety and morality proves to be unfaithful.” Bruce K. Waltke, An Old Testament Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007), 613.
5 There is a spiritual vacuum throughout the Book of Judges. In fact, the only individuals who rebuke Israel for her sin are: an “angelic messenger” (2:1–4), God Himself (2:20–21), the prophetess Deborah (4:4ff.), and one unnamed prophet (6:7–10). Where are the priests or the prophets? Is there no man who will stand up for God? The Book of Judges is strangely silent in this regard. Bob Deffinbaugh, “Israel’s Dark Ages” from the series From Creation to the Cross: http://www.bible.org/page.php?page_id=1482.
6 Waltke, An Old Testament Theology, 613.
7 Gary Inrig, Heart of Iron, Feet of Clay (Chicago: Moody, 1979), 285.
8 What goes around comes around, for in Judg 18:17 Micah is stolen from.
9 This is the same amount each of the Philistine governors had given Delilah as a reward for delivering Samson into their hands (Judg 16:5).
10 Waltke, An Old Testament Theology, 614.
11 This genuine lack of repentance is typical of God’s people throughout the Book of Judges.
12 The same two Hebrew terms for idols occur together also in Deut 27:15.
13 Inrig, Heart of Iron, Feet of Clay, 269; Daniel I. Block, Judges, Ruth. The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1999), 480.
14 Block, Judges, Ruth, 476.
15 Eaton writes, “Almost everything in this story is wrong.” Michael Eaton, Judges and Ruth. Preaching through the Bible (England: Sovereign World, 2000), 97.
16 The son didn’t honor his mother; instead, he stole from her and then lied about it. First, he coveted the silver, and then he took it. Then he lied about the whole enterprise until the curse scared him into confessing. Thus he broke the fifth, eighth, ninth, and tenth commandments; and he broke the first and second commandments by having a shrine of false gods in his home. According to Prov 30:8–9, when he stole the silver, he broke the third commandment and took the name of the Lord in vain. Breaking seven of the Ten Commandments without leaving your own home is quite an achievement! Micah’s mother broke the first two commandments by making an idol and encouraging her son to maintain a private “shrine” in his home. According to Deut 12:1–14, there was to be but one place of worship in Israel; and the people were not permitted to have their own private shrines.
17 The stupidity of idolatry is discussed in Isa 44:9–20.
18 He compromised in departing from one of the forty-eight cities God gave for Levite service to Israel (Josh 21; cf. Num 35).
19 The narrator saves the best irony for last: Jonathan is Moses’ great-grandson. (Judg 17:10–11; 18:30). What a sad reminder that godly ancestors do not necessarily guarantee godly offspring. Every generation must make its own personal decision to follow the Lord and His Word.
20 Not only were the Levites to assist the priests in their ministries (Num 3:6–13; 8:17–18), but also they were to teach the Law to the people (Neh 8:7–9; 2 Chron 17:7–9; 35:3) and be involved in the sacred music and the praises of Israel (1 Chron 23:28–32; Ezra 3:10).
21 The tribe of Dan descended from Jacob’s fifth son, born of Rachel’s handmaid Bilhah (Gen 30:1–6). Though not a large tribe (Num 1:39), it was given choice territory when the tribal boundaries were assigned (Josh 19:40–48). The Danites, however, weren’t able to defeat and dispossess the enemy (Judg 1:34), thus they decided to go north and relocate. Most of the other tribes were able to conquer the enemy, dispossess them, and claim their land, but the Danites coveted somebody else’s land instead and took it in a violent manner.
22 See James 4:1–3.
23 See Matt 7:1–5.
24 The tribe of Dan was the first tribe in Israel to officially adopt an idolatrous system of religion. Even though there was a house of God in Shiloh, they preferred their images and idols. Years later, when the kingdom divided, Jeroboam I of Israel would set up golden calves in Dan and Beersheba and encourage the whole nation to turn away from the true and living God (1 Kgs 12:25–33).
25 Unfortunately, what Jacob prophesied about the tribe of Dan came true (Gen 49:17).
26 Inrig, Heart of Iron, Feet of Clay, 279.
27 A concubine was a lawful wife who was guaranteed only food, clothing, and marital privileges (Exod 21:7–11; Deut 21:10–14). Any children she bore would be considered legitimate; but because of her second-class status, they wouldn’t necessarily share in the family inheritance (Gen 25:1–6). If a man’s wife was barren, he sometimes took a concubine so he could establish a family. Though the law controlled concubinage, the Lord did not approve or encourage it; yet you will find several OT men who had concubines, including Abraham, Jacob, Gideon, Saul, David, and Solomon.
28 See Lev 20:10.
29 During the period of the Judges, it was dangerous to travel in the daytime (Judg 5:6) and even more so at night.
30 Hospitality is one of the sacred laws of the East, and no stranger was to be neglected. God’s people are commanded to practice hospitality. It’s one of the qualifications for a pastor (1 Tim 3:2; Titus 1:8). Heb 13:2 states, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.”
31 See Judges 1:5–7 for the corresponding Canaanite example of mutilation.
32 The penalty for rape was death, and gang rape would be even more serious (Deut 22:25–26). Perhaps the tribes were citing the law concerning wicked men in a city (Deut 13:12–18) and using that as the basis for their action. Whatever law they were obeying, the tribes were concerned to “put away evil out of the land,” a phrase that is found at least nine times in Deuteronomy.
33 Some people may have interpreted the stubbornness of Benjamin as an act of patriotism: They were only trying to protect their own citizens. But their refusal to cooperate was definitely an act of rebellion against the Lord.
34 See 1 Cor 5:6.
35 The account of the battle with the Benjamites (20:1–48) shows remarkable similarities with the battle at the city of Ai (Joshua 7–8) and the initial conquest of the land after the death of Joshua (Judg 1:1–36). It is significant that these passages stressed the people’s failure to obey God and conquer the land. By casting these narratives to resemble the times of past failures, the writer shows that during the time of the judges, the people are unable or unwilling to obey the Lord, that’s repeating the sins of their fathers. It is not hard to recognize in this a warning drawn from the lessons of the Pentateuch: “You shall not make for yourself an idol… (Exod 20:4–5). John Sailhamer, NIV Compact Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 212.
36 It’s possible that when the twelve parts of the concubine’s body were sent throughout Israel, a warning was issued that any tribe or city that didn’t respond and help fight Benjamin would be treated the same way. This is the kind of warning King Saul gave when he used a similar approach (1 Sam 11:7).