Morning Message – John Cline
Judges 13, 14, 15, and 16
Four times in the Book of Judges we are told that:
In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit. (Judges 17:6; 18:1; 19:1, 21:25))
Today, we will hear three of those verses read in the chapters we are going through while the fourth time will be in our final sermon on the Book of Judges where it is in the last verse of the last chapter of the book, as a kind of summary statement explaining the reason behind all the terrible things that happened during that that 300-year time period. Remember, the author of Judges was not an eyewitness living during the events of Judges but a later historian living during the stable kingships of either King David or King Solomon. The author firmly believed that having a godly king, as was the case in the time period he was living in, profoundly impacted Israelite society for the better. So, there is little theology expressed in the Book of Judges. Rather, Judges is a straight-forward retelling of historical events, both good and bad, noted without comment. The events written about were not put down to indicate God’s approval of the terrible things that transpired, nor were they put down for us to admire or copy. The basic theology in the book is this: that without the stability of a godly king, there were no moral boundaries placed upon people’s lives and so they did as they wanted. The end result was chaos and despair.
Nicky Gumbel, the main speaker of the wildly influential video course, the “Alpha Series,” told of how one day he took his son to his soccer game. When the scheduled referee didn’t show up, the other parents – who were all moms – decided that Nicky (being the only male there) should naturally be the stand-in referee until the real ref showed up. But that was a terrible decision because the moms all knew the rules better than Nicky did, as he explained. Still, he gave it a go. However, when a foul was committed, and the whining and crying players pleaded for a foul to be called, Nicky Gumbel didn’t know the rules and so would simply respond with, “play on!” The players were frustrated and the game got chippier and led to eventual chaos with everyone just making up their own rules. “Play on!” That was all Nicky could say because he didn’t know the rules. No one was happy! Finally, the real referee showed up, blew his whistle, and restored order to the pitch. Rules were implemented, boundaries established, order was restored, and the end result was good! These things are for us to learn from.
In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit. A young Levite from Bethlehem in Judah, who had been living within the clan of Judah, left that town in search of some other place to stay. On his way he came to Micah’s house in the hill country of Ephraim. Micah asked him, “Where are you from?” “I’m a Levite from Bethlehem in Judah,” he said, “and I’m looking for a place to stay.” Then Micah said to him, “Live with me and be my father and priest, and I’ll give you ten shekels of silver a year, your clothes and your food.” So, the Levite agreed to live with him, and the young man became like one of his sons to him. Then Micah installed the Levite, and the young man became his priest and lived in his house. And Micah said, “Now I know that the Lord will be good to me, since this Levite has become my priest.” In those days Israel had no king. (Judges 17:6-18:1)
Ok, to clarify: there was a man named Micah who hired a wandering Levite priest to live with him as his personal priest, all expenses paid. Micah had an ephod which he worshipped, as well as several household gods and an idol. He was so mixed up in his spirituality that he believed having his own personal Levite would bring him God’s favour, in addition to those good luck charms he had collected. Levites were supposed to be objective mediators between humans and God, not bought-off workers for a person. That Levite was compromised,
a sell out, a fact that was about to be exploited by men from the tribe of Dan. Remember, each of the 12 tribes of Israel had been allotted land hundreds of years earlier by Moses and Joshua but the requirement was for them to go and take their land from the people living there. The Danites had been too afraid to do so, however, and so had lived homeless in the land of Israel, the only tribe to live in such a way.
And in those days the tribe of the Danites was seeking a place of their own where they might settle, because they had not yet come into an inheritance among the tribes of Israel. So, the Danites sent five of their leading men from Zorah and Eshtaol to spy out the land and explore it. These men represented all the Danites. They told them, “Go, explore the land.” So, they entered the hill country of Ephraim and came to the house of Micah, where they spent the night. When they were near Micah’s house, they recognized the voice of the young Levite; so, they turned in there and asked him, “Who brought you here? What are you doing in this place? Why are you here?” He told them what Micah had done for him, and said, “He has hired me, and I am his priest.” Then they said to him, “Please inquire of God to learn whether our journey will be successful.” The priest answered them, “Go in peace. Your journey has the Lord’s approval.” So, the five men left and came to Laish, where they saw that the people were living in safety, like the Sidonians, at peace and secure. (Judges 18:2-7a)
That Levite was hardly one to objectively seek God’s will for he was not seeking YHWH God’s will with the rest of his life, what with him being willing to break his vows as a Levite of living and serving objectively and not with him being willing to live with household gods, an ephod that was worshipped, and an idol. Meanwhile, the Danites were pleased with the Levites’ answer (fraudulent as it was for God would never approve of the massacring of an innocent people group, such as the people who lived in the two of Laish), and set off back to the land where their people were living, the area of modern-day Tel Aviv, then known as Zorah and Eshtaol.
When they returned to Zorah and Eshtaol, their fellow Danites asked them, “How did you find things?” They answered, “Come on, let’s attack them! We have seen the land, and it is very good. Aren’t you going to do something? Don’t hesitate to go there and take it over. When you get there, you will find an unsuspecting people and a spacious land that God has put into your hands, a land that lacks nothing whatever.” Then six hundred men of the Danites, armed for battle, set out from Zorah and Eshtaol…From there they went on to the hill country of Ephraim and came to Micah’s house. Then the five men who had spied out the land of Laish said to their fellow Danites, “Do you know that one of these houses has an ephod, some household gods and an image overlaid with silver? Now you know what to do.” So, they turned in there and went to the house of the young Levite at Micah’s place and greeted him. The six hundred Danites, armed for battle, stood at the entrance of the gate. The five men who had spied out the land went inside and took the idol, the ephod and the household gods while the priest and the six-hundred-armed men stood at the entrance of the gate. When the five men went into Micah’s house and took the idol, the ephod and the household gods, the priest said to them, “What are you doing?” They answered him, “Be quiet! Don’t say a word. Come with us and be our father and priest. Isn’t it better that you serve a tribe and clan in Israel as priest rather than just one man’s household?” The priest was very pleased. He took the ephod, the household gods and the idol and went along with the people. When they had gone some distance from Micah’s house, the men who lived near Micah were called together and overtook the Danites. As they shouted after them, the Danites turned and said to Micah, “What’s the matter with you that you called out your men to fight?” He replied, “You took the gods I made, and my priest, and went away. What else do I have? How can you ask, ‘What’s the matter with you?’” The Danites answered, “Don’t argue with us, or some of the men may get angry and attack you, and you and your family will lose your lives.” So, the Danites went their way, and Micah, seeing that they were too strong for him, turned around and went back home. (Judges 18:8-26)
Those Danites were thugs, pure and simply. It is like the mafia threatening those they have made themselves in charge over. The Danites had heard about the idol, ephod, and household gods in Micah’s house and wanted them for themselves, as good luck talisman guaranteeing them success. So, they returned to Micah’s house and sent in the same five men as before, while 600 Danite soldiers stood outside in a show of intimidation! The weakness of that Levite priest was evident for all to see, as was that man Micah’s weakness.
Then they took what Micah had made, and his priest, and went on to Laish, against a people at peace and secure. They attacked them with the sword and burned down their city. There was no one to rescue them because they lived a long way from Sidon and had no relationship with anyone else. The city was in a valley near Beth Rehob. The Danites rebuilt the city and settled there…They continued to use the idol Micah had made, all the time the house of God was in Shiloh. In those days Israel had no king. (Judges 18:27,28;18:31;19:1a)
In those days there was no king, and everyone did whatever they pleased. Historically, the next book in line after Judges was First Samuel. Now, Samuel was a humble prophet of God and was viewed as Israel’s leader during his life. Unfortunately, Samuel still had a mentality that Israel should have judges though there had been none during his lifetime. He felt that Israel should still have judges, though, so when he was an old man, he appointed his two sons to be Israel’s judges. That was not wise.
When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as Israel’s judges. The name of his firstborn was Joel and the name of his second was Abijah, and they served at Beersheba. But his sons did not follow his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice. So, all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.” But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so, he prayed to the Lord. And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.” (1 Samuel 8:1-9)
Now, by this time, the Israelites people had been pushed around by the various Canaanite people groups for about 300 years and they were tired of it. They determined that the way to get that to stop would be to have what the other nations had: a king. Samuel was appalled and he reminded them that they already had a king, YHWH God, whom if they would only serve and honour Him, would grant them peace.
“You said to me,” ‘we want a king to rule over us’ – “even though the Lord your God was your king.” (1 Samuel 12:12)
He explained to them why their desire for a king would backfire.
Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. (1 Samuel 8:10)
He informed them that a king would take their sons, their daughters, their men servants, and their maid servants away from them, and make them all serve him, instead. A king would devastate the land.
He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.” But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.” When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before the Lord. The Lord answered, “Listen to them and give them a king.” Then Samuel said to the Israelites, “Everyone go back to your own town.” (1 Sam 8:17-22)
Why did Israel want an earthly king when they had God? Simply put, they were not spiritually mature. They saw things only through human eyes. They wanted someone with skin that they could physically see and listen to and touch. YHWH God comforted Samuel, “It is not you they have rejected, but me. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you.” Now, God had already proven Himself to be the best king possible by redeeming them from Egypt; however, Israel wanted to be like the surrounding people groups. They did not want God as their king. This would have been because they wanted to have an earthly king who would not probe into their personal lives and question why they were worshiping ephods, household gods, and idols. An earthly king wouldn’t care about those things but YHWH as king would. The people didn’t want God laying down his moral and ethical laws upon them. They wanted to do whatever they pleased. An earthly king would “live and let live” and the people wouldn’t have to listen or obey his rules. But that would not be the case with YHWH God. The people would rather be like the surrounding people groups and worship false deities and follow their own rules than submit to God or His rules, not at all comprehending what a bad decision that was.
So, Samuel gave in, and anointed Saul to be Israel’s first king, who was followed soon after by David and Solomon, a period of stability during which the author of the Book of Judges most likely lived. But, after Solomon, the kingdom of Israel split in two and there were then two competing kings, kings who devastated their own people. Eventually, the entire enterprise of Jewish kings fell apart, and kings reigning over Israel ceased to be in the 6th century B.C.. Centuries passed and a non-Jew by the name of Herod, a man whose father was an Edomite and his mother an Arab Nabatean (thus, both non-Jews) but whose best friend was the Roman politician Mark Antony, got himself appointed in 47 B.C. by the Roman Senate to be the “King of the Jews”. But the Jewish people didn’t honour him or respect him as their king. They knew he wasn’t Jewish, though his father had converted to Judaism. Herod oppressed the Jewish people, putting hundreds of opponents to death. A father of various sons, he even put his favourite son, Antiochus, to death by drowning him in Herod’s spacious swimming pool after he had heard that his son was plotting to succeed him as king. Any opposition to him, Herod dealt with harshly. So, when Magi from Persia showed up at his palace in Jerusalem in that precious and sweet Christmas story, and asked him,
“Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” (Matt. 2:2)
The tyrant and murderer Herod was concerned. Hearing from the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law that the true king of the Jews, the Messiah, had to be born in Bethlehem according to Old Testament prophecy, King Herod ordered the murder of all the boys under two years of age in Bethlehem. However, Jesus’ parents Mary and Joseph had been forewarned in a dream to escape to Egypt, and to there wait out the life of Herod. Once Herod died (and, he died a torturous death fitting with the person he was), Joseph and Mary returned to their town of Nazareth and there raised Jesus. Now, they knew that Jesus was unique but they didn’t understand it fully. They just knew from the time of his conception by the Holy Spirit and his miraculous birth, and the different things that happened after that Jesus was unique. Even Jesus may not have fully understood his purpose for being on earth until he was around age 30, when he decided to accept his mission and reveal to everyone who he was and why he had come to earth. What was his message when he began his ministry, his very first words?
“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15)
So, God was not opposed to the people having a king. In fact, the original nation of Israel was planned to be God’s physical kingdom on earth with YHWH God as its king. However, when the Israelites rejected that God modified His kingdom to being a purely spiritual one, a kingdom brought in through Jesus. How could Jesus bring in a kingdom if there was no king for that kingdom? He couldn’t. A “kingdom” needs a “king” and Jesus would be the king of God’s kingdom. In fact, he would be a king co-ruling with God the Father, together sitting on their throne in heaven as Revelation 4 and 5 show us. The adoring crowds who called out to him on that original Palm Sunday wanted him to be their king. They hated the Romans and the rule of the Roman Empire over their Jewish nation. One time, earlier on in his ministry, the crowds recognized that Jesus was unique and rushed to install him as the king of the Jews.
After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself. (John 6:14,15)
Jesus knew that revealing him as the king too soon would bring the wrath of the authorities down upon him and would prevent him from teaching what God’s kingdom rule was about. It was not physical.
Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or “There it is’ because the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:20,21)
God’s kingdom is a spiritual kingdom, a place within the souls and minds of followers, Jesus’ disciples, who served him. To another question from a Pharisee about the coming Kingdom of God, we read,
Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” (John 3:3)
His kingdom is a spiritual one in which his servants give their hearts, souls, and lives to following him. It will not fade away like early kingdoms do. Just the opposite, it will stay forever. His kingdom is not so much about him being our king as it is him being our Lord. And, when we realize that and turn our lives over to serving him, he blesses us with spiritual power to bring about great change on this earth.
I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:19)
Near the end of his life, Jesus finally revealed to Pontius Pilate, the governor of the Roman Empire in the land of Israel, who he was and is.
Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” (John 18:36,37)
The New Testament writers understood what Jesus’ kingdom is about.
For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:13,14)
I charge you to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which God will bring about in his own time — God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. (1 Timothy 6:13b -16)
Therefore, God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11)
To conclude and sum up: we need to make Jesus the Lord of our lives in everything we do. Otherwise, there is no point for our lives in him being the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The man Micah had an ephod, several false gods, and an idol that he worshipped and yet he thought that having a Levite living in his house and working for him would bring him YHWH God’s favour. It didn’t. Christian friends, get rid of any Buddha statues, rabbit’s foot key chains, of any other amulets you may have, and give your life fully to serving Jesus. Only in getting rid of such useless good-luck charms will you then be able to have God’s blessings in your life. Jesus wants to your Lord, the king of your life. I guarantee you that when you do so, you will be blessed by the One whose kingdom will last forever! Amen!