SUNDAY MORNING WORSHIP SERVICE, 15 August 2021
Sermon Text: Judges 17:1-13
Sermon Series: “Judges” (#24)
I. The history of Israel’s apostasy
II. The cause of Israel’s apostasy
III. The reality of Israel’s apostasy
From this 17th chapter up to the end of the Book of Judges, we observe the life of Israel in the time of judges from a completely different angle. Up to the end of ch. 16, the focus has been on the judges or deliverers of Israel such as Othniel, Shamgar, Deborah, Gideon and so on. That first section is an act #1, if I refer the Book of Judges to a play or drama. In this first act, the spotlight has been on heroes and heroine, and it fades away with Samson at the end of ch. 16. No more do we hear of a judge in the rest of this book.
What follows is act #2 which shifts the reader’s attention to the life of general public through some snapshots of some ordinary people. These snapshots add clearer and richer colours to our understanding of the time of judges. Moreover, had this act #2 been excluded and not handed down to us, there would’ve been in God’s church a critical misconception of the message of the Book of Judges. Had it been the case, we would’ve drawn a wrong conclusion and venerated man rather than giving our thanks and submission to God alone.
This means that, with this new development, we hear the final and concluding part of God’s message for us. That message is, ‘a faith we must hold onto especially when there is no king.’ In other words, on what we must set our minds when the society we live in shows no consideration to God or His truth, when churches and Christians give less, if not no, respect to God’s word. Because living in a time of spiritual anarchy is highly likely for believing men and women, God kindly warns us, His beloved children, against the dreadful danger of godlessness of the present generation – that is, easy compromise of faith, thus, a life that chases sinful and fleshly desires only.
So, let us hear the voice of the Holy Spirit and His warning through the story of an Ephraimite man whose name is Micah and a Levite whose name is unknown so far in this passage.
I. THE HISTORY OF ISRAEL’S APOSTASY
We’re told that Micah was from a rich family and his mother had lost 1,100 pieces of silver. But the young man from the Levite clan was poor. We’re also told that Micah is a thief despite his wealth, and the young Levite man sojourns searching for a job. With this information, we can easily guess that this happened when Israel was generally peaceful. It could’ve been one of the peaceful times God granted to Israel, delivering them from their enemies. Although this story is recorded after Samson’s story, it could’ve been under the leadership of any of his predecessors.
However, we cannot disregard a possibility of this being a story over a period of foreign rulership. We are told six times in the Book of Judges that Israel was under their enemies’ rule and oppression. The longest period of Israel’s humiliation was 40-year oppression under the Philistines and about the end of it, Samson appeared. God raised Deborah with Barak when Israel had been under the subjugation of the Canaanites for 20 years. Jephthah was called to lead Israel at the end of an 18-year-long disruption caused by the Ammonites. But even in those difficult times, there must’ve been some relatively peaceful moments, and this story of Micah and the Levite man could’ve happened in such a time. The main point of this story is when Israel was at peace, when people were able to accumulate wealth and continue each one’s daily living.
In this sense, this story could’ve been a story of any of our neighbours, if not of our own. We’re living in a peaceful time – relatively, I mean. That’s because we’re constantly threatened by various things. The present threat of a virus and its mutants is simply one of many dangers we face. Yet, people still receive wages and continue their life on earth. Some are rich while others search for jobs. Nothing is new or different from this story of Micah and the Levite man.
Moreover, as this is about two members of Israel which was God’s church in the OT time, and one of them is a lay member and another a clergy, this story is also of the believers and members of God’s church in the present generation. It means, this story of Micah and the Levite man is a typical story of both the Israelites in Judges’ time and Christians of the present generation.
Having said, what do you find in this story the faith or spirituality of the two representatives? I’d say, nothing more than apostasy. In other words, these men have abandoned their faith in God as they have abandoned God’s word. Truth is that all of their contemporaries have gone the same way. So, God’s divine verdict for the generation is given in v. 6 of our text passage, saying, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”
Let’s briefly see why these typical members of God’s church are in apostasy. First of all, Micah stole his mother’s money – a theft. He should’ve repented of his sin to God in fear of the Lord’s anger against sin, then, returned to the owner what he had robbed plus his due compensation. Moreover, Micah owes to God a sin offering together with his sincere penitent heart. But we find no such things in Micah’s words and deeds. Instead, he returns the money to his mother because he fears his mum’s curse! Micah shows no fear of the Creator God or His word, but fears a finite creature. God’s warning of His curse means nothing to Micah’s ears and heart – what an apostasy! It’s a total abandonment of faith in God! Saying this, I’m not at all exaggerating or over-reacting.
Micah’s mum isn’t different. Having recovered the full number of silver pieces, she dedicates those pieces of silver to God and utters a blessing for her son in the name of God. Then, what follows? Instead of giving those silver pieces to God (as she has dedicated them to God), she gives some of them to a silversmith and makes idols, that is, a carved image and a metal image, for her son. By this, she has broken almost all laws and commands of God, starting from the very first of the Ten Commandments which says, “You shall have no other gods before Me,” then, the second one, “You shall not make for yourself a carved image” and bow to it.
Then, Micah makes an ephod, that is, a priest’s garment, and adds household gods to his already established shrine, and ordains one of his sons as his household priest. Simply, he has established a church of his own.
Meanwhile, the young Levite man sojourns the land in search of a job. He is supposed to be sent to a place to carry out the works of a Levitical priest (or ‘minister’ in our time), but he does not care about the Lord’s way, and he seeks his own path. One might consider him a pioneer of his own life, but that’s a wrong viewpoint – this Levite is in total apostasy because a Levite who disregards the word of God is no longer a Levite, like salt without its taste, like fire without its light or heat means nothing.
Micah and this Levite man show how far the members of the OT church have gone from God and His way. While these men represent the generations in the times of judges, they also represent all members of the present NT church. The OT Israel was apostate, abandoned the biblical faith, so is the way the spiritual Israel of the NT moves. None of us can deny that the church of our generation does what is right in each one’s eyes, following exactly the way the OT church. This is the history of Israel’s apostasy.
II. THE CAUSE OF ISRAEL’S APOSTASY
Then, what is the cause of this apostasy? Of course, man’s sinfulness and rebellious heart toward God’s law and commands. But while this is the ultimate cause of our apostasy, and this apostasy can only be dealt with and cleansed by the blood of the Saviour Jesus Christ according to His grace toward sinners like us, what can be said as the cause of Israel’s abandonment at the time of judges? In other words, what was the main human factor that contributed to this apostasy?
The answer is the complete failure of the Levitical priesthood. The priests or ministers of the OT church failed in instructing Israel to walk the way of the Lord. That is the main cause of Israel’s departure from the way of God. For them, teaching God’s word to Israel was not the most important and critical task; their call and presence in the midst of God’s people was to nurture others with the accounts of God’s marvellous deeds of grace and train them with the commands of God to walk the way of God and worship Him. But in reality, they considered such a task as a means of gaining worldly values like wealth, fame or people’s applause.
So, because they’ve misused their call, because they’ve neglected their task, people lack in their understanding of God’s grace, they forget the way of God, thus, neglect their worship to God, let alone reading and studying God’s word or seeking greater gifts of the Spirit to serve Him and His church.
This spiritual decline of Israel – the OT church – caused by a complete failure of the Levitical priesthood is a vivid warning to us of the Lord’s church in the 21st century and, especially, to ministers and elders who are spiritual overseers of their congregation. When ministers stop teaching God’s word, when elders stop showing God’s way to the souls entrusted to them, a quick spiritual decline of their congregation is inevitable.
This also urges two things for all church members. Firstly, they should open their ears and hearts to their minister’s teaching and preaching, and to their elders’ works of pastoral care; secondly, they should pray to God, seeking that their ministers could always be faithful to their God-given duties and tasks of opening God’s word and prayerfully training all with godliness, and their elders could always remain godly and diligent in their works of guiding their flock.
A congregation with this two-way spiritual interaction between minister/elders and church members will see the Lord’s presence in their midst and His blessing over everyone’s soul. But any church that lacks this will surely go downhill in spirituality – it’ll be only a matter of time for complete removal of the Lord’s lampstand.
III. THE REALITY OF ISRAEL’S APOSTASY
Having said, let me focus on some realities of Israel’s apostasy, and through the OT church’s apostasy, see the reality of the church in our time and generation.
First of all, you need to see the very obvious result of Israel’s faithlessness reflected in Micah’s family shrine. As I mentioned earlier, Micah has established his own church with his own priesthood. He has household gods in addition to the carved images of silver and metal. This means that he worships not the God of the Bible but a false god, if not gods. So, Micah’s church is not a biblical one but a church of a different religion.
We can easily find some obvious examples of present-day Micah’s church. I see the Roman Catholicism alongside JW and Mormonism. Some cults should also be listed. They’re obvious examples because they have different god or gods and worship them. Their beliefs are different from the one of the Bible. The object of their faith may be called ‘God’ (with capital G) or by one of His biblical names such as ‘Jehovah’ or ‘Yahweh,’ but is surely different from the God of the Scriptures because their deity speaks different things, teaches different doctrines from what the Bible says.
But we must not forget that no church of God is allowed by or has received from God a warrant for altering His teaching. I mean, God’s church must always remain faithful to the Lord and every word He has spoken must be kept in full submission to its authority – we cannot add or omit anything to or from it. In a word, our faith must be in ‘full measure’ and this is what Eph. 4:13 means when it says, “we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” 2 Tim. 3:17 agrees in full as it says, “[All Scripture is for] the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” The faith God’s church and all who belong to her should uphold is a full measure of faith, rather than an altered or flawed faith.
Although the ‘full measure of faith’ states our desired spiritual attainment, its visible measure is upholding in one’s life a thorough confession of biblical faith like the Presbyterian Church’s Westminster Confession of Faith or the Dutch Reformed Church’s Belgic Confession alongside Heidelberg Catechism. Micah’s church in the time of judges and its equivalents in our generation are established not on this full measure of faith, but on an altered, thus, false faith, and for this reason, they do not and cannot submit to the authority of the Bible, nor live by it.
However, those outwardly apostate churches and gatherings are not a real and serious threat to God’s true church. The real danger is not without but within. The danger is losing of the focus of believing hearts and minds on the King, Jesus Christ; the danger starts when Christians weigh man’s thoughts and ideas higher than the word of God; the danger is fading the doctrinal and communal unity among Christians and churches. The beginning of this real danger that comes from within is hearing no warnings against these from the pulpit and seeing no guiding hands of elders in the life of a congregation.
What is the message for us to take to hearts? How should we remain faithful to the Lord and His word in the midst of a crooked and apostate generation? The message is very simple – that is, we should turn from one’s own ways and come to the way of the Lord. This way is brightly displayed in the word of God. So, ministers preach and teach God’s word, inviting people to God through Jesus Christ and teaching and equipping them with God’s grace, while elders of Christ’s church guide their flock. Ministers and elders together bow in prayers and stand to protect their people from false teachings of the world. Meanwhile, the congregants altogether seek more of the truth of God and Christ, asking for the full measure of faith so as to please God and love one another more in Christ.
Such is the only way for a church to be conformed to Christ our Lord and King, and such is the faith we all must attain and uphold in a time when there’s no king in the minds of the world. ***