Judges 17-18: Homemade religion
- Household gods
- Homemade priest
Saving the worst for last. What we are about to study is so very terrible, the author has taken things out of chronological order to make his point. Chapters 17-18 mark a deep religious failure on the part of God’s people; and 19-21 mark a deep moral failure. Please note that the deep religious failure precedes the deep moral failure. We are living in a world of profound moral degeneration where truths that have held for centuries have been overturned in a single generation. This all begins with a drift from true religion. This story of judges reminds us that the fight for true religion in the church must precede the fight for godliness in society. These chapters tell us that the internal sinfulness that we fight is worse by far than any external threat we face from surrounding enemies. These events show us what was going on inside Israel all the while the various enemies were attacking them and needed to be subdued by judges. These chapters portray the sins that provoked God to send oppressors and of which they inadequately repented.
The book of judges has been written in preparation of the nation of Israel for a godly king. We have several verses that make the point that Israel is in this state doing its own thing because there was no king to enforce God’s laws on the people. 17:6 is a key verse which draws our attention to the anarchy of every man doing his own thing, ‘In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.’ (see also 18:1; 19:1; 21:25). This chapter highlights the evil of homemade religion. God had given clear laws to Moses about who should be a priest, where worship should be done, how worship should be done. However, we see that Micah and his family want to do their own thing. We are witnessing the independent spirit of every sinful heart that takes the clear revelation of God and reorganises it for their convenience. Even in Christianity we have believers who think that they can do their own homemade religion. They refuse to go to church; they go with their intuition calling it the leading of the Spirit; they refuse to have elders or be members who are accountable to the local church. The emerging church movement which is influenced by the post-modern thinking of our day has applied relativism to ecclesiology and now every person’s whims and tastes are the definers of worship, evangelism, prayer and all we do as Christians in our service to God and others. Elders are cast off as authoritarian; the Lord’s Day service as dead religion; evangelism is seen as oppressive colonialism; baptism is no longer an initiatory rite but used as a sign of deeper consecration or cast off altogether as sectarian and internalised; the Lord’s Supper is no longer reserved for the baptised but choc-chip muffins are handed out to unbelieving kids and the left overs fought over after the service. The message of Hell, God’s wrath, propitiation, the fate of the unevangelised and many other unpalatable doctrines are swallowed up in the sentimental and therapeutic teaching of many modern churches. Homemade religion is one of our easiest and quickest sins. Here we see in the book of judges how within one generation of entering the land terrible error was already being practised. The story was intended as an argument for why a godly king like David was necessary, we will see that this story teaches us an even more important lesson that a saviour like Jesus Christ is needed.