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THREAD: And so from the heights of Luke 15’s parables (cf. my previous thread), we transition into the rather murky depths of Judges 17-21.

As usual, the aim isn’t to cover/summarise the whole text, but simply to pick out particular and sometimes overlooked points of interest.
(Note to self: Before you say something like ‘I plan to tweet my way through Judges’, make sure you’ve thought it through. You might reach the end of the Book and have to make good on your promise.)

So then...

Chs. 17-18 are some of the bleakest in Scripture.
Thus far Judges has taken us from the days of Joshua to the death of Samson--a period of some 400 years.

Chs. 17-18 have clear literary links to what precedes them (e.g., the mention of 1,100 shekels, the ref. to ‘Zorah and Eshtaol’, etc.).
But, chronologically, they take us back to a time when: a] the Danites have yet to inherit their land (18.1), and b] Moses’s & Aaron’s grandsons are still alive (18.30, 20.28).

As such, chs. 17-21 function as a retrospective--a discussion of where things went so wrong and why--,
though they provide their retrospective not by the usual means, but by the means employed elsewhere in Judges, i.e., by means of a *narrative*.

As we read through the book of Judges, we are astounded (in all the wrong ways) by the misdeeds of Israel’s leaders:
by Gideon’s establishment of an ephod, Abi-Melech’s brutality, Jephthah’s foolish vow, and Samson’s mistreatment of women.

And, in chs. 17-21, we find every one of these misdeeds present in seed form
(cp. esp. Micah’s ephod, the Danites’ brutality, the Israelites’ vows in chs. 20-21, and the Gibeonites’ rape of a concubine).

As such, the chronology of chs. 17-21 is significant. The events of chs. 17-21 are intended to reveal how Israel’s problems began to take root.
The *low-key* nature of ch. 17’s events is also significant.

Given what we have seen so far in Judges (3.7, 4.1, 6.1, 10.1, etc.), we might expect ch. 17 to begin with a description of what ‘the sons of Israel’ as a whole are up to, or with the rise of a notable leader,
...but it instead begins out in the sticks with a lone Ephraimite and his mother, who is later visited by an unnamed priest. (Indeed, our text begins very innocuously: “And there was a man of the hill country of Ephraim whose name was Micah...”.)
Why? Because ch. 17 is intended to reveal the direction of travel of Israel’s corruption in the days of the judges.

As we will see, Israel’s corruption does not spread from the top down, or from the outside in, but from the ground up.
The text: Ch. 17 begins with a farcical series of events. A man named Micah steals 1,100 shekels from his mother (unbeknown to her). The mother therefore ‘curses’ the lost money, only for Micah to confess his act of theft.

The mother thinks she can reverse her curse,
and hence decides to return the stolen silver to her son in order for him to convert it into a graven image--one which is to be made in honour of YHWH!--,

though she never actually gives the money to her son (afawk); she instead hands 200 of the 1,100 shekels to a silversmith.
These events may seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but they soon give rise to other events.

Idolatry rapidly blossoms in our narrative,
as a ref. to ‘an image overlaid with silver’ (lit. פֶּסֶל וּמַסֵּכָה = ‘a graven image and a molten image’, which is most likely a hendiadys: so NIV) is joined by refs. to...

...a shrine (where Micah’s molten image is placed), an ephod, some teraphim, & a non-Levitical priest.
Micah then recruits a Levitical priest, which gives his shrine an air of legitimacy (at least in his eyes).

And, by the time we reach 18.17, we find arrayed in Micah’s shrine ‘a graven image, ephod, teraphim, *and* a molten image’.
(The hendiadys פֶּסֶל וּמַסֵּכָה has been cut in half, though not unfortunately the idol to which it refers.)

Then, at the climax of our narrative, the fruits of Micah’s stolen silver (as set out above) are themselves stolen by a group of violent and opportunistic Danites,
...and Micah’s idolatry is hence given a bigger platform,

which allows idolatry to take root in Israel’s very heartland (cp. 18.30, and note Jeroboam’s establishment of Bethel as a centre of idolatry in later years).
As such, the thrust of chs. 17-18 is markedly different from that of a book like Kings.

In Kings, *the kings themselves* are said to do what is evil in the eyes of YHWH--e.g., Solomon (11.6), Nadab (15.26), Omri (16.25), etc.--and are held responsible for the sins of the people.
But the point made in book of Judges is different: ‘There is no king in Israel’, we are told. ‘Every man does what is right in his own eyes’ (17.6, 21.25).

In other words, people do not need a judge to lead them into sin; they are perfectly able to do that themselves.
The judges are not ringleaders; their lives simply reflect the flaws exhibited in Israel as a whole.

Note: The use of the article in the statement ‘every man did what was right (הישר) in his own eyes’ resonates w/ the statement ‘King X did evil (הרע) in the eyes of YHWH’.
As such, the book of Judges does not condemn or commend a particular form of government; it simply highlights the problems associated with ‘small government’ given man’s inherently sinful nature.
When men do what seems right in their own eyes they typically do what is evil in YHWH’s eyes, which means libertarian forms of government are bound not to work,

...as also are more dictatorial forms of government, since, while good kings can be of great benefit to people,
...bad kings can be of great detriment.

As such, the primary purpose of the book of Judges is not to argue for a particular form of government, but for man’s need of conversion and salvation.

That fact is important in and of itself, but is also important for a different reason.
Many commentators attribute specific crimes in the book of Judges (e.g., violence, the mistreatment of women, etc.) to specific social structures (most notably, ‘patriarchies’).
But, as we have seen, the reason for specific crimes in the book of Judges is not a particular social structure. It is man’s fallen nature. And man’s fallen nature cannot be fixed by a particular type of government/society, however good its policies may be.
Ch. 17-18’s flow: As usual, our narrative makes its points in its own subtle but impactful ways.

With the outset of ch. 17, references to YHWH suddenly become very hard to find.

In fact, in chs. 17-18, our *narrator* does not make a single reference to YHWH.
The name YHWH occurs solely in the (misguided) speech of chs. 17-18’s main characters (e.g., ‘I hereby dedicate the silver to YHWH to be made into a molten image!’).

The disappearance of YHWH is also hinted at in our text’s personal names.
In 17.1-4, the name Micah occurs twice, and is spelt out fully on both occasions (מיכיהו).

But, thereafter, it always occurs in its abbreviated form (מיכה x 19), and hence avoids any clear reference to YHWH--which seems instructive.
As for the significance of the particular name ‘Micah’: like many others in Judges, it is highly ironic.

The name ‘Micah’ is a question, viz., ‘Who is like YHWH?’, to which the implied/expected answer is ‘No-one’, yet the answer implied by our text is ‘All sorts of gods!’.
From the cast of chs. 17-18’s perspective, YHWH is little different from the gods of the nations.

A numerological aside: In our discussion of ch. 9, we observed an absence of references to YHWH similar to that noted above.
In chs. 1-8, the name YHWH occurs 103 times, and then disappears from our text, as if to suggest Abi-Melech has taken charge of Shechem.

But, as we noted, YHWH’s authorship of history is reflected in more subtle ways in ch. 9:
the name Abi-Melech (אבימלך) has the gematrial value 103 (the number of occurrences of YHWH prior to ch. 9), as does the name Gaal (געל), who also vies for control over Shechem.

Here in chs. 17-18, a similar pattern may be present.
The name YHWH occurs 150 times in chs. 1-16, at which point it almost disappears, as if to suggest Micah and his priest have assumed the place of YHWH in our text--which, in a limited sense, they have.
(When the Danites are said to ‘recognise the voice of Micah’s priest’, the text may imply more than it explicitly says; the Danites recognise the voice as the voice of YHWH.)
But both the name ‘Micah’ (מיכה) and the text’s refs. to his unnamed ‘priest’ (כהן) have a gematrial value of 75, which sum to 150 and hence allude to YHWH’s superintendent authority over chs. 17-18’s events.
(The relevance/validity of such observations is not entirely clear to me, but I would be interested to hear from others who have become aware of similar patterns.)

At any rate, the disappearance of the name ‘YHWH’ and its replacement with the activities of Micah and his priest is significant: in transgression of their very first commandment, Israel have begun to turn to idols.
Equally instructive is the way in which chs. 17-18’s events involve parodies of what is right and proper.

Micah’s ‘house of gods’ (בֵּית אֱלֹהִים) is described in such a way as to portray it as a counterfeit of the true ‘house of God’ (בֵּית אֱלֹהִים).
Micah’s ephod is surrounded by many smaller idols (תרפים), which parodies the scene of YHWH surrounded by heavenly hosts (Dt. 33.2-3),

(Angelic hosts are also brought to mind by a ref. to צֹרֵף = ‘silversmith’ nearby to תְּרָפִים, since it is evocative of שְׂרָפִים = seraphim.)
Micah is said to ‘fill the hand’ (למלא את יד) of the priest he employs--a phrase which typically has the sense ‘to consecrate’, but may here have the additional sense ‘to cross one’s palm with silver’. (The priest is available for hire, and admits as much: 18.4.)
And the mission of the Danites (in ch. 18) is a parody of the mission of Israel as a whole when she first enters Canaan:

Like Israel, the Danites lack an inheritance, select men from their families, send them out as spies, and then decide what to do on the basis of their report.
But the episode is a farce since the Danites have already surrendered their allotted territory because they found it too hard capture (cp. 1.34) and are now on the lookout for something easier to conquer.

Hence, when the Levite is asked if the Danites’ way will prosper,
...he *should* reply, ‘No! You’ve already been allotted territory, but have given up on it!’ (cp. 1.34).

And, when the Danites are asked what they plan to do with Micah’s idols, they *should* reply ‘Burn them!’, but instead decide to take them for themselves.
The blind leads the blind, and no-one speaks truthfully, either because they do not know any better or because they know they are in no position to do so.

And the biggest shock of all is left until last.

As we read through chs. 17-18,...
we wonder how things could have come to such a pass in Israel only a couple of generations after the exodus when the gods of the nations were publicly exposed as weak and impotent entities.

And in the penultimate verse of ch. 18 we find out.
The previously unnamed priest is revealed to be none other than the grandson of Moses!

The priest’s name is in fact Jonathan (יהונתן), which, given the context, should probably be rendered as ‘YHWH has given (them) over’.

The fickleness of the human heart is a mystery.
A suggested moral of the story: Circumstances are poor indicators of God’s favour. Everything seems to go wonderfully for the main players in chs. 17-18.

Just as Micah wants to start up a shrine, who should come his way but a Levite?
And just as the Danites are in need of guidance and a new start, who should they encounter but the selfsame Levite and an easily conquerable village?

It seems too good to be true. And it is.

The path of least resistance is not always the right one.
Next up, chs. 19-21. Gulp.
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