When the cat is away, the mice will play. This cliche is seen in the last chapters of Judges, and we tend to live according to it when we do not think there is an authority in our lives.
A great example of this is at the end of the book of Judges (ch.17-21). It begins with Micah and his mother in “The hill country of Ephraim”—not a new location in Judges:
- It is the place of Joshua’s burial (2:9);
- Ehud sounded his trumpet there (3:27);
- Deborah held court there (4:5); and
- Gideon sent messengers there to call up the men of Ephraim to go against the Midianites (7:24).
Look how different it is by the end of Judges though! The phrase “there was no king in Israel” occurs three times in chapters 17-21 (17:6; 18:1; 21:25). When there is no king, people will do what is right in their own eyes. In other words, they will become their own kings or submit themselves to all kinds of other kings.
We see a natural desire for worship in Micah and his mother, and we share this natural desire.
The short story—Micah had stolen 1,100 pieces of silver from his mother but returned it to her. Her response: “. . . I dedicate the silver to the LORD from my hand for my son, to make a carved image and a metal image. . .” (Judges 17:3, ESV)
Do you see anything in her response that doesn’t make sense? This shows how far off the Israelites had come in their thinking and beliefs–Micah’s mother would dedicate the silver to the Lord IN ORDER FOR it to be made into a carved image and a metal image. The 2nd commandment directly forbids this: “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” (Exodus 20:4, ESV)
But Micah wasn’t done there:
- v.5- he sets up a shrine, which is essentially is “the house of God.” This is an abomination because there was only one house of God at that time and it was in Shiloh, which is even noted in Judges 18:31.
- v.5- he sets up his son as a private priest. First, priests are to be public, not just for one person. Second, is his son even qualified?
- v.7-13. Maybe Micah did realize the qualification part of this, even though he didn’t care, because he finds a Levite and asks him to be his priest.
Levites were the priestly class of Israelites, so Micah got that right. But God was not Micah’s authority, and his confusion is revealed in Judges 17:13: “Then Micah said, ‘Now I know that the LORD will prosper me, because I have a Levite as priest.’”
Not only did Micah’s mother dedicate the silver to the Lord to be used to make idols, but Micah presumed upon God’s blessing of his ungodly decision to create a place of worship outside of Shiloh with carved images and idols.
They naturally desired a god: something to rule over them, look up to, and try to please. People today share the same natural desire to worship by setting up their own places of worship and idols (whether physically or mentally).
Why would people do this? Let me offer two reasons:
- All people are made in the image of God (Gen 1:27), meaning at least that people have a soul and are able to have a personal relationship with God. In other words, every person is created to glorify and worship God, and when they don’t worship God, that longing to worship is still there. Instead of worshipping who they were created to worship, though, people will create all kinds of idols and other pursuits to fill that void that can only be satisfied in God.
- The law of God is written on people’s hearts. “For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them” (Romans 2:14–15, ESV). Because people are made in the image of God, we naturally have the law of God written on our hearts. There is a general sense of right from wrong in every person, though sin can so horribly cauterize the ability to discern the difference. As John Piper said, people “. . . have enough knowledge of the moral law of God in their hearts by virtue of being created in God’s image so that their consciences are conflicted: sometimes approving, sometimes disapproving.” So, people are naturally pursuing morality, and that will lead to some kind of religion in their life.
Are you naturally desiring the One True God, or is your natural desire to worship misdirected?