They did what was right in their own eyes

“In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6 ESV).

This statement introduces an episode concerning a Levite from Bethlehem who was looking for a different place to live. He ended up in the hill country of Ephraim, just north of Bethlehem. There a man named Micah hired him to be his own personal priest. This man had made an idol and his own shrine for worship. Originally one of his sons served as his priest but when he had the opportunity to have a Levite as his own personal priest he jumped at the chance (see Judges 17).

In the next chapter, we find the tribe of Dan looking for a place to settle. When the land was divided by Joshua, this tribe was given coastal land on the Mediterranean Sea. Unfortunately for them, this land was occupied by the Philistines and they were unable (and possibly unwilling) to conquer their allocated territory, even though God had said that he would be with his people and drive out those who lived there. (This places this incident earlier in the history that is recorded in this book.)

The tribe sent five men to explore the land. As they went through the hill country of Ephraim they happened on Micah’s home and recognized the young Levite. After discovering that he had been hired as a priest, they asked him to inquire of God whether their journey would be successful. The priest told them that they were under God’s eye.

After exploring the country all the way to the far north, they reported that they had found an ideal place to conquer. It was at Laish – the land was good and the inhabitants were unsuspecting.

An army of 600 was sent to conquer the land. Their journey took them by Micah’s house. They took Micah’s idols and household gods and made an offer to the Levite: “Come with us and be to us a father and a priest. Is it better for you to be priest to the house of one man, or to be priest to a tribe and clan in Israel?” (Judges 18:19 ESV).

The young man was overjoyed. What an opportunity! He could not only be a priest but he would be the priest for an entire tribe. So he traveled with them to the north, where the inhabitants were conquered and a new settlement of Dan was built.

The sad part of this incident is that idolatry was introduced to an entire tribe. At the end of the story, we find out more about this “young Levite”. “And the people of Dan set up the carved image for themselves, and Jonathan the son of Gershom, son of Moses, and his sons were priests to the tribe of the Danites until the day of the captivity of the land” (Judges 18:30 ESV).

Why was this young man, a grandson of Moses, so willing to forsake God to serve idols? At least part of the reason seems to be wanting something that he could not have. He wanted to be a priest, someone who would be looked on as important and spiritual. But, not being a descendant of Aaron, this was denied to him. So he did what he wanted, what was right in his own eyes.

How often are we like this? We know what God’s word says, yet we want something different. So we forsake God’s word and convince ourselves that we are still following God. We do what is right in our own eyes.

What is sad about this incident is that it seems to have influenced this tribe for generations. May we realize that what we do now can have a lasting impact, either good or bad, for generations to come.

Photo: the walls and entrance to the Israelite city of Dan

Readings for next week:
23 July – Judges 15-16
24 July – Judges 17-18
25 July – Judges 19
26 July – Judges 20
27 July – Judges 21

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