Judges 13: The darkest time



Every year, Ellis and I always do a blood check to monitor our health. Once we receive the results, our doctor analyzes them. As expected, Ellis consistently has better results than me. Each number on the report is a good indication of our bodily functions. For instance, one of my results exceeded the limit, indicating a potential issue with my liver. To investigate deeper and gain a clearer understanding, the doctor suggested an ultrasound to examine the situation more closely. Sometimes, in order to truly assess the severity, it is often necessary to zoom in and observe the actual condition within our bodies. That’s what we are going to do today. We talked about the Judges a lot for the last couple of weeks. We looked at the top-level condition. Today we will zoom in a little bit and see the condition of the people of Israel themselves. From this condition, we can clearly see how quickly they fall and find the root cause of their problem.


Last week we learned the story of Samson. The tragic story of Samson. That is the last judge. One thing that we need to know is that these chapters 17 and 18 are not in chronological order. It means that these stories in chapters 17-18 do not necessarily come after Samson’s story. They happened during one of the judges. I think the author put these last chapters at the end for a reason. The purpose of these chapters is to zoom in a little bit into Israel’s life and see how messed up they are spiritually. They started worshiping idols and all that. The author tried to tell us that this time of the Judges is really one of the darkest times in Israel’s history. Let’s start – I will divide the sermon into 3 parts.


  1. Idolatry/False Worship

1 There was a man of the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Micah. 2 And he said to his mother, “The 1,100 pieces of silver that were taken from you, about which you uttered a curse, and also spoke it in my ears, behold, the silver is with me; I took it.”


First story is about this guy named Micah and he lives with his family in the hills of Ephraim. The story kicks off with Micah confessing to his own mother that he stole a considerable sum of money from her. Let me give you an idea how much the value of eleven hundred pieces of silver. Later in chapter 18 verse 10 – it mentioned that 10 And Micah said to him, “Stay with me, and be to me a father and a priest, and I will give you ten pieces of silver a year and a suit of clothes and your living.” And the Levite went in. Here, it was said that the priest got salary 10 pieces of silver a year and Micah stole eleven hundred pieces of silver. We are talking 110 years salary. We are talking a huge amount of money here. We are not talking about $10 missing or $20 missing. You may say “wow! That’s good boy!” but before you come to the conclusion, you have to see why he confessed to his mother. In verse 2,  2 And he said to his mother, “The 1,100 pieces of silver that were taken from you, about which you uttered a curse.. The main reason he confessed is not because he knows what he did is sin against God. But because he is afraid of the consequences of the curse. He overheard his mother speaking a curse on the thief.


We learned earlier that Micah stole quite a lot of money from his mother. Let me ask all parents; if your kid steal money from you, how would you react? I might be angry and give her some lectures as well as some disciplines. See how the mother reacts here 2b And his mother said, “Blessed be my son by the Lord.”. Wait! It did not stop there verse 3 and 4 –  3 And he restored the 1,100 pieces of silver to his mother. And his mother said, “I dedicate the silver to the Lord from my hand for my son, to make a carved image and a metal image. Now therefore I will restore it to you.” 4 So when he restored the money to his mother, his mother took 200 pieces of silver and gave it to the silversmith, who made it into a carved image and a metal image. And it was in the house of Micah.


The mother is so nice that not only she took back the curse, but she is also going to say thank you to God by making a carved image. When we read these verses, we would easily say that it was so obvious idolatry act, and we will not fall into that kind of sin. But wait. There is warning from this pericope for all of us. Look at verse 3. 3 And he restored the 1,100 pieces of silver to his mother. And his mother said, “I dedicate the silver to the Lord from my hand for my son, to make a carved image and a metal image. The verse doesn’t say that his mother is creating an image of a false god. She is making a statue of the God of Israel. She’s not making a statue of a new god, but she’s worshiping the true God in the wrong way. This is what we call idolatry. So, what is idolatry? It’s the worship of an idol, which means worshiping something or someone other than God. For example, worshiping a false god like the god of fertility or the god of rain is an obvious example of idolatry. But it’s not just that. Idolatry also includes falsely worshiping the true God, which we see in this story. It doesn’t matter if their intention is to worship God, the carved image is not God. They try to create their own version of God, shaping Him according to their desires. In other words, they reject God and choose their own god. In this scripture, they choose a carved and metal image to represent God. However, the Bible extends the idea of idols to include anything we worship instead of God.


This is a warning for us as Christians. Do we worship the true God, or do we create a god in our own image? For instance, the world often embraces a god who only loves and overlooks sin, especially during Pride Month. But such a god doesn’t exist! Yes, we should love, but our love must be based on truth.


Another common example is within our charismatic circle. We often love a “problem-free” god, someone who ensures we have an easy life without any difficulties. However, that’s not the God of the Bible.


And this is primary problem of our culture, verse 6 6 In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. This is also the problem of our culture now. We don’t reject God completely. All we want is God who fit into our expectation. We set our own standard instead of obeying God’s standard. For example, “I know I’m not supposed to marry an unbeliever, but I’ve never been happier, so this must be of God.” Or “I know I’m not supposed to sleep with her before marriage, but we prayed about this, and we have peace”. Are you doing what is right in your own eyes, or are you seeking to do what is right in God’s eyes? Parents, who is setting the standards by which your children are living? If we as parents do not show them the Word of God as standard of their living, the song they listen to will determine the standard of living or the culture will determine their standard of living.


Let’s continue the story. After Micah creates the statue and places it in his house, he comes across a Levite who is passing through the town. At that time, priest normally come from Levite group. When Micah saw him, he was so excited and asked the levite to be the priest for his statue of God.  10a And Micah said to him, “Stay with me, and be to me a father and a priest..  Listen to this – as a priest, he knew that is not right; to be a priest for statue of god. Surely, he knew that technically he can not do that.


But.. Let’s see what Micah offered to him 10band I will give you ten pieces of silver a year and a suit of clothes and your living.” And the Levite went in. 11 And the Levite was content to dwell with the man, and the young man became to him like one of his sons. 12 And Micah ordained the Levite, and the young man became his priest, and was in the house of Micah. Just like that the priest agreed. He became the priest for Micah. The young priest’s intention is completely wrong. He thinks about money and worldly stuff rather than following God’s word.


And no different to Micah as well. Listen carefully this is the reason why Micah got the Levite to be the priest. 13 Then Micah said, “Now I know that the Lord will prosper me, because I have a Levite as priest.” Let me tick off a few things, and then I will secure God’s blessing.” Do you see what’s happening here? What is your purpose in worshiping God? Is it to truly worship Him or to gain something from Him? Tim Keller once said, “Religious people find God useful. Christians find God beautiful.” Sometimes, we treat God as if He were a vending machine, existing solely to serve us and bless us because we offer our tithes or serve the church. This is what happened in the prosperity Gospel, which teaches that if we obey certain rules, we will receive health and wealth, physical prosperity. The problem is, God never made that promise in the Bible. It leads me to my second point.


  1. The Danger of Idolatry (18:1-29)


What we will witness in Judges 18 is a true tragedy and disaster. When the writer included Judges 17-18 as a part of the closing of the Book of Judges, I believe he did so for a reason. It shows the religious chaos and disorder in Israel.

18 1In those days there was no king in Israel. And in those days the tribe of the people of Dan was seeking for itself an inheritance to dwell in, for until then no inheritance among the tribes of Israel had fallen to them. So the people of Dan sent five able men from the whole number of their tribe, from Zorah and from Eshtaol, to spy out the land and to explore it. And they said to them, “Go and explore the land.” And they came to the hill country of Ephraim, to the house of Micah, and lodged there. 

To understand the context, let’s clarify why these 5 spies were sent. In Israel, there were 12 tribes, and each tribe was given different portions of land in the land of Canaan. However, the tribe of Dan failed to fully conquer their assigned territory due to a lack of faith in God. Unhappy with their land, they sent out spies to search for a better area. Instead of seeking God’s help to claim their designated territory, they pursued land elsewhere. Therefore, the problem with the tribe of Dan is their unfaithfulness to the True God. They ignored God’s instructions and chose to listen to someone else, unfortunately, the wrong person. Let’s read the next verses.

When they were by the house of Micah, they recognized the voice of the young Levite. And they turned aside and said to him, “Who brought you here? What are you doing in this place? What is your business here?” And he said to them, “This is how Micah dealt with me: he has hired me, and I have become his priest.” And they said to him, “Inquire of God, please, that we may know whether the journey on which we are setting out will succeed.” And the priest said to them, “Go in peace. The journey on which you go is under the eye of the Lord.”

Five of those “spies” head north and spend the night at Micah’s house. While they’re there, they overhear Micah’s priest speaking and realize he’s from Judea, probably due to his accent. They approach him and ask for the blessing from the priest. The priest said in verse 6 – And the priest said to them, “Go in peace. The journey on which you go is under the eye of the Lord.”. The priest assures them that God will assist the tribe of Dan, but we should ask this question: “Can we truly trust this message from the priest?” After all, this is the same priest who worshipped idols in the previous chapter. Let’s keep following the story to find out if this priest truly has the integrity to be a priest and can be trusted.

Then the five men departed and came to Laish and saw the people who were there, how they lived in security, after the manner of the Sidonians, quiet and unsuspecting, lacking[a] nothing that is in the earth and possessing wealth, and how they were far from the Sidonians and had no dealings with anyone. And when they came to their brothers at Zorah and Eshtaol, their brothers said to them, “What do you report?” They said, “Arise, and let us go up against them, for we have seen the land, and behold, it is very good. And will you do nothing? Do not be slow to go, to enter in and possess the land. 10 As soon as you go, you will come to an unsuspecting people. The land is spacious, for God has given it into your hands, a place where there is no lack of anything that is in the earth.”

11 So 600 men of the tribe of Dan, armed with weapons of war, set out from Zorah and Eshtaol, 12 and went up and encamped at Kiriath-jearim in Judah. On this account that place is called Mahaneh-dan[b] to this day; behold, it is west of Kiriath-jearim. 13 And they passed on from there to the hill country of Ephraim, and came to the house of Micah.

14 Then the five men who had gone to scout out the country of Laish said to their brothers, “Do you know that in these houses there are an ephod, household gods, a carved image, and a metal image? Now therefore consider what you will do.” 15 And they turned aside there and came to the house of the young Levite, at the home of Micah, and asked him about his welfare. 16 Now the 600 men of the Danites, armed with their weapons of war, stood by the entrance of the gate. 17 And the five men who had gone to scout out the land went up and entered and took the carved image, the ephod, the household gods, and the metal image, while the priest stood by the entrance of the gate with the 600 men armed with weapons of war. 18 And when these went into Micah’s house and took the carved image, the ephod, the household gods, and the metal image, the priest said to them, “What are you doing?” 19 And they said to him, “Keep quiet; put your hand on your mouth and 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?” 20 And the priest’s heart was glad. He took the ephod and the household gods and the carved image and went along with the people.

Can you see what’s happening here? This priest no longer cares about what the scripture says. The Levite has betrayed Micah by putting himself up for sale to the highest bidder. He actually believes it’s a better deal to be a priest for an entire tribe rather than just one family. I mean, seriously, he’s not

\supposed to be a priest! It’s all about the money for him. So, he goes along with the plan to abandon Micah and join the tribe of Dan, taking all the gods from Micah’s place. It demonstrates how far Israel has fallen into sin. Instead of guiding people towards the Lord, this priest allows them to worship other gods and live in a way that completely goes against God’s desires. And you can see in verse 21 – it says that the priest’s heart was glad. What makes him rejoice is not the Lord but more about the opportunity to make money.


Back to initial question: Can you trust his words? Can you trust the decision which driven by sinful desire? Let’s find out what happened when tribe of Dan followed his direction. Now, let’s quickly jump to verse 27. 27 But the people of Dan took what Micah had made, and the priest who belonged to him, and they came to Laish, to a people quiet and unsuspecting, and struck them with the edge of the sword and burned the city with fire. The tribe of Dan attacked and burned the peaceful and innocent city of Laish.


First important lesson we can learn from this is that idolatry leads to sinful acts and ultimately ends in destruction. The priest’s issue with idolatry leads him to give the wrong direction to the tribe of Dan. Idolatry is like hidden sin that fuels all other sins. The struggles we face as Christians may only be surface-level issues; there could be deeper underlying problems in our lives. For instance, if we constantly find ourselves lying, we should ask why we do so. The sin of lying may stem from something more profound. We may lie out of fear of disapproval from friends, prioritizing their approval over God’s. Alternatively, we may lie because we value our reputation more than our relationship with God.


The second thing we will learn here is that idolatry always leaves us feeling empty.  Let’s continue reading the story

21 So they (people from tribe of dan) turned and departed, putting the little ones and the livestock and the goods in front of them. 22 When they had gone a distance from the home of Micah, the men who were in the houses near Micah’s house were called out, and they overtook the people of Dan. 23 And they shouted to the people of Dan, who turned around and said to Micah, “What is the matter with you, that you come with such a company?” 24 And he (micah) said, “You take my gods that I made and the priest, and go away, and what have I left? How then do you ask me, ‘What is the matter with you?’” 25 And the people of Dan said to him, “Do not let your voice be heard among us, lest angry fellows fall upon you, and you lose your life with the lives of your household.” 26 Then the people of Dan went their way. And when Micah saw that they were too strong for him, he turned and went back to his home.

Upon discovering what had happened, the priest and the tribe of dan took his idols, Micah becomes deeply saddened and angry. He catches up to the tribe to confront them, but seeing their size and power, he realizes he has no choice but to let them go. At the beginning, Micah believed he had everything perfectly set up and that God would bless him, but in the end, he is left feeling empty inside. This is what he said in verse 24 24 And he said, “You take my gods that I made and the priest, and go away, and what have I left? Pay attention to this, church! Worshiping idols always leaves you feeling empty. Always.

You may think that ‘if I have a certain thing, it will fulfill me and be enough for me.’ You may believe that having a particular job will complete your life, or that having a spouse will make you whole. Instead of feeling complete, you will find yourself yearning for more because there is still an emptiness inside your heart. Let me tell you – every single idol in your life will ultimately disappoint you. Let’s continue last few verses. It is not getting better but getting worse.

28 And there was no deliverer because it was far from Sidon, and they had no dealings with anyone. It was in the valley that belongs to Beth-rehob. Then they rebuilt the city and lived in it. 29 And they named the city Dan, after the name of Dan their ancestor, who was born to Israel; but the name of the city was Laish at the first. 30 And the people of Dan set up the carved image for themselves, and Jonathan the son of Gershom, son of Moses,[c] and his sons were priests to the tribe of the Danites until the day of the captivity of the land. 31 So they set up Micah’s carved image that he made, as long as the house of God was at Shiloh.

So, the tribe of Dan proceeds to destroy the Laish people and takes their land. They completely destroy the city and rebuild it according to their own preferences, installing their own idols in their house of worship. What is the summary of these two chapters? It’s a sad story. A very sad story. Things have rapidly declined. This is one last piece of evidence of how quickly Israel is declining. In verse 30, at the end of the chapter, the author finally reveals who the priest is. It’s like a movie with a lot of twisted scenes. The author reveals the priest at the end. 30 And the people of Dan set up the carved image for themselves, and Jonathan the son of Gershom, son of Moses. This priest is not just a normal priest; he is the grandson of Moses. It truly shows us that things have rapidly declined. Moses was one of the great men in the Old Testament, and now his grandson worships idols.


That’s really what we see in these two chapters. In Chapter 17, we might initially think that the problem of idolatry is limited to Micah’s son, but we soon realize it goes beyond him and becomes a problem for the entire family. Even the priest, the religious leader, is caught up in idolatry. By the end of the chapter, we witness how idolatry has grown and infected the entire tribe. It spreads like a fire, starting with one man and eventually encompassing the entire tribe. The corruption has spread throughout the entire community. This serves as a warning for us, demonstrating how idolatry works within us.


The third thing we can learn from this story is that idolatry often operates subtly. It gradually creeps into our minds unnoticed, until we become more comfortable with it, eventually making it the center of our lives. Sometimes we dismiss the issue of idolatry too quickly, thinking that idols are just golden or physical statues. However, as John Calvin said, our hearts are idol-making factories. This is so true! Often, the idol we worship is something good and difficult to identify. We don’t realize that these things have replaced God in our affections.


Our idols can be our jobs, money, our appearance, degrees, positions in companies or in church. Our idols can also be good things, such as marriage or our family. We may not even realize that the idols we worship are often something good. As Tim Keller said, “Idolatry happens when we take good things and make them ultimate things.”


One of the most common idols in today’s culture is our identity. We place our identity in external factors and forget who we are in Christ. We base our identity on the number of social media followers or likes we receive, and as soon as our expectations are not met, we feel devastated. Another example is parenthood. Being a mother or father can become an issue of identity. We center our lives on our children and look to them as a means of affirmation. We may seek affirmation from others regarding our parenting style or become control freaks in every detail of our child’s life because we idolize the idea of a perfect child or a perfect family. This idolatry issue affects our actions as well. Imagine if you are that type of parent, how would you react if your child messed up? You would feel your identity crumble, and you may react out of frustration towards your child. Or you may place your identity in whether or not you have a spouse. You believe that having a spouse will fix your problems, make you happy, or eliminate your loneliness. All these things can only be fulfilled by God. Another common idol could be money. You see money as a source of security and comfort, saying, “As long as I have money, I feel safe.” Or you use money to gain acceptance or power.


The question we should ask ourselves tonight is: What is the idol in my life? You can start by asking yourself these questions: Where do I spend most of my time? Where do I allocate most of my money? What is constantly on my mind? What do I desire the most? What is the thing that, if I had it, would make me happy?


It leads me to my last point.


  1. The Cure of Idolatry

These two chapters have everything: a son stealing from his mother, a mother building an idol, a corrupt priest, and an unfaithful tribe of Dan that slaughters innocent people. It’s a complete mess. There is no sign of devotion to God or any sign of repentance. It’s truly a sad story! It’s a very, very dark and scary story, isn’t it? The book of Judges showcases one of the darkest times in Israel’s history. However, we have to admit that we also fall into the same sins as Micah, the priest, or the tribe of Dan. Yes, the book of Judges is a scary book, but it is important to reveal who we are. We are often guilty of the same things that Micah did (creating our own god), or the priest did, or the tribe of Dan did.


I hope that when we finish this book next week, we not only learn about how crazy this book is, but also that it reveals our sinful hearts. We are like those Israelites. We have a tendency to underestimate our main problem. We must realize that Israel’s problem is our problem too in today’s world. The problem is not other people. The problem is not other things. The main problem is us.


What is the problem in our lives? What is the problem in our families? Can we answer that by saying, “We need to be better people” or “We need to have a better plan”? No! The book of Judges tries to show us that our problem is deeper than that. It’s not on the surface. It’s not about behavior or attitude. The main problem lies within us, in our hearts. We need a new heart.


The author of Judges emphasizes this point by repeating the verse 17:66 In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. This verse is repeated in chapter 18:1, and we will encounter it again next week in chapters 19:1 and 21:25. The author of Judges is trying to show us that to fix this issue, we need a righteous king. After this book, we will encounter many kings in the Old Testament, such as King David. However, even though these kings sometimes provided help to Israel, they were often no better than the judges. Our problem is far too deep to be fixed by a new king, a new pastor, or a new church. We need the true King, the righteous King, whose name is Jesus.


The time of Judges is often hailed as the darkest period in the history of Israel. But let me tell you something, it wasn’t the darkest time. The true darkness descended upon the world at Calvary. It was there, on that dreadful day, that Jesus was completely forsaken by the world, abandoned by His own disciples, and ultimately abandoned by His Father in heaven.


The time of Judges may be considered the scariest book in the Bible, but it is nothing in comparison to the true horror that unfolded at the Cross, where Jesus’s body was shattered for us. He was mercilessly beaten by soldiers, His body so badly beaten that it was hardly recognizable. His blood was poured out for our sake.


Why did the Righteous King have to endure and experience the darkest and most terrifying suffering this world has ever witnessed? Why? It is because He did not want His children to experience such a state of darkness and fear. Our problem runs deep, the nature of our sin is too dark. The wickedness of our transgressions demanded a perfect sacrifice, and He willingly stepped forward, offering Himself to take our place. He surrendered His flawless life, untouched by even a hint of darkness, in exchange for our depraved and rotten existence. Through this divine transaction, He bore the judgment we deserved and the punishment we merited. In Him, God sees us spotless, no darkness and righteous.


I will close with this question – ““What’s the biggest idol in your life?” be honest to yourselves and look at the Cross. We cannot just have metal determination or reasoning to fight the idol. We need to fill our heart with something more beautiful than those idols. Unless you can see Jesus is more valuable than those idols, you will not put Jesus at His rightful place as King in our lives.

Let’s pray.



Discussion questions:


  1. What struck you the most from this sermon?
  2. Can you give some examples of “God of our own making”? Why are they dangerous?
  3. Look at the three dangers of idolatry. Which one resonates the most with you and why?
  4. What is the biggest idol in your life? (Both surface idol and heart idol). Share it with your MC members.
  5. How does the gospel cure idolatry?
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