[The Danites] answered [the Levite], “Be quiet! Don’t say a word. Come with us, and be our father and priest. Isn’t it better that you serve a tribe and clan in Israel as priest rather than just one man’s household?” The priest was very pleased. He took the ephod, the household gods and the idol and went along with the people.
Judges 18:19-20 (NIV)
When I was a child, going to church was not an option. It was something my family did every Sunday. After my confirmation at the age of 13, my parents gave me the opportunity to choose for myself if I wanted to go to church or not. I claimed my independence and immediately stopped going. Thus began one of the most tumultuous stretches of my life journey.
I wasn’t a follower of Jesus at that point. I was just a religious person doing the ritually religious things that I was taught by family and church. It was easy to walk away because it wasn’t personal faith but systemic expectation.
In today’s chapter, the author of Judges continues to reveal how the lack of a monarchy led to the break down of Hebrew worship and disobedience to the Law of Moses. In yesterday’s chapter the household of a man named Micah set up an idol and shrine in his home and hired a Levite to be a priest of their own household cult. Today, the entire tribe of Dan leaves the land that had been allotted to them and migrates north of the promised land to settle an area there. Along the way, they steal Michah’s household idols, convince the Levite to join them, and adopt Micah’s household cult as their own.
In sharing this story, the author Judges reveals how the seeds of idolatry and independence were sown during this period of the Judges. Hundreds of years later, the northern tribes would eventually claim independence from the powerful tribe of Judah and the worship of Yahweh in Jerusalem. They would continue their idolatrous ways until they were conquered by the Assyrians in fulfillment of the messages God sent to them from the prophets.
The author of Judges is writing in retrospect. The book was likely written sometime during David or Solomon’s reign. From the perspective of a united kingdom and centralized worship in Jerusalem, the story of Micah and the Danites’ staking their independence and establishing their own idolatrous cult stands out in stark contrast. The author is saying: “Look what happens when there is no strong leadership and everyone is free to do whatever they want!”
Which is a bit like me looking back at the period of time when I claimed my own independence and walked away from the religion I’d grown up with. There’s a line from Paul’s letter to Jesus’ followers in Rome that says “all things work together for good,” and that’s how I now look back on that brief stretch of my spiritual journey. I needed that tumultuous period to teach me my need of God. Not the ritual religious trappings and empty motions of church going, but a personal relationship with God as a follower of Jesus.
In the quiet this morning, I’m identifying with Micah and the Danites. I get what it’s like not to really embrace the religion you’ve been taught. I know what it’s like to stake your independence and go your own way. I also know the consequences of doing so. Like the Prodigal Son, I had to find myself spiritually starving in the muck in order to realize my need. If I let Him, God will use my willful independence and disobedience to teach me things I wouldn’t otherwise learn.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.