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There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.
In the countries of Canada, New Zealand, and Australia, pictures of Queen Elizabeth II hang in government buildings and appear on the national currency. Though these former colonies are now independent sovereign states, they retain an association with the United Kingdom and its monarchy, and Elizabeth II remains their queen and head of state.
Our reading today opens with a declaration about the status of Israel’s government: “In those days Israel had no king” (v. 1). It echoes the same refrain from Judges 17:6, where the problem extends beyond a lack of leadership to include a lack of obedience: “Everyone did as they saw fit.” (We’ll see this same statement twice more later in the book of Judges, in 19:1 and 21:25.) Indeed, not only did Israel not have a physical king but they also rejected the leadership of God’s kingly rule.
Today’s passage is an ironic parallel to the earlier event when Joshua sent two men on a scouting mission into the Promised Land, especially Jericho (see Joshua 2). In both cases, spies are instructed to explore the area and bring back a report. Joshua’s spies entered the home of Rahab, a prostitute, who told them that the Lord would give them victory; the Danite spies entered Micah’s home, and his personal Levite priest assured them of the Lord’s approval (v. 6). Both Joshua’s spies and the Danite surveillance team are confident of victory and urge an attack on their respective targets of Jericho and Laish (v. 9).
The Danites have a military success but a spiritual failure. Rather than worship God in the tabernacle at Shiloh, they stole Micah’s idols and took his priest and set up their own center of worship (v. 31).
Apply the Word
The Levite priest loved money, comfort, and power more than God, and he was willing to participate in idolatrous worship to get what he wanted. When we see religious leaders pursuing their own fame and fortune, we should be wary that they proclaim a self-serving message rather than the gospel of Jesus Christ (see Jude 12–16; 2 Peter 2:1).