They worshiped Micah’s carved image the whole time God’s authorized shrine was in Shiloh. – Judges 18:31 NET
You could almost call these two chapters "The Real Lives of Ephraim County." Beginning in chapter 17, the writer of the book of Judges begins to give us a glimpse into what was really going on in the lives of the people of God out in the villages and cities scattered throughout the Promised Land. Things were not good. The spiritual apostasy of the people is rampant. They have turned from God and are living disobedient lives marked by idolatry and self-rule. Everyone was doing what was right in their own eyes (Judges 17:6). The writer makes note of the fact that there was no king in Israel. This statement raises the fact that the people had rejected God as their king, and because there was no human king to rule them, there was no one to enforce the laws of God. So everyone made up their own laws and lived according to their own agenda. And Micah is a perfect example.
It's ironic that Micah's name means "Who Is Like Yahweh?" And based on the story, the answer seems to be, "No one." Micah is not a judge. He is simply an unknown Israelite who is given as a concrete example of all that is wrong with the people of God. His life is put before us like a reality TV show, revealing all the warts and flaws, illustrating just how bad things have gotten in Israel. The story starts out with Micah having stolen a large sum of money from his own mother. When he finds out she has placed a curse on the thief, he confesses and returns the money. Trying to stave off the effects of the curse, she dedicates the money to God, but then only gives a small portion of it to have an idol made. Micah ends up putting the idol in his home, along with an ephod he made (for divination purposes), and builds his own shrine to house it all. Then he makes one of his own sons his personal priest. All the while he lived in close proximity to the tabernacle in Shiloh! On top of all this, Micah ends up hiring a wandering Levite to be his personal priest.
Every character in this story is spiritually bankrupt. Jonathan, the Levite, is wandering around looking for a place to live, rather than obediently living in one of the cities God had provided for the Levites. He seems directionless and unwilling to live according to the rules God has established for him. Jonathan gladly takes the offer from Micah and ends up serving as a priest in what amounts to a pagan temple. As a Levite, he should have known the commands of God, and in serving in Micah's home as his personal priest, he was breaking the law of God. "Cursed is anyone who carves or casts idols and secretly sets them up. These idols, the work of craftsmen, are detestable to the LORD.’ And all the people will reply, ‘Amen.’" (Deuteronomy 27:15 NLT).
Into the story come the Danites. This tribe had been allotted land just like all the other tribes, but had failed to occupy it, allowing the Amorites to chase them from it. So rather than obediently and faithfully fight for the land given to them by God, they were searching for other land. When they arrive at Micah's home and see his priest, idols, and ephod, they determine to steal them and make them their own. How bad can it get? They had already refused to obey God. Now they were stealing an illegal priest from a idol-worshiping Jew in order to gain some kind of favor so they could take over a land that wasn't even given to them by God! The Danites end up defeating the people of Laish in the north. They would make this their home and it would become a hot-bed of idolatry for years to come. They would also set up their own place of worship there, in direct competition with the tabernacle.
"This whole story of Micah and the Danites illustrates the terrible spiritual apostasy that corrupted Israel during the age of the judges. Even the grandson (or descendant) of Moses took leadership in it. It was no wonder that Israel had trouble with her external enemies (chs. 3—16) since she was so spiritually corrupt internally (chs. 17—18) – Dr. Thomas L. Constable, Notes on Judges. Who is like Yahweh? According to this story, no one. The people of God were not living for Him. Their lives did not reflect their position as His people. They were not living according to their calling. They had become "Canaanized" or totally absorbed into the culture around them. Any distinctiveness they once had was gone. Everyone did what was right in their own eyes. They were self-ruled, self-absorbed, and self-centered. They worshiped their own will and their own way. They didn't know God or worship Him. So they didn't feel any need to obey Him. But is it that much different today? We live in a world where everyone is doing what is right i their own eyes. Even within the church at times. We have our own set of idols we worship. We have other "shrines" we turn to for help and hope. Our world revolves around us. We think we know what is best. But the question is "Who is like Yahweh?"
Father, I want to be like You. I want my life to reflect that I am Your son. I want the world to know that I worship You and You alone. But so often, I lose my distinctiveness by falling in love with my own agenda and buying into the world system that surrounds me. Raise up a generation of men and women who will live for You. And let me be one of them. Amen