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It’s the Real Thing

Sermon passage: (Judges 17:1-18:10) Spoken on: August 10, 2009
More sermons from this speaker 更多该讲员的讲道: Keng Wan Ling
For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: Judges

Tags: Judges

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About Keng Wan Ling: Deacon Keng was theologically trained in TTC, and currently serves as the worship ministry chairperson.

Sermon on Judges 17-18:10


Is this the real Katong laksa? The real Tiong bahru bau? A real Gucci purse? A real Camper bag? In today’s world of brands, and the onslaught of marketing, there’s a lot of emphasis on what is the real- or the genuine- article. This isn’t new, decades ago Coke already had a slogan that said they were the “real thing”.

Today we’re going to think about what the “real thing” might mean. In this Sunday’s passage, we’re going to meet some characters who fell short of “the real thing”, as far as God was concerned.

Where are we now?

In today’s passages, we cut from the hurly burly of Samson’s life, to the life of another man, Micah. From the dramatic tumbling down of the Philistine’s temple to their God Dagon, to what appears to be a homey, domestic scene. From judges 17 onwards, these narratives form a miscellaneous collection, or appendix to the Book of Judges.

Micah, Mr DIY (17:1-6)

The first character we meet is Micah, whose name means, "who is like the LORD?". He doesn’t quite seem to live up to it, stealing eleven hundred pieces of silver from his mother- a considerable amount given that a year's salary for a priest came to only 10 pieces of silver (17:10).

Micah’s mother doesn’t seem much better. She dedicated the silver to the Lord, but only gave 200 pieces. She didn’t correct or discipline her son, but instead, canceled out the curse with a blessing and dedication. Then she led the way to idolatry, giving the silver to a silversmith.

The idolatry continues as Micah goes on to establish a full-fledged, do-it-yourself “home religion”. Micah had the full works! E.g:

* A graven image (a carved idol coated with silver)
* a molten image (an idol of poured silver).
* a small sanctuary, or place of worship of his own-a miniature representation of the Shiloh tabernacle, probably stocked with images modeled after the ark and the cherubim
* established a false priesthood, consecrating one of his sons as the priest in this house
* Hired a Levite, to be his personal priest.

Wow- A for effort. But F for obedience!

(a) The third commandment, "You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth" (Exod 20:4-5).

(b) Worship was to be carried out only at the place designated by God, ,"the place which the Lord your God chooses" (Deut 12:5, 14; 16:1-7). And it wasn’t as if God’s house was that far away… "They set up for themselves Micah's graven image which he had made, all the time that the house of God was at Shiloh (Judges 18:31)".

This was all to gain favor with God. When he appointed a Levite to be a priest, he was so thrilled that he said, "Now I know that the Lord will prosper me, seeing I have a Levite as priest." Has God been reduced to some kind of magic talisman?

It was religion without God's truth; one of convenience rather than of obedience. He had the right God (he called him "the Lord"), but he had a wrong worship.

God not only forbids the worship of false gods, he forbids the worship of himself, the one true God, by images. Such false worship robs God of his glory and can cause God’s people to stumble.

Levite-for-hire (or the Priest in the Pocket)

The next character in the cast is a Levite, who happened to stumbled across Micah in his travels. Micah promptly made him his own personal priest. What’s wrong with that? Aren’t Levites supposed to be priests?

When Joshua led the Israelites into the land of Canaan, the Levites were the only Israelite tribe who received cities but no tribal land "because the Lord the God of Israel himself is their inheritance" (Joshua 13:33).

It’s true that the Tribe of Levi served particular religious duties for the Israelites and had political responsibilities as well. But not all Levites could be priests, they had to be descendents of Aaron. We’ve seen an example of how God took strong measures when an ordinary Levite (named Korah) tried to act as priest (Numbers 16)- God caused the ground to open and swallow him up.

In the case of Jonathan, he seemed to have used these duties for his own ends, for career advancement.

Later, the spies of the Danites entered Micah's house and stole his idols. At first, Jonathan tried to stop them, but then the Danites made him an offer he couldn't refuse: "Is it better for you to be a priest to the house of one man, or to be priest to a tribe and a family in Israel?" they asked. What was Jonathan's response? "And the priest's heart was glad" (18:20).

He was apparently, a priest-for-hire, available to the highest bidder.

The Danites

The third group in our cast today are the Danites. They had a problem- they needed an inheritance. Actually, they HAD been given a possession but things hadn’t quite worked out.

When the Israelites conquered the land, the Danites were told to occupy a region between Ephraim and Judah. It was filled with enemies, and the tribes of Ephraim and Judah were much more powerful than the Danites. But…"Then the Amorites forced the sons of Dan into the hill country, for they did not allow them to come down to the valley" (1:34).

Ok so they had Plan B. They were scouting around, looking for a place they could call their inheritance, when they found this nice little spot. Laish was a quiet colony of Phoenicians, isolated from their allies, far from Sidon. Easy pickings for the Danites. They knew Laish was there for the taking.

The Danites went for what was easy instead of what was right. They had not taken what God had given them; instead, they grabbed what he had not given them. They looked for a comfortable place where the natives were unprepared, undefended, and thus vulnerable. They chose a battle where they didn't have to trust God for the results.

Dan had refused to fight the battle God had called them to. And it was not that they were committed to peace, but because they were dedicated to ease of life. In the song of Deborah, she asked, "Why did Dan stay in ships?" (i.e. stay at ease?) (5:17). It was because ease was what they were looking for.1

And so, all these characters, tell us something about Israel then, and also about the condition of humanity.

Some applications for us

(a) Man-made religion and self-serving “service”

So we don’t have tiny tabernacles in our flats. But there are other ways that our worship becomes man- made, convenient, and isolated.

Our minds and hearts are so susceptible to worship that is not God-centered. When we think of idolatry, this isn’t just things like sports, cars and careers. Our idols can look spiritual, and they can be approved by society. They can be things like church attendance, good deeds, a particularly spiritual friend, our spouse or children.

We have to be careful of ritual, routine, performance and self-invention, especially if they replace truth, obedience and holiness. We must evaluate our own worship, our own involvement with God. Whenever we look to anything or anyone other than God Himself, we, like Micah, are looking at idols.

If our worship can become skewed, then our service can also become warped. Like the Levite, we may fail to be content with who we are and use service to selfish ends.

(b) Taking the easy route

So we’ve decided- right, out with idols in our lifes. Let’s see.. which ones?

In wrestling with our idols, we are rooting out the deeply entrenched habits and patterns that hold us captive. God has promised us the victory- just as He did the Danites- but we still have to do the work. And perhaps, like the Danites, we’d prefer to tackle what’s easy, and use that as a trophy victory.

It’s good to not use bad language, but better to stop gossiping. It’s good to avoid questionable books and films, but better-and harder- to purify our thoughts. It’s good to donate money, but better- and harder- to not to long for more (greed).

One writer says this about Americans, but it could well apply to us: "There is no greater danger faced by North American Christians than the love of ease. It is so tempting to carve out a Laish for ourselves -- a quiet little island of peace where we can live in affluence and forget all about the needy world outside, and the enemies of the gospel, and the radical claims of Jesus Christ on our lives. Why fight when we can sleep? Why sacrifice when we can settle down?"

Sometimes, we need to take the cities and fight the battles we feel we cannot win. It is then we will experience the surpassing greatness of his power at work in us.

Where are we now?

And how do we do this? How do we root out idols, how do we fight the hard battles God has intended for us? The “how” is also the “why”.


Our Father God, and His son Jesus Christ, they are the “real thing”, real God, real worship, real service, and our true inheritance as God’s sons and daughters. All these are so much better, quantum leaps from what we ourselves can cook up/ can think up with DIY religion, self-serving service, and shadow victories. If we take pains to distinguish between real and fake branded goods, if we spend time and money hunting down the “real” laksa, or pau, then how much more should we seek out the “real thing” when it comes to God. Yes, we know the true God- but how are we worshipping him? Like “true worshipers”, who will “worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks (John 4:22-24)”?


Just as God raised up judges to save the nation of Israel, so too God has sent Jesus, and we have the gift of the Holy Spirit to help us in our efforts. In our small groups, we have read how the early church was formed, and amazing miraculous healing that was going on. Believers being broken out of jail and other great displays of power abounded. The power of God is in this big showy displays, but also in the changes happening in people’s life and people’s hearts.

This wasn’t an easy message to prepare; it’s more self-inspection than I’m used to. More than once, I had to sigh, “Lord, you ask too much of us. You ask too much of me.” Very soon after that, I came across some writings of Mother Theresa, where she shared that she once made a vow to “refuse Jesus nothing”. And there I had my response.

We find it hard to refuse those that we love. Our beloved children, nephew, nieces, whom we adore, when they ask us with shiny excited eyes. We find it hard to refuse our parents, to whom we owe so much, when they ask us in need and in hope. Will we then refuse God, who has given us His son? And then I felt, I could no longer say, that God was asking too much of me.


Are we there yet? I’m afraid not, at least not for the Book of Judges. The cycle of downward spiral can be a little dark, to the point that, like any bad news, we get immune to it.

One of the reality shows I sometimes come across is called “The Biggest Loser”. It’s about very overweight people, being taped as they exercise and diet through weeks to lose weight. My colleague says she happily snacks and watches it, thinking “Serves them right! At least I’m not as fat as them!”. Me, on the other hand, I feel compelled to go and run soon- lest I end up like them!

Therefore, we view this Book with a watchful eye on ourselves. In the next few weeks, these last stories are terrible and heart-wrenching. When you read them, you feel they shouldn't even be in the Bible. "What in the world is this doing here?" you wonder.

In every case it is not an external oppressor. The people of God are oppressing themselves, killing themselves, manipulating themselves. There is no sovereign, no Lord, no one greater than the individual. This might be the theme verse: "In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes."

So is ours a DIY religion?

Are we serving with the right heart?

Are we taking hold of what is easy, instead of what is rightly our spiritual inheritance in God?