What’s Worth Fighting For?Sermon passage: (Judges 18:11-31) Spoken on: August 17, 2009
More sermons from this speaker 更多该讲员的讲道: Pastor Wilson Tan For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: Judges
I love gangster movies. From the Academy award winner, The Godfather, to the Hong Kong, Young and Dangerous (古惑仔) series, I love the drama and action, and especially a chance to catch a glimpse of what goes behind-the-scenes in the triads or mafia. And so, in preparation for my sermon this week, I pretended to be a gangster in a game on my iPod touch called “iMobsters”. There are tons of these mobster games on the Net; I was told Mob Wars on Facebook is also very popular. To the frustration of my wife, I was “addicted” to it for many days, all in the name of sermon research. J I am now at level 33 and my empire is growing strong!
One interesting feature of the game is the ability to add players (your enemies) to the “Hit List”. Typically, someone who has successfully attacked you many times and have robbed you blind! You set the bounty (min. $10,000, no max.) and everyone in the game grabs the first second to kill him off. All of these events happen in real time. Even when you are not in the game, your character remains in the mafia world and you will be vulnerable to attacks too. True to the real world, no gangster is all-powerful or safe. You always need to watch your back and seek help from others. A gangster’s life is no paradise. The only rule is that there is no rule! Everyone did what was right in their own eyes.
No honor among thieves
Our passage today looks like a page from a gangster’s life journal. Just like how Micah in our story had stolen from his mother, the Danites also stole from him. There is no honor among thieves. There is the changing of sides, by a traitor, the Levite priest. There is even a chase between two gangs in middle of the story. Threats were made; and a thief now becomes a coward. It ends with the shedding of innocent blood at Laish, to a group of peaceful and unsuspecting people, acted upon through false divination by a pseudo-priest. Theft, Betrayal, Violence, Bloodshed, our story today has all the elements of a great gangster movie! Let’s take a look at it in greater details.
Five men from the tribe of Dan broke into a Levite priest’s house (or shrine) and stole some religious artifacts while six hundred men watched guard (看水). Isn’t it overkill? 605 men were utilized to rob an unarmed priest? Who did they think he is, Samson? Didn’t they remember that Samson was a Danite like them, and not a Levite? Well, in any case, better be safe than sorry. There is strength in numbers. The truth is we do not know if this story took place before or after Samson’s story. It is a prelude to speak about the downward spiral of Israel’s spiritual decline. This was how Israel functioned without a king and everyone did what was right in their own eyes.
Why break into a shrine to steal from a priest? The only things you are going to steal from Rev. Tiong Ann’s house are his books. You can also try stealing board games from Pastor Siow Hwee’s and my house. I am sure they are worth millions in Monopoly currency. J In those times, it was different. Religious artifacts were considered valuable because they were made of precious metals. The practice of attacking and looting from shrines and temples was common during war times in the ancient world.
An offer he won’t refuse
But instead of killing the priest, they made him “an offer he won’t refuse” [Don Corleone]. “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?” (v. 19) They made him an offer he could not refuse. “Then the priest was glad. (v. 20)” He accepted their offer and went with them. On the surface, it seems the priest was leaving for greener pastures. Isn’t it good to be ministering to more people than just a household? Why serve a small congregation of 20 when you can be serving 10000 members in a mega-church? Sounds good? Biblically and theologically sound?
Compare and contrast this offer with the one made by Abimelech in Judges 9:2 when he rallied the Shechemites to support him instead of Jotham: ‘Which is better for you, that all seventy of the sons of Jerubbaal rule over you, or that one rule over you?’ While the Levite priest was tempted to serve many more people, the Shechemites decided that one ruler is better than many. I am not suggesting that less is better than more or otherwise. But that our human condition dictates that we can rationalize anything to the best of our self-interest. Twisted minds bring about twisted truth. There is no biblical or theological foundation to support such a claim that serving more people is better than serving less people, or a mega-church is more blessed by God than a small one. Every church is blessed by God, big or small. Sometimes, it is necessary to minister personally to one person and sometimes, minister to many people.
Today, we see many people leaving for greener pastures for the sake of career advancement, even pastors. We see this being amplified million times over in the world of football. Greed and fame rules the day. Real Madrid also made Manchester United an offer they cannot refuse, £80million for the services of Cristiano Ronaldo. How many of us in our entire life-time would see that kind of money? Man U accepted the bid and off he went to sunny Spain. And the world footballer of the year was glad, just like the Levite priest.
We are not told the reason for the priest’s gladness. We can only assume that the motivation behind the priest’s acceptance is greed and not a higher calling. For there is no indication that this offer or the decision to move was part of God’s will. In fact, God is very much missing from the entire story. God may exist in their minds, but there was no God in their hearts.
The priest even supervised the theft operation and made sure all necessary items were properly taken. Ephod? Check. Other household gods? Check. The craved image? Check. The cast idol? [pause] Nope, the Levite priest decided to leave it behind for Micah. Possibly, it was the same one which Micah’s mother had asked the silversmith to make when Micah had returned the stolen money to her in ch. 17. Maybe it’s his way of telling Micah: “Don’t worry, even though I am no longer with you, your god is. I’m sure you will be fine.”
Might makes right?
Following this, the scene unfolds into a prelude to a gang fight! When Micah found out about the theft, he gave chase. Upon meeting up with his perpetrators, confrontation took place. It seems strange for both parties to ask, “What’s the matter with you?” Since the Danites had placed their children, livestock and possessions in front of them, they expected trouble from behind. But did they not expect Micah to fight? Their silly question prompted Micah to respond with a rhetorical question. You took my gods and my priest and still have the guts to ask “what’s the matter with me”? What did you expect me to do?
Caught in a fix, with nothing better to say, the Danites threatened Micah and his family that they will lose their lives if he continues to argue with him. Such are the ways of a bully. “Don’t talk so much, talk to my fist!” “Might makes right!” There is indeed strength in numbers. There was not much of a gang fight that day. Was he a coward or a smart man? Possibly both. Micah counted his cost, and realized that his gang is no match for the gang of Dan, and so he turned around and went back home. I guess the ephod, the rest of the household gods, and the craved image were not worth fighting for. Lest, to die for.
What follows was a cruel act of violence against a peaceful group of people. This section is also commonly known as the Danite migration. Was it right for the Danites to conquer the land of Laish? There are three evidences to show that the Danite’s quest for new territory is illegitimate:
Firstly, the oracle they received from the priest was not from the Lord. Earlier verses in Judges 18:5-6, the Danites were inquiring the priest of whether their journey will be successful, and not if they should conquer any territory in the first place. They were not seeking God’s will, but getting an affirmation of a plan which they had already set their minds on.
Also, the legitimacy of the priest comes into question. In previous conquests, a clear oracle always comes from the Lord through a reliable messenger, either Moses, or Joshua or even other judges like, Deborah. The name of the priest is only revealed to us in the last two verses of today’s passage. He is Jonathan, son of Gershom. But is he a descendent of Moses or Manasseh? There are some discrepancies in this. If you see the footnote in your Bible, you will notice that some ancient manuscripts (Masoretic Text) record this as Manasseh while some records it as Moses (only in Hebrew, some Septuagint, and Vulgate).
But whatever translation you take, it does not alter the fact that Jonathan had used God’s name in vain, a prohibition of the Ten Commandments. It literally reads, “Go in peace. Your way is in front of the LORD” (v. 6)] His oracle provided the Danites a rationale for slaughtering all the inhabitants of Laish. The conquest is illegitimate and cannot be justified in any way.
Secondly, the Danites’ attack against a weak tribe is not a holy war. Typically, it is only considered a holy war when God helps a weak side to fight against a stronger aggressor. But in this case, the inhabitants of Laish were not any military aggressors, but a peaceful and unsuspecting group of people living in seclusion. Originally, the tribe of Dan has been allocated an inheritance of land in the western border of Canaan, but they were driven out by the native Amorites. They have always been seen as the weakest of the twelve tribes. Instead of fighting the Amorites back for their land, they chose to take the easy way out by conquering a weaker tribe. God will not tolerate the strong taking advantage of the weak. In our story, they were the bullies.
Thirdly, in Josh 6:26, the Law prohibits anyone to live in the city once it has been destroyed. The wealth gathered must be offered to God, but the Danites not only rebuilt the city after burning it down, they lived in it for many generations. They even changed its name from “Laish” to “Dan”. They worshipped at an illegitimate site when the true “house of God” then was at Shiloh, where the ark of God was maintained (v. 31; see 1 Sam 1-3). Josh. 19:47 recounts Dan’s conquest of a city called Leshem. Judges 18 provides an alternate version of the same conquest, but the name of the city is changed from Leshem to Laish.
This conquest is clearly not in accordance with God’s will or character.
Let’s summarized before concluding today’s sermon. Last week, we read that Micah stole from his mother, and today, we read that the Danites stole from him. A thief becomes a victim of theft. There is indeed no honor among thieves. Micah was left with nothing but a cast idol, left behind for him by the Levite priest. He was blinded by idolatry and has placed his hope in a false god. Micah may be a coward, but the bigger cowards were the Danites. They stole from a man when he was not at home. They recruited a priest as their spiritual head who could be bought over. They made him an offer he could not refuse. They cruelly conquered a land which was not rightfully theirs, and exterminated a peaceful and unsuspecting group of inhabitants at Laish. It wasn’t even a fair fight. The Laish people could not have foreseen nor prepare for this attack. This is one of the rare times which we see the Israelites attacking against weaker opponents. Usually, they are the weaker side, and would fight against more powerful oppressors, like the Philistines and later the Babylonians. But here, they are the aggressors; they are the bullies. At the end of the day, we ask, “what were they fighting for?” Was it something worth dying for?
What are we fighting for today? Two weeks back, some of us went to Bintan Lagoon Resort for the Young Adults Retreat. One of the discussion topics was on the theme of passion, namely the passion or suffering of Christ. The key question in our discussion was “Is Jesus worth dying for?” I ask you today to also consider this same question, “Is Jesus worth dying for?” If he is, then, he is worth living for.
Clearly for Micah, these “false-gods” were not worth fighting for. These idols were nothing more than mere idols. They were manufactured. They could be carried off as easily by one person, their owner, as someone else. Last week, we are reminded of many idols in our lives which may be hindering us from worshiping the true God. The Danites were fighting for their land, but their conquest cannot be justified in anyway. They may have conquered and settled in a land for generations, but at what cost? Their name has been tainted forever by their illegitimate course of action. They believed in a righteous God, but their actions are not righteous in any way. They have betrayed not only their integrity, but also their holy God. How we live our lives today tell us who we really are inside. What drives us to act in a way we do? What is our value system?
The message today questions our beliefs and practices. What happens when we say we believe in God but our lives do not reflect well of our belief? Do our lives and practices embody a lively and devoted commitment to God? Or do we appear religious, hidden behind a smoke screen of faithfulness, revealing a devotion to self-centeredness and greed. We say that God is our king and ruler of our lives, but in reality, we are still in control. We hang on to our comfortable old self. We may be chasing after seemingly religious and faithful things but they are really only idols in our lives. We know and speak the religious lingo pretty well, but God is not in us.
The Scripture reminds us that not everything that is “spiritual,” “religious” and “godly” is necessarily true, good, or of the Lord. There is a saying, “the devil delights to dress in religious garb.” 1 John 4:1 reminds us to “test the spirits to see whether they are from God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” [pause] Jesus also reminds his followers, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 7:21). Jesus asked, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you?” He followed this question with a parable about a man who built his house upon a rock. While another builds his house on sand.
Is your faith built on a strong foundation or is it built on shallow and hollow grounds? Have we been doing what is right in our own eyes? Have we live as though there is no king? Have we been chasing after false gods in our lives? Is it about time we give them up for the real thing? For Micah, his god was not worth fighting for, not worth dying for, and therefore not worth living for. If you truly believe that Jesus is Lord, and believe that Jesus is the true Son of God, has your life reflect such a belief? Is he indeed the real deal to you?
“Is Jesus worth dying for?” If he is, then, he is worth living for.
c Mahaneh Dan means Dan’s camp.
d An ancient Hebrew scribal tradition, some Septuagint manuscripts and Vulgate; Masoretic Text Manasseh
The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.) (Jdg 18:11-31). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
 If it is Moses, the implication is that an legitimate line of priests had gone bad, misusing God’s name in vain which lead to the killing of innocent blood. The story serves as a warning for future descendents to not follow in Jonathan’s footstep. On the other hand, if he were a descendent of Manasseh, then it would mean that Levite priest, Jonathan was recorded in reference to the actions of the later king Manasseh, who is Judah’s worst and most irreligious king. His sins include rebuilding the shrines which Hezekiah had destroyed, setting up altars for Baal, making his son to pass through fire (a possible reference to child sacrifices). Such an interpretation is most favored and would fit neatly into the context of the story. Illegitimacy runs deep in the veins of Israel’s history during this period of spiritual decline. The only problem is that it would imply that the Masoretes (7th-11th century scribes and Bible scholars), in the process of copying the manuscripts, would have intentionally changed the name by adding “nun” as a superscript to Moses, turning it into Manasseh. This was done to protect the name of Moses. But this textual difficulty should not cause doubt in the transmission of text to our Bible today. The fact that such textual discrepancies are noted today is proof that there is nothing in the Bible that we should be ashamed of. In fact, it gives me greater assurance that God works through our imperfect human ways to bring about His perfect word to us.
 For more information, read Kenda Creasy Dean, Practicing Passion: Youth and the Quest for a Passionate Church