Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
The book of Judges is primarily a story about things in Israel getting progressively more and more messed up. The book is not only filled with stories of heroes and main characters who are very flawed, but even the stories themselves become more and more convoluted by sin, so that when you get towards the end of it, even as a reader it is hard to distinguish what is good and what is bad. What causes the corruption of the Lord’s people in the book? Primarily, it is the Israelites getting away from the Law. By not following the Law of God or trying to understand his word, things get more and more messed up. By the end of Judges, things are so messed up and away from the Law that we are left wondering where God is in all of it. The prophet Hosea sums up the situation like this,
But let no man bring a charge,
Let no man accuse another,
For your people are like those
Who bring charges against a priest.
You stumble day and night,
And the prophets stumble with you.
So I will destroy your mother-
My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge.
Because you have rejected knowledge,
I also reject you as my priests;
Because you have ignored the law of your God,
I also will ignore your children (Hosea 4:4-6).
It is hard to tell who is in the right and who is in the wrong, because in Judges, nobody is innocent, and as they get farther and farther from God’s Word, God gets farther and farther from them.
One story in Judges helps us to understand this situation and how it reflects on our lives. The story is called (in my Bible anyway) “Micah’s Idols.” As the name suggests, it is about a man and his idol. And so it begins,
Now a man named Micah from the hill country of Ephraim said to his mother, ‘The eleven hundred shekels of silver that were taking from you and about which I heard you utter a curse- I have that silver with me; I took it.”
Then his mother said, “The Lord bless you, my son!”
When he returned the eleven hundred shekels of silver to his mother, she said, “I solemnly consecrate my silver to the Lord for my son to make a carved image and a cast idol. I will give it back to you” (Judges 17:1-3).
Alright, so this woman’s son confesses to stealing her money, for which he is blessed (for confessing as opposed to not telling his mom) by her. Already something feels off. However, it gets downright weird after that because Micah’s mom, after receiving back the money vows to the Lord….to make an idol. Never mind that the second commandment states,
You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments (Exodus 20:4-6).
Continuing to avoid the Law of the Lord, they set up an altar; we read in Judges 17:5-6, “Now this man Micah had a shrine, and he made an ephod and some idols and installed one of his sons as his priest. In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.” Notice the last line, everyone did what they thought was best (though clearly without reading the Law that God gave them). After this, Micah was visited by a Levite. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, Levites were a group of Israelites who were dedicated to God. They were essentially the non-pastoral clergy of the day, taking care of the altar of the Lord and its ark. If anyone knew the right way to live, it was these guys. The story continues,
Micah asked him, “Where are you from?”
“I’m a Levite from Bethlehem in Judah,” he said, “and I’m looking for a place to stay.”
Then Micah said to him, “Live with me and be my father and priest, and I’ll give you ten shekels of silver a year, your clothes and your food.” So the Levite agreed to live with him, and the young man was to him like one of his sons. Then Micah installed the Levite, and the young man became his priest and lived in his house. And Micah said, “Now I know that the Lord will be good to me, since this Levite has become my priest” (Judges 17:9-13).
So in this story, not only is Micah bowing down to an idol supposedly dedicated to the Lord, but so is this former Levite; who has actually become a priest to the idol now. The punch line is Micah’s quote at the end, “Now I know God is with me, because this Levite (who I am paying) has become a priest for my idol.” So not only is Micah bringing a holy man into his sin, but he’s crediting God for it. One suspects this is not what Solomon had in mind when he quipped in Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all of your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” Sure, acknowledge God always, but…crediting him with the continuance of your sin? Something doesn’t seem right. Indeed, something isn’t right, things are pretty messed up.
Before moving on to part two of the story, let’s look at what contributes to things getting so out of hand. The first step is when people elevate their own personal beliefs above the Bible. Most people outside the church (and some inside) have an image of what they believe Christianity is. A big misconception is the “scale theory.” In the scale theory, a person presumes that God is constantly watching them and is balancing their good deeds versus their bad deeds. If a person does more good than bad, they’ll go to heaven, if they do more bad than good, they’ll go to hell. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. We’re told in Acts 4:12 that “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” What is that name? Jesus. We read in John 14:6, “Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’” According to Jesus, God isn’t even approachable without him, therefore, how could someone expect to get to heaven by acting good without having Jesus on their side? Paul puts the last nail in the scale theory’s coffin in Ephesians 2:8-9 when he writes, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith- and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- no by works, so that no one can boast.” The Bible clearly states that there is only one way to heaven, and that’s through Jesus’ atoning death on a cross, and the acknowledgement thereof. However, many people live their lives in error thinking that some sort of heaven awaits them if they live a good enough life. Consider this though, what is good enough?
Another popular misconception cropping up more and more is that since Jesus hung out with sinners, then living a life in sin must be ok (obviously not preferable, but at least acceptable). However, the Bible wholly disagrees with this idea. We’re in fact told the opposite. Scripture says,
As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy” (1 Peter 1:14-16).
Yeah, not only are we told that living in sin is not cool, we’re told to actually be holy like God (who is perfect). Obviously, being without sin is impossible in this life (and that is talked about in a great deal throughout the scriptures). However, Paul makes it clear that there are things that we are to avoid every day,
Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).
As you can see, Paul is pretty straightforward that by approaching Christ, you should be doing so with the intent to leave your old ways behind. Sure, Jesus chilled with the sinful, but he was leading them to change their lives. If you want to hear it from God himself, check out how Jesus responds in John 8:10-11 to the woman caught in adultery,
Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
Most folks are quick to point out that Jesus does not condemn the repentant woman, however, take note that Jesus also tells her to stop sinning. Yes, Jesus hung out with prostitutes and extortion experts, but he also advised them to find new jobs and to change their lives.
Many people are deceived into thinking that all roads lead to heaven. That is to say, that all religions, since they feature gods, all worship God and therefore heaven is attainable through any of these. This couldn’t be further from the truth. For the Word of God says, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4). And this is further expounded upon by Paul when he discusses the topic of food given to idols in 1 Corinthians 8:2-6,
The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he out to know. But the man who loves God is known by God.
So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one. For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.
The Bible is pretty straightforward on the topic, there is only one God, and it’s the God of Israel, and there is only one Savior (and thus only one way to heaven), Jesus. Of course there is also the first commandment, which states, “I am the Lord your god, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:2-3). Clearly, God does not consider every religion to be a form of worship towards him, and that any other methods of worship other than those defined in his Word are heretical and unacceptable. All roads do not lead to heaven, only one. That is why Jesus told us,
Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it (Matthew 7:13-14).
“All roads lead to heaven” is a lie from the devil, be careful, my friend, that you are not caught in it.
Recently, while I was trying to figure out what the religious significance of Sampson’s riddle, I was through searching the internet (which didn’t work, but later the Holy Spirit explained it to me and it will be posted here in the future) and I stumbled upon a site that proclaimed that it was delivering “meat theology.” That is to say, their focus was not on the basic Bible teachings that everyone should learn first, but on deeper and more difficult to understand portions of the Word. I make note of this since the writers of the website were particularly proud on this point. Anyway, one of articles on the site was claiming that hell is not forever. Most of their argument centered on the meaning of the word eternal, and their Bible proofs were rather slack on any reference to hell at all. However, I will admit I didn’t really read very carefully because the Holy Spirit set an alarm of in my head that this was false doctrine. Hell is forever. Check out what Jesus says in Mark 9:47-48,
And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where
“their worm does not die,
And the fire is not quenched.”
Unquenchable fire? Immortal worms? Jesus’ imagery alone suggests a never-ending hell for those who are not in Christ. And if that isn’t enough, Paul also talks about a hell that is eternal, as opposed to some sort of temporary hell,
He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you (2 Thessalonians 1:8-10).
Take note that in this passage everlasting means ….well, everlasting. There is a hell, and it is where people who die without Jesus go- forever. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. When we put our own beliefs above the Word of God (like Micah did), we’re putting ourselves in a dangerous position.
Let’s return now to our story. So Micah and his mom felt the best way to worship the Lord was to (contrary to the second commandment) worship him via idols. This sin was compounded upon when Micah was able to hire an out-of-work Levite to minister before his altar built on sin. Oh, and Micah credited all of this to God as well, assuming that since he was trying to connect with God, the Lord would bless him. Now let’s watch as Micah’s false beliefs lead to the sin of others (considering that he is already acting in sin). We read,
In those days Israel had no king.
And in those days the tribe of the Danites was seeking a place of their own where they might settle, because they had not yet come into an inheritance among the tribes of Israel. So the Danites sent five warriors from Zorah and Eshtaol to spy out the land and explore it. These men represented all their clans. They told them, “Go, explore the land.”
The men entered the hill country of Ephraim and came to the house of Micah, where they spent the night (Judges 18:1-2).
So the five Danites chill for the night with Micah and talk with his Levite. Later they return to their tribe and report their findings. The Bible tells us,
Then the five men who had spied out the land of Laish said to their brothers, “Do you know that one of these houses has an ephod, other household gods, a carved image and a cast idol? Now you know what to do” (Judges 18:14).
“Oh! I know! I know!” cries the Holy Spirit, “This one is easy! Deuteronomy 7:5: ‘This is what you are to do to them: Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones, cut down their Asherah poles and burn their idols in the fire.’” Moses was pretty strong on this point, as was Joshua after him. Unfortunately, the people of Dan must have missed the memo, for the story continues,
So they turned in there and went to the house of the young Levite at Micah’s place and greeted him. The six hundred Danites, armed for battle, stood at the entrance to the gate. The five men who had spied out the land went inside and took the carved image, the ephod, the other household gods and the cast idol while the priest and the six hundred men stood at the entrance to the gate (Judges 18:15-17).
Oh yeah, that’s right, the response to “You know what to do” was “Steal them!” So it appears that not only do the Danites endorse breaking the second commandment, but also the eight, “You shall not steal” (Exodus 20:15). But it gets worse, Micah was only breaking maybe two commandments (and doing so in the name of the Lord), but the Danites are not only breaking the Laws that Micah did, plus stealing, they put one more on in Judges 18:22-25,
When they had gone some distance from Micah’s house, the men who lived near Micah were called together and overtook the Danites. As they shouted after them, the Danites turned and said to Micah, “What’s the matter with you that you called out your men to fight?”
He replied, “You took the gods I made, and my priest, and went away. What else do I have? How can you ask, ‘What’s the matter with you?’?”
The Danites answered, “Don’t argue with us, or some hot-tempered men will attack you, and you and your family will lose your lives.”
That’s right, besides idol worship and theft, the Danites are threatening murder. Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:21, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’” But the sins of the Danites get even worse, for we read in Judges 18:30, “There the Danites set up for themselves the idols, and Jonathan son of Gershom, the son of Moses, and his sons were priests for the tribe of Dan until the time of the captivity of the land.” Not only are the Danites worshiping idols, steal, and threatening murder, they are leading clergymen (sons of Moses no less) into sin. This is what happens when people follow common beliefs that are non-scriptural. In the end, everything gets messed up.
Things pretty bad in the book of Judges. How then can we keep from ending up like them? Scripture advises us,
Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful (Joshua 1:8).
Be careful brothers and sisters. There is a lot of doctrine in the world, however, only what the Bible tells us is true. Hold on to this book, hold on to it for dear life and never let go. For,
Blessed is the man
Who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked
Or stand in the way of sinners
Or sit in the seat of mockers.
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
And on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree planted by streams of water,
Which yields it fruit in season
And whose leaf does not wither.
Whatever he does prospers (Psalms 1:1-3).