Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. HOW A MERCENARY PRIESTHOOD AND SHRINE MAY BE PROSTITUTED TO BASE USES. The oracle at Shiloh was symbol and seal of the national, unity, and its priesthood represented the national conscience. It would have been impossible for them to sanction such a crime. But it was otherwise with Micah's priest and "house of gods." The latter was a mercantile speculation, a private enterprise, and was therefore obnoxious to any temptation like this. A striking parallel to this is afforded by the Church of Rome, with its sale of indulgences, etc.
II. HOW EAGER UNHOLY MEN ARE FOR RELIGIOUS SANCTIONS IN THEIR FRAUDULENT AND MURDEROUS DEEDS. When religion becomes a matter of money, and its advantages are sold to the highest bidder, it ceases to be the judge of right and wrong. The contradiction between the errand upon which they were sent and the spirit of God's revelation ought to have struck them. Yet this is but one instance of an all but universal error. They imagine that true religion can call evil good and good evil.
III. HOW THEREBY A TURBULENT TRIBE IS ENCOURAGED IN ITS DESIGNS UPON' A PEACEFUL DISTRICT, AND A PERMANENT WRONG IS INFLICTED. The moral latent in the incident is thereby sharply pointed. It must appear to all how mischievous, how subversive of human society and of religion, such an institution must be. The only safeguard against such evils is in the central authority at Shiloh being recognised, and that authority being enforced by a duly elected king. - M.
I. MEN WHO ARE UNWILLING TO DO THE WILL OF GOD ARE SOMETIMES ANXIOUS TO SECURE HIS HELP. These Danites are little better than freebooters; they are determined to go their own way; they have no wish to be guided by God; they simply wish to be assured of success. So there are many who have sufficient religious faith to desire the blessing of God on their life, but not sufficient to submit to his guidance and authority. True loyalty to God will make us not merely consult him as to the success of our work, but as to its rightness, and not merely inquire whether the way in which we are determined to go shall prosper, but ask what way God would have us take.
II. THE PRAYER FOR PROSPERITY UNACCOMPANIED BY SUBMISSION TO GOD'S WILL DOES NOT JUSTIFY THE COURSE OF ACTION TO WHICH IT RELATES. We have superstitions about prayer. We are too ready to imagine that all is well if we have sought God's blessing upon our work. But we have only a right to ask for this when we are doing right. Prayer cannot sanctify a bad action. The Danites were not justified in their marauding expedition because they first consulted a supposed Divine oracle. Men seek God's blessing on their business while they conduct it dishonestly, on their country while they favour aggressive wars and national injustice, on their private lives while they pursue a worldly, perhaps even an immoral, course. Such conduct rather aggravates than mitigates guilt, because it betrays blindness of conscience in the searching light of God's presence.
III. AN ASSURANCE OF SUCCESS IS NO PROOF OF THE FAVOUR OF GOD. We are too ready to worship success as though it were a justification of the means by which it was attained. In this world, viewed from a human standpoint, goodness often fails and wickedness often succeeds. Our own feeling of assurance is no ground of reasonable confidence. They who are on the best of terms with themselves are not therefore on the best of terms with God. The timid, diffident, despondent soul may be really regarded with favour by God, while the vain, self-elated soul may be living under his frown. The faith which saves is not self-confidence nor the assurance of success, but submissive and obedient trust in a Lord and Saviour.
IV. THEY WHO MAKE A CONVENIENCE OF RELIGION WILL FIND IN THE END THAT IT WILL BE THEIR CONDEMNING JUDGE. The priest told the Danites that their way was before the Lord. God would watch them. They had invoked his name. They would see ultimately what his presence involved. The recognition of God which is involved in seeking his blessing will increase our condemnation if we disregard his will. - A.
I. THOSE WHO SUBVERT THE PRINCIPLES OF MORALITY SHOULD NOT EXPECT TO BE TREATED ACCORDING TO THOSE PRINCIPLES.
II. HOWEVER APPARENTLY RELIGIOUS WRONG-DOERS ARE, THEIR CONDUCT DOES NOT LOSE ITS ESSENTIAL CHARACTER, AND WILL BE JUDGED. The record of the occurrence has preserved it for all time, and it is condemned before the bar of the righteous conscience.
III. THE GREATEST CARE SHOULD BE TAKEN AT THE FIRST INDICATION OF SCHISM OR ERROR, AS SUCH THINGS TEND TO PERPETUATE THEMSELVES. A regular priesthood is instituted, with its hereditary privileges and duties.
IV. THE REAL EFFECT OF SUCH RELIGIOUS MOVEMENTS IS TO THE DETRIMENT OF TRUE RELIGION. The "house of gods" at Laish is a rival to the "house of God" at Shiloh. During those early days of Hebrew nationalisation and religious training, the mischief and hindrance occasioned by it must have been enormous. True religion is ever opposed in the world. Its worst foes are those who most nearly resemble it in outward ceremony, but whose motives are impure. - M.
I. THE PRIESTLY OFFICE IS DEGRADED BY MERCENARY GREED. Micah had adopted the Levite when he was homeless and destitute, and had treated him with the kindness of a father to his son; yet as soon as he discovers a chance of better pay, the miserable man deserts and robs his patron. No man can serve God truly if the money wages of his service are the chief consideration with him. Though he may take such just payment as is given to him if he is God's faithful servant, he will, like the faithful Levites, feel that his real portion is the Eternal (Joshua 13:33). Such a man should also consider himself bound by ties of affection and friendly obligation to the people among whom he ministers. If he seeks promotion simply for the sake of pecuniary advantage, and irrespective of the loss which may be sustained in his present sphere, and of his possible unfitness for a larger sphere, he is guilty of gross worldliness and wicked selfishness.
II. THE PRIESTLY OFFICE IS DEGRADED BY SELFISH AMBITION. The Levite is tempted by the prospect of exercising his functions in a larger way as the priest of a tribe. Such an offer would only be possible in Israel under circumstances of religions decline and social disorder. Even then the Levite must have known that he was no priest at all according to the law of God, for he did not belong to the family of Aaron. But ambition tramples on law for its own advancement. Of course there are occasions when a man may naturally endeavour to rise in the world, and if he can be sure that he will extend his usefulness, it is his duty to do so. But -
1. The opportunity of enlarged service elsewhere is no justification for unfaithfulness to our present service. Plainly the Levite was treating his benefactor with unpardonable ingratitude and treachery in deserting him for the service of the Danites.
2. It is only a culpable ambition which will lead a man to seek a higher position simply for his own honour and profit, and not for the good of those who are intrusted to his care. The priest exists for the people, not the people for the priest. But the latter condition has been only too apparent in the course of the corruptions of Christendom. Office has been sought solely for the satisfaction of the greed and ambition of the aspirant. How contrary to the teaching of Christ, who said, "Whosoever will be great among you, let him be your servant"! (Matthew 20:27). - A.
I. THOSE WHOSE TRUST IS IN OUTWARD THINGS, AND WHOSE HEART IS BOUND UP IN THEM, ARE EXPOSED TO GRAVE DANGERS AND DISADVANTAGES. The losses of life; the anxieties and dreads; bereavement. The religion of external details, how easily disarranged! The whole "establishment" may be swept away!
II. THE SPIRITUALLY-MINDED ARE FREED FROM THESE CARES, AND ALTHOUGH SUFFERING SIMILAR DEPRIVATIONS AND LOSSES, ARE NOT WITHOUT COMFORT. "God is a spirit, and they that worship him," etc. The heart that rests on Christ is secure against all outward perils. Forms, externals, etc. are not essential to true religion. The "means of grace" are not to become an end in themselves, and where the end is reached otherwise they can be dispensed with. - M.
I. THE SUPERSTITIOUS SIDE OF MICAH'S DISTRESS.
1. The god that can be stolen must be no true God. Micah should have seen the folly of his idolatry in the catastrophe which had befallen him. If the idols could not protect their own shrine, what could they do for their owner's home?
2. The man whose character is corrupt is worthless as a priest. Yet after the Levite had behaved in the vilest way Micah still felt the loss of him bitterly. This distress came from his superstitious belief in the efficacy of the residence of an official priest in his house, no matter what was the baseness of the man's character or the emptiness of his services.
3. A religion which depends on any material things or human offices for its efficacy is foreign to the character of the spiritual worship of the true God. It was a mistake for Micah to suppose that he would lose the presence of God by losing the images which he had made, or the blessing of God by losing his priest. Nothing that is done to a man's outside life can affect his religious blessings. God dwells in the shrine of the heart. No persecution can rob us of his presence. The Waldenses in their mountain cave had lost every earthly comfort, but they had not lost God. God's blessings are not dependent on external ordinances, though these are the usual channels through which they flow. If we have no visible temple, altar, priest, or service, God can still bless us fully.
II. THE NATURAL SIDE OF MICAH'S DISTRESS. There is much in it which speaks well for Micah. Micah is a religious man. To him the loss of what he believes to be the source of religious blessings is a great trouble. Are not they who can lose the real presence of God in their hearts without any feeling of compunction far more astray than this man with all his idolatry and superstition? God is the light and life of the soul. How strange then that any should live without him and yet not know that anything "aileth" them! But whatever a man makes into a god for himself will interest him deeply. If he makes a god of his money, his art, his child, the loss of his god will plunge him into the darkness of despair.
1. Since we are thus deeply affected by the object of our supreme devotion, let us see that this is no earthly thing which can be stolen or destroyed, but the true, eternal God who will never leave us.
2. God sometimes takes from us the earthly treasures of which we have made gods that we may see the mistake of our idolatry, and so learn to lift up our hearts to the ever-abiding presence. - A.