Judges 17:5
And the man Micah had an house of gods, and made an ephod, and teraphim, and consecrated one of his sons, who became his priest.
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(5) Had an house of gods.—The Hebrew is Beth Elohim, which may mean equally well “a house of God” (Vulg., œdiculam Deo, and so too the LXX.). It is quite clear that Micah did not abandon the worship of God under the names of Jehovah and Elohim, by which He was known to the Israelites. How he coordinated this worship with his grossly idolatrous symbols, or whom those symbols were intended to represent, it is impossible to say. The fact remains that in the Beth-Micah we find “a house of gods”—“whole chapel of idols”—consecrated to Jehovah as a pious act (Judges 17:2; Judges 17:5; Judges 17:13; Judges 18:6).

An ephod.—No doubt the ephod was nothing more than a gorgeous priestly garment, though possibly it may have been used for oracular purposes. (See Judges 8:27.)

And teraphim.—These were Syrian images (Genesis 31:19), the use of which among the Israelites seems to have lasted for a long period, until it was put down by King Josiah in his great reformation (2Kings 23:34; Ezekiel 21:26; Hosea 3:4; Zechariah 10:2). I have entered upon the interesting question of the use of Teraphim in an article on the subject in Kitto’s Cyclopœdia. (See Excursus II: Teraphim.)

Consecrated.—The curious Hebrew phrase is “filled the hand” (see Exodus 28:41; Exodus 29:24; Leviticus 7:37), i.e., gave him the office by putting certain offerings in his hands. It is rather installed than “consecrated.”


THE Hebrew word Teraphim is always simply transliterated as in our version, or rendered by “images,” with “teraphim” in the margin, except in 1Samuel 15:23, Zechariah 10:2, where it is represented by “idolatry,” “idols.” The singular of the word, “a teraph,” does not occur in Scripture, although it is clear that only one can have been put into David’s bed (1Samuel 19:13-16). The LXX. adopt many different renderings, as does the Vulg., but they all point to idolatrous images or the implements of necromancy, as do the two renderings of the Targums, images and (Hosea 3:4) “announcers.”

1. Teraphim are first mentioned in Genesis 31:19, where Rachel steals her father’s “images,” and successfully hides them from his search under the hiran on which she was sitting—the coarse carpet used to cover the wicker-work pack-saddle of her camel. Josephus supposes that she was actuated by idolatrous reverence; Iben Ezra that she expected oracular guidance from them; others that she stole them because of their intrinsic value. She probably shared the superstitions of her father, and regarded them as sacred (Genesis 30:14; Genesis 31:30), as being the figures of ancestral divinities (Genesis 31:53). It is not impossible that they were among the “strange gods” which Jacob ordered his family to bury under “the sorcerer’s oak”—Allon Meonenim (Judges 9:37). But that Jacob’s right feeling in the matter was not permanent is proved only too clearly by the conduct of Micah (Judges 17:5) and the Danites (Judges 18:3), although, unlike Jeroboam, they could not even plead the poor palliation of political motives.

2. The next definite notice of teraphim occurs in 1Samuel 19:13-16, where Michal, in the dark eastern chamber, conceals her husband’s absence by putting the teraphim in his bed, with a bolster of goat’s hair for a pillow. The use of the article shows that even in David’s family the use of the “teraphim” was perfectly well known. Nor can we rely on the vague conjecture of Thenius, that barren women (Rachel and Michal) were especially addicted to their worship, or on that of Michaelis, that Michal may have possessed them unknown to David. The passage seems to show that they had at least some rude resemblance to the human shape, whence Aquila renders the word by protomai (“busts”), which is used of figures like the ancient Hermae. This is not the place to enter into the curious reading of the LXX. on this verse, by which they seem to connect the worship of teraphim with what the ancients called extispicium—i.e., divination by means of the liver of sacrifices, as in Ezekiel 21:21. Josephus follows the same reading, and dishonestly suppresses all mention of the teraphim.

3. The next important passage is Hosea 3:4, where the primâ facie view of every unbiassed reader would be that the “image” (matsêbah) and the teraphim are mentioned without blame as ordinary adjuncts to religious worship. Hence, perhaps, arose the notion that the teraphim were in some way connected with the Urim and Thummim, which led to the rendering of the word in this passage by δήλοι (LXX., “bright gems”), and by φωτισμούς (“enlightenments,” Aquila), and by “implements of priestly dress” (St. Jerome). This is the theory maintained most unconvincingly, though with great learning, by Spencer in his De Legibus Hebrœ-orum, lib. 3, pp. 920-1038.

But if these passages show that even in religious families teraphim were sometimes tolerated as material adjuncts to an Elohistic worship, on the other hand we find them unequivocally condemned by Samuel (1Samuel 15:23), by Josiah (2Kings 23:24), and by the prophet Zechariah (Zechariah 10:2 ); and in Ezekiel 21:21 the use of them, is attributed to the heathen Nebuchadnezzar.

The general inference seems to be that the use of the teraphim involved a violation of the second commandment, but that this use of symbols, this monotheistic idolatry, which is very different from polytheism, arises from a tendency very deeply ingrained in human nature, and which it took many years to eradicate. If centuries elapsed before the Jews were cured of their propensity to worship “other gods,”we can feel no surprise that “image worship” continued to linger among them, in spite of the condemnation of it by the stricter prophets. The calf-worship, the toleration of teraphim and consecrated stones (baetylia) and high places, the offering of incense to the brazen serpent, the glimpses of grave irregularities even in the worship of the sanctuary, show that it was only by centuries of misfortune and a succession of prophets that Israel was at last educated into the spiritual worship of the true God.

The reader will find further remarks on this subject in the article on “Teraphim,” by the present writer, in Kitto’s Biblical Cyclopœdia.

Jdg 17:5. The man Micah had a house of gods — The Hebrew בית אלהים, Beth Elohim, may more properly be translated a house of God; that is, he had made, or at least intended to make, in his own dwelling, an imitation of the house of God in Shiloh. And teraphim — A sort of images so called. And consecrated one of his sons — Because the Levites, in that corrupt state of the church, neglected the exercise of their office, and therefore they were neglected by the people, and others put into their employments.

17:1-6 What is related in this, and the rest of the chapters to the end of this book, was done soon after the death of Joshua: see chap. Jud 20:28. That it might appear how happy the nation was under the Judges, here is showed how unhappy they were when there was no Judge. The love of money made Micah so undutiful to his mother as to rob her, and made her so unkind to her son, as to curse him. Outward losses drive good people to their prayers, but bad people to their curses. This woman's silver was her god, before it was made into a graven or a molten image. Micah and his mother agreed to turn their money into a god, and set up idol worship in their family. See the cause of this corruption. Every man did that which was right in his own eyes, and then they soon did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord.See Judges 8:27, note; Genesis 31:19, note. 5. the man Micah had an house of gods—Hebrew, "a house of God"—a domestic chapel, a private religious establishment of his own.

an ephod—(see on [224]Ex 28:6).

teraphim—tutelary gods of the household (see Ge 31:19 and see on [225]Ge 31:26).

consecrated one of his sons who became his priest—The assumption of the priestly office by any one out of the family of Aaron was a direct violation of the divine law (Nu 3:10; 16:17; De 21:5; Heb 5:4).

An house of gods, i.e. an house or place consecrated for the service of God in this manner.

An ephod; an eminent part of the priestly garments, Exodus 28:4, which, some think, is here put for all of them.

Teraphim; some sort of images so called, of which see Genesis 31:19 Hosea 3:4.

Who became his priest; because the Levites in that corrupt estate of the church neglected the exercise of their office, and therefore were neglected by the people, and others put into their employment. But this kind of priesthood was condemned, Numbers 16:40 18:2,7.

And the man Micah had an house of gods,.... Having two images in it, besides teraphim, which were a sort of idols; and the Targum is, an house of images, or idols; though it may be rendered "an house of God"; a temple, a place for religious worship:

and made an ephod; a priestly garment, a linen one very probably, not so rich an one with a breastplate to it as the high priest had, which was very costly. Ben Melech interprets it a girdle, and there was a curious girdle of the ephod, with which it was girt; this may be here put for the rest of the priestly garments which Micah provided:

and teraphim; which were a sort of household gods, like the Lares and Penates of the Romans, and by which consultations were made; See Gill on Hosea 3:3, Hosea 3:4, Zechariah 10:2 Micah proposed to have an oracle in his house, whereby he might consult the Lord about future things, and not be at the trouble of going to the tabernacle, and consult there by Urim and Thummim; and the same some take the teraphim to be:

and consecrated one of his sons, who became his priest; or, "filled the hand" (k) of one of them; that is, with offerings, as Ben Melech interprets it; in which way priests were initiated, and consecrated to their office; see Exodus 28:41 or, as Kimchi expresses it, he offered his offerings by the hand of one of his sons, and appointed him to be a priest, very probably his eldest son.

(k) "et implevit manum", Montanus, V. L.

And the man Micah had an house of gods, and made an {c} ephod, and {d} teraphim, and consecrated one of his sons, who became his priest.

(c) He would serve both God and idols.

(d) By Teraphim some understand certain idols, having the likeness of a man, but others understand by it all manner of things and instruments belonging to those who sought an answer at God's hands, as in Jud 18:5,6.

5. had an house of gods] But according to his lights Micah was a zealous worshipper of Jehovah; so follow Marg. had an house of God, i.e. a private shrine. The narrative hardly permits the identification of Micah’s beth-elohim with Beth-el, as has been proposed; nor does it intend to brand his shrine, and the sanctuary at Dan, as idolatrous foundations.

an ephod and teraphim] Instruments for consulting the divine oracle; 1 Samuel 23:9-12, Zechariah 10:2. In Hosea 3:4 they are mentioned, together with sacrifice and pillar, in a way which suggests that they were to be found in public sanctuaries. Such was the case with the ephod, Jdg 8:27 note; but the terâphim as a rule seem to have been household sacra, perhaps images shaped in human form (Genesis 31:19; Genesis 31:34 f.; 1 Samuel 19:13; 1 Samuel 19:16), associated with superstitious practices such as divination and witchcraft, and therefore discountenanced by the higher religion; Genesis 35:2; Genesis 35:4 E; 1 Samuel 15:23; 2 Kings 23:24; Ezekiel 21:21[60]. The archaic miniature idols, generally figures of Ashtoreth, which have been unearthed at Taanach and Gezer, are supposed to have been terâphim, but without much probability. See the illustrations in Vincent, Canaan, pp. 153 ff.; Driver,

[60] The Jerusalem Targum on Genesis 31:19 thus explains what the terâphim were: ‘they kill a first-born male and cut off his head, and salt it in salt and spices, and write spells on a leaf of gold which they place under the tongue, and set it up on the wall, and it speaks with them.’ This barbarous magic must actually have existed in popular practice.

Schweich Lectures, p. 57. Gressmann, Eschatologie, p. 345 n., accepts the view that if the ephod was the mantle, the terâphim were the masks of the sacred image; the priest put them on to deliver an oracle, and was then supposed to be invested with the power of the Deity. But this does not seem to explain the private, domestic use of the terâphim. The etymology and meaning of the word are unknown; it occurs only in the plural, even when referring to a single object (e.g. 1 Samuel 19:13; 1 Samuel 19:16); see Gesenius-Kautzsch, Hebr. Gram.28, §124 h, Meyer, Die Israeliten, p. 212.

and consecrated one of his sons] Jdg 17:12, installed lit. filled the hand of. The idiom probably originated from the custom of filling the hands of a candidate for the priestly office with choice portions of the sacrifice, if we may suppose that the ceremonial enjoined in P was based upon traditional usage; Exodus 29:22-25, Leviticus 8:25-28; cf. 2 Chronicles 13:9, 1 Kings 13:33. In Ezekiel 43:26 the phrase has become entirely conventionalized, and is applied to the altar (lit. fill ye its hand). An exact equivalent was used in Assyrian for conferring a dignity on a person, e.g. the god Ashur ‘filled his hand with a matchless kingdom,’ KB. i. p. 191.

The verse throws a valuable light on the religious practice of the period. The head of a family could install a son as priest to his household (cf. 1 Samuel 7:1, 2 Samuel 8:18), and the priestly office was not confined to Levites (cf. 1 Samuel 2:18; 1 Samuel 3:1; 1 Samuel 7:9 f. etc., 2 Samuel 20:26), though a Levite was considered to possess superior skill and fitness for it, Jdg 17:13. Of course this was entirely at variance with later theory and custom. In Deuteronomy (viith century) the only priests we hear of are the Levites, and according to the compiler of the Book of Kings none but Levites had the right to exercise priestly functions (1 Kings 12:31; 1 Kings 13:33); all Levites might be priests (Deuteronomy 10:8 f., Jdg 18:1-8). In the following age Ezekiel draws a distinction between Levites, and confines the priesthood to the descendants of Zadok, degrading the rest to the rank of priests’ servants (Ezekiel 44:10-16); while finally, according to the Priestly Code, only the descendants of Aaron can be priests (Exodus 28, Numbers 3:10, etc.). A later scribe, familiar with what had become the established rule in his day, draws attention to the irregularity in the present case, and puts it down to the general lack of order in the days before the monarchy; cf. Jdg 18:1, Jdg 19:1, Jdg 21:25. The remark implies that the scribe who added it was writing? time when there were kings in Israel.

Verse 5. - And the man Micah, etc. It is impossible to say for certain whether the state of things here described in respect of Micah preceded the events narrated in the preceding verses, or was consequent upon them. If it preceded, then we have the reason of his mother's vow: she wished to make her son's "house of God" complete by the addition of a graven and molten image. If it was consequent upon his mother's vow, then we have in the opening verses of this chapter a history of the circumstances of the foundation of Micah's "house of God," which was to play an important part in the colony of Danites, whose proceedings arc related in the following chapter, and for the sake of which this domestic history of Micah is introduced. House of gods. Rather, of God (Elohim); for the worship was of Jehovah, only with a corrupt and semi-idolatrous ceremonial. An ephod. See Judges 8:26, 27, note. Teraphim. See Genesis 31:19 (images, A.V.; teraphim, Hebrews); 1 Samuel 15:23 (idolatry, A.V.; teraphim, Hebrews); 19:13 (an image, A.V.; teraphim, Hebrews); Hosea 3:4,to etc. They seem to have been a kind of Penates, or household gods, and were used for divination (Ezekiel 21:21; Zechariah 10:2). Became his priest. One function of the priest, and for which it is likely he was much resorted to, was to inquire of God by the ephod (Judges 18:5, 6). What his other duties might be does not appear. Judges 17:5His mother did this, because her son Micah had a house of God, and had had an ephod and teraphim made for himself, and one of his sons consecrated to officiate there as a priest. מיכה האישׁ (the man Micah) is therefore placed at the head absolutely, and is connected with what follows by לו: "As for the man Micah, there was to him (he had) a house of God." The whole verse is a circumstantial clause explanatory of what precedes, and the following verbs ויּעשׂ, וימלּא, and ויהי, are simply a continuation of the first clause, and therefore to be rendered as pluperfects. Micah's beth Elohim (house of God) was a domestic temple belonging to Micah's house, according to Judges 18:15-18. את־יד מלּא, to fill the hand, i.e., to invest with the priesthood, to institute as priest (see at Leviticus 7:37). The ephod was an imitation of the high priest's shoulder-dress (see at Judges 8:27). The teraphim were images of household gods, penates, who were worshipped as the givers of earthly prosperity, and as oracles (see at Genesis 31:19). - In Judges 17:6 it is observed, in explanation of this unlawful conduct, that at that time there was no king in Israel, and every one did what was right in his own eyes.
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