Judges 17 – “Micah’s House of Worship”

Hebrew-English Text
I. Summary
Micah builds a house of worship and hires a young Levite to serve as his priest.

II. Photo
Micah builds a house of worship: “ Now the man Micah had a house of God; he had made an ephod and teraphim and he had inducted one of his sons to be his priest.” (v. 5)

III. Important Verses
1-2: There was a man in the hill country of Ephraim whose name was Micah. He said to his mother, “The eleven hundred shekels of silver that were taken from you, so that you uttered an imprecation which you repeated in my hearing — I have that silver; I took it.” “Blessed of the LORD be my son,” said his mother.
5: Now the man Micah had a house of God; he had made an ephod and teraphim and he had inducted one of his sons to be his priest.
6: In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did as he pleased.
13: “Now I know,” Micah told himself, “that the LORD will prosper me, since the Levite has become my priest.”

IV. Outline
1-5. Micah builds a beit ‘elohim “house of god(s)”
6. Political situation
7-13. Micah hires a Levite to serve as his priest

V. Comment
Chapter 17, which describes the beit ’elohim “house of god(s)” that Micah sets up, is an overture to the narrative of chapter 18. The beit ’elohim will eventually be robbed by the tribe of Dan as they build their new home in the city of Laish.

One of the more important verses in our chapter is v. 6: “In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did as he pleased.” Collins writes: “The last four chapters of the book of Judges are framed by statements that ‘in those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes’ (17:6; 21:25). Reminders that ‘in those days there was no king in Israel’ are also interspersed in the intervening chapters. The stories suggest that when there was no king the society tended to disintegrate.” (213)

Verses 4-5 describes the beit ’elohim that Micah makes: “So when he gave the silver back to his mother, his mother took two hundred shekels of silver and gave it to a smith. He made of it a sculptured image (pesel) and a molten image (masseikha), which were kept in the house of Micah. Now the man Micah had a house of God; he had made an ephod and teraphim and he had inducted one of his sons to be his priest.” Sculpted idols and molten images are strictly forbidden elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible (for pesel see Ex 20:4; Lev 26:1; Deut 4:16, 23, etc.; for masseikha see Ex 34:17; Lev 19:4; Num 33:52, etc.). Yet, the ephod appears in many contexts. While the ephod was primarily a priestly garment, it was worn by certain non-priests besides David. Meyers writes: “Since the word ephod refers to a sacred vestment, most of the usages are in the priestly passages of the Pentateuch, mainly in the tabernacle texts of Exodus. However, other individuals involved in cultic activity—notably Gideon (Judg 8:27), the priest of Micah (Judg 17:5; 18:14, 17, 18, 20), Eli (1 Sam 14:3), Samuel (1 Sam 2:18, 28), and David or his priests (1 Sam 21:9; 22:18; 23:16; 30:7; 2 Sam 6:14; 1 Chr 15:27)—are associated with the ephod. In Hos 3:4 it is mentioned, along with the teraphim, independently of a priestly figure.” (“Ephod,” in Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. II p. 550)

In regards to the teraphim, it is possible that they are the ’elohim in Micah’s house of ’elohim. Indeed, many scholars surmise that the ’elohim in Ex 22:7-8 means teraphim. Those verses read as follows: “If the thief is not found, the owner of the house shall be brought unto ha’elohim [in order to make it clear] that he did not send his hand against the other’s property. For all cases of transgression, for an ox, for an ass, for a sheep, for a garment, for any lost thing that he says “this is it,” the case of both of them shall come unto ha’elohim. He whom ‘elohim condemns shall pay back double to the other.” Support for this theory can be drawn from the equation of the teraphim with ’elohim in Gen 31:19, 30-32.

VI. Works Used
(see “Commentaries” page)
Trent C. Butler, “Judges” (Word Biblical Commentary vol. 8; Nashville: Nelson, 2009).
Collins, John J. “Introduction to the Hebrew Bible,” Word Biblical Commentary vol. 15 (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004).
““Ephod,” in Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. II p. 550
Photo taken from http://www.bibleplaces.com/images/Beersheba_four_horned_altar,_tbq110702.jpg

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