This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:
David Cameron peddling myth that foreign workers take most new UK jobs
JUDGES 17 and 18
Micah and the Levite
17 There was a man in the hill country of Ephraim whose name was Micah. 2 He said to his mother, ‘The eleven hundred pieces of silver that were taken from you, about which you uttered a curse, and even spoke it in my hearing—that silver is in my possession; I took it; but now I will return it to you.’[a] And his mother said, ‘May my son be blessed by the Lord!’ 3 Then he returned the eleven hundred pieces of silver to his mother; and his mother said, ‘I consecrate the silver to the Lord from my hand for my son, to make an idol of cast metal.’ 4 So when he returned the money to his mother, his mother took two hundred pieces of silver, and gave it to the silversmith, who made it into an idol of cast metal; and it was in the house of Micah. 5 This man Micah had a shrine, and he made an ephod and teraphim, and installed one of his sons, who became his priest. 6 In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes.
7 Now there was a young man of Bethlehem in Judah, of the clan of Judah. He was a Levite residing there. 8 This man left the town of Bethlehem in Judah, to live wherever he could find a place. He came to the house of Micah in the hill country of Ephraim to carry on his work.[b] 9 Micah said to him, ‘From where do you come?’ He replied, ‘I am a Levite of Bethlehem in Judah, and I am going to live wherever I can find a place.’ 10 Then Micah said to him, ‘Stay with me, and be to me a father and a priest, and I will give you ten pieces of silver a year, a set of clothes, and your living.’[c] 11 The Levite agreed to stay with the man; and the young man became to him like one of his sons. 12 So Micah installed the Levite, and the young man became his priest, and was in the house of Micah. 13 Then Micah said, ‘Now I know that the Lord will prosper me, because the Levite has become my priest.’
Judges 18 New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised (NRSVA)
The Migration of Dan
18 In those days there was no king in Israel. And in those days the tribe of the Danites was seeking for itself a territory to live in; for until then no territory among the tribes of Israel had been allotted to them. 2 So the Danites sent five valiant men from the whole number of their clan, from Zorah and from Eshtaol, to spy out the land and to explore it; and they said to them, ‘Go, explore the land.’ When they came to the hill country of Ephraim, to the house of Micah, they stayed there. 3 While they were at Micah’s house, they recognized the voice of the young Levite; so they went over and asked him, ‘Who brought you here? What are you doing in this place? What is your business here?’ 4 He said to them, ‘Micah did such and such for me, and he hired me, and I have become his priest.’ 5 Then they said to him, ‘Inquire of God that we may know whether the mission we are undertaking will succeed.’ 6 The priest replied, ‘Go in peace. The mission you are on is under the eye of the Lord.’
7 The five men went on, and when they came to Laish, they observed the people who were there living securely, after the manner of the Sidonians, quiet and unsuspecting, lacking[a] nothing on earth, and possessing wealth.[b] Furthermore, they were far from the Sidonians and had no dealings with Aram.[c] 8 When they came to their kinsfolk at Zorah and Eshtaol, they said to them, ‘What do you report?’ 9 They said, ‘Come, let us go up against them; for we have seen the land, and it is very good. Will you do nothing? Do not be slow to go, but enter in and possess the land. 10 When you go, you will come to an unsuspecting people. The land is broad—God has indeed given it into your hands—a place where there is no lack of anything on earth.’
11 Six hundred men of the Danite clan, armed with weapons of war, set out from Zorah and Eshtaol, 12 and went up and encamped at Kiriath-jearim in Judah. On this account that place is called Mahaneh-dan[d] to this day; it is west of Kiriath-jearim. 13 From there they passed on to the hill country of Ephraim, and came to the house of Micah.
14 Then the five men who had gone to spy out the land (that is, Laish) said to their comrades, ‘Do you know that in these buildings there are an ephod, teraphim, and an idol of cast metal? Now therefore consider what you will do.’ 15 So they turned in that direction and came to the house of the young Levite, at the home of Micah, and greeted him. 16 While the six hundred men of the Danites, armed with their weapons of war, stood by the entrance of the gate, 17 the five men who had gone to spy out the land proceeded to enter and take the idol of cast metal, the ephod, and the teraphim.[e] The priest was standing by the entrance of the gate with the six hundred men armed with weapons of war. 18 When the men went into Micah’s house and took the idol of cast metal, the ephod, and the teraphim, the priest said to them, ‘What are you doing?’ 19 They said to him, ‘Keep quiet! Put your hand over your mouth, and come with us, and be to us a father and a priest. Is it better for you to be priest to the house of one person, or to be priest to a tribe and clan in Israel?’ 20 Then the priest accepted the offer. He took the ephod, the teraphim, and the idol, and went along with the people.
21 So they resumed their journey, putting the little ones, the livestock, and the goods in front of them. 22 When they were some distance from the home of Micah, the men who were in the houses near Micah’s house were called out, and they overtook the Danites. 23 They shouted to the Danites, who turned around and said to Micah, ‘What is the matter that you come with such a company?’ 24 He replied, ‘You take my gods that I made, and the priest, and go away, and what have I left? How then can you ask me, “What is the matter?”’ 25 And the Danites said to him, ‘You had better not let your voice be heard among us or else hot-tempered fellows will attack you, and you will lose your life and the lives of your household.’ 26 Then the Danites went on their way. When Micah saw that they were too strong for him, he turned and went back to his home.
The Danites Settle in Laish
27 The Danites, having taken what Micah had made, and the priest who belonged to him, came to Laish, to a people quiet and unsuspecting, put them to the sword, and burned down the city. 28 There was no deliverer, because it was far from Sidon and they had no dealings with Aram.[f] It was in the valley that belongs to Beth-rehob. They rebuilt the city, and lived in it. 29 They named the city Dan, after their ancestor Dan, who was born to Israel; but the name of the city was formerly Laish. 30 Then the Danites set up the idol for themselves. Jonathan son of Gershom, son of Moses,[g] and his sons were priests to the tribe of the Danites until the time the land went into captivity. 31 So they maintained as their own Micah’s idol that he had made, as long as the house of God was at Shiloh.
Part of this story is a very old record of the migration of the tribe of Dan to new territory. It is a brutal and uncompromising story of conquest such as might come to us from Mosul or Irbil today. It reveals the Danites as a bunch of thugs who are delighted that the people of Laish are quiet and unsuspecting and therefore easy to massacre. The narrator notes that this is how people behave in the absence of a central authority that holds a monopoly of violence: everyone does what he thinks is right. Today we are accustomed to the downside of nation states. They often oppress their own citizens and battle against other states for power, wealth and territory. But they are able to stamp out this kind of clan warfare. Just as today there is no serious attempt to make nations toe the law, then there was no nation to make tribes toe it.
Interwoven with the story of the Danites is that of Micah and his Levite. This is a subtle tale of how Micah first returns stolen silver to his mother but when he is given it he does what he thinks is right by making worship objects to the honour of God and employing a wandering man of priestly caste to minister to him and his family. In this way he thinks he has attached God’s favour to his family’s future. As we see, he’s wrong. God is not to be bought. The Danites also think that the cult objects and the priest might secure God’s blessing for them. We’re not told how this works out but we can be sure it won’t work well. There are parallels between the complacency of Micah and the thuggery of the Danites, but when they come together there can be only one winner. Anyone with a liking for hard man movies will like the brutal repartee of the Danites to Micah-” Ah’d lower mah voice if Ah was yo, son. There’s some powerful bad- minded boys among us heah. You give them annoyance, son, might be bad for yo’ health.”
</em>In the world of this story, wealth, territory and violence call the shots. Out of this sort of anarchy the tribes eventually looked for security by accepting a king. The Old testament historians were doubtful that this innovation brought greater justice. In their view only obedience to God rather than a superstitious cult of God could produce a just society.
But then again, the ISIS thugs think they are obeying God. The dark narratives of the Bible do not encourage an easy optimism about individuals or society.