By Samuel Ridout
The Development of Idolatry
Judges 17 and 18.
We have, now concluded our examination of the history of the manifold deliverances which God effected for his people through the various instruments, the judges, who were raised up for that purpose. I think you will all agree that the last deliverer was that only in name. He was simply connected with the former judges, as showing the full outcome of a weakness which was manifest, alas, in the very beginning in those whom God raised up.
This weakness had its culmination in one who was renowned for his strength, and whose strength effected nothing actually in the practical deliverance of God's people, however much it might exhibit a power that was capable of doing wonders, had it only been applied in the right way. For, after all, in one sense it is possible to use God's power in a wrong way; and how often persons richly endowed by grace with gifts and abilities which even Christ has bestowed, misuse them either for their own glorification, or in a way that simply fritters them away without practically effecting the edification and up-building of the saints of God.
With Samson ends the tale of the deliverances. There is no more deliverance in the book. It has been a downward course, and ends with the captivity of the deliverer himself, instead of leading captivity captive, as Deborah called upon Barak to do in the early history of these deliverances. Early in the history we had that song, and, as I was saying at the time, it is the only song that you have throughout. The time of Deborah and Barak was, perhaps, the brightest of the entire period. There is no song now, but the sighing of the prisoner himself, whose life goes out with the last act, by which he would seek, not to deliver the saints of God, but to be avenged upon his enemies for his own loss of eyesight.
We come now to what reaches on from the seventeenth chapter to the close of the book, and find an entirely new style of treatment. It is no longer the story of Israel's declension and bondage in the hands of the enemy. Nor of their being brought very low, and then crying to God for help, and His raising up a helper, with the account of the deliverance wrought. We have no more of that, but we have from this on, in the two main parts, as you might say, the complete state of soul of the people manifested in their departure from God, which is the root, and in their violence to their fellow-men, the moral corruption, which is the result.
I do not want to dwell tonight upon the second part of this, the relation of the people to one another, except to call your attention to the fact that we would often invert things. We would often give the prominence to that which is, after all, but the fruit of a root far more subtle and deeply hidden than the fruit itself. Anyone who reads the awful narratives of the last of the book will blush for his fellow-men, to say nothing of blushing for the people who were called by the name of the Lord. But the violence and corruption in their dealings with one another spring from men's relation with God, and, therefore, you have most significantly the account of that first.
It is the history of idolatry introduced amongst the people as a regular system. You notice that the account here probably extends over the whole period of the judges. In fact, we know that the idolatry which was inaugurated, which we are going to look at tonight, really never ceased until the days of Samuel the prophet, just prior to the introduction of the kingship. It began early, in connection with the history of Dan. But what you have here is not something succeeding the time of Samson. The record is not chronologically, but morally arranged. We have before us a new subject, the internal history of the people, while the previous part gives us mainly the external history. We have been dwelling upon the bondages and deliverances from the outside; now we are to see the state of heart on the inside, which was just as bad as the worst bondage in which they were held by the enemy externally.
It is idolatry that we are to look at. But it is not such idolatry as the worship of Baalim and Ashtaroth, the gods of the nations amongst whom they had dwelt, or by whom they were surrounded, not heathen gods as you might say. We are to see gods of domestic manufacture, and the rise, progress, and development of idolatry as practiced by a people who, in connection with the idolatry, preserved the names, and apparently the relationship of those who belonged to God.
It was not apostasy in the sense that it was the throwing overboard of everything that was called God. It was not the outside enemy coming in like a flood, and obliterating every trace of God and His authority. No, it was men bringing in — Israelites by race, men who would devoutly use the name of Jehovah, and devoutly call in to their aid His services, — a system of their own, and linking God's holy name with it.
I am sure that our knowledge of the word of God will show us that this kind of idolatry, while it is more subtle than the other, is much more dangerous, because of this very subtlety. The thing thata can easily pass current among the professing people of God as being His will, is far more dangerous than that which has printed upon its very forehead the names of blasphemy, so that anyone can see that it is a distinct and absolute substitution for God.
That is what we are to look at here. And it comes at this closing part of the book, in order to show us, as it seems clearly, a state of soul which was going on unjudged amongst the people throughout the entire period, developing and making possible that more horrible looking apostasy, the outward idolatry. Here was an inward state of soul that made idolatry a possible thing, and which accounts for the power of the enemy.
Let us now look at this that we have characterized a little, and see how it starts. We are introduced to certain scenes which are very humiliating, and yet which ever mark idolatry. Here you have a son who has robbed his mother, and the mother who has cursed, without knowing whom, her son, cursed the robber who had taken the II oo pieces of silver from her. He has robbed her of that and hid it, but under terror of the curse he is afraid to keep it any longer, and so restores it to his mother. She very piously, the one who had just cursed, could now bless, not because of repentance in her son, who had restored the stolen thing, but because she had got it back. She blesses him of Jehovah, and tells him that she had dedicated it to Jehovah for the strange use of making a graven image.
She does not give it all, for you never find any idolatry, any god that we set up with our own hands, costs us everything. No matter what the claim may be of that which we have undertaken to set up in the place of God, it never costs our whole fortune, you may rest assured of that.
Take the system of Rome itself. It lays its hand upon everything and claims it as its own, but I tell you, dear friends, that the devotees of Rome know quite well that they have only paid, as it were, two-elevenths of what is theirs. They give liberally, to be sure, of their money, liberally of their allegiance to the system but, as a matter of fact, there is a vast lot of self-will that is allowed, a vast amount of pleasing of the flesh. The man who must go very early to mass is allowed to do just as he pleases the rest of the day, or the ones who for the forty days of Lent are compelled to be very religious, can be quite the reverse of that all the rest of the year.
So idolatry does not give its all to make its god, but gives only a fraction, and then, as though to make up for its lack of full devotedness, adds an energy of profession which is supposed to take its place. Rome claims everything for her false gods. She claims it all for them, in order that she may be allowed to do largely as she pleases.
It is very interesting to notice who this man was. He is a man of mount Ephraim, whose name was Micah. You would think a man with that name, — if it meant anything, as names ought to mean, especially when they were given in faith and recognized as having significance among the people of God, — would be proof against every form of idolatry. "Who is like Jehovah?" would be enough to settle any question of idolatry.
The mother takes 200 pieces of the restored silver, and has a graven image made, after which she seems to disappear from the history, having thus proved how utterly disloyal she is, and how utterly in contrast with the faithful in Israel, even such as the mother of Samson. It is all with the evident approval of the son, who takes his molten, graven image, and sets it up in his house as an idol.
He is of the tribe of Ephraim. That demands attention too. The tabernacle was set up in Ephraim at Shiloh. It was the tribe which represents the activities of divine life as contrasted with Judah, which stands for the truths of divine life. Divine truth must be at the base of all divine worship, and so you will find that in Israel things never settled to their true centre until, as we have it in the Psalms, God forsook Shiloh, forsook the tribe of Ephraim, and chose mount Zion, which He loved, saying, "This is My rest, here will I dwell forever, for I have desired it."
Judah stands for divine truth and the praise, or worship, which flows from a heart illumined and filled by the truth. Ephraim, which means fruitfulness, stands for that walk and activity of the divine life which is the result of an apprehension of the truth. You find it practically illustrated in Mary and Martha. You have in Mary that which answers to Judah. She is sitting at the Lord's feet hearing His word. She is in the place in that way of receiving the truth from the Lord, and as there in true subjection to Him she learns the Lord's mind for her. Surely all His people are to learn it in the same way. Martha represents what is assuredly right and proper in its place — service — but then service must always spring from communion, or it will only envy that communion. Ephraim will envy Judah. How many a heart is filled with Martha-like envy simply because it is not in the place of true subjection, the true learner. Judah has been subordinated to Ephraim. Ephraim has been made the ruler, and, as a result, there is this discontent, and Christ is not supreme in the soul.
It is because of this that you have the possibility of idolatry. It is out of many a fruitful life of activity that idolatry springs. You have there what is characteristic of Ephraim, a great deal of zeal, a great deal of doing what is very right and proper in itself. Everything seems to be right and proper except one thing, that is the supremacy of God's truth commanding the soul.
In the day in which we are living how common is this putting of Ephraim over Judah, putting our Christian activity, our work — not always Christian work, but philanthropy and all that, drawing, however, further and further away from God, and, as a result, exalting man before faith and the truth of God.
Notice how that leads right up to idolatry. Here is service blessed and true service, which, of course, is occupied with the objects of its service, men, human need. That activity of service goes on. It may be even in the gospel it may be even presenting truth to God's people. If in presenting truth it is simply the saints who are before us, that will most assuredly lead to idolatry; that is all. If one is engaged in preaching the gospel, and is so full of his work that it displaces in his soul the supreme claims of the word of God, that leads up to idolatry.
And so you find it is a man of mount Ephraim, — a man of the tribe that suggests fruit and service and work, — who is the introducer of idolatry amongst the people of God. Is not that suggestive? And when you remember also how the tribe of Ephraim, as we have been seeing in the history of Gideon and that of Jephthah, was constantly jealous, constantly filled with pride of its service, and with the thought of its own greatness, you see how idolatry goes along with pride in a very striking way.
I think we have now the materials which will enable us to answer the question, What then is the idolatry that we have before us here? If it is not the absolute setting up of a false god in the place of the true; if it is not serving Baal and Ashtaroth, what is it then? It is simply, as to its root, allowing the activities of divine life in the soul to alienate one from the truth of God, and thus service brings in pride, pride brings in self-will, and self-will in its turn fashions its god to answer to its own desires, instead of fashioning itself to answer to the desire of God.
The root thought of all idolatry is the same, and I might say in passing, that this idolatry in Israel is really idolatry in the human race. Only for that we would go further back. But the root of all idolatry is self-will, it is making a god of our own. It is starting with self and fashioning a god, not necessarily out of silver, nor necessarily with our hands. In this enlightened nineteenth century you would say there is very little danger of people fashioning gods with their hands. Ah, but there is a tool more cunning and skilful than the hands, and that is the intellect of man, and wherever self is substituted for the will of God, you will find the activity of the human mind fashioning a god to please itself, and it does it in the name of the Lord, in the name of the true God.
Look about us for instance today. Look at all the fashionings of man's hands as you see them everywhere. Surely you can see the cunning device of the graver with an instrument, and the molten image; but is it not all under the Name that is familiar to us? Cannot the name of Jehovah be written upon it all, as you might say, and is it not written upon it all? Do you not find that as in Aaron's day the people are told, "Tomorrow is a feast unto Jehovah." When they gathered they found the calf which man had made, their own image. Are not men today really worshiping Christ after their own fashioning, worshiping a god which they themselves have manufactured, out of their own thoughts, calling it by the name of the living God? Now the root of it all, — not that I would say a single word against true Christian activity — but the root of it among professed Christians is substitution of Christian activity for Christian faith. Faith must ever be at the foundation, and if there is not a Christian faith at the foundation, there is bound to be an idol of some kind, no matter how great the activity may be, apparently a fruitful activity for God.
The details of the development are very simple. In the fifth verse we find that he has an image, so he must have a house to put his image in. Then, as he has a house, there must also be an ephod, or priestly garment, and teraphim, minor images, as you might say, connected with it; and over all these there must be a priest to preside. Micah appoints one of his own sons for priest, but he soon finds something better than a priest of his own manufacture, for he gets one who is partly at least a priest of God.
Here comes in the Levite; and this is very instructive. The Levite comes, a young man of Bethlehem-Judah, of the family of Judah. We have just been seeing that Judah should always be pre-eminent. Here is a man who leaves the place that answers to faith in divine truth, and comes, in all the restlessness of discontent, seeking for something better for himself. As you see in Elimelech, one leaving Bethlehem, the house of bread, because he wanted food; so you have the same thing here, a man leaving the house of bread in order to better his condition. How could one better his condition more than by being in the house of plenty? And yet unbelief always acts in that way. The restless discontent will always take one away from blessing, and surely bring him into a lower place than even he imagined he occupied before.
This young man goes unto mount Ephraim, and in reply to Micah's question as to himself, says he is hunting for a place, he is seeking for occupation. Micah says, I have occupation for you, "Dwell with me, and be unto me a father and a priest, and I will give thee ten shekels of silver by the year, and a suit of apparel, and thy victuals." "And the Levite was content to dwell with the man and the young man was unto him as one of his sons, and Micah consecrated the Levite, and the young man became his priest." It seems an easy thing to do; a man who has made a god can surely consecrate a priest to take care of the god. Micah concludes the whole matter with the pious remark, "Now know I that Jehovah will do me good, seeing I have a Levite to me for priest."
It is almost ridiculous, dear brethren; and as you dwell on it, you can almost see the whole thing, and, alas, you can apply it easily to what we have all about us today. Here is this restless Levite who is going to better himself, and here is a place. It is a very good one. He is only a Levite. Doubtless in his restlessness he had often wished himself on a higher plane, wished, perhaps, that he was a priest, one who had not merely the right to minister about divine things, but the right also of access, to stand between God and His. people, thus being a channel of communication. Here is the opportunity. He is invited by Micah to come into his house, and be to him a father and a priest. He is to assume charge of all his religious interests, so that Micah will be entirely free from any care and difficulty as to these, because he will hand them all over to another one, who will take entire charge of them. And in order that he may be without needless anxiety as to his support, he is promised definitely a stipulated salary, and it is by the year, so that he is provided for during a long continued time. He can look on for a year; he is provided a salary and his clothing, and his board is included.
Why, brethren, was it written as foreseeing what is so much practiced all about us today? Is it not just that, a Levite coming from the place where he belongs, in restlessness, seeking for something to better his own condition? Is it not the minister striving to be something more than the minister, leaving alas the house of bread, both spiritual and temporal? Is it not the minister wanting to take the place of the priesthood, and, on the other hand, a people quite willing and desirous that he should take that place? For you know the heart of man does not like to be in close contact with God; it likes very well to have somebody come in between him and God. That is how priesthood originates, and it is very nice to have a man, for instance, who will attend to the more sacred and delicate parts of religion, and leave you with a satisfied conscience just to go on as you please. Yes, it is of deep importance that we should see to what this applies.
True ministry of the Word is a blessed thing. But let us remember, as we saw in Gideon's history, that there are only two classes of priests; one class has but one solitary figure in it, the High Priest. No one dare usurp His place. The other class of priesthood has in it all God's people. "Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood." The two classes are Christ alone, and all His people. But the man-made priesthood will ever take ministry, that which should be for service, and turn it to priesthood. In the old days, the Levite prepared the sacrifice in order that the priest might offer it to God, so all true ministry is simply to prepare the materials of divine truth for the people of God, in order that they may present them as the sacrifice of their hearts.
Any ministry that dares to usurp the place of the people of God as priests is simply usurping the place of the Holy Ghost in their hearts. Any kind of service that intrudes into the sacred sanctuary of the heart of the believer, and tries there to dictate as to its worship, is the Levite becoming a priest. And you will find that wherever there is a man-made priest, there is a man-made god back of that. What do I mean by that? I mean, dear brethren, that the human mind has been at work, fashioning a god after its own thoughts. It takes the name of Christ, it takes certain of the truths of Christ, His teaching, everything of that kind; but out of these materials — significantly it was silver out of which this idol was made — it fashions that which is not really Christ.
I ask you, as you look at the ministry of what is called Christ today amongst the people of God, do you find it, dear brethren, the Christ of God, or is it the Christ of man? Is it a Christ whose character has been formed by man's thoughts, instead of Him who is presented to us by the Spirit of God in His word? Have we not, after all, in Christendom today a Christ who answers to the thoughts of men? And it is necessarily a consequence of this, that where there is a human priesthood, there must be a human object for that priesthood, to make known for worship.
The god who is known today, or whom men profess to know, the god who is taught and who is spoken of today, what is he after all? Is he not a man? Look at his attributes; has he not been shorn of them? Surely he has. Is the god whom men hear of today one of almighty power? If men will tell out the thoughts of their hearts, they believe the power is in themselves. Is he a god of sovereign will? Men when they tell out the thoughts of their hearts say that they are creatures of their own will, that they are free moral agents, as they love to say, and that everything depends upon man. Is he a god of absolute holiness? Again you will find that men have fashioned him, making his attribute of holiness to answer to their thoughts, and not according to what He has revealed in His holy Word. Is he a god of righteousness? One would be hooted out of the pulpit today, in many places, that would dare to proclaim the inflexible righteousness and judgment of a God of almighty power.
That explains, dear brethren, why you hear nothing of the preaching of responsibility, of men having to answer to God at the great judgment when they shall receive for the deeds done in the body eternal judgment, if they are sinners unsaved. That is why you hear nothing of future punishment, and why that awful word hell has been erased from the preachers' vocabulary. That is why you have God presented in this low, weak, humble way, a God that is depised by man, just as the heathen laugh at their own gods, and think that they can deceive them. How it is all rebuked in the book of Psalms, where God, as He speaks to those who are attempting to do this, says, "Thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself."
So man has made his god, and he must make his priest to help him worship his god, and in doing so he has opened the door for all this idolatry which goes by a Christian name. And then he is happy about it. He thinks that the Lord's work is prospering; he thinks that the Lord will surely bless him now, as he has a priest and a house, an ephod and an image which he calls his god. Surely there is nothing lacking, and he is completely satisfied at the state of things.
A state like that cannot stand still. It must either be judged, or it will spread. We have been looking at it in connection with a single individual. We will next see how it begins to spread, until it takes in a whole tribe, and that the tribe of Dan. Just as Judah stands for the truth, the basis of all government amongst the people of God, so Dan stands for the execution of government. Dan means judge, and he stands for that in the prophecy of Jacob. "Dan shall judge his people as one of the tribes of Israel." Most significantly, too, the patriarch foretells the apostasy, of which we are seeing the beginning here.
It is significant that the words "all their," in connection with "inheritance," are in italics; they are not in the original. It really says, "[Their] inheritance had not fallen to them." Practically they had not inherited a place. Here is a people without a portion. As a matter of fact, the tribe of Dan had not taken their inheritance. The Philistines occupied a large portion of it on one side, and they were not able, as we saw, to expel the Amorites, so they were driven up into the mountains, and cramped so closely that they had no enjoyment of their inheritance.
There is a suited opportunity for idolatry to come in. The people of God who are not satisfied with the full enjoyment of their own inheritance surely are just ready for the enemy to come in and lead them astray. It is an unfilled heart, a heart that has failed to enter upon its own portion, which is open to these assaults. Just as we were seeing what was characteristic of the whole nation of Israel; it failed to enter upon possession of all that was its own; so here; and the heart that is unfilled with what is its own, that is not in the enjoyment of that, is ready for the enemy to come in and lead it into idolatry. The Danites become restless, just as the Levite did, and "like a bird that wandereth from her nest, so is a man that wandereth from his place."
There is quite a long narrative here as to how they go to spy out another portion for themselves. They go up into the northern part of the land, and the north is always significant as suggestive of turning the back on the Lord. It is the hidden part, the part where, you remember, Jabin was supreme, at Hazor. They go up into the northern part of the land, and there they spy out a place for themselves amongst a people who had not yet been disturbed.
Of course, one would not say a single word against their conquering territory that really belonged to them, but the point is, that their activity was not in connection with what God had given them. If their activity had been directed against the Philistines; if they had been content to widen out the boundary lines that God himself had given to them, surely that would have been faith. But here, not able to enter upon the enjoyment of what God has actually given them, they go elsewhere to seek an easier place than that held by the redoubtable Philistines. An easier place for themselves; and, dear brethren, how often do God's people slip into an easier place, and desire, as it were, to settle down into a pleasanter portion than the rugged inheritance which He has given them. Though it be a rugged inheritance, yet it yields the choicest fruit.
But is it not a common thing in our own history to choose what costs us least, and to try to meet the enemies which, after all, are secure and at ease, and easily overthrown, rather than those who are stronger and mightier than ourselves, and whose power we fear, and who, if we are not really in communion with God, will overthrow us? So Dan sends off elsewhere to have a portion rather than in the place that God had marked out for him.
The very things that you fear, that hamper you where you are, that are next to you, and that hinder you in the enjoyment of what is distinctly your own, those are the things that you are to meet and overcome. We see a great deal in the history of the Church of going off into foreign fields. Surely one would not say a single word against going off into the foreign field to carry the gospel of Christ everywhere. But, beloved brethren, the first thing, the absolutely essential thing, is for the people of God to have an activity of soul in the enjoyment of what is really their own here.
And so that hard thing that lies at your very door, that you have looked at and feared, and yet which has been like a great barrier between you and what was your true en joyment and privilege, that is the thing for you to conquer, otherwise you will be like Dan, turning away from your proper sphere and further opening your doors to taking lower ground as to God, and all His things. Is not that true? Is not that a real and important thing for us to notice, that it is just this spirit of compromise and seeking an easier path that opens the way to dishonor, and to disobey our blessed God?
And so as these spies go, they recognize the voice of this Levite in the house of Micah. He is a priest, and they ask guidance on the basis of what he has established. They ask direction from one who has himself departed from the path which God had called him to. They ask guidance, as it were, of a god of man's own fashioning, a god whose attributes have been clipped; whose wisdom, holiness and righteousness, have been shorn from him, as it were, and the image of man's thought, something that will not be too hard for man to obey and follow, set up in its place.
Of course they get the very direction they want. They did just as people do today they will go and enquire of the god of their own thought. Ah, brethren, when you ask God's guidance, is it asking of an idol, or is it asking of the living God? The living God has His will expressed in His Word. How often you find people saying, the Lord led me thus and so. The Lord laid it on my heart to do this, and that, meaning by that that they had an impression to do this and that. Was that impression of God, dear brethren?
God does not act by providence merely, and certainly does not guide His people by impressions, unsupported by His word. You might say the Lord led me to do this or that, but if it has not been His holy word that has led you, if it has not been His Holy Spirit that has led you, through that Word, beware lest it be only your own inclination that is leading you, or worse, that an enemy has put a certain thought into your mind, and arranged the circumstances, it may be, so as to make them seem providential. There is a vast amount of what is called guidance, and the leading of the Lord, that is enquiring at the house of Micah of a Levite who is taking the place of priest, and of an image which is representing your idol, or mine, instead of the living and true God.
Then they go and spy out the land, and everything, as I say, seems to answer to their expectations. Here is a nice, easily-conquered settlement for them to take. They can do all the work easily, and so they go back to Dan and call the tribe together, a good number of them, and start out on their expedition. Here again we have things which are so familiar to us, and so striking as I say almost to raise a sad smile, except that it is too sad to smile at. You see here a company of people desiring the services of a man who has been serving in a more retired sphere. He has been the priest of one family. Is it not better, these men argue: Here we offer you a greater field of usefulness. We call you to another charge. It is not now a small insignificant charge, one family, but we ask if you will not move your whole system of things and take charge of a tribe. Is it not better, instead of your little circle of influence, to include a whole tribe of Israel?
So the Levite, under the expectation of such advancement, is quite glad, and considers it now a distinct leading of the Lord, that he should enter upon this larger field of usefulness. In other words, he gets a call to a place of more service, of wider usefulness, and he thinks he is led to go. I don't want you to understand me, of course, as saying a single word against anything like true, godly, devoted service to Christ by whatever name it may be called. I am speaking of that state of things which makes it possible for a man to intrude himself into the priesthood, and to usurp amongst the people of God to their own hurt, and to God's dishonor, a place which Christ alone can occupy. For that we must have absolute contempt and abhorrence, and if we see it today, and wherever we see it, beloved, let us stigmatize it as it deserves. If the Lord can say of the system of clerisy, "which thing I hate," let us hate it with perfect hatred, which abhors that which intrudes self into the things of Christ, and which thus displaces the Holy Spirit.
And so, after the ineffectual resistance of Micah, who finds that the tribe is stronger than he, and that the inducements are stronger than he can hold out, the Levite goes into his larger field with great gladness and moves his idolatry, his image, and his ephod and all the paraphernalia which he had, up into Dan. There, until the captivity of the land (significant words), until God comes in in judgment, and the ark is taken away from Shiloh, this subtle form of idolatry prevails in the tribe of Dan. It prevails there, and leavens the whole nation and makes possible I doubt not, that deeper form of idolatry, which is simply the outgrowth of that, the two calves which Jeroboam the son of Nebat set up; one in the place near which the idolatry originated, in Ephraim, and the other in the place where it culminated, in Dan.
Thus you find absolute idolatry marking all of apostate Israel in the days of the separation under Jeroboam the son of Nebat. How a thing spreads. And, beloved, as you look at it today, and see how the system of clerisy has leavened the whole house of Christendom, when you think how the servants of Christ (who should have been that) have been pushed into the place of priestly sanctity, I do not think we have spoken too strongly about this. If there is anything we should resist and abhor with all the energy of our souls, it is that which thus contradicts the presence of the Holy Ghost in every believer, contradicts the absolute and sole priesthood of Christ on high, and the precious fact that every believer has access into the holiest by the blood of Jesus.
Let us abhor it, and by whatever name it may be called, — and let me tell you that idols are not always named; it is easy for us to have idolatry, easy for us to have a class priesthood without knowing it — let us cast it from us. It is spiritual sloth that makes class priesthood possible. It is spiritual sloth of soul which relegates to greater activity of faith, even where it is faith, our responsibility for worship and praise and thanksgiving, that makes possible a class priesthood, and that in its turn makes possible the idolatry which we see here.
This idolatry which we have here is simply the inside view of what you see outwardly in the apostasy of the whole people, brought under the iron heel of the enemies of God without. Is it not solemn, and is not this in fitting accord with all that we have seen before of their helplessness in the face of the enemy, because of their state of soul as manifested here?
Just at the close we are told who this man is (Judges 18: 30). He is the son of (as the Revised Version also renders it) Gershom, the son of Moses, and he and his sons were priests to the tribe of Dan until the day of the captivity of the land. This Levite, who took the place of priest in connection with idolatry, was a descendant of no other than Moses himself, the great lawgiver of Israel. What a thought, beloved! Ah, is it not true, is it not written upon every verse that we have read, "Ye must be born again?" There is no such thing as spiritual descent. There is no such thing as inheriting spiritual traits; and the child of Moses may become the leader in an apostasy, just as much as an enemy of God, as an uncircumcised heathen king.
How solemn the thought that sons of those who have been nearest to God in point of privilege, in point of service, those who have been used of God, — if they have not the same faith, may really use the spirituality of their forefathers as an excuse for their own apostasy and idolatry. Do we not see it sometimes today in sects and parties who can look back upon the spirituality of those who founded the sects? Upon the spirituality of men who really loved Christ, and, according to their lights, were faithful to Christ? Do we not find people making capital of that kind of thing, and really laying claim to spiritual excellence because their fathers were near to God?
Let us remember, one precious fact settles for us all such questions, the presence of the Holy Ghost in the midst of the people of God. We do not have to look back to our fathers, thank God. We do not have to look back to the days of Luther, or of Wesley, or even of Paul in one sense. We have to remember that the same Spirit who energised every servant of Christ who has been faithful to Him in days gone by, that same Spirit who spoke through Paul, dwells in the Church of Christ today, and in every believer, and therefore that every believer is an instrument for the Spirit of God to use, if he will yield himself up to Him.
It is that blessed Spirit who opens to our souls the reality of what God is, and thus keeps us from idolatry; who reveals to us the beauties and glories of our true Priests, even Christ, and thus keeps us from any thought of a human priesthood. So that if the people of God would only realize the presence of the Spirit of God as dwelling amongst them, they would find a cure for this tendency to clericalism, which is also connected with the idolatry that we have been tracing out.
Let us remember the words of that apostle who so fully spoke of divine love, and divine truth, the Apostle John, who, at the close of his epistle, an epistle that was devoted to unfolding the realities of the divine life to the believer, said, "Little children keep yourselves from idols."
Let us beware, beloved, let us be jealous of having any thoughts of God that He has not given to us. Let us beware of clipping anything away from the Spirit's revelation of what our Blessed God is in His Holy Word, and the Spirit's revelation of what our Blessed Christ, our great High Priest is, and we shall be free from idolatry.
Though we may rejoice in our possessions in Mount Ephraim, we would not be connected with the discontent that ever seeks something else; and we will delight too in our portion in Judah, and praise will flow forth. Thus God and Christ will be enthroned practically in our hearts and amongst His people. These dangers that He points out to us can be avoided even in our day. Even now, even amongst a feeble remnant of the saints, these dangers, so pressing everywhere, can be avoided if faith takes God's provision for us.
I have thus sought to trace the lesson marked for us in these two chapters. Part of it has been before us at another time,1 but the Spirit of God has enlarged upon it here, and we cannot ignore the lesson. May it be written on our hearts.
1 See Lecture 2: Judges 2, 3; From Gilgal to Bochim. (pages 46-50).