The story we are studying this week about Jonathan (the Levite personal priest of Micah as related the past two days from Judges 17 and 18) is one that happened about 3350 to 3400 years ago. And I could imagine a modern person asking how in the world something from three millennia ago can have any bearing or wisdom for life today. It was such a different time, and to an extent that is true.
But the nature of man does not change over the millennia. Materialism is the same as it was. One people group dislodging another to take their land is the story of human history. People looking out for themselves rather than others is timeless.
Since the nature of man does not change, we can observe even Old Testament narratives from antiquity and gain from them some timeless principles that are true in any generation. I would make five such observations for your consideration from these two chapters.
Drift from God begins with ignorance of His Word and biblical truth.
We see this in every component of the story, and it is not just with Jonathan, but with all of the characters (who are all Jewish people and part of Israel). The mother is into idols. He son Micah also already had idols. Jonathan agrees to be a priest away from Israel’s center of worship, and he incorporates idolatry in a syncretistic way. The Danites are filled with superstition and readiness to set up a show of religion, devoid of truth. Every one of these people should have known better from their background and affiliation as God’s covenant people. They possessed the truth, but they did not let the truth possess them.
Going through life without knowing the Scripture is like having an owner’s manual on what life is about and how to live it successfully, but paying no attention to it. This would be like never looking at the owner’s manual of your car or taking care to do responsible things like oil changes and maintenance.
But people live life in this careless fashion and then they wonder why they have multiplied problems. Ridiculously, they then blame God like a totally irresponsible car owner would blame Ford or General Motors for manufacturers’ error.
Drift from God is accelerated by the allure of worldly gain.
Jonathan was from the tribe of Levi and was a grandson of Moses; so he had a calling upon his life to serve the nation in religious leadership. This did not include running around the country looking for a place to live as a sort of religious free agent.
The seduction of this world is, of course, that accumulating the securities and joys it offers will bring us satisfaction and security. We never really ever get completely away from this incipient tendency, not in any generation.
Drift from God is sedated and suppressed by merely outward religious symbols and rituals.
The mother of Micah has superstitions about curses and blessings. Micah is sure God will bless him because he sets up his own personal shrine, etc. The Danites believe the idols will help them, even though these objects did nothing to protect their first owner from this tribal group!
Just because something is religious and is seen does not mean it is accurate or true or real. Within circles of theological liberalism, there is little belief in the Bible, Jesus as divine, objective truth, the need for salvation, and dozens of other truths of Scripture. They just sorta believe in some big, grand ideas about love and kindness. But it looks and sound good!
And whether liberal or evangelical, there are common views that going through the motions of religious duty and putting in the time is a sufficient effort to get “credit.” It is similar to doing time for something like filling a “community service hours” sort of obligation. It’s a good thing, but more than anything, you just want to get them done and over with.
Drift from God may also be sedated and suppressed by apparent signs of success.
Micah could ask who else in Ephraim had their own personal priest? And with the Danites, it was a long way to worship where God said to go, so setting up their own system made sense and looked good too.
There is no shortage in our time of folks being satisfied by having the apparent symbols of success. People who have a lot of material gain may think that this is the symbol of God’s blessing and pleasure with them.
And in the religious world we are really into the symbols of success, most often measured in America 2016 by numbers of people, physical structures, and offerings totals. The bigger the better, the bigger being obviously the blessing of God.
Rather, we should look for long-term patterns of faithfulness and consistency in Scripture and the growth of the lives of people connected to a local church family, noting the presence of people oriented to truth, and folks who are walking and growing together through the good and bad of life.
Drift from God may have the long-term result of generational consequences.
The story in Judges ends with the information that for generations there was an alternate worship of idols that took place that rivaled the true worship of God at Shiloh. Generations of Jonathan’s family facilitated this fraudulent activity.
Religious indifference and a lack of valuation for the things of God (due to drift) will surely be seen and felt by rising generations. If faith is nothing more than the thing you do when there’s nothing else better to do at that time, or that you do as an obligation to get it out of the way … this will be noted, and it is highly likely that the next generation will value it even less.
Yes, drift is drift. Whether it is from the descendants of Adam and Eve, the period of the Judges in Israel, or the Tri-State area in 2016, drifting from God looks pretty much the same. And you don’t want to look like this.