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Vision and Delusion, Part II

Judges  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented
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The tribe of Dan hijack Micah’s priest and idols and steal a city outside their inheritance. They have the appearance of success, but the reality is centuries of idolatry and ultimately the fall of (Northern) Israel. God save us from success (as we define it). We want to be right where God wants us, doing what God wants, in the way God wants. His Will, His Way. His more preferable future.

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Go-Kart Success

When I was 14 I built a coaster car. No engine: essentially just four wheels and a chair. You could steer the front axle with your feet. It was awesome. But I had to install breaks because we lived on a pretty steep hill. The design I came up with was a lever that sat right in the middle: really just a piece of 2x4 pivoting on a single screw so when I pulled back on the lever, the other side of the wood dragged against the ground and slowed me down.
I learned an important engineering lesson: It isn’t stupid if it works. We flew down that hill on that thing, faster and faster, and that break worked faithfully to slow us down every time.
It isn’t stupid if it works.
As we talk about Vision, God’s Will and God’s Way… how do we know when we have the right one? How do we measure success… and how do we find the road to success?

Worship Success

Recap: Micah the visionary worship leader, Jonathan the priest in the line of Moses.
Enter: the tribe of Dan.
Background: the tribe of Dan on the coast of Israel. God had promised to them some of the best land in all Israel… but they hadn’t been able to take hold of it yet. And they were impatient. They didn’t like God’s timeline… or they weren’t up to God’s challenge and command to conquer the land they had been given. First the Amorites, then the Philistines were too much for the poor tribe of Dan.
One way or another, they were casting their eyes around for a new “more preferable future”.
Judges 18:1 ESV
In those days there was no king in Israel. And in those days the tribe of the people of Dan was seeking for itself an inheritance to dwell in, for until then no inheritance among the tribes of Israel had fallen to them.
Judges 18:2–3 ESV
So the people of Dan sent five able men from the whole number of their tribe, from Zorah and from Eshtaol, to spy out the land and to explore it. And they said to them, “Go and explore the land.” And they came to the hill country of Ephraim, to the house of Micah, and lodged there. When they were by the house of Micah, they recognized the voice of the young Levite. And they turned aside and said to him, “Who brought you here? What are you doing in this place? What is your business here?”
How did they “recognize him”? No clue. Maybe he had traveled to the region of Dan and made an impression before settling with Micah?
Judges 18:4–5 ESV
And he said to them, “This is how Micah dealt with me: he has hired me, and I have become his priest.” And they said to him, “Inquire of God, please, that we may know whether the journey on which we are setting out will succeed.”
Good instinct! They seek wise counsel! This is good.
But recall for a moment who they are asking. Jonathan of the line of Moses… but a “priest” ordained by who? Micah. And he is operating in a shrine filled with idols and counterfeit imitations of temple items. In other words, not a real priest but a charlatan. It is this priest who then says:
Judges 18:6 ESV
And the priest said to them, “Go in peace. The journey on which you go is under the eye of the Lord.”
The text doesn’t say: this guy is bogus and wouldn’t know Yahweh’s will if it bit him. My own interpretation (again, the text doesn’t say) is that he just tells them what they want to hear. This is not a man who earnestly and honestly seeks God will… or he wouldn’t do ANY of the things we see him do. And he is probably using the counterfeit teraphim or ephod to extract an oracle… in imitation of that commanded by God to be worn and used by the real high priest.
But armed with that “wise counsel” the scouts go on.
Judges 18:7 ESV
Then the five men departed and came to Laish and saw the people who were there, how they lived in security, after the manner of the Sidonians, quiet and unsuspecting, lacking nothing that is in the earth and possessing wealth, and how they were far from the Sidonians and had no dealings with anyone.
They find a sweet new place to live filled with people that can’t defend themselves. Great! They rush home to share the good news. Up North by the springs that feed into the Jordan River. This is a beautiful area with rich soil and waterfalls.
Judges 18:8–10 ESV
And when they came to their brothers at Zorah and Eshtaol, their brothers said to them, “What do you report?” They said, “Arise, and let us go up against them, for we have seen the land, and behold, it is very good. And will you do nothing? Do not be slow to go, to enter in and possess the land. As soon as you go, you will come to an unsuspecting people. The land is spacious, for God has given it into your hands, a place where there is no lack of anything that is in the earth.”
Note how they add to the “Word from God” they heard from Jonathan the fake priest. Everyone is speaking all sorts of things in the name of God here.
And so they march:
Judges 18:11–13 ESV
So 600 men of the tribe of Dan, armed with weapons of war, set out from Zorah and Eshtaol, and went up and encamped at Kiriath-jearim in Judah. On this account that place is called Mahaneh-dan to this day; behold, it is west of Kiriath-jearim. And they passed on from there to the hill country of Ephraim, and came to the house of Micah.
But the scouts remember the sweet setup that Micah had… and they want it for their own:
Judges 18:14–20 ESV
Then the five men who had gone to scout out the country of Laish said to their brothers, “Do you know that in these houses there are an ephod, household gods, a carved image, and a metal image? Now therefore consider what you will do.” And they turned aside there and came to the house of the young Levite, at the home of Micah, and asked him about his welfare. Now the 600 men of the Danites, armed with their weapons of war, stood by the entrance of the gate. And the five men who had gone to scout out the land went up and entered and took the carved image, the ephod, the household gods, and the metal image, while the priest stood by the entrance of the gate with the 600 men armed with weapons of war. And when these went into Micah’s house and took the carved image, the ephod, the household gods, and the metal image, the priest said to them, “What are you doing?” And they said to him, “Keep quiet; put your hand on 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 man, or to be priest to a tribe and clan in Israel?” And the priest’s heart was glad. He took the ephod and the household gods and the carved image and went along with the people.
This guy is a real gem. No loyalty whatsoever to Micah who ordained him and made him “like a father” to him. His heart is glad… because being a priest to a tribe is more important than being a priest to on man. It is all ambition here.
Micah is upset!
Judges 18:21–26 ESV
So they turned and departed, putting the little ones and the livestock and the goods in front of them. When they had gone a distance from the home of Micah, the men who were in the houses near Micah’s house were called out, and they overtook the people of Dan. And they shouted to the people of Dan, who turned around and said to Micah, “What is the matter with you, that you come with such a company?” And he said, “You take my gods that I made and the priest, and go away, and what have I left? How then do you ask me, ‘What is the matter with you?’ ” And the people of Dan said to him, “Do not let your voice be heard among us, lest angry fellows fall upon you, and you lose your life with the lives of your household.” Then the people of Dan went their way. And when Micah saw that they were too strong for him, he turned and went back to his home.
“We robbed you fair and square. Deal with it!”
Judges 18:27–31 ESV
But the people of Dan took what Micah had made, and the priest who belonged to him, and they came to Laish, to a people quiet and unsuspecting, and struck them with the edge of the sword and burned the city with fire. And there was no deliverer because it was far from Sidon, and they had no dealings with anyone. It was in the valley that belongs to Beth-rehob. Then they rebuilt the city and lived in it. And they named the city Dan, after the name of Dan their ancestor, who was born to Israel; but the name of the city was Laish at the first. And the people of Dan set up the carved image for themselves, and Jonathan the son of Gershom, son of Moses, and his sons were priests to the tribe of the Danites until the day of the captivity of the land. So they set up Micah’s carved image that he made, as long as the house of God was at Shiloh.
They people of Dan won and setup in their new city.
Jonathan one and he and his descendants were priests for CENTURIES.
You can hear them declare their success. Things worked out great!
And the visionary worship services that Micah made, they too lasted for hundreds of years… until David relocates the ark to Jerusalem (after recapturing from the Philistines). But even longer than that, perhaps.
But… hold on a second… how do you define success?

It isn’t stupid if it works… or it seemed like a good idea at the time

The coaster cart was an absolute success… until it wasn’t.
We got more and more comfortable, going faster and faster down our paved 30% grade street. Swooping across the road. Worst part was carrying the car back up the hill… but it was worth it! And then, going faster then ever, I pulled up on the brake. And this poor little 2x4 pivoting on a single screw just dissolved in my hands. Useless.
Now I am barreling down the street with no brakes whatsoever. I try to put my feet down but I am using those to steer this thing. Now I am going faster and faster, and I am only going to accelerate more so I do the only thing I can do… I steer to the side into the curb and the neighbors yard and… I died. That’s what happened. Cautionary tale. The car was destroyed and I am here today only by the grace of God.
Instead “it isn’t stupid if it works” I learned “It seemed like a good idea at the time.” It isn’t like there aren’t great options for breaks and positive examples all around me. I had a bike. I had a physicist father with a knowledge of construction who might have had some insight into my “brake” design. But I took my small success to mean that my plan was a good one, that my car was a good one, and that my future was secure.
But all that small success did was set me up for a larger failure.

500 years later

Judges 18:30 ESV
And the people of Dan set up the carved image for themselves, and Jonathan the son of Gershom, son of Moses, and his sons were priests to the tribe of the Danites until the day of the captivity of the land.
Note the reference to “until the captivity (or exile) of the land”. This idolatrous cult center at Dan, together with a similar shrine at Bethel serve as the icons of northern Israelite spirituality and religious worship after Jereboam takes control over the northern ten tribes. This is when we get the split “Israel” and “Judah.” The seeds of idolatry here in the new city of Dan in the 12th century BC see their prophetic fulfillment in Northern Israel being conquered by Assyria in the 8th century BC. The nation is destroyed and the people are scattered throughout the Assyrian Empire, never to return or regain their spiritual and national heritage.
A plan outside of God’s plan is doomed to fail. No matter how much it looks like “success” in the short term.
I bet it felt like success to Jonathan. And to the tribe of Dan. For a long time it felt like success.
But that small success only set them up for larger failure. God had established his commands clearly, they had no excuse. God sent MANY prophets to decry and warn that what they were doing in the “high places” and in Dan and Bethel in particular was wrong and doomed to failure. But they liked their vision of the future, the more preferable future they made for themselves.
And in the end, they are wiped from history. Today, the remnant of Israel is who? The Jews.... ie the tribe of Judah. Where are the Danites? The Benjamites? The tribe of Reuben, Manasseh, Ephraim? Any of them? All that’s left of them is cautionary stories.

Formula for Success

God actually gave Joshua a formula for success (as he defines it).
Joshua 1:8 ESV
This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.
God’s Word => Wise Counsel => Desire => Success
Was Micah meditating on God’s Words and commands day and night? No. Was Jonathan, the descendant of Moses? Was the entire tribe of Dan? They are, to all appearances, ignorant of God’s Word.
They are in ongoing violation of God’s Word. And while they may have the appearance of success for a time (even a long time), in the end what they have is exile. Exile from the land. Exile from the Promise. Exile from the Promiser.
A plan outside of God’s plan is doomed to fail. No matter how much it looks like “success” in the short term.
There is no victory outside of His Word and outside of His commands. There is no success there.
This summer at camp we talked about God’s Will. His Will, His Way. And we had this image I find extremely helpful: the image of God’s playground.
He defines the boundaries and He sets the rules for how it is to be used.
God’s Word = the boundaries of the playground.
Wise Counsel = advice on good ways to use the playground equipment. Games to play that have worked well before.
Desire = and then, within those boundaries, seeing what looks fun! Exploring the Playground, the Garden God made. And sometimes God steps in and gives clearer vision and direction, special revelation to us of where to go and what to do.
But one thing that is absolutely clear: a plan outside of God’s plan is doomed to fail.
A plan that steps outside of the Ten Commandments… it isn’t going to work. Can God redeem and can God rescue our future from our own sin? Yes. He can and he does, Praise God! But that doesn’t mean “the plan worked”, that means that angels saved you from dying when the go-kart crashed into splinters.
If it involves theft and lying and idolatry… it isn’t going to work! Come on, Jonathan… Grampa Moses would be SO disappointed!
A plan that steps outside the Great Commandments: love God and love others… it is ultimately doomed to fail, no matter how much it looks like success in the short term.
What does the Lord require of thee? To do justice and to love mercy and walk humbly with your God. Do you see those boundaries? Clear warning signs on the side of the road: don’t go here.
We study Scripture to hear the Word of God, so that every plan we make for ourselves, and every plan we make for this community, would be submitted to His Will.
And we earnestly seek His Will and His Word in prayer. It isn’t just the pages of Scripture, we ask that God continue to speak into the now, to give us direction, to guide our steps, and catch sight of His Vision for our future.
God save us from “success” as we might define it.
God save us from success (as we define it).
We want to be right where God wants us, doing what God wants, in the way God wants. His Will, His Way. His more preferable future.
And so we wait… earnestly seeking His Will and His Way. Earnestly seeking His vision of a more preferable future. Waiting on the Lord: a disciplined refusal to act until God acts.
We submit our personal life plans to Your Will and Your Way. Our family plans. Our work plans. And our church plans. All that I am and all that I desire to be, I submit to your Word. I shall meditate on you and Your Word, day and night, so that I may be careful to do all that you say. For then you will make our way prosperous and we will have good success.
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