Judges 18:1-31 (Part 1 of 3)
Idolatry in the Tribe of Dan

How many people would be in church on Sundays in the South if we would be persecuted for having gone? What would our churches look like if there were a real consequence for us claiming to be Christian and going to church? What if going to church on Sunday could cost your life, or even just your job, or cost you contact with your entire family? What if being a Christian really cost us something? How many of us would risk being seen at church? Think about it.

In China, in North Korea, in predominantly Muslim countries, that is the case. For Chinese and North Korean Christians, they meet in secret in house churches. According to one news article, “The Chinese government’s persecution campaign included forced demolition of churches and crosses, the detention and imprisonment of pastors and church members on criminal charges, forcing churches into bankruptcy by confiscating church property and imposing fines, and manipulating state-run media to label house churches as ‘cult’ organizations.” Although China is easing its persecutions of Christians as China tries to modernize its culture to stay competitive in the global marketplace, it is still no easy thing to be a Christian there. In order to become a state-sponsored religion, Christianity would have to submit Jesus to the authority of the government so it is inevitable without a government change in China that persecution will continue with varying levels of intensity (depending on who is in power in Beijing).

North Korea is probably the worst current offender of Christians right now outside of the Middle East. Human rights groups are reporting on new grim statistics from North Korea and its treatment of religious minorities, including Christians, revealing that more than 75 percent of those subjected to torture, imprisonment, and other punishments do not survive. International Christian Concern, Open Doors USA, and Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) are just some of the persecution watchdog groups that have documented the horrific treatment of minorities in North Korea. CSW’s report on the North Korean regime released in September noted that the government tortures, mutilates, and kills Christians. The report added that some of the documented incidents against believers include “being hung on a cross over a fire, crushed under a steamroller, herded off bridges, and trampled underfoot.” As the watchdog group also explained, religious belief is seen as a major threat to North Korea’s leadership, with Christians often accused of being imperialists seeking to undermine the rule of the ‘supreme leader,’ as Kim Jong-un is known.

The most persecution historically has occurred in Middle East where the majority of countries are predominantly Muslim. The top country where Christians suffer, for the 12th consecutive year, remained communist North Korea, though the nine following countries in the top ten were Islamic: Somalia, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Maldives, Pakistan, Iran and Yemen. Open Doors said earlier this month that it had documented 2,123 “martyr” killings over the year, compared with 1,201 in 2012. There were 1,213 such deaths in Syria alone last year, it said. In predominantly Muslim countries, those who die may see it as a welcome relief. Because in many cases, Christians are excommunicated from their families, cut off from the social fabric of their communities so it is difficult to have any semblance of family or home life. Christians are forced to pay a higher tax rate than Muslims. That is, if they can find work. Often Christians are forced into a lifestyles of begging for food on the street. Just a politically incorrect statement here – Why are not the people you clamor against Islamophobia here in the US as equally outraged at the more severe treatment of Christians in the home countries of many Islamic Americans? Back to the Middle East though…recent news footage of Christians being raped, tortured and killed by ISIS in the Middle East brought the plight of Middle Eastern Christians to the national news.

It’s tough being a Christian out there? It just begs the question of myself and of my friends and American Christians in general. What if there comes a day when being a Christian here in the United States really, really costs us something? Sure, we complain about how our culture has changed and how we are often marginalized and vilified by the liberal leanings of our culture. We may complain about being seen as archaic and out of step with the current state of our cultural values. But, as of yet, we still can go to church on Sunday without it costing us a daggum thing. We might be seen as square but it does not cost us anything…really….other than maybe some hurt feelings and maybe it will cost us a few friends. But that’s peanuts folks. That is not real persecution. Will we have what it takes when the time comes to stand up for Jesus Christ in the face of death, imprisonment, or being a complete social outcast. Will we stand up for Jesus if it will cost us our jobs? How willing are you and I to go the mat for Jesus?

That’s the thing that I thought of today when I read through Judges 18 for the first of three reads today. Here, we see the tribe of Dan taking the easy way out. They did the easy thing instead of the God thing. God called them to something difficult but they whiffed. God called them to something hard and they chose to go against God’s will because it was too hard:

18 Now in those days Israel had no king. And the tribe of Dan was trying to find a place where they could settle, for they had not yet moved into the land assigned to them when the land was divided among the tribes of Israel. 2 So the men of Dan chose from their clans five capable warriors from the towns of Zorah and Eshtaol to scout out a land for them to settle in.

When these warriors arrived in the hill country of Ephraim, they came to Micah’s house and spent the night there. 3 While at Micah’s house, they recognized the young Levite’s accent, so they went over and asked him, “Who brought you here, and what are you doing in this place? Why are you here?” 4 He told them about his agreement with Micah and that he had been hired as Micah’s personal priest.

5 Then they said, “Ask God whether or not our journey will be successful.”

6 “Go in peace,” the priest replied. “For the Lord is watching over your journey.”

7 So the five men went on to the town of Laish, where they noticed the people living carefree lives, like the Sidonians; they were peaceful and secure.[a] The people were also wealthy because their land was very fertile. And they lived a great distance from Sidon and had no allies nearby.

8 When the men returned to Zorah and Eshtaol, their relatives asked them, “What did you find?”

9 The men replied, “Come on, let’s attack them! We have seen the land, and it is very good. What are you waiting for? Don’t hesitate to go and take possession of it. 10 When you get there, you will find the people living carefree lives. God has given us a spacious and fertile land, lacking in nothing!”

11 So 600 men from the tribe of Dan, armed with weapons of war, set out from Zorah and Eshtaol. 12 They camped at a place west of Kiriath-jearim in Judah, which is called Mahaneh-dan[b] to this day. 13 Then they went on from there into the hill country of Ephraim and came to the house of Micah.

14 The five men who had scouted out the land around Laish explained to the others, “These buildings contain a sacred ephod, as well as some household idols, a carved image, and a cast idol. What do you think you should do?” 15 Then the five men turned off the road and went over to Micah’s house, where the young Levite lived, and greeted him kindly. 16 As the 600 armed warriors from the tribe of Dan stood at the entrance of the gate, 17 the five scouts entered the shrine and removed the carved image, the sacred ephod, the household idols, and the cast idol. Meanwhile, the priest was standing at the gate with the 600 armed warriors.

18 When the priest saw the men carrying all the sacred objects out of Micah’s shrine, he said, “What are you doing?”

19 “Be quiet and come with us,” they said. “Be a father and priest to all of us. Isn’t it better to be a priest for an entire tribe and clan of Israel than for the household of just one man?”

20 The young priest was quite happy to go with them, so he took along the sacred ephod, the household idols, and the carved image. 21 They turned and started on their way again, placing their children, livestock, and possessions in front of them.

22 When the people from the tribe of Dan were quite a distance from Micah’s house, the people who lived near Micah came chasing after them. 23 They were shouting as they caught up with them. The men of Dan turned around and said to Micah, “What’s the matter? Why have you called these men together and chased after us like this?”

24 “What do you mean, ‘What’s the matter?’” Micah replied. “You’ve taken away all the gods I have made, and my priest, and I have nothing left!”

25 The men of Dan said, “Watch what you say! There are some short-tempered men around here who might get angry and kill you and your family.” 26 So the men of Dan continued on their way. When Micah saw that there were too many of them for him to attack, he turned around and went home.

27 Then, with Micah’s idols and his priest, the men of Dan came to the town of Laish, whose people were peaceful and secure. They attacked with swords and burned the town to the ground. 28 There was no one to rescue the people, for they lived a great distance from Sidon and had no allies nearby. This happened in the valley near Beth-rehob.

Then the people of the tribe of Dan rebuilt the town and lived there. 29 They renamed the town Dan after their ancestor, Israel’s son, but it had originally been called Laish.

30 Then they set up the carved image, and they appointed Jonathan son of Gershom, son of Moses,[c] as their priest. This family continued as priests for the tribe of Dan until the Exile. 31 So Micah’s carved image was worshiped by the tribe of Dan as long as the Tabernacle of God remained at Shiloh.

Here, in this passage, we see that the Danites had been assigned enough land to mee their needs (see Joshua 19:40-48). However, because they had failed to trust God to help them conquer their territory, the Amorites forced them into the hill county and wouldn’t let them settle into the plains (Judges 1:34). Rather than fight for their allotted territory, they preferred to look for new land in the north where resistance from the enemy would not be so tough. How often do we live our lives in this manner – doing the easy thing instead of the God thing? Sometimes, God calls us to work that will be hard (going against cultural norms) and we would rather not stand out but rather fit in and do what is easiest.

How do we develop that North Korean or Middle Eastern Christian toughness? How do we develop that willingness to die rather than renounce or compromise our Christian faith? It starts in the small things. Instead of being quiet when Christian bashing begins at the water cooler, speak up for Jesus. Instead of compromising our values just to fit in at work, or in our neighborhood, etc., stand up for Jesus. Instead of being quiet about our faith, share it. Instead of fearing rejection for sharing your faith, overcome it. We start by crediting Jesus Christ’s grace in our lives for when we act with integrity. We start by showing uncommon love to people that have screwed us over so that people will ask us why we did that. We start by being sacrificial with our money – eschewing the need for the newest and best toys, cars, and homes so that we can be a generous people. We start by giving to others when they are in need without any real reason to do it than show them love. We give without expectation of payback. We start by not taking shortcuts around biblical values. We start by loving those who make fun of us.

There will be a day in America when we have to choose the easy way out or being Christian. Will you have the guts to stand up for Jesus with your last dying breath or will you take the easy road and compromise your values just to preserve this earthly existence? Will I have the guts? Will you?

Amen and Amen.

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