The last “judge” of Israel mentioned in the book of Judges was Samson who, as we all know, did not have a godly life and who broke every vow and command of the Lord he could. From there the story shifts into a series of pessimistic episodes which plummets lower and lower and lower until, BAM, rock bottom.
Judges 17 begin with an odd story of a young man who confesses that he stole money from his mom who, upon receiving the confession declares:
I solemnly consecrate my silver to the Lord for my son to make a carved image and a cast idol. I will give it back to you. – Judges 17:3
Notice the confusion? “The Lord” is equated with “a carved image” and “a cast idol” which somehow are understood by these people as being a gift to “the Lord”, despite the clear covenant command (Deuteronomy 5:6-7). This recalls the words of Aaron when he made the golden calf:
These are you gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt. – Exodus 32:8
They want to serve “the Lord” who brought them up out of Egypt, but they want to do it their own way. They want a deliverer they can control. They don’t see themselves as creating “other gods”, they see these “gods/Lord” as being the God who redeemed them, only he is now manageable.
As I write this I feel a sense of conviction. What is an “idol”? What is it to worship “another god”? It is often said in devotional books and from pulpits, “do you worship Sports?” “Has TV become your idol?” “Have you made an idol out of your job?” et cetera. I think a greater danger, and a more common one, is to worship a god called “the Christ”, called “God”, called “Lord”, who has been tamed. God cannot be tamed. Do we worship the Christ who is, or the Christ we want?
The book of Judges ends off in the most bleak of situations including a story within Israel similar to the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, only there is not angel to rescue the visitors (Judges 19:22). The woman who is raped all night, when her husband finds her dead, he chops up her body and sends it to the other tribes of Israel who vow vengeance. They attack the tribe of Benjamin and slaughter the entire tribe save only a few men. After the attack the other tribes pledge never to give any of their daughters in marriage to the surviving Benjamites, but seen have remorse for that decision.
They decide the best thing to do to save Benjamines line is to slaughter another innocent city – totally unrelated to the who situation – and then give their women to the surviving Benjamites. Talk about piling remorse on top remorse.
Then Judges ends on this solemn note:
Everyone did as he saw fit. – Judges 21:25
That phrase pretty much characterized the whole period of the judges. It also explains why they thought they were worshipping Yahweh, the God who delivered them, but why they continued to fashion him into any a “carved image and a cast idol”. They could not very well do what they saw fit with the God who is. No, they needed a god who would accommodate the lifestyle they wanted so that everyone could do as each “saw fit”. Do you see the exchange? In their eyes they were not worshipping other “gods”, they were still worship the “I AM” who delivered them from Egypt. They were still calling him “Lord” and “Yahweh”. But they found a “Yahweh”, and “I AM” who would justify their lifestyles.
They worshipped a fraud.