Micah’s Manufactured Religion


Dr. W. A. Criswell

Judges 17, 18

 5-8-60    8:15 a.m.



You who listen on the radio are sharing with us the early morning services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas.  This is the pastor bringing this message from the seventeenth and the eighteenth chapters of the Book of Judges.  The last morning that I preached here, that I spoke here, we closed with chapter 16.  That is the story of Samson and really closes the recounting of the era of the judges.  Chapters 17 and 18 and then chapters 19, 20, and 21 record two incidents in that faraway, long ago day that apparently are unrelated to the subject in hand.  But, they are written here in great detail and with meticulous care, and they are the inspired record for our admonition, and they have a great and tremendous lesson for us to learn. 

            Apparently, these two incidents, which are placed here at the conclusion of the Book of Judges, these two incidents occurred right after the death of Joshua.  Certainly the second one, and apparently the first one also, occurred in the days when Phinehas was the high priest, and Phinehas was the grandson of Aaron.  So the incident that we now look at apparently happened immediately after the death of Joshua.  And I repeat, it is written here with meticulous care far beyond its intrinsic worth, but the purpose that lies back of its recounting here, so in detail in the Word of God, lies in a great subject that is pertinent to us today. 

            There was a vigorous interdiction of the making of a graven or a molten image.  And idolatry – whether in the Old Book or the New Book, in the Old Testament or the New Testament – idolatry was vigorously interdicted by the Word of God from heaven.  The first commandment is: "Thou shalt have no other gods before Me" [Exodus 20:3].  The second commandment is: "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth:  Thou shalt not bow thyself to them" [Exodus 20:4-5]. 

            Those commandments were placed in the ark of the covenant [Exodus 25:16] which was placed in the heart of the sanctuary of Israel [Exodus 40:21].  And the revealed religion of heaven is first: there is no other God but Jehovah God [Exodus 20:3].  And the second commandment is this: thou shalt not make unto thee any likeness of the so-called gods that might be in heaven above, or might be in the earth beneath.  Neither shalt thou make any graven image of anything that is above or below.  Neither shalt thou bow thyself down before them" [Exodus 20:4-5].

            Now, this story in the seventeenth and eighteenth chapters of Judges shows the beginning of the departure of Israel from those great revealed commandments from heaven.  And the stream is thereafter polluted.  And the awful iniquity that came with the worship of idols and the bowing down of idols in Israel is delineated here in Judges 17 and 18.  So we are addressing ourselves in these chapters to the terrible curse that always attends idolatry, the bowing down before a graven image – which bowing down before a graven image is something of the weakness of human nature from the beginning of time until this present hour.  There is something on the inside of the heart, the human heart, that somehow has an illimitable, immeasurable, everlasting weakness.  We like the idol, we like the graven image, we like the icon; we like all of those things that seemingly help us in the worship of God or gods.  That thing was interdicted, prohibited by the Lord God from the beginning.  And yet, the stream of it and the pollution of it and the curse of it has been with us ever since God interdicted it and before and to this present hour.  So here in the seventeenth and eighteenth chapters of Judges, you have the beginning of the pollution of the stream that brought Israel to idolatry and finally into captivity. 

            And that same thing has happened disastrously in the churches of Jesus Christ.  At the beginning, there was no likeness of our Lord.  You have no idea what our Lord looks like; no idea whatsoever.  Every picture you ever saw of our Lord is the imagination of artists who, through the years, have combined their artistic temperaments in an image. 

            But there was no likeness of our Lord written in the Book, nor is there any likeness of our Lord in the history, secular or holy.  Paul says: Though we, back there, they, had known our Lord after the flesh, yet now we know Him no more after the flesh" [2 Corinthians 5:16].  That is, there is no physical image.  There is no likeness before which you are to bow down.  It is interdicted of God. 

            But the churches took into their hearts and into their lifestream all of that pagan idolatry: their temples, their houses, and instead of saying any longer, "This is a house dedicated to Venus," or " this is a house dedicated to Adonis," or "this is a house dedicated to Artemis," or "this is a house dedicated to Aphrodite or Isis and Osiris," or "this is a house dedicated to Jupiter and Juno," or "this is a house dedicated to Pallas Athena," all over the civilized world, they said: "This is a house dedicated to St. Mary," and "this is a house dedicated to St. Joseph," and "this is a house dedicated to St. Theresa."  And all of the images that were in those houses, they changed the names of them, and they said, "This is no longer Jupiter; this is St. Peter," and "this is no longer Adonis; this is St. John."  And they took into the churches all the idol worship of the ancient, heathen, and pagan world.  And what happened?   In the year 622 AD, there arose, there arose the most violent and the most vicious and the most startling opponent to the idol worship of the Christian churches that the world has ever seen.  For in that year, Mohammed, the prophet of Allah, with a sword in his hand and with fanatical followers, dedicated themselves to the destruction of idolatry in the civilized world.  And when the Muhammadan dedicated himself to idolatry in the civilized world, there were no idol temples dedicated to Pallas Athena.  There were no idol temples dedicated to Venus, or Adonis, or Isis, or Osiris, or Jove, or Jupiter, or Juno. 

            All of those idol temples had been incorporated into the Christian church.  And all of those idols had been namesakes, and the people that used to bow down before those pagan idols now bow down before the saints and the apostles.  And when Muhammad with his sword in his hand began that awful, and vicious, and violent reaction against the idol worship of the people, the great aim, and the great storming, and the great furor of the point of his campaign lay against the so-called churches of Jesus Christ.  That’s where Muhammadism came from; it was a violent and startling reaction against the idol worship in the churches of Jesus Christ.  And don’t you forget it; you’re not done with Muhammadism yet, you’re not done with Islam yet.  You’re not done with the Muslim yet; for every one convert we make in Africa, the Muslim makes ten this very minute. 

            I never realized how vast and how extensive is that Muslim world until I landed on the western shores of Africa.  And throughout the vast continent of Africa – where Dr. Wayne Logan and his wife who sit here before me will be returning in a few days – throughout the vast continent of Africa, throughout the vast stretches of the Levant, throughout the vast reaches of what used to be India, throughout the vast reaches of Pakistan on the other side, and throughout the vast reaches of the Malayan Peninsula, and throughout Indonesia – which is a solid Muslim empire – clear until you come to the Philippine Islands, almost half of this world in its stretch, you have the Muslim empire. 

            Where did it come from?  It came from the violent reaction of those people who were the children of Abraham.  For Abraham had two sons; he had Ishmael [Genesis 16:15-16] and he had Isaac [Genesis 21:1-3].  And from the Ishmaelian side of that family of Abraham, there arose in 622 AD that violent monotheism which is a reaction against the bowing down before the idols in the churches of Jesus Christ. 

            And any time you point a finger at the heathen Greek or the ancient Assyrian and say: "Look at that pagan as he bows down before a pagan idol," the man today who bows down before a graven image, though he may call it some other sainted name, he is no less than an idol worshiper than that ancient Greek or that ancient Assyrian.  The second commandment is the great interdiction of God against having, for an object of adoration or worship or respect, any likeness in heaven above or in the earth beneath [Exodus 20:4-5].  And idolatry is no different because it is in any so-called church than idolatry is when it is in a pagan temple; idolatry is the bowing down before the likeness of a god or a saint or a patron. 

            Do you think one of those learned and able Greeks, who reached the height of civilization beyond anything the earth has ever known, do you think those ancient and learned and educated Greeks felt when they bowed down before that marvelous statue of Pallas Athena that was in the Parthenon dedicated her on the Acropolis in Athens — do you think they felt that that image was the actual god itself?  No!  It was a likeness of Pallas Athena.  And when the so-called Christian people bow down before a saint and they say: "This isn’t the saint itself.  The saint is in heaven.  This is a likeness of the saint; therefore, I’m not an idolater."  That is the exact thing that the ancient Greeks would have told you.  The gods lived on the top of Mt. Olympus, and these were likenesses of the gods before whom they bowed in worship. 

            It is all idolatry!  Whether you bow down before Pallas Athena, the likeness of her, or whether you bow down before Jupiter, the likeness of him, or whether you bow down before St. Joseph, the likeness of him, or St. Peter, the likeness of him; whether it is Pallas Athena or Joseph, whether it is Jupiter or Peter, the man that bows down is an idolater, whether he lived a thousand years ago or today!  And it was against that that Jehovah God inveighed in the Old Testament, and it is against God.  It is against that that the great vicious religion of Muslim, of the Mohammedan, arose in the seventh Christian century. 

            Why, these things make you tremble in the presence of God.  And I repeat, you’re not done with the Muslim yet.  You’re not done with the Mohammedan yet.  You’re not done with the drive of the Muslim yet, and our only hope against it lies in the great revelation of the true religion that you find here written large on the sacred page, represented in my humble and prayerful and earnest dedication by the gospel that is preached from this pulpit and other pulpits like it. 

            Now, this seventeenth and eighteenth chapters of the Book of Judges is the story of the beginning of the pollution of the stream of divine truth in Israel.  Now hurriedly, let’s go through it.  If you have your Bible open at Judges 17 and 18, you can easily follow it.  It began in the home.  If you had about another hour, we could stop here and talk about it.  What could begin in the home?  It began in the home: 


There was a man on Mt. Ephraim, and his name was Micah.  And he said unto his mother, The eleven hundred shekels of silver that were taken from thee, about which thou cursedst, and spakest of in mine ears, behold, the silver is mine; I took it.  And his mother said, Blessed be thou [of] the Lord, my son.

[Judges 17:1-2]


Now isn’t that something?  Isn’t that something?  The only thing that is remembered about the time when the eleven hundred shekels of silver was stolen was the curses of this mother.  And she cursed so long and she cursed so loud that it simply frightened her son to death.  She scared him with her oaths and her imprecations. 

            Did you ever see a woman, ever see a woman drunk?  Isn’t that the most impossible of all of the pitiable sights in this earth, is a drunk woman.  It is, it seems when you look at it to be a reproach to God and a travesty of heaven itself; a woman that is drunk.  Did you ever hear a woman curse?  Same thing. 

            I don’t know why it is when you see a man drunk, well, you say, well, that’s a part of the gutter, that’s a part of the dog, that’s a part of the hog.  When you hear a man curse, you say, well, that’s just a part of the darkness and the night.  But when you see a woman drunk and when you hear a woman curse, you kind of feel the angels have fallen.  Isn’t this amazing?  The only thing in the days when the money was gone was this mother cursing and it worked; she got her money back.  Maybe you might try it if somebody steals; just cuss, and curse, and imprecate until the whole world trembles around you. It worked for her [Judges 17:2]. 

            And then she went to the opposite extreme and began to praise the Lord [Judges 17:2].  Isn’t that amazing?  If I had another hour here, do you know what I would talk to you about?  I’d talk to you about the difference between emotion and religion; real religion.  Here this woman is, this mother is a-cursing and a-cursing so loud, and so long, and so viciously, and so vigorously, that she even scared her own son.  And then in the next breath, here in the same – this is all in the same verse there she is blessing God and praising God that the thief was her son. 

            Emotion has nothing to do with real religion; nothing at all; nothing at all.  Nothing.  It’s in another world.  Religion is one thing.  Great devotion to God in Christ is one thing, and all of this "hooping up" and emotionalism, you can work it up in a theater.  You can get them to cry in a theater.  You can get them to laugh in a theater or a vaudeville or a cheap show, and you can get them to be vigorous in their response against an enemy or you can do it all.  Emotion is one thing, but it’s not religion.  It’s altogether different. 

            In a revival meeting, in the second week of a meeting, the preacher was standing there, and down the road in a wagon, a wagon full came a family a-shouting and a-singing.  You could hear them for miles.  And the preacher standing there said, "Who is that?"

And the pastor said, "Don’t you know who that is?"

 "No," said the evangelist, "who is that?" 

And the preacher said, "Those are the Hammondses." 

And the evangelist said, "Well, who are the Hammondses?"

 "Aw," said the pastor, "The Hammondses, every year, the second week of the revival, they get in that wagon, and they drive to the revival, and they shout and they sing on the way.  And in the revival meeting, they shout, and they clap their hand, and they get religion.  Then, for another solid year, you’ll never hear of them again.  You’ll never see them again, and they’ll never be around again, but the next year, the second week of the revival, you’ll be standing by the side of this tabernacle, and you’ll hear down the road that wagon, and the folks in it are a-shouting and a-singing."  And the evangelist will say next year, "Pastor, who is that?"  And I’ll say, "Don’t you know who that is?"  And the evangelist will say, "No, who’s that?" And I’ll say, "Those are the Hammondses."  And the evangelist will say, "Who are the Hammondses?" And I’ll say, "On the second week of the revival, every year the Hammondses come a-shouting a-singing, and you’ll never see them again."

            There’s a difference, but as I said, I don’t have this hour to talk about the differences between emotion and religion.  There’s this woman here – that’s one of them; one of them.  And so he restored the money, eleven hundred shekels to his mother, and the mother said when the money had been restored to her, "I do wholly dedicate this silver unto the Lord from my – from the hand of my son to make a graven image, a carved image and a molten image, one that is poured, and now, therefore, I give it to you for that purpose" [Judges 17:3].

            And when he restored that money unto his mother, his mother took – now she was the "grandmother" of Ananias and Sapphira – she said: I do wholly dedicate these eleven hundred shekels to the Lord to make these images [Judges 17:3].  And when he restored the money, his mother took two hundred shekels of the silver, and gave it to the founder, and the nine hundred she kept for herself [Judges 17:4]. 

            Isn’t that funny how people will cheat God, rob God?  And so her son took the money, and he made him – now, you look what he made.  And he made him a house of gods [Judges 17:5].  He made an ephod; that’s a garment, a high priest garment, an ephod, and teraphim.  What are teraphim?  If I could get this boy Melvin Carter up here, he could tell you all about what teraphim are.  Teraphim are little gods, little gods.  Up there in the town where he lives, I never saw so many teraphim in my life.  I never saw so many little gods in my life.  They were hanging from the neck or seated, glued to the car, practically every other car that I saw in Boston, Massachusetts, the home of Harvard, and MIT, and Wellesley, and I don’t know what other, but almost at least every other car up there has a little god in it; has a little teraphim, has a teraph – plural, teraphim – teraph.

            And I said to the people, "What in the world are these folks up here?  They have all got little gods in their cars.  What is that?"  Well, it was very, very simple and explained.  Those are the patron saints to keep them from having accidents; isn’t that right?  To keep them from having accidents, and this little patron saint, this little god; this little household god will keep you from having an accident. 

            And I go in homes, and I see them tacked up on the wall, and I say, "What’s that for?"  Well, this is the little god who keeps you from having diseases or something.

 And then I see them around their necks, and I say, "Well, what’s that hanging from your neck?" 

Well, that’s a patron saint to keep you from having oh, the "jim-jams" or the "heebie- jeebies" or the whatever it is. 

            Don’t you think this is new.  And don’t you think that is Christian.  That’s idolatry!  And that is as ancient as the world is old!  And when you read here about the teraphim, you’re reading about little household gods, little ones.  You know, about that big.  So Micah had his gods, and for his gods he had ephods, and he had little ones in there [Judges 17:4-5].  I presume he’d sell them to you if you’d ask.  You can go down to a store on Akard Street and buy them if you’re interested; teraphim.

            And he consecrated one of his sons to be his priest [Judges 17:5].  Now, while he was in that humor, there came a young man out of Bethlehem-judah, a Levite; and as he came by, he was looking for a place to live, and he came to Micah’s house [Judges 17:7-8].  And Micah said, "When do you come and where?"  And he said, "I am a Levite, and I do not have any place."  And Micah said, "I’ll extend you a call."  And Micah said unto him, "Dwell with me and be unto me a father and a priest."  Isn’t that amazing? And Micah said unto him, "Dwell with me and be unto me a father," an ecclesiastical father and a priest [Judges 17:9-10].  Father; the Italian of that is popa, and the English of that is "pope."  Dwell with me and be a popa, be unto me a pope and a priest. 

            You think all this stuff is new?  You think all this is in the Christian era?  It’s back there in the beginning.  It’s no different.  Any time you think this is a development out of the Christian religion, all of this is paganism and heathenism and idolatry, and has been interdicted by the commandment of Almighty God.  Well, you say, why don’t they have those Ten Commandments?  They changed them.  And the second commandment is taken out.  You’ll never find the second commandment in the literature of these modern pagan so-called Christian churches where they worship idols.  The second commandment is taken out.  There’s no instance of it being in their literature.  The only place you’ll ever find that second commandment is in the Bible.  You’ll never find it anywhere else. 

            Dwell with me and be unto me a popa and a priest.  Look at the salary.  And I’ll give you $6.20 a year.  I’ll give you ten shekels of silver and a suit of apparel and thy victuals [Judges 17:10].  That’s what they tell me today.  What salary do they get?  Oh, we don’t get a salary.  We get $6.20 a year.  We’re working for nothing; working for nothing.  Law me, the way they skin the government and the way they maneuver around, getting millions and uncounted millions, and millions, and millions of dollars into their tills on the basis of – "I just make $6.20 a year.  You see, I’m a brother, you see, I’m a sister, and you see, I work for nothing."  When in reality, the United States government alone pours into that institution uncounted millions, and millions, and millions, and millions of dollars every month, by that ruse of escaping taxation. 

            This isn’t new, this is old.  This isn’t a thing that has developed in the great on-march of the Christian faith.  This is paganism and heathenism and, of course, governmental dishonesty.  So the Levite accepted it, and he went in [Judges 17:11-12], and Micah said, "Now I know the Lord will do me good, look I have a Levite to be my priest [Judges 17:13].  I know God is going to do me good, look I built a church for Him.  I know God’s going to bless me, look, I go down there and I burn a candle.  I know God is going to do me good, look, I got me a little teraph on the wall.  I know God is going to bless me, look, I have an aura of sanctity about me.  I know He is." 

            All right, what happened to that?  Now, bear with me just a minute or two longer, and let me sum up what ought to take an hour.  The eighteenth chapter; in those days, the Danites – the Danites were down there, had a wonderful, the whole plain of Philistia, the Sharon plain was dedicated to Danites – that was their inheritance [Judges 18:1-12].  They didn’t take it.  They sent men up there and they found out a beautiful place that was not at all up there in the north part of the country, not at all given unto them for their inheritance.  And they go in there and they take this — this statue, they take this graven image, this molten image, and this priest [Judges 18:18].  And, in the nineteenth verse, when the priest says: but this belongs to Micah, he says come and be to us a popa and a priest; it is better for thee to be a popa unto the house of one man or is it better to be a popa unto a tribe and a family in Israel? [Judges 18:19].  And so he likes it and he goes along [Judges 18:20], and these Danites go up there, and they murder those people up there in the northern part of Palestine [Judges 18:27], and they set up, and they set up there the image worship for the tribe. 

            Now the thirtieth verse, "And the children of Dan set up the graven image: and Jonathan, the son of Gershom, the son of Moses" [Judges 18:30], many of those manuscripts say.  They don’t tell you who this young Levite is until the end; the tragedy of it.  He and his sons were priests to the tribe of Dan unto the day of captivity of the land [Judges 18:30-31].  This is the first instance.  This is the beginning of the pollution of the stream of Israel’s life, and Dan goes into image worship and into captivity. 

            Now, I told Melvin Carter, I said, "You’re going to wonder why I want you to read the seventh chapter of the Book of Revelation." And I said, "You’ll find out at the end of the sermon."  Look at the roll call in heaven.  Look at the roll call in heaven.  Judah, one; Reuben, two; Gad, three; Asher, four; Naphtali, five; Manasseh, six; Simeon, seven; Levite, eight; Issachar, nine; Zebulun, ten; Joseph, eleven; Benjamin, twelve [Revelation 7:5-8].  Where is the tribe of Dan?  You won’t find it in glory.  You won’t find it in heaven.  Dan went into idolatry, and Dan went into oblivion.  And in the roll call in glory, there’s no tribe of Dan.  She’s joined to her idols; let her alone, let her alone. 

            Ah, the things we read in the Book.  You say, "Well, they happened five thousand years ago, and they’re not pertinent today."  They’re today just like it was then.  And you can read the modern newspaper headlines here in the Book God has written for us from heaven. 

            Now all of you who would love to listen to a sermon on mothers, I have prepared a most meaningful one to my heart.  If you don’t come at the 11 o’clock hour, listen to it on the radio, and God bless you with an open heart and a golden ear. 

            Now, we’re going to sing one stanza of an invitation hymn.  Somebody to give his heart to Jesus; somebody to put his life with us in the fellowship of the church.  As the Spirit of the Lord would lead in the way, would you come and stand by me, while all of us sing this hymn together?  Let us stand and sing.