Ready to give an answer
WJ Manfield, Exeter
PETER'S exhortation to his readers to be ready to give an answer to every man who asked them for a reason of the hope which was in them (1 Pet. 3. 15) may he given many applications, and we are surely justified in applying it to questions regarding our position in assembly life and fellowship. What would our replies be if we were asked in this connection :—
(1) Who brought you here? ; (2) What arc you doing here ? ; (3) What have you here ?
These three questions arc prompted by those which the Danites asked the young Levite in Judges 18. 3.
The tribe of Dan had not taken full possession of I heir allotted inheritance among the tribes of Israel. To have enjoyed their full God-given portion they would have had to expel the Philistines in battle. They sought a place which could be obtained more easily. Accordingly, these five men had been sent to spy out the land. In the course of their explorations they came to Mount Ephraim and secured lodging in the house of Micah. This Micah was a man whose character and outlook were typical of the disorderly days in which he lived, when " there was no king in Israel "—no one to represent the government of God. Four times we are reminded of this fact in this book (17. 6; 18. 1 ; 19. 1 ; 21, 25), and in two of these instances there are added the words " Every man did that which was right in his own eyes." Moreover, we are told that in Laish " there was no magistrate "—no one to restrain lawlessness (18. 7). The law of God, which as such is not once mentioned in this book, had evidently become in the people's minds a mere empty code of no moral value or force.
Micah was typical of his time and a breaker of the commandments of God. When he first comes on the scene he is presented as a mature man with a family and, yet, as a thief of his mother's 1100 shekels of silver, in defiance of the 8th commandment. His mother's indifference to sin is plainly indicated by her light-hearted change from curse to blessing, and complete absence of reproof of her son when eventually he confessed his guilt. Such indeed was the debasement of her ideas of the Lord's require¬ments. Can we be surprised then to find, further, that though (he 11(H) shekels had already been dedicated to the Lord, in fact Only 200 shekels were used, and then, if yon please, to make a graven image and a molten image ? Her sin of " keeping back part " was only surpassed by the idolatry to which the gift itself was dedicated and by the direct defiance of God's 2nd commandment, " Thou shall not make unto thee any graven image, nor any likeness . .' These images were put in Micah's house where he already had other gods, in similar defiance and disobedience of the 1st commandment, " Thou shall have no other gods before me." Moreover, despite the ordinance of God which confined the priesthood to the descendants of Aaron, he makes one of his own sons priest.
This is the house to which the Danites came to lodge, as the young I.evite had previously come. This was the house, alas ! which became a hotbed of spiritual corruption. For whatever the motives of Micah and his mother may have been (and these were " religious " motives of course), and however private their use of idols may have been intended to have been, the leaven infected first the young Levite, and then spread, through the five Danites, to a whole tribe (18. 31). Nor was there recovery. Centuries later the whole northern kingdom came under the indictment, " Ephraim is joined to idols. Let him alone," and was swept away by the Assyrian captivity. Thus tragically does leaven spread if it be not purged out. And the prime instrument of all this evil was a man of Mount Ephraim (" Fruit fulness," speaking to those near enough to God to hear His " voice of quietness " of the activities of (he divine life !).
We can understand the surprise of the Danites when they heard from within Micah's house the accents of the Levite's voice, evidently familiar to them. Small wonder that they should ask him the questions we have already noted. For his position, surely, they could not understand. Let us review the story to see what kind of replies the Levite would have been able to make.
(1) Who brought you here? The true answer Obviously was that no one had brought him there at all. He had himself drifted there. He belonged to the privileged tribe of Levi, to which -18 cities were allotted. Hut neither a portion in one of these nor any of the other lofty privileges apportioned to this tribe—to bear the Ark of Jehovah, to stand before the Lord, to bless in His name : to have, in short, Jehovah as their inheritance (Deut. 10. 8, 9)—none of these held the heart of this young man. Even his home, Bethlehem, the " House of Bread,' type (at least in the thoughts of God) of spiritual prosperity, did not satisfy him. Leaving the House of Bread he came to this House of Idols on Mount Ephraim, a course which was still, hundreds of years later, a matter of prohibition and condemnation. (See Hosea 4. 15-17, where Bethaven means House of Idols.) He may, of course, have eased his conscience by saying that here he intended only " to sojourn " (Judges 17. 8, 9). But very quickly (v. 11, R.V.) are we informed that he was content to " dwell " in the house of Micah. Thus easily and rapidly does drift succeed unsettlement in the place of God's choosing. Micah was delighted at the idea of having a real Levite for his priest. He appointed the young man to be (significant words!) a father and a priest to him, feeling perhaps, superstitiously sure that now he could count on God's blessing. So a compact was made. For a salary (10 shekels a year), livery (a suit of apparel), and board and lodging (" dwell with me " ; " thy victuals "), the Levite accepted and condoned idolatry, encouraged Micah in it, and allowed him to be deluded into thinking that his religious ritual could secure for an idolater the blessing of the Lord, Thai is how he got there !
(2) What makest thou In this place ? i.e. what are you accomplishing ? What he had actually been doing was prostituting his high office for an unwarranted title, thereby becoming a self-confessed hireling (Judges 18. 4 ; cp. John 10. 11-13). Having started on a downward course his character degenerated still further. When offered a better situation he broke his contract with Micah, stole his master's idols and encouraged a whole tribe in idolatry (Judges 18. 19, 20). The bearing of all this upon the professionalism of Christendom is too obvious to need elabora¬tion.
(3) What hast thou here ? Instead of the privilege of serving the High Priest he had become a servant to Micah. Instead of being allowed to handle the sacred vessels of the Tabernacle, symbols of worship and service according to the mind of God, he fooled with an ephod. which was a mockery of the real priesthood. For the God of Israel who dwelt between the cherubim he substituted teraphim (lucky charms !) and paltry images of human contrivance. That was what he had in the house of Micah !
And now, with the above warning example, let us ask ourselves these questions as to the position we occupy in Church life and fellowship.
(1) Who brought you here ? Are we able to say that the Lord led us to see that His Word is still binding and that it is His mind that we should follow the simple New Testament pattern in our Church life, disowning all sectarianism, yet with a heart for " all saints " (a phrase which occurs five times in the Church epistle, Ephesians, the epistle of the inheritance)—meeting only in the name of Christ, and in humility and self-judgment looking to the Holy Spirit for all needed guidance and power ?
(2) What makest thou in this place ? Have we seen clearly that each has his proper sphere and gift and work ? Is each one of us an intelligent builder (1 Cor. 3), making our contribution to a strong and vigorous assembly-life, building on the only foundation which God recognizes, i.e. Christ, as the absolutely pre-eminent One, and striving together for the faith of the gospel ? Are we, in seeking this divine ideal, keeping steadily clear of ecclesiastical idols ? Are we recognizing, for example, the place (in God's mind) in the local assembly, of all saints ? Are we recognizing also, the fact of widespread and diversified gift in the Church ?
(3) What hast thou here ? Do we feel, with a good conscience, convinced that we have sought and are seeking to carry out the mind of God, appreciating our privilege to fill for God our divinely-appointed sphere where there is liberty for the exercise of God-given gifts, and where all can benefit from varied ministry. Is Christ given, not a pillow in the stern of the boat—where He is expected to rest inactive until storms arise to make our need for His gracious Presence and Power felt, nor a corner in a house of idols—a shared place, but the place of unqualified pre-eminence which is His due ? If we are where we are as a result of personal exercise and conviction, and not of assembly pride of place or pattern, we shall he able in accordance with Peter's exhortation to give an answer to those who ask us the reasons for the position we take.
Let us take up our God-given inheritance. Let us battle for that divinely-allotted portion (Eph. 6. 10-12). Let us not forget where our armour lies and in Whom is our strength (Eph. 6. 10). Let us stand fast in our glorious liberty.