We are continuing today our study in the book of Judges of all places. So, if you’re here, you can turn to the book of Judges, chapter 18. If you’re online, welcome. Judges 18. I want to warn you, next week we’re in Judges 19. Brilliant. And for some of you who know where Judges is heading, you know I want to give you a bit of a heads up. If you’re a parent or a survivor, the content of Judges 19 is emotionally difficult and morally disturbing. Of course, we will address the story in an appropriate, respectful manner next week, but just wanted to give you a heads up.
So, today in Judges 18, I want to begin with the definition “opportunist.” An opportunist is a person who exploits circumstances to gain an immediate advantage rather than being guided by consistent principles or plans. Opportunism is a sister of pragmatism. Pragmatism basically equates success with truth, utility with morality. If it’s useful, it’s moral, it’s truthful.
Let me give you a few examples of opportunism. You’re buying groceries. You pay cash. The cashier gives you change. You go out to your car. You put your groceries in your car, and then as you’re putting the change back in your wallet, you notice several tens have stuck together. Your conscience is a bit torn. You know that’s not your money, but you don’t really want to walk all the way back in and return it. So, you figure they overcharge for stuff anyway. So, you drive off … Opportunism.
You’re marching in a rally against racism. You notice someone had smashed some store windows, and they’re grabbing stereos and televisions, and you just think it looks awfully easy. And so, you grab some merchandise. And you figure, well, that store owner probably makes his money unjustly anyway.
Or you’re an insurance salesman. You meet with an elderly couple who are super nice. They think you’re super nice. They trust you. You sell them a policy that they really need. But you realize during the interaction that they really trust your recommendation. So, you slide in some extras to that policy, which you know they don’t need. But, hey, they seem to have plenty of money … Opportunism.
Judges 18 is a vivid example of spiritual opportunism at an expanded scale. Why an expanded scale? Well, it’s the same story as Judges 17, Ryan explained last week, where opportunism was on a family level. Now we’re moving to the same story on a tribal level. Opportunism on a tribal level. In both of these, there are three things present that often characterize opportunism — Concern, Convenience, Cover. Not always, but most often these three are present when you see opportunism. There is some kind of difficulty or tension or concern. There is “convenience,” which is where we get the word “opportunism.” Think opportunity. And then there’s “cover” that helps protect our minds and hearts from criticism or conviction. We justify what we have done.
So, if you take the plundering of the store, what is the “concern”? Well, our nation has a history of racism. So, you’re concerned about that. You’re marching on that. What’s the “convenience”? Well, somebody else broke the window. What’s the “cover”? Well, they probably made their money unjustly. The whole system is rigged. And besides, insurance will cover it to make our conscience feel better.
Now, you see all three of these in Judges 18. The narrator begins with a reminder. Verse 1,
“In those days there was no king in Israel,”
communicating the fact that there is no consistent leadership, no overall principle of right or wrong, therefore perfect fertile soil for opportunism. So, what is the “concern”? If all three of those are present, what is the “concern”? Number 1. In verses 1-6, we see the “concern.” I’d like to use this as our scripture reading. If you would stand with me out of respect for God’s Word, let’s read Judges 18:1-6. And as I read, look carefully for the “concern.” What is the tribe of Dan concerned about?
“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. 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. And 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?’ 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.’ And the priest said to them, ‘Go in peace. The journey on which you go is under the eye of the Lord.’”
This is the Word of the Lord. You may be seated.
So, what is the “concern” of the tribe of Dan? “No inheritance,” verse 2. Now, how can that be? They received an inheritance like all the other tribes. You can’t really read the details of this, but this is a map of all the tribal allotments of land. They got a piece of property. If you move in closer, you’ll see there on the left, northwest of the Dead Sea, Dan’s inheritance. But it overlaps the territory of the Amorites and the Philistines. And we learned in the Samson story a couple of weeks ago that the Philistines were especially difficult to defeat. Who were these people?
This to me, is a fascinating question — the identity of the Philistines. Historians and archeologists have pieced together Egyptian inscriptions and Greek pottery to solve the puzzle. It seems that the Philistines went on a military migration from … If you look at the top of the map on the left, you’ll see Greece and the Aegean islands are the islands between Greece and what is now off to the right, Turkey. And the people that lived in this area experienced a famine around 1175 B.C. And that famine drove them out to attack many other regions and seek to find a place where they could survive. Based on an Egyptian inscription, we know that Ramses III was able to defeat “the people of the sea,” the Egyptians called them, thereby protecting Egypt from being conquered by the people who came to be known as the Philistines.
Archeologists have discovered pottery with Greek images from the 1100s in Canaan. The Philistine temples have inscriptions and decorations on them that are influenced by Greece. And so, these invaders tried to conquer a variety of places, ended up, among other places, landing in Canaan and occupying the territory on the Mediterranean Sea, a large part of which was to be Dan’s inheritance.
So, the tribe of Dan is experiencing exhaustion from being neighbors to the Philistines. Can you empathize with that at all? Are there times when you look at your life and think, “God, when I look at other Christians, it seems like you gave them an easier inheritance than mine. Why is everything so hard for me?” And so, rather than trust God and do what Joshua described as “little by little possess what God has provided,” they become like a husband. The tribe of Dan becomes like a husband who’s tired of being in a difficult marriage and figures they will go shopping for a new spouse. The five spies are sent out, and in the hill country of Ephraim, they came to the house of Micah (that was the house we heard about last week) and lodged there. How fortunate! And they recognize the Levite. We have no idea why they recognized him. Perhaps the Levite was an influencer on TikTok and was well known because they heard his voice; they knew him; he probably traveled around. And he explains to them his profitable priestly gig, how Micah pays him to be his own personal priest. How opportunistic! And then he blesses them on their way.
So, what is the “concern”? It’s “we need an inheritance.” What is the “convenience,” verses 7-13)? Verse 7,
“Then the five men departed and came to Laish.” Joshua 19 calls the city Leshem. There are a couple different names for the same place. So, they’re traveling about 125 miles north. They discover a city that is ripe for the picking. We could call this “geographical opportunism.” If you look at verses 9 and 10, you will see five specific descriptions as to why this place was such a convenient place to conquer: beautiful land — “it is very good”; vulnerable people — “they are unsuspecting”; considerable property — “the land is spacious”; justifiable provision — “God has given it”; and bountiful resources — “no lack of anything.”
So, the five spies returned home. They sell the plan to their fellow Danites. And in verses 11-13, 600 armed men of the tribe of Dan head north to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. How convenient!
What is the “cover”? The “cover.” In verses 14-26, we see how Dan spiritualizes or legitimizes this. As the five spies are traveling north, they talk among themselves how much better it would be for that priest, rather than simply being a priest to one family, to be a priest to an entire tribe … much more bang for the buck! And so, they swing by Micah’s house and make a rather intimidating house call. [Judges] 18:16. Look at verse 16:
“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?’ 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 a priest to the house of one man, or to be a priest to a tribe and a clan in Israel?’ And the priest was glad …”
I mean, what influencer wouldn’t want to increase his followers?
“He took the ephod and the household gods and the carved image and went along with the people.”
When Micah returned home, he noticed that his gods were gone. Gotta hate that. And his priest had departed. And so, he chased after the band of Danites, caught them, confronted them, quickly realized he was outmanned, outarmed, gave up, returned home godless and priestless. Opportunism has a way of turning on itself.
The narrator summarizes the events in verses 27-31:
“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 deliver 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 …”
Pause for a second. A quick, little textual piece here. That name Moses there has been removed in a few manuscripts and replaced with Manasseh, and it appears that there were some scribes who were so offended that Moses has a descendant named Jonathan, who is this influencer Levite, you know, buy-yourself-a-priest person, and that was so deeply upsetting that someone who is an immediate descendant of Moses would pervert the priesthood so quickly that they just changed the name to Manasseh. We know it’s not the way it was originally written, but it’s just interesting. “Jonathan, the son of Gershom, the son of Manasseh?” Where did that come from? But it highlights the fact that the narrator wanted to make sure we understand that opportunism can enter any family, no matter how spiritual. Any church! Moses’s family!
“… and his sons,” (verse 30) “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 had made, as long as the house of God was at Shiloh.”
So, in one sense, we could say Dan’s migration was a success. They defeated Laish. They now have their own inheritance. They are far from the Philistines. But what Dan called opportunity, God called idolatry. Just because it works doesn’t make it right. Convenience is not the test of true worship. Dan’s unwillingness to persist little by little, trusting God to abide where God put him and claim what God gave him patiently caused Dan to put trust in false gods, conquer an innocent city, set up their new home as a center of false worship. This opportunistic legacy would continue for hundreds of years as Dan became a bastion of idolatry and immorality. When you jet forward to 2 Kings, you will see the temple at Dan had male and female prostitutes overseeing the worship. This is the kind of decline.
We were there a few months ago. We were able to see the archeological remains of the wall that eventually became the wall surrounding Dan. That’s Marie Phillips standing right there, ready to climb the wall. Jeroboam later built an altar. When you hear the name “the high places” in Israel, that’s what that’s referring to — regional worship centers dedicated to false gods. This is the remains. This next image … If you look past the remains of this false worship center, you’re so far up north in Israel, you’re actually looking on Lebanon off in the distance.
Opportunism may provide an immediate advantage, but it generally doesn’t produce long-term benefits. For example, one example, in Revelation 7, where the 144,000 of the twelve tribes of Israel are listed, the tribe of Dan is conspicuously absent, apparently replaced by Levi.
So, what is God saying to us today? And to be honest, this is where I really struggle, because there are so many practical applications to what God is saying to us in Judges 18. For example, theological opportunism is sweeping our nation as people are deconstructing with nothing to construct in its place; political opportunism, where we seek Christian goals through unchristian means; parental opportunism, where parents are far more concerned to get their kids to like them than to actually love and disciple their children. We can go in so many different directions.
So, I want to land one word because I really believe the Spirit has a message for us in one word, and it is the word impatience. Impatience. Turn from impatience. Impatience seems to be one of the key ingredients in opportunism. Remember the definition — to exploit circumstances to gain a what kind of advantage? An immediate advantage. The tribe of Dan refused to remain where God put them. They refused to keep doing what God gave them to do. If Dan had remained and continued … It’s very interesting. That area under David was conquered and flourishing for the most part. And so, impatience tends to trigger “concern,” which gives us an eye for “convenience,” and then it sets us up to “cover,” to justify.
The first part of our elder meetings this year we are working slowly through Paul Tripp’s book called Lead: Twelve Gospel Principles for Leadership in the Church. And in one part we looked at this past Tuesday evening, he quotes James 5:7,
“Be patient, therefore, brothers until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand…. Behold, we consider those blessed who remain steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job” [ in the midst of his sufferings] “and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.”
Impatience blinds us to the character of the Lord. We forget that He is compassionate. We lose sight of his mercy.
Paul Tripp goes on in that chapter to explain how he is not naturally a patient man. He is goal oriented. He is seeking to accomplish things. And as he was describing this, I was identifying with what he was saying and seeing so clearly how I tend to measure success based on immediate results.
I can definitely see why Abraham and Sarah grew so frustrated with God. God promises, “you’re going to have a son!” And year after year, decade after decade, pregnancy test after pregnancy test … nothing! And so, Sarah comes up with an idea, suggests to Abraham, “Why don’t you just sleep with my mistress Hagar? And let’s have a kid a different way.” And Abraham embraces this opportunistic way out, and it did not turn out well for them. It did not. The short-term solution came quickly but caused long-term problems. Paul Tripp writes,
“Pride of accomplishment, identity of success and idolatry of power are the soil in which impatience grows. And that impatience always results in a harvest of bad fruit, both in leaders and those they lead. Impatience tempts them to try to control things they have no power to control, to create change they cannot create, and to move what they have no ability to move.” (Paul Tripp, Lead, 62.)
So, why are we so vulnerable to impatience? Tripp suggests a couple of things. One — we live in a broken world. Have you noticed that? Nothing that matters comes quickly or easily. Nothing that matters comes quickly or easily. In Acts 14:21,
“When they had preached the gospel to that city [Derby] and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith.”
So, when Paul goes back to new believers and encourages them to continue in the faith, what is he telling them? Look what he says:
“And saying that through many tribulations, we must enter the kingdom of God.”
Wow! I thought he was encouraging them. This is not Candyland, he is saying. There are no shortcuts to the luscious locations. Every Christian will encounter our version of the Philistines. We live in a broken world.
Number two — we lead people who don’t always follow well. And this is true for all of us. Tripp laments,
“I am deeply persuaded that the church of Jesus Christ has been way too influenced by the short attention span, next best thing, instant gratification, an easily bored culture of the society in which we live and do our work…. [We] are too influenced by social media flashes, too interested in strategies for quick results and success… We are tempted to like quick and despise slow. We are tempted to esteem new and disrespect old. We are attracted to new ideas instead of ancient truths.”
Third, and this is the big one — why are we vulnerable to impatience? We are ambassadors of One who is infinitely patient. And you could rephrase that. We are ambassadors to One who is frustratingly, infinitely patient to our flesh. Yes, God does miracles in the moments. He doesn’t just exist beyond time. He enters in and works in amazing ways. Yet he seems more interested in patiently transforming us through long-term processes. Tripp concludes,
“There would be no kingdom of God, no church of Jesus Christ, no people of God, and no population in the new heavens and in the new earth if it were not for the infinite patience of the Lord…. He is willing to do the same thing in you and for you again and again, until it takes root and flourishes.”
Just pause and think about that. Again and again, he is doing the same work in you until it takes root!
“He is willing to say the same thing to you over and over again until you hear and live it. He greets your weakness with patience and not disgust….”
That’s the gospel through Jesus! He is not disgusted by you, even by your impatience!
“He patiently picks you up when you fall. He patiently dresses your self-inflicted wounds. He patiently stands in your way when you want your own way. He never tires of you. He never tires of you. He never turns his back on you and walks away. He patiently gives himself to the work that he has begun in you, and he will patiently continue until his work is done. His work is a process, not an event. Redemption is longevity work. Redemption is legacy work. Redemption takes patience.” (Paul Tripp, Lead, 198.)
Many years ago, Elisabeth Elliot woke up with her three-year-old in a tiny reed-and-leaf shelter on the banks of the Curaray River in Ecuador. Her husband had been martyred. The rain was coming down in sheets. And Elizabeth felt waves of loneliness and discontentment come over her. On this day, she wanted to be anywhere but here. She wrote of that time.
“What we want is OUT, and sometimes there appear to be some easy ways to get there.”
Stop for a moment. That’s a definition of opportunism — an easy way to get out. And it doesn’t have to be a good way. When we want out, we want out.
“Will we take Satan up on his offers, satisfy our desires in ways never designed by God, seek security outside of His holy will? If we do, we may find a measure of happiness, but not the lasting joy our heavenly Father wants us to have. We will ‘gain the world,’ but we’ll lose our souls. Jesus knew that His joy lay in only one direction: the will of the Father. And so does ours.”
“We may be earnestly desiring to be obedient and holy, but we may be missing the fact that it is here, where we happen to be at this moment, and not in another place or another time, that we may learn to love Him — here where it seems He is not at work, where His will seems obscure or frightening, where He is not doing what we expected Him to do, where He is most absent. Here and nowhere else is the appointed place. If faith does not go to work here, it will not go to work at all.” (Elisabeth Elliot, The Path of Loneliness, 26-27.)
Now some of you may be thinking, doesn’t God ever call us to move from here to there? Yes, he does. But Elliot’s point is very clear. If we won’t trust him here, we won’t trust him there. If we think we need a “there” in order to trust him, we will spend our whole lives living for “there” and never fully being “here,” right where he puts us, even if we’re surrounded by Philistines, even if it’s a really hard place to be. Let’s pray.
Father, first of all, we want to acknowledge that we empathize with the tribe of Dan, and we thank you for including this, what seems to us a rather strange story, but is quite familiar. We know what it’s like to wonder why you call us to a difficult place, why you allow us to be in a difficult relationship, why we find ourselves often in circumstances that don’t feel spiritual. We don’t have answers that we feel like we need to have. We long for a way out, like Leslie was testifying earlier about our tendency toward escapism.
And Lord, we know that sometimes you do part the sea and you make a way. And for some in here today, Lord, you’ve opened doors that they need to walk through boldly in faith, step forward in the door that you’ve opened. But sometimes we’re looking for a way out, and we’re listening to the voice of opportunism. Impatience partners with convenience to hatch a plan. We lose sight of your patience and your compassion. We ignore the way of the cross, which is a patient, painful way. And Satan promises, as he did in the temptation of Jesus, loaves of bread, angels of protection, kingdoms of the world.
And we can always look around and find a priest for hire like Jonathan, this Levite, who’s willing to say anything or go anywhere for a buck, to fit in, to make people feel good about themselves. Father, our culture is teeming with that kind of religion. And so, you’ve given us this word today so that we might see our deepest need. Our deepest need is … just like Jesus, you said … every Word that comes from your mouth, from the King of kings, the Lord of lords.
So, we pray right now. I ask that there would be hundreds of prayers of repentance, Lord, as we say “no” to temptations toward opportunistic relationships, opportunistic financial opportunities that are not quite legal. Lord, whatever it is we’re turning toward to escape, trusting you right where you’ve put us, turn our eyes upon you, we pray. Satisfy our hearts where we are so that we’re not vulnerable to believe the lies of the enemy. And for those who are just tired, tired of struggling, tired of fighting, like the tribe of Dan, may we hear your Word to not grow weary of doing good for in due season we will reap if we do not give up. Energize us, encourage us we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.