JUDGES 18: WHAT IS SYNCRETISM?
A LITTLE BIT OF THIS AND A LITTLE BIT OF THAT
The patriarch, Jacob, whose name later was changed to Israel, had twelve sons who became leaders of the twelve tribes of the nation of Israel. One of those sons is named Dan, and in the book of Judges, the people in his tribe are known as the Danites. Of all the tribes of Israel, the Danites are the weakest. The only other significant mention of the Danites in Judges is in chapter one where we read, “The Amorites confined the Danites to the hill country, not allowing them to come down into the plain” (Judges 1:34).
Why give you this background? Because Judges 18 opens with the words, “And in those days the tribe of the Danites was seeking a place of their own where they might settle, because they had not yet come into an inheritance among the tribes of Israel” (Judges 18:1). They had, in fact, been given a portion of the land as their inheritance, but they had failed in their military conquest and were forced to live a semi-nomadic existence in the hill country.
So, now, many years later, they are on a reconnaissance mission to find what land they might take for their own. The five Danite spies they sent out wander onto the house of Micah and his young rent-a-priest Levite (remember Micah and the Levite from Judges 17?). Surprised that the Levite is living in Micah’s house, the Danite spies ask how he got there, and learn that Micah had hired him. The Danites ask the Levite to inquire of God if their exploration will be successful, and the priest tells them exactly what they want to hear.
Later, six hundred armed Danite warriors return on the mission to take the undefended city of Laish. On their way they stop by Micah’s house again and make an offer to the Levite which he can’t refuse. “Come be our priest and we’ll give you a more prestigious position and pay you more than Micah pays you.”
At the drop of a hat, the Levite priest leaves Micah, but not before cooperating with the Danites in stealing Micah’s idols and religious articles. When Micah realizes what has happened, he chases and catches up to the Danites and exclaims, “You took the gods I made, and my priest, and went away. What else do I have?” (18:24).
How ironic, tragic and absurd is this picture? If the idol Micah had made were a real god, that god could have kept itself from being stolen! The whole thing is ludicrous. With every move to construct his own self-made religion, he thought he was improving his lot. But every move and everything Micah had made with his own hands only took him farther from God, and he ended up with less than he had before.
It’s easy to see the stupidity of Micah’s actions, but we may not see that we may do the same thing. Although we don’t make carved idols and set them on our fireplace mantle, we may have our own gods in different forms. Whatever it is that we put in place of God is destined to disappoint, whether it is money, power, popularity, entertainment, pleasure, relationships, etc. Micah, and later the Danites, thought they could hold on to God while mixing in their own ingredients of false religion. That’s called syncretism and it’s a bad recipe—a cup of God, a dash of manmade idols, a pinch of self-serving piety—stir it all up and you’ve got yourself a stir-fry religion.
For us today, this kind of recipe of a little this and a little that may satisfy for a while, but like Micah, eventually you will find it will only disappoint. Where do you look for your source of meaning and your ultimate satisfaction? What is it in your life, if it were taken away, would cause you to express Micah’s words, “You took my god. What else do I have? Where can I go in life now? I have nothing left”? There is only one God who cannot be taken away from you—his name is Jesus; he alone has the words of eternal life (John 6:68).
Father, open my eyes to see any false gods that I have put in my life--any "idols" I've tried to blend into my commitment to you. And, when I see those idols, help me cut them out of my life so that I may love and serve you and you alone with all my heart, soul, body and mind. In Jesus' name. Amen!
Dr. Dan Dozier
Dan Dozier preaches for the Rural Hill Church of Christ in Antioch, TN. Dr. Dozier holds degrees from Lipscomb University, Harding School of Theology, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and a Doctorate from Abilene Christian University. He has been married to his high school sweetheart, JaneLee, since 1972. They have three married children and eight grandchildren.