The bible was written by people who were the minority (mainly prophets) so in essence, it is a “minority report”. The prophets were a heavily persecuted minority by both the Israelites and their leaders. Israelites throughout ancient times had different views from what the bible teaches and did what they felt was right. Often the leaders even made up rules that gave them power and control. Jesus called out Israel’s leaders for this in the 1st Century when he said they “substitute god’s laws with man-made traditions” in Matt 15:3-9. Throughout the bible itself, we can see how the people casually worship idols and don’t reverence God’s covenant, meanwhile the authors are always trying to get people to go back to the covenant they are in. Let’s look at one example in Judges chapters 17 and 18 with Micah’s promotion of idolatry.
In Judges 17, Micah a man living in the hill country of Ephraim had stolen some silver pieces from his mother but then returned them. As thanks to him for returning her silver, she decided to dedicate the silver to God and honor her son by spending 200 pieces of silver to have an idol made with some of the money. Micah also made a sacred ephod and some household idols for his shrine that he had set up for the idol. He planned on making money from people paying tribute to this idol and he even made his son a priest. All of this was sin, the covenant with the God of Israel forbids having any other gods besides their God YHWH, and forbids making idols according to Exodus 20:2-6 and Deut 5:5-10. On top of that, the only legitimate priesthood is the Levitical priesthood. The next thing that happens implies that his family is not a family of Levites. One day a Levite came to town from Bethlehem, looking for a place to live, and instead of hiding his sin of idolatry, Micah hired the Levite to be a priest for this idol. The Levites are supposed to remind the Israelites to worship God alone and could have them punished for idolatry, yet he was bold enough to ask a Levite to turn his back on the God of their covenant. This implies that Micah believed that what he was doing was okay. The Levites were supposed to read the Torah to people and remind them of God’s commands. Unfortunately, the Levite goes right along with it looking to make some money. So Micah installed the Levite as his personal priest, and in exchange for helping to manage his shrine, As payment, Micah offered him an annual income, food, and clothing. The reason Micah wanted this Levite is that he knew that Levites were the true priest of Israel, so this would give his shrine some “legitimacy” in case anyone objected to worshipping his idol.
In Judges 18, some warriors from the tribe of Dan showed up in Ephraim looking to scout some land for taking, because they had not settled into their land allotment yet. They came from the towns of Zorah and Eshtaol but stopped in Ephraim to rest and they spent the night in Micah’s house. The men of Dan recognized the Levite’s accent and inquired about him. He told him about his arrangement with Micah and they asked him to inquire to God if they will be successful in the conquest of their land allotment, and the Levite gave them his blessing. The men went to Laish and saw it as an easy town to take and a very prosperous land, they told the rest of their tribe’s people and they sent 600 warriors to take it. The scouts told the soldiers about Micah’s house and in order to ensure their victory, they decided to steal the ephod and the idol thinking it would bring them favor in battle. When they stole the idol the Levite priest questioned them, and they told him to come with them so that he could be their priest, and even said “Isn’t it better to be a priest for an entire tribe and clan of Israel than for the household of just one man?” This implies they saw nothing wrong with the idolatry and they believed that the Levite endorsed it since he was Micah’s priest. The Levites went along with it. Micah found out what happened and gathered some men to go after them. Micah’s small group didn’t stand a chance against their army, so they blew him off with a threat against his family. The Danites conquered Laish and called the town Dan, they installed a priest named Johnathan a descendant of Gershom (possibly Moses’ son Gershom) for the idol they stole. That family line functioned as priests for them until the Babylonian exile, and they worshipped the idol there, all while God’s Tabernacle remained in Shiloh.
Judges 17:6 gives insight into why such foolishness was happening, it says (NLT) “In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes.” The Levite himself broke God’s law by supporting idolatry and not condemning Micah for it, and Micah broke God’s law by having an idol and shrine. They did whatever was right in their own eyes. The phrase “right in their own eyes” in reference to the sinful desires of people driving their actions can be found through scripture.
Some scriptures to review on the subject: Proverbs 3:7, Proverbs 12:15, Proverbs 14:12, Proverbs 21:2, Proverbs 26:12, Deuteronomy 12:8-11, Judges 21:25, Isaiah 5:21.
Deuteronomy 12:8 especially applies here since it says everyone is to worship God (YHWH) at the Tabernacle and not do it in any form they want as they did in the wilderness. This means that setting up the shrine for God in Dan’s territory was wrong in itself, even if we ignore the idolatry because God’s presence was in the Tabernacle in Shiloh. Idolatry is one of the main reasons the Israelites were exiled to Babylon, so we should learn the lesson from this story and follow God’s instructions in our own lives by not doing things because they are simple “right in our own eyes”. Learn the lesson from this foolishness from the old testament. After all, Paul said the old testament records are preserved to warn us and for our admonition and learning (Romans 15:4, 1 Corinthians 10:11).