Jonathan, Not-for-Real Priest

Young Jonathan

Bible Reference: Judges chapter 17 and 18.

Heart of the Story: The young Levite ignored God’s law regarding who could be a priest. He abandoned Micah and stole Micah’s household gods.

Back Story: Although the story of Micah’s priest is placed near the end of the book of Judges, the events occurred 2-3 generations after the Israelites entered the Promised Land. The story is a glimpse of the low moral and religious life of the early settlers.  An Ephraimite, Micah, stole 1,100 silver shekels from his mother. She did not know who stole the money; but, proceeded to curse the thief. Fearing his mother’s curse, Micah admitted his guilt and returned the money to his mother. Her response was to bless her son and use 200 shekels to make two idols: a wood-carved image covered with silver and a molded image made entirely of silver.

Micah placed the two images in a shrine along with his household gods. He made an ephod and teraphin. An ephod is a vestment worn by Israelite priests. Teraphin (the pleural of teraph) are images of Semetic household gods.  Then, Micah ordained one of his sons to be the priests for the various gods. The son wore the priest’s ephod.

At that time in Israelite history, Shiloh was the center for worship of Yahweh (Joshua 18:1); it contained the ark of Testimony and other furniture from the Tabernacle. Shiloh was in the hill country of Ephraim. At the most Shiloh was 10 miles from Micah’s home; yet, Micah established a household shrine and consecrated a priest to preside over worship of his idols.

Story Line: A young Levite left his home in Bethlehem, Judah to seek a position.  Bethlehem was not one of the 48 cities given to the Levites when Joshua administered the distribution of Canaan. Because he was not part of the Levite establishment, the Levite’s needs were not met by tithes and offerings; thus, he needed a job.

When the young Levite arrived at Micah’s home in Ephraim, Micah offered him the position of priest with an annual salary of 10 pieces of silver plus food, housing, and clothes. The Levite agreed and Micah consecrated him as priest in his house. Micah treated the Levite as a son. Micah was convinced that God would favor him because he had a Levite priest; however, the young Levite was not a descendant of Aaron. He was not authorized by God to be an Israelite priest (Numbers 8:9-26).

Sometime later, 600 Danite men and their families migrated northward from their tribal lands east and south of Ephraim. They passed into the hill country of Ephraim and came to Micah’s house. They took the graven image, molten image, ephod, and teraphim from the house.  When the Levite protested the theft of the idols, the Danites proposed that he come with them. The Danites argued that it was better to be a priest to a tribe than a priest in a man’s home. The Levite agreed; his heart was glad. He took the ephod, teraphim, and graven images and went with the Danites.

When the Danites arrived in Laisch in northern Canaan, they conquered the local people. They set up the graven images as their gods.  Jonathan and his sons were the priests for the Danites. The Bible identified Jonathan as the son of Gershom who was the son of Moses (Judges 18:30-31). The story of Micah’s young priest is contiguous with the story of Micah priest creating one story of a young Levite searching and finding a job.  Both the young Levite and Jonathan were Levites, but ineligible to be priests because they were not descendants of Aaron.

Pondering Relationships: Perhaps the young Levite made the choices he did because he did not know any better. He was raised in Bethlehem and not among Levites where he would have learned Mosaic Law. He thought that all Levites could be priests, not just descendants of Aaron. Further, Micah consecrated one priest, surely he could consecrate a second.

Alternatively, perhaps the young Levite didn’t care about the distinctions between Levite and priest. In his pride or egocentricity, the young Levite decided he could be as good a priest as any man of Aaron’s line and a better priest than Micah’s Ephraimite son. The young Levite was more concerned about securing a good position, a comfortable income, and living with a wealthy family than obeying the requirements of Mosaic Law.

Whatever the Levite’s initial reason for becoming a priest, the Bible revealed him as an opportunistic thief.  When the Danites proposed he be their tribal priest, the Levite took Micah’s images, household gods, and ephod and joined the Danite migration. He made no effort to stop the Danites from threatening Micah – the man who took him into his home and acted as a father to him – when Micah pursued the Danites to get his property back.

Reflection: Evaluating the young Levite’s behavior by today’s mores, we wonder if he had a conscience that knew right from wrong, or did he have psychopathic personality tendencies that caused him not to care about right or wrong. Certainly, he did not follow God’s laws and cared little for the feelings of Micah, who took him into his house when the young man was looking for a job. What would you say were Jonathan’s strengths?

Some individuals in the Bible were in positions that they were not qualified for by Israelite law. Read more of their stories at in my recent book Lesser Known Bible Characters.

Copyright: January 10, 2014; Carolyn A. Roth; all rights reserved.


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