Did you know Moses’ grandson became a pagan priest, and that he led the tribe of Dan in worshiping an idol made from the silver that the Philistines paid Delilah for betraying Samson? The story climaxes with the priest and a group of spies claiming God will be on their side in a raid against a peaceful village of Laish. This story may sound too bizarre to be true, so don’t take my word for it. You can find all of the details for yourself in the book of Judges chapters 17 and 18. Although the scriptures don’t say that Micah’s mother was Delilah, it is widely believed within the Jewish tradition. This story and many like it beg the question, “is God on our side?”
Micah’s priest and the spies that the tribe of Dan sent into Laish certainly believed that God was on their side. There are even two verses in the story which say that God blessed the destruction of Laish and that God had given the land to the Danites, but that only raises another question. If someone in the scriptures believes that God is telling them to do something does that mean it’s true? If a rogue priest in the “hills of Ephraim” was wrong, could a prophet of Israel be wrong? And if a priest and a prophet can be wrong then how can we know what God’s will truly is?
While Moses was on the mountain receiving the ten commandments, God’s voice tells him that the people were worshiping an idol, and God’s voice tells Moses that he is going to wipe them out and start all over with Moses himself as a new Abraham. Thankfully, Moses is able to talk God’s voice out of destroying the people, but we’re left to wonder whether it was ever really God’s will to destroy the rebellious nation in the first place. You may have noticed that I have chosen to refer to the divine character in this story as “God’s voice” rather than God himself. I’ve done this to highlight the fact that God’s voice, in this story and in many others, often functions as a literary device.
What I mean is that God’s voice in Exodus 32 is not really communicating God’s will. Obviously, we see that it was not God’s desire to destroy the Israelites, but God’s voice functions as a character within the story to facilitate Moses’ response. The story of Abraham and God discussing the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and God’s voice commanding the sacrifice of Isaac are closely related to the story of Moses on the mountain, but once you see God functioning as a character within the story you should be able to see it all throughout the scriptures. I think that God’s voice being used as a literary device is one of the most important elements of biblical interpretation, and at the same time one that is tragically under taught at the local level.
In the New Testament Jesus taught people how to recognize the true will of God, but people often replied by saying something like, “but Moses said,” or “but the Torah says.” Jesus showed them that there were times when priests or prophets made concessions for the people based on the hardness of their hearts. A failure to recognize God’s true will in the scriptures can lead to some extremely destructive forms of biblical interpretation. In the past it has led people to justify genocide, because they thought there were times when God wanted the Israelites to kill women and children, and even recently there has been a small group within the Southern Baptist Convention defending some forms of slavery because they believe that God does not condemn slavery in the scriptures.
It is vitally important for us to learn how to distinguish God’s will in the scriptures and in our own lives. The bible shows us that there will always be people claiming to know God’s will and leading people astray, but Jesus shows us that he is the good shepherd and that his people, “hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” That means as Christians we must be training ourselves to recognize God’s voice amid the constant voices calling us to follow the ways of the world. Voices calling us to hate our neighbors who disagree with us politically. Voices calling us to be suspicious of the outsider, the foreigner, or the immigrant. Voices calling us to us violence to defend our way of life. We have to hear God’s voice telling us, “love our enemies, bless those who curse you, and do good to those who hate you.” For the scriptures also teach that God is only on the side of those who hear his voice and do what he commands.