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Judges 17:5: An Ephod, Teraphim, and an Illegitimate Priest

Verse 5:[1] And the man Micah had an house of gods, and made an (Judg. 8:27) ephod, and (Gen. 31:19,[2] 30; Hos. 3:4) teraphim, and consecrated (Heb. filled the hand,[3] Ex. 29:9;[4] 1 Kings 13:33[5]) one of his sons, who became his priest.

An house of gods, that is, an house or place consecrated for the service of God in this manner.

[And he made an Ephod] That is, a Mantle, a superhumeral. See what things are on Exodus 28:4 (Malvenda). By Ephod, as the principal sacerdotal vestment, all others are signified (Lapide, thus Lyra, Vatablus, Bonfrerius, Junius, Malvenda).

An ephod; an eminent part of the priestly garments, Exodus 28:4, which, some think, is here put for all of them.

[And Teraphim] That is, Images having a human figure; Hosea 3:4. They say that they made those images for the honor of God, led by a certain pretext of religion and superstition: which the jealous God abominates. That Micah was a worshipper partly of the true God, partly of idols. Every instrument of false religion is able to be understood here (Vatablus). Teraphim μορφώματα/shaped in the form of Cherubim, says Jerome to Marcella, both in 1 Samuel 22:18 and 2 Samuel 6:14, just as it appears that it is to be taken in Hosea 3:4. For it is a middle word, pertaining to images good and bad. If we follow this interpretation, we shall say that these Teraphim are called אֱלֹהִים/ Elohim/gods,[6] that is, angels, because they were signifying Angels. Now, the graven and earthen things were altars, a lampstand, and other lesser things of this sort, in the place of the great things that were in the Sanctuary; just as, Torquatus[7] constructed elegant baths of Parian marble, Otacilius[8] made kettles[9] (Grotius). [Francis Moncæius, who contends that the golden calf was fashioned by Aaron into the similitude of the Mosaic Cherubim, concerning which we spoke at length on Exodus 32, thinks similarly of Micah.] Micah [says he] and his mother fashioned a graven thing, etc., both an Ephod and Teraphim after the similitude of the Mosaic works of the same sort. Perhaps the graven and molten thing was like unto that sacred plate, Exodus 39:30, not indeed of gold, as in that place, but of silver, on which also, just as it was done on that, he saw to it that the name of the Lord was graven (Moncæius’ Concerning the Golden Calf 1:17). The Ephod agreed with the Mosaid Ephod, no less in form and use than in name (Moncæius’ Concerning the Golden Calf 1:18). The Teraphim agreed with the Mosaic Cherubim (Moncæius’ Concerning the Golden Calf 1:18). For the term Teraphim is not always taken in an ill sense, but is used indifferently of whatever image, sometimes even in a good way, as in Hosea 3:4. [Concerning which see what things are to be said on that passage σὺν Θεῷ, Lord willing.] Teraphim were household idols, which were worshipped in the home, and were consulted as oracles concerning matters arcane or future, their Penates and Lares, as it were[10] (Lapide). They appear to have been idols that gave responses to questions: as it is easily proven out of Ezekiel 21:21, …he consulted Teraphim; out of Zechariah 10:2, the Teraphim have spoken vanity; and out of 2 Kings 23:24, where after familiar spirits and wizards Teraphim are placed, as things conjoined, and have regard to divination and oracles (Bonfrerius). Moreover, either they are called Teraphim, that is, Seraphim, as it were; for the Chaldeans convert שׂ/S into ת/t: or images shameful, indecent, and filthy are called Teraphim; for to the Chaldean תרף/theraph signifies to putrefy, and to afflict with disgrace (Lapide). Now, Teraphim is a word of the plural number, the singular of which is not found, so that hence, just like אֱלֹהִים/Elohim, and the Penates to the Latins, it might be able to be used of one. But here God is not called Jehovah, but Elohim (which name is also attributed to false gods and creatures), because these are not the words of the idolaters, but of the sacred writer (Bonfrerius). It is even able to be translated, gods; for there was not one idol in the home, but many. Neither ought it to appear strange, since he that wandered from the worship of the true God slips easily into all error and impiety, so that he might hardly stop as some one idol, or heresy (Bonfrerius).

Stolen Teraphim

Teraphim; some sort of images so called, of which see Genesis 31:19; Hosea 3:4.

[And he filled his hand] That is, with oblations, with which rite priests were initiated (Munster, similarly Vatablus, Menochius). See Exodus 28:41[11] (Piscator). To fill the hand of one is to introduce him into the possession of some matter. He next declares, and he was to him a priest (Vatablus). It is strange that a lay and profane man would rush into a consecration of this sort: but what is strange, if one that fashions gods for himself, should also forge priests? But evidently, of what sort of gods, such is the consecration, and such also the priests (Bonfrerius).

[Of one of his sons] Namely, the firstborn. Formerly the right of the priesthood belonged to such (Lapide, Serarius, Tostatus). But this account does not convince; for that right of the firstborn was annulled by the Aaronic priesthood, and Micah was able to employ any one of his sons in this work according to the manner of the Aaronic priests (Bonfrerius). He did this temporarily, until provision was made for him of a certain Levite (Junius, Malvenda).

[And he was made a priest for him] Evidently, because the priests were not publicly discharging their office, through fault, or because the regions were infested with brigandage, Micah actually supposed that God was to be worshipped by him in private religion; and so, although at first he had willed his own son to be a priest for him, he soon preferred the Levite he found to his son, so that he might approach as nearly as possible to the institutes of the Law. For he was worshipped the true God, יְהוָה/Jehovah/LORD, Judges 17:3, 13; 18:6. And God responds with true things to the one asking, Judges 18 (Grotius).

Who became his priest; because the Levites in that corrupt estate of the church neglected the exercise of their office, and therefore were neglected by the people, and others put into their employment. But this kind of priesthood was condemned, Numbers 16:40; 18:2, 7.

[1] Hebrew: וְהָאִ֣ישׁ מִיכָ֔ה ל֖וֹ בֵּ֣ית אֱלֹהִ֑ים וַיַּ֤עַשׂ אֵפוֹד֙ וּתְרָפִ֔ים וַיְמַלֵּ֗א אֶת־יַ֤ד אַחַד֙ מִבָּנָ֔יו וַיְהִי־ל֖וֹ לְכֹהֵֽן׃

[2] Genesis 31:19: “And Laban went to shear his sheep: and Rachel had stolen the images (הַתְּרָפִים, the teraphim) that were her father’s.”

[3] Hebrew: וַיְמַלֵּ֗א אֶת־יַ֤ד.

[4] Exodus 29:9: “And thou shalt gird them with girdles, Aaron and his sons, and put the bonnets on them: and the priest’s office shall be theirs for a perpetual statute: and thou shalt consecrate Aaron and his sons (וּמִלֵּאתָ֥ יַֽד־אַהֲרֹ֖ן וְיַד־בָּנָֽיו׃, and thou shalt fill the hand of Aaron and the hand of his sons).”

[5] 1 Kings 13:33: “After this thing Jeroboam returned not from his evil way, but made again of the lowest of the people priests of the high places: whosoever would, he consecrated him (יְמַלֵּ֣א אֶת־יָד֔וֹ, he filled his hand), and he became one of the priests of the high places.”

[6] See Judges 18:24.

[7] Titus Manlius Torquatus (third century BC) was served as consul, censor, and ultimately dicatator in the Roman Republic.

[8] Manius Otacilius Crassus was a third-century BC Roman consul.

[9] Thus Martial.

[10] Among the Romans, the Penates and Lares were household deities.

[11] Exodus 28:41: “And thou shalt put them upon Aaron thy brother, and his sons with him; and shalt anoint them, and consecrate them (וּמִלֵּאתָ֧ אֶת־יָדָ֛ם, and fill their hand), and sanctify them, that they may minister unto me in the priest’s office.”

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Thank you, Dr. Dilday, for this great background information on this text. Very helpful!


Dr. Dilday
Dr. Dilday
Mar 11, 2019

Matthew Henry: 'Now observe...What was the corruption here introduced, Judges 17:5. The man Micah had a house of gods, a house of God, so the LXX, for so he thought it, as good as that at Shiloh, and better, because his own, of his own inventing and at his own disposal; for people love to have their religion under their girdle, to manage it as they please. A house of error, so the Chaldee, for really it was so, a deviation from the way of truth and an inlet to all deceit. Idolatry is a great cheat, and one of the worst of errors. That which he aimed at in the progress of his idolatry, whether he designed it a…


Dr. Dilday
Dr. Dilday
Mar 11, 2019

Hebrew: What are Teraphim? Is the etymological work from the Aramaic helpful?

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