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Judges 21:25 In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes. (NKJV)

It sounds as if the Israelites had a really good arrangement. There was no King over them to tell them what to do and they were just going around doing the right thing. The future King of Israel would be appointed by God and would have absolute, unequaled, unquestioned authority. Disobedience would mean death. He would rule with complete power. But those days were to come.

At this point in history, there was no king and everyone just did what they thought was right in their own eyes (although they should have had Godly priests to follow but didn’t). It’s like a teacher who leaves a classroom of students alone by themselves . There is no authority present and the students do whatever they feel is right. Sounds wonderful, except for those four little words that completely changes the entire picture:

In his own eyes.

There was no holy, absolute Godly authority in Israel (despite the priests), and each man did what was right… in his own eyes. Read that carefully. There is an infinite chasm that separates these two thoughts:

each man did what was right
each man did what was right in his own eyes.

Every Israelite had become a law unto themselves, each deciding what was right and what was wrong. Do you think there was any danger of people being just slightly biased in their own personal judgment of right and wrong? We have a fancy term for it today: moral relativism. Definition: right and wrong are not absolute but based on changing circumstances and opinions. What’s wrong for you, might not be wrong for me depending on the circumstances.

Jeremiah 17:9 “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it? (NKJV)

If it is true that the heart is deceitful, and of course it is, do you think it effects what is right “in our own eyes”? The plain fact is, there is probably not a sin imaginable that we could not justify to ourselves in some manner. Not true you say? Every kind of evil you can imagine is defended today. Sickness, mental illness, childhood trauma, addictions, uncontrollable impulses, chemical imbalance, etc are all used as justifications to re-label sin as something else. It’s not a question of IF an evil is committed, but WHY it was done that determines if something is right or wrong.

Ironically (and predictably) our main verse, Judges 21:15, follows a bizarre chain of events enacted by men deciding what was right “in their own eyes” (Judges 17:6):

  • Judges 17 – Micah sets up himself up illegally as a priest of God and begins idol worship
  • Judges 18 – more Israelites accept the false priest and idolatry eventually stealing his idols because they believe in the “power” the idols possess
  • Judges 19 – a Levite, the true priests of Israel – sinfully takes a mistress who immediately engages in prostitution and defames him Instead of dealing with the offense, the Levite begs her to come back home
    • He goes to the harlot-wife’s father to stay for a while in his home
    • When the Levite finally goes back home, he stops in town called Gibeah to stay the night because the other cities of “God’s” people were too dangerous
    • In good old Sodom and Gomorrah tradition, some men of Gibeah hear there’s a visitor in town and demand that the Levite be sent out to them for some sinful “greeting time”
    • In a shameful display of cowardice, the Levite and the master of the house in which he was staying, offer to send out their daughter and mistress instead. How polite!
    • The Levite’s mistress ends up being the victim of choice. She is raped and abused all night and left for dead at the door
    • The Levite finds her the next morning, and upset that such an “evil thing” had been done (what hypocrisy!) takes a knife and chops up the woman in 12 pieces and sends them throughout all the land along with a note of indignation about what had happened. It’s not clear from the text if she was actually even dead for sure before he went to chopping on her
  • Judges 20 – all of Israel is outraged this has happened (while ignoring the sinful Levite’s actions). They convene to hear an exaggerated and twisted version of the facts They gathered for war against the town of Gibeah, and the tribe of Benjamin
    • The tribe of Benjamin is given a chance to hand over the actual men who had killed the woman, but in their pride, they refuse. They would rather have war, than see justice for a few criminals
    • God allowed the outnumbered Benjaminites to humiliate the rest of Israel by killing 40,000 Israelites in the first of two to military assaults
    • Once humbled, God then turns the tables and allows the tribe of Benjamin to be completely destroyed
  • Judges 21 – After destroying every man, woman and child of the tribe of Benjamin except for 600 men that fled into the wilderness, the men of Israel are now worried that one of the 12 tribes would be lost completely because they had made a vow that none of their daughters would marry a Benjaminite So they sent a small assault force to a town called Jabesh-Gilead and kill every single person except 400 virgins whom they kidnap and bring back to “give” to the men of Benjamin as wives
    • They still needed two hundred more wives, so they instructed the remaining men to steal their wives from another group of people so that the Israelites wouldn’t violate their vow to not “give” them wives. Stealing would not be giving and thus they could remain “righteous”!

This is what men do when they do what is right in their own eyes!

For the most part our modern world is without THE King and men do what is right in their own eyes. In this civilized and advanced age, we would never be guilty of such bizarre and blatantly evil behavior though, right? Consider this and answer that yourself:

  • You can kill an unborn baby and get applauded; but disturb a sea turtle’s egg and go to jail.
  • You can’t mention Jesus in public schools but you can teach witchcraft and “lifestyle alternatives”.
  • People are offended by a cross at a fire station during Christmas but declare a cross sitting in a container of urine “art”.
  • Teaching abstinence before marriage is intolerant bigotry while rampant fornication, adultery and homosexuality are personal lifestyle choices.
  • It is censorship to ask for any standard of decency on TV or movies but it’s “freedom of speech” for a naked women to sensually cover herself in chocolate sauce on stage in front a live audience at taxpayer’s expense (true event).
  • Tolerance of all religions, all ideas and all “lifestyle choices” is the heavily promoted, while “intolerance” is considered the vilest of acts… UNLESS you are intolerant of Christians or the Bible, which is perfect okay.

The Israelites were without a King. The majority of the world is without the King of Kings today. They did what was right in their own eyes and were guilty of the most obvious, blatantly hypocritical, wicked behavior. Their heart was deceitful and desperately wicked.

Is mankind still the same today? You decide. Do YOU live a life of doing what it right in your own eyes? You decide.

O Holy God, without the King of Kings we are left to do what is right in our own eyes and we agree with You that man’s heart is desperately wicked. Forgive us of thinking we know what is right and illuminate our hearts to what is truly right in Your eyes as we learn to submit our lives to the King. In the name of the King, Amen.

Contemplation: Is your heart desperately wicked and continually evil? Do you know what is right and wrong? Where does your standard come from? In the honest privacy of your thoughts, do you think you would live a righteous life if you were in control of things? Your answer to this will reveal much about your understanding of the nature of sin.

Application: Don’t fool yourself. If you were left to do what was right in YOUR own eyes, you would be just as evil as anyone we have discussed today. Understanding this is crucial. If you don’t wholeheartedly believe it, ask God to increase your understanding about the sin nature of man and illumine your heart to the reality of life “without the King” and the danger of doing what is “right in your own eyes”.

  1. What is the most obvious Bible truth you have learned today?
  2. What change in your life needs to be made concerning this truth?
  3. What specific thing will you do today to begin that change?