“In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” — Judges 21:15
Have you acted in one or more of these roles in your career? Have you been an infant with no concept of consideration for others, only an inexpressible desire to get what you wanted? Sure you have. How about a little child who exploded in a flaming tantrum of rage when restrained or told "no" by Mommy or Daddy? Yes, some of us have been this character, too.
Let's presume your career extends beyond being an adorable child star. Now you're a young driver, feeling the exhilaration of being free and out from under your parents' watchful eye. At last, you could do what you want with no one to say you couldn’t. Sound familiar?
Some of us go on to play a similar role as adults. It's not childhood innocence or adolescent ignorance of consequences now. We know very well what is right and wrong. But we choose to do as we please without regard for rules or God's commandments. We might justify our actions as saying it just “felt right.” We might boast we do as we please and “no one tells us what to do” (reviving a line from our foolish youth period). Or perhaps after doing wrong, we feel guilty, ashamed and broken. But the fact remains: We humans have a tendency to do what we want to do, sometimes regardless of clear principle or threatened consequence.
Judges is one of the saddest books in the Bible. It is the story of Israel's serial disobedience and rebellion against God who had given them a land of their own and blessed them with special favor as his covenant people. Judges is about violence, bloodshed and gross immorality. Israel wallowed in the mire of idolatry, worshiping the Canaanite neighbors' fertility gods.
Although it is not the first time the concept has been stated in the book, the last verse explains why Israel lived in such a deplorable state during this dark period of their history. Note the two reasons given in the explanation.
First, there was no king in Israel. They rejected God's rule over them by disregarding the law he had given them. After they suffered at the hands of their enemies and cried out to God, he raised up judges to save them out of their trouble and rule over them. But as soon as the judge died, the people quickly returned to their old ways. They had no respect for authority.
Second, everyone did what was right in his own eyes. Instead of obeying God-given commandments that would have blessed them and protected them, they acknowledged no authority except that of their own will. The sad cycle of behavior in the Judges played out again and again because self-rule always leads to self-ruin. Israel's history in the period of the judges is testimony to the accuracy of Jeremiah's assessment of self-direction: "I know, O Lord, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps" (Jeremiah 10:23).
What's the takeaway for you and me today? Is the message of Judges no more than a sad history lesson? If that's how I feel about it, I am missing the point. Perhaps we see a reflection of our own selfish present-day culture in the ancient words. While that’s true enough, it’s not really the point either.
The point you and I need to take from the heartbreaking book of Judges is this: Whenever I fail to have proper regard for authority and respect for God himself, I have the same problem as ancient Israel. It is the essence of your sin and mine to crown ourselves king and do as we please.
We could avoid so many painful and humiliating consequences of sin by living with this lesson in mind. There is a rightful reigning king in a professing believer's life —Him enough and respect his authority enough to be faithful subjects of our King and let what God says is right direct our actions.
You've probably heard those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it. Let's not re-enact the tragedy of ancient Israel by living as if there is no king, and doing what is right in our own eyes.
Mike McElroy is a regular faith columnist for The Tribune.