“In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 21:25)
The moral climate of Israel in the days of the judges was far from ideal. Just one generation after Joshua challenged the people to follow God, they had drifted far away from Him. They knew bits and pieces of the Law, but they had already started treating it as guidelines instead of rules given by a holy God. When they liked something, they applied it to their lives, but ignored anything that went against they wanted. The last verse of the book of Judges states that everyone did what he thought was right. It didn’t matter what anyone else thought; all that mattered was that he was obeying his own desires.
The last few chapters of Judges are some of the oddest in the Bible. They deal with outlandish situations, such as a man creating an idol and thinking he has God’s blessing because he has a Levite in his house to lead worship of the idol. He understood that Levites were supposed to be in charge of worship, so even though his idol was in direct violation of the second commandment, he believed he would still have God’s favor. The next several chapters discuss a war that erupted over a horrible circumstance, resulting in the majority of the Israelites vowing to not give any of their daughters to the tribe of Benjamin as wives. But realizing that this would result in Benjamin’s demise, they created several schemes, including snatching women from a festival and forcing them into marriage. The terrifying thing is, nobody seemed to think there was anything wrong with any of this. It seemed like a good idea to the person doing it, and there was no one to stop him.
The key phrase that describes the Israelites’ lives is that they “did was right in [their] own eyes”. They completely disregarded what God’s Law said is absolutely right and focused instead on what they wanted. When God’s word was inconvenient, they simply didn’t listen. They didn’t even care about how their actions would affect other people; all they wanted was to get the best end of the deal and do whatever made them happy.
What’s even more terrifying than this, however, is that this is the prevailing attitude of many people today. How many times have you heard someone say, “This is right for me, so you can’t tell me what to do”, or, “You just need to follow your heart”? Both of this ideas are ingrained into our culture, showing up everywhere—in our movies, our music, our books, and so much more. But following our hearts is truly an unbiblical idea. As the book of Judges shows, it’s dangerous and will inevitably lead to disobeying God. According to Jeremiah, our hearts are wicked and sick; anything we naturally want is sinful, because we inherently have a sinful nature. God’s laws may not always be fun, but He’s given them to us because He loves us. He knows that we can’t do good on our own, so He gives us a standard by which we can live. Of course, He knows that we’re never going to perfectly do everything He’s told us, but we honor Him by striving to obey. Following our own desires, on the other hand, dishonors Him. The people of Israel thought that all the atrocious things they were doing were right; how do we know our own desires won’t have the same consequences? We can never be truly right until we’re doing what is right in God’s eyes.