Judges 17:6 NKJV
In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
This is perhaps the saddest and most telling verse in the whole Bible. It tells us so much about ourselves, about our society, and about our relationship with God.
In the book of Judges, we have a history of the men and women who led Israel as a nation of God’s people during the generations after the Exodus. Moses had led the people to the banks of the Jordan, and Moses’ protégé Joshua had led the people in the wars and settling of the Promised Land. But at the end of his life, Joshua challenged the people to choose who would rule over their lives.
Joshua 24:14-15 NKJV
14 “Now therefore, fear the LORD, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt. Serve the LORD!
15 And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”
And the people responded overwhelmingly that they would serve the Lord God who had led their fathers out of slavery in Egypt. They said, “We also will serve the LORD, for He is our God.” But that didn’t last long:
Judges 2:10-12 NKJV
10 When all that generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation arose after them who did not know the LORD nor the work which He had done for Israel.
11 Then the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD, and served the Baals; 12 and they forsook the LORD God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt; and they followed other gods from among the gods of the people who were all around them, and they bowed down to them; and they provoked the LORD to anger.
From that point on, the book of Judges is about how the people of Israel allowed themselves to be led astray by idolatry and pride and prosperity, how they were conquered by the very people they themselves had once subdued, and how faithful men and women were chosen to lead them out of slavery to serve the Lord again. And today’s verse sums up the problem of Israel in a nutshell.
But why should not having a king be a problem for Israel? One might think it had to do with not having a central government, not having a king to lay down the law and punish evildoers. One might think it pertained to a historical moment, because King Saul wasn’t to be chosen for a few more generations, and the great King David came after him. Perhaps we should look at King Saul’s story for a moment.
Samuel was the last of the judges of Israel, chosen at a very young age to serve the Lord and to lead them in a time when the Philistines were once again attacking and oppressing Israel. Toward the end of his life, the people called out for a king:
1 Samuel 8:4-7 NKJV
4 Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, 5 and said to him, “Look, you are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.”
6 But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” So Samuel prayed to the LORD.
7 And the LORD said to Samuel, “Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them.”
Do you see the problem? The people wanted a king “to judge us like all the nations”—i.e. they wanted a king to govern them like the pagan nations around them had kings to rule them. And the Lord’s response? “They have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them.” The people didn’t want GOD to be their King, they wanted a man to be their king—and the king they got was Saul. They wanted to do what was right in their own eyes. In short, they wanted no true King of kings in Israel, and every man wanted to do what was right in his own eyes. Does that sound familiar?
Proverbs 14:12 NKJV
There is a way that seems right to a man,
But its end is the way of death.
Proverbs 16:2 NKJV
All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes,
But the LORD weighs the spirits.
We like to think we know better than God what is best for us. We weigh our happiness and our worldly prosperity, we consider the desires of our flesh, and we calculate that what God demands of us—repentance, obedience, and faith—is too much. It is far easier for us to mold a god into the image we desire of him, to build a deity out of nothing into someone who grants our every wish like some super-cosmic genie. We would rather that the true God not judge us at all, and instead love us so much that He gives us free reign to live as we like. And so we twist His Word—the Holy Bible, the two Testaments of His coming, the two Covenants in His name. We warp God’s Word and claim that what He said in the olden days doesn’t apply to us today, that those things were written for a particular historical reality, and that the law has been somehow amended by Jesus to allow for abortion, homosexuality, adultery, idolatry, usury, and murder.
Matthew 5:17-19 NKJV
17 “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.
18 For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.
19 Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”
Jesus fulfilled the law and the prophecies by LIVING them. Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us, and He lived as a man and died as a man, and yet He did not sin. He didn’t break the law, He lived it, and so His sinless death bought our redemption and justified us before God. But that justification, that appearance of righteousness, comes at a price for our lives: we, too, must live like Jesus. We must repent of our sins—sins clearly laid out in the law and the prophets—and we must believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ. He lived sinless among us, He died willingly for us, and He lives again to bring us into eternal life and glory with the Father. The law of the flesh—our own desires—is no longer to reign in us. JESUS is to reign in our lives.
No law passed in any land can ever take away the reign of God in our lives, unless we let it. The people of Israel chose time and again NOT to be ruled by God. They refused to be ruled by the heart of the law and the prophets:
Matthew 22:37-40 NKJV
37 Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.‘
38 This is the first and great commandment.
39 And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.‘
40 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
If we truly love God, then we put HIS will for us first—and that includes obedience to His commandments. If we willingly break His commandments and then say “His love and grace covers my sin,” then we are blaspheming Him and His holy name and His law itself. Would we presume upon His grace at every turn? Should we assume that whatever is right in our eyes is right in His? Or, should we rather seek to make what is right in our eyes more like what is right in His? Shouldn’t we transform our idea of righteousness into His idea of righteousness?
In the days of the Judges, during the times of idolatry and pride and immorality, there was no king in Israel because the people refused God. And because they refused God’s law to guide them, the one “king” they did have was doing what was right in their own eyes. And we are no different today.
Brothers and sisters, no amount of secular legislation or judicial maneuvering should ever sway us from our commitment to God and His Word. We need not give in to the lie that whatever is right in our eyes is always the right thing to do. We are not to be ruled by a minority that assumes that what is right for them is right before God, nor are we to be ruled by a majority of people who are at best indifferent and who follow that immoral minority like sheep to the slaughter. Rather we are to be ruled by a minority of One, the true and living God. If we are to have any king at all, let it be Jesus, so that our way will not lead to sin and death but lead to repentance and eternal life. Rather than having no king in our lives save our own desires, let us choose instead to be ruled by the one true King of kings, Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.
Father God, we choose life. We choose to be ruled by You and no other. We pray, Lord, that this nation should come out of the darkness and into the light, that they should depart from the slavery to their flesh and their indifference, and come to You and seek Your will and Your way. You have given us clear guidance, and Your Spirit works within us to transform us into the image of our true King, Jesus. May He reign forever in our lives! Amen.