All the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes

Let’s consider a verse that is often used to justify dictatorial over-lording in Christian fellowships.

The reasoning goes something like this: when there were no humans to control them, these people did whatever was right in their own eyes, so you need to submit to those humans that are over you in the Lord or else you will fall into the same sins. This gives them an excuse to order your lives. It ignores your salvation, it ignores the Holy Spirit, it ignores Jesus Christ.

In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes. (Judges 21:25)

  • In those days there was no king in Israel (Judges 17:6)
  • In those days there was no king in Israel (Judges 18:1)
  • when there was no king in Israel (Judges 19:1)
  • In those days there was no king in Israel (Judges 21:25)

The refrain of the book is, “Every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (KJV), or as the NIV puts it, “Everyone did as he saw fit” (17:6; 21:25). They were again and again falling away from God into the worship of idols. When they did this, God delivered Israel into the hands of foreign oppressors. Then, when Israel in their suffering and distress turned back and cried to God, God had pity on Israel and raised up Judges, who saved Israel from their enemies. As long as the Judged lived, the people served God. But soon after the Judge died, the people would leave God and go back to their old ways.
Invariably, when they served God, they prospered, but when they served idols, they suffered. Israel’s troubles were due directly to their disobedience. They did not keep themselves from worshiping idols. They did not exterminate the inhabitants of the land as they had been commanded. And thus, from time to time, the struggle for mastery was renewed.—pg.189, Halley’s Bible Handbook by Halley, Henry H.

The key point is “when they served God, they prospered” versus “again and again falling away from God into the worship of idols.”

All 4 of these verses are found in the last 5 chapters of Judges at end of the 300-400 period of the Judges. It was long after Joshua had died. It was after all the Judges had been born, served, and died. This was the worst of times and the worst of times. It was before Samuel was born, and long before Saul was anointed to be king. This was a time of terrible apostasy when “Micah thought it was a sign of God’s favor to him and his idolatrous images, that a Levite should come to his door. (Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary)” This was a time of savage national justice for a an unspeakably horrible crime, which almost wiped out the tribe of Benjamin (Judges 19-21).

Remember, what God told Samuel later when the people demanded a king like the other nations…

But Samuel considered it wrong for them to request a king to judge them. So Samuel prayed to the LORD. The LORD told Samuel, “Listen to everything the people are saying to you. They haven’t rejected you; they’ve rejected me. They’re doing just what they’ve done since I took them out of Egypt-leaving me and serving other gods. (1 Samuel 8:6-8)

The problem is not “doing what is right in your own eyes.” Let’s be real! Do you know anybody who is “doing what is wrong in their own eyes?” No! The problem is “falling away from God into the worship of idols.” If you think it is right to “fall away from God into the worship of idols,” then you are headed for “suffering and distress.”

Furthermore, read 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, 2 Kings, 1 Chronicles, and 2 Chronicles to see what terrible sins the people got into when they did have a king in Israel. The original faulty reasoning doesn’t stand the test of common sense. When there was a king in Israel, the people did what was right in the king’s eyes, right or wrong. These sins eventually led to the defeat of Israel and the destruction of the temple. It’s not whether you’re obeying yourself or a king, the only thing that matters, is are you obeying God.

If you find yourself “again and again falling away from God,” turn back and cry unto God today…

He will have pity on you today just as he did on the nation Israel way back then.

God says, “At the right time I heard you. On the day of salvation I helped you.” Listen, now is God’s acceptable time! Now is the day of salvation! (2 Corinthians 6:2)

For—God’s own promise is the ground of our exhortation.
he saith—God the Father saith to God the Son, and so to all believers who are regarded as one with Him.
heard thee—In the eternal purposes of my love I have hearkened to thy prayer for the salvation of thy people (compare Joh 17:9, 15, 20, 24).
accepted … accepted—The Greek of the latter is more emphatic, “well-accepted.” What was “an accepted time” in the prophecy (Isa 49:8, Hebrew, “in the season of grace”) becomes “the well-accepted time” in the fulfilment (compare Ps 69:13). As it is God’s time of receiving sinners, receive ye His grace: accept (2Co 6:1) the word of reconciliation in His accepted time.
in the day of salvation—“in a day of salvation” (Lu 4:18, 19, 21; 19:42; Heb 3:7).Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary

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