In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
This is the depressing end to the book of Judges. Depressing, but not surprising. No sooner is Israel settling in the promised land than they are turning from God’s ways and falling into sin. The Judges were to bring the people back to God, but the chorus of this book is that Israel again does what is evil in the sight of the Lord (2:11, 3:7, 3:12, 4:1, 6:1, 10:6, 13:1). Having heard that phrase, in the sight of the Lord (NIV – in the eyes of the Lord), so many times, it is then so fitting to close the book, “Everyone did what was right in their own eyes.”
Many times over God has shown them how he sees things. He urges them to live according to his ways, to do what is right in God’s eyes. But continually they instead do what is right in their eyes, according to how they see things.
Judges is a saddening book as we see Israel, who have been blessed by God with so much, turn from him. Yet we can’t read it from too far a distance. Are we that unlike Israel? Don’t we do whatever we think is good? Do we allow God to be the judge in our lives, or do we more often take that role upon ourselves? How many things do we do that don’t look “right” to our own eyes? How many things can we name that we know God wants, but we think differently? Who wins that battle?
This problem can be even more deceiving because we may not easily think of things in our lives that we know God wants to change.* It’s amazing how much we all are in agreement with God–or how much God agrees with me! But is that the way we would expect it to go? No, we’re told to expect sacrifice and trials. We are told to die to the old self, to live for Christ (Romans 6:1-18, Galatians 2:20, Ephesians 4:17-24, Romans 12:1-2). So if it seems that God has stamped his approval on all that we do and believe, isn’t it possible we’re just doing what we think is right in our own eyes, not in the sight of God?
It is easy to read the Bible and look for those parts of Scripture that affirm what we want to hear. But we need humility to approach God confessing that we are prone to self-deception (1 John 1:8). We need to ask God to help reveal those things that we think are in line with his will, but are not. We need the Spirit to pierce through our assumptions as we read God’s Word and reveal to us the challenges as well as the comfort of the Bible.
I think back to Galatians as Paul tells the churches that he had to challenge Peter (Cephas) for the way in which he was treating the Gentiles. Here is Peter, a great leader of the early church, and he is mistreating fellow brothers in Christ. He was doing what was right in his own eyes. God uses another of his servants to remind Peter than in the sight of God, there is no Jew or Gentile, and to act in another way is against the gospel of Jesus Christ.
We need God’s Word, prayer, and other followers of Christ to speak truth to us. We are not equipped to be our own judges. If everyone is left alone to decide for themselves what is right and what is the truth for them, we find ourselves with the people of Judges. Rather we should seek to see things through the eyes of God. We should seek to do what he says is right, even if the world around us thinks us foolish.