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In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes (Judges 21:25).
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? (Jer 17:9).
Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord (Eph 5:6-10).
“Do whatever you think is right” is America’s moral standard. Whether you are politically liberal or conservative, it is the standard everyone preaches.
The New Atheist movement loves to boast about how they are “good without God.” People say that you should just do what is right to you; don’t let anyone else tell you what is right. Reason it all out on your own.
“Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” is a continual refrain in the book of Judges. And it’s interesting to see how people try to make that seem like a good thing. As I was looking up stuff for this article, I came across a page from something called Rocky Mountain Ministries, seeking to debunk the “myth” it’s saying that what people were doing was bad. They claim it’s saying that the people were better off, doing good because it’s what was good rather than because some king made them do it.
To get this interpretation of this phrase, you have to take verses like Judges 21:25 completely by themselves. You see “In those days there was no king in Israel,” and then “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” Yeah, if you look at it that way, their interpretation makes sense. No king was bossing the people around, interfering in their life, telling them what was right. The people were just doing what they thought was good.
But if you look at why it’s being said—if you look at what is happening when this phrase comes up—you realize why “There was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” is, actually, monstrous.
Like Judges 17:6, where a man named Micah makes an idol for Yahweh out of silver, makes some household gods, and then appoints his son as priest. This is the same Yahweh, our God, who said, “Do not make idols.” That goes even for idols of him. Not to mention the very first part of Yahweh’s commandments: have no other gods before (literally “in my eyes”) me. So Micah’s violating some of the most basic commandments of the worship of Yahweh. But it’s what’s right to him.
As part of this story, a Levite—someone who is born into the tribe of Israel that is wholly devoted to the worship of Yahweh—visits Micah and agrees to become Micah’s priest. And Micah says that’s great because now he has a Levite to serve as priest of his idol to Yahweh.
And now we get to chapter 18, which starts with the same phrase again: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” And we’re introduced to the tribe of Dan, another tribe of Israel, which hears about Micah’s shrine and the Levite and they send an armed force to take it from him, then they use the idols and the Levite as basically totems to assure triumph in battle against the people of Laish. They wanted the prosperity and comfort of the people living in the city of Laish, so they wiped the people out, destroyed the city, and rebuilt it, renaming it Dan after the founder of the tribe. And then they went and set up an idol to Yahweh as well.
That was what was right in their eyes.
Read the rest of the book of Judges from then on. What is good in the eyes of the people is raping a woman to death, wiping out a whole tribe, kidnapping women to be forced into marriage with the remnants of that tribe, and then kidnapping and raping even more of them. That’s what’s happening when this phrase, “Everyone did what was right in their own eyes” is used.
It’s not a good thing.
But this is the very same moral code that our culture embraces without hesitation. “Do what you think is right.” “What do you think is good?”
And they get very upset if you even mention doing what’s good to God.
But that is what the Bible tells us. That is what God tells us.
The fact is, we don’t always know, in and of ourselves, what is good. We are the descendants of people who chose poorly. We’ve inherited a broken morality. It’s still there, but it’s twisted.
As Jesus said, “No one is good but the Father.” God is the only one who truly knows what is actually good.
So do not seek to do what you think is good. Seek what God says is good. His Spirit is with you. Listen to it!
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you (Php 4:4-9).