“All the people did what was right in their own eyes”

The ending of any story matters a whole lot. We didn’t touch on this last Sunday, but the ending of the book of Judges also provides more insight into the grand narrative. Judges 21:25 says this:

In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes.

This haunting verse has a few points of significance as we look at Israel’s history.

This notion that every person did what was right in his or her own eyes can be contrasted with God’s ideal for humanity. We read in several places in the Old Testament that Israel rejected God and demanded to have a king like every other nation. But there were guidelines regarding kingship which God outlined for the people. What make as a king righteous? How should a leader be different from every other group, tribe, or nation?

We find out these requirements for a righteous king in Deuteronomy 17:14-20:

14 When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, “I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me,” 15 you may indeed set over you a king whom the Lord your God will choose. One of your own community you may set as king over you; you are not permitted to put a foreigner over you, who is not of your own community. 16 Even so, he must not acquire many horses for himself, or return the people to Egypt in order to acquire more horses, since the Lord has said to you, “You must never return that way again.” 17 And he must not acquire many wives for himself, or else his heart will turn away; also silver and gold he must not acquire in great quantity for himself. 18 When he has taken the throne of his kingdom, he shall have a copy of this law written for him in the presence of the levitical priests. 19 It shall remain with him and he shall read in it all the days of his life, so that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, diligently observing all the words of this law and these statutes, 20 neither exalting himself above other members of the community nor turning aside from the commandment, either to the right or to the left, so that he and his descendants may reign long over his kingdom in Israel.

God essentially required three things for leading the people:

  1. The king cannot build up an army (horses) or a treasury (great wealth through silver and gold).
  2. The king must not forsake Israel’s religion (taking of foreign wives).
  3. The king is to study the scriptures each and everyday.

In other words, Israel’s leader had to be the perfect priest. His main duty was to study the scriptures and passing this along to the people.

I believe Deuteronomy teaches us that God alone should be our source of power and identity. Kings are corrupted by wealth and compromise, but God endures for all time. Kings focus on a cult of personality and demand blind devotion through fear. On the other hand, God is a God of steadfast love and desires a relationship with creation. Leaders thrive on violence, but God works through peace.

The people of Israel forgot these core truths throughout the book of Judges–so much so that God is the forgotten character by the end of the story! Judges serves as a warning to us even to this day. Is God actively leading you and shaping you through the love of Jesus Christ? Or is it tempting to simply do what is right in your own eyes, without any moral direction?

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