Pastor Craig Carter
The Old Testament books of Joshua and Judges are a study in contrasts. Joshua describes the successful invasion and conquest of the Promised Land by the Israelites while Judges chronicles a sad time in the history of the nation of Israel.
Rather than obeying the Lord as they promised to do, God’s people turned from Him and rebelled against His commands. As a result, they suffered the consequences of their disobedience and were defeated by their enemies and fell into a state of despair and distress. But God didn’t give up on them so He raised up military or moral leaders (called judges) who brought deliverance and peace.
Judges recounts how this cycle was repeated at least seven times and tells the story of twelve different judges who exercised godly leadership.
After Samson, no other judges are mentioned although the book continues for another five chapters. This final section of the Book of Judges serves as an epilogue and a bridge to what comes next for the Jewish nation. It is bracketed by identical statements made in 17:6 and 21:25 (the final verse):
In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes. (Judges 17:6; 21:25 NLT)
…everyone did as they saw fit. (NIV)
People did whatever they felt like doing. (MSG)
In between these two statements are a couple of stories that show what the author meant by that statement. They reveal what happens and how low people will go when they lose their moral compass.
In the first episode, a son steals from his mother and when she finds out, she actually rewards him by inventing a god and paying for him to have his own personal priest. In the second story, the Israelites’ behavior is similar to and even worse than what is described in Sodom and Gomorrah in the Book of Genesis. Their moral depravity results in a rape that leads to murder and ultimately to war among themselves, which then brings more rape and violence.
So what does it look like when people do whatever seems right in their own eyes? Immorality is rampant, chaos ensues, confusion abounds, conflict develops, and death and destruction are the end result.
What was the problem? “Israel had no king.” (Judges 17:7a NLT; cf. 18:1; 19:1; 21:25)
In the author’s mind, the needed solution was the establishment of a monarchy, which is precisely what happens when men like Saul, David, and Solomon later take the throne.
But that was not the real answer. Israel needed a king, yes, but not an earthly one. Instead, as Gideon once said, “The Lord will rule over you!” (Judges 8:23b NLT)
It’s why God later told Samuel, “They are rejecting me…They don’t want me to be their king any longer.” (1 Samuel 8:7 NLT)
This sounds like the problem with America today, huh? We are a nation of people that, by and large, does whatever seems right to each individual and most people act as they see fit and feel like doing with God left out. The result: immorality, chaos, conflict, destruction, and death.
Coincidence? I don’t think so.
It would be very easy for me to launch into a tirade on what’s wrong with America (especially since I’m becoming a crotchety old man) … but that’s the easy way out. Instead, I’m troubled by one word in our key verse: “all” or “everyone.”
If everyone can do what seems right in their own eyes and be all so wrong, then I can be guilty of doing what seems right in my own eyes and be all so wrong. That’s because “all” and “everyone” includes me … and I think it includes you, too.
And while I’ll never be held responsible for what everyone else does, the Bible makes it very clear that I’ll be held accountable for what I do (and so will you).
So you and I better learn a history lesson from the Book of Judges. And here’s what it is…
If we don’t allow God to rule over our lives and assume His rightful place as the “King of kings and Lord of lords” (see 1 Timothy 6:15), then we elevate ourselves or someone else to the throne … and that’s a recipe for disaster.
So we are left with what seems to me to be three choices:
– We can do what is right in our own eyes.
– We can do what is right in others’ eyes.
– We can do what is right in God’s eyes.
In the remainder of this message I’d like to outline what those conditions look like and the consequences of each. I have a feeling that it’s going to cause us to look through a different set of eyes about what determines our course of action and how we will behave.
1) We can do what is right in our own eyes.
From the earliest of ages, we look at the world through three lenses – me, myself, and I. We inherit this approach to life because we are born into a sinful, fallen race.
Think about how a typical two-year-old views the world. Every decision is made based on how it’s going to affect me. I want to choose my own way and don’t want anyone else telling me what to do. The whole world revolves around me in order to maximize my pleasure and minimize my pain.
Unfortunately, many folks never grow out of this stage.
There are two main problems with this approach. For one, it’s quite selfish and the world becomes very chaotic when inhabited by selfish people.
Imagine how dangerous driving would be if everyone did as they saw fit. If no one obeyed traffic laws, posted signs, or gave the right of way, it’d be complete chaos and result in countless collisions and deaths.
Consider the recent surge in bad behavior on airplanes. There have been 3,000 incidents of disruptive conduct by passengers in 2021. In the first five months of the year, the FAA investigated more than 400 cases for possible enforcement action like fines or bans. This compares to only 140 such investigations in the past decade.
What’s going on? Folks don’t want to be told what to do … or perhaps they’re just inconsiderate?
But again, let’s bring it to a personal level. Think of how our own selfishness contributes to chaos and conflict in our homes, workplaces, neighborhoods, and churches. This week, let’s count how many times we say things like …
I think…I don’t think…I feel…I don’t feel…I like…I don’t like…
You can do that if you want to, but I’m going to….
Who are they to judge me or try and tell me what to do?
Okay, let’s not count the times we say those things and say we did. It’d be a lot and, at least in my experience, my selfish mindset causes me lots of trouble (because others don’t live to make me happy ☺).
Another reason that it is not beneficial to do what seems right in our own eyes is because our eyes often deceive us. We think we see things correctly but we are only fooling ourselves … or maybe we’re just a fool.
The way of a fool is right in his own eyes… (Proverbs 12:15 ESV)
“But my heart is telling me to ____ and I’ve got to follow my heart.”
The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is? (Jeremiah 17:9 NLT)
“But I’ve thought it through and I’m absolutely certain this is the right thing to do.”
There is a way that seems right to a person, but eventually it ends in death. (Proverbs 14:12 GWT)
Like the folks described in the Book of Judges, it is foolish to do what seems right in our own eyes and is a dangerous and destructive path to take.
2) We can do what is right in others’ eyes.
Like it or not, aware of it or not, we are products of our environment. Our eyes are conditioned by our cultural norms and societal standards.
In the same way, we may think we see things as they really are, but we are affected by our culture.
For example, what is considered beautiful in one culture is not in another. The same principle applies to moral standards … you and I tend to do what is right in the eyes of people around us.
A Barna Research poll in 2015 illustrates America’s “new moral code” is not much different among Americans at large as opposed to active, church-going Christians. Respondents to the poll stated that (the percentages represent those who agreed with the given statement):
The best way to find yourself is to look within yourself. (91% Americans at large / 76% church-going Christians)
People should not criticize someone else’s lifestyle choices. (89% / 76%)
To be fulfilled in life, you should pursue what you desire most. (86% / 72%)
People can believe whatever they want, as long as those beliefs don’t hurt anyone. (79% / 61%)
Clearly, our moral code is different today because of changing views in society. If you don’t believe that, let Christians from a generation ago watch and listen to what we regularly watch and listen to today.
The real problem today is not that our moral code has changed or is being violated (that’s always been the case, as we have seen in Judges). The problem is there is no moral code!
The rallying cries of the late 60’s have become realities: “If it feels good, do it…Anything goes…Truth is relative…”
In our culture today, everything is a matter of perspective and personal preference. Consequently, every point of view, no matter how bizarre, demands equal respect, and just about any and every behavior can be justified.
Again, let’s consider how this point of view affects you and me. “It’s ok if they’re not hurting anyone” becomes “it’s ok because I’m not hurting anyone.”
But is that true? Not according to something that never changes: God’s Word.
Any violation of God’s commands (i.e. sin) hurts the Lord and our relationship with Him.
Against you, and you alone, have I sinned. (Psalm 51:4a NLT)
And let me go on to say that many of the things that we think are a godly perspective actually are not; instead, we are simply seeing things through the world’s eyes.
A paraphrase of an old adage may be helpful: “You are what you eat.” It’s also true that “You become what you watch, think about, and listen to.” As a result, we end up doing what is right in others’ eyes.
Since we are exposed to our surrounding environment and its poisonous thinking, what’s the antidote?
Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. (Romans 12:2 MSG)
3) We can do what is right in God’s eyes.
No matter how we may feel about it and no matter what our world may say about it, there is an objective standard by which we must chart our course. An unchanging God has given us His unchanging Word with unchanging principles that work even in changing and challenging times.
It’s why the Lord originally gave His Law to the Israelites … to let them see through His eyes so they might know what is right.
“You shall not do according to all that you are doing here today, everyone doing whatever is right in his own eyes … So be careful to obey all the commands I give you.” (Deuteronomy 12:8, 32a ESV)
What the Israelites failed to do, we need to do … what is right in God’s eyes.
We’ve seen that looking through our eyes and others’ eyes can be misleading. That’s why we need a different set of eyes and we get that new perspective by fixing our attention on God.
God’s Son, Jesus Christ, enables us to determine what is good and right and lovely. But for that to happen, we have to trust Him and be willing to obey Him. Ultimately, this entire matter revolves around a word I haven’t mentioned yet – authority.
Listen to what Jesus once said on the subject: “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am.” (Matthew 16:24 MSG)
If Jesus is in the driver’s seat, that means that you and I aren’t. But even if Jesus is in the driver’s seat, we tend to be “backseat drivers” – “I think you need to speed up…slow down…stop…wait…I want to go that way…just pull over and let me out!”
Friends, every day we have a decision to make: Who’s gonna be in charge of my life? Who’s gonna be in control – me or my culture or God? Who’s gonna call the shots?
When we choose to make anyone other than God the manager of our lives, the result is chaos, conflict and confusion. Death and destruction aren’t far away at this point.
Several weeks ago, my wife Lee and I went to a Panama City Symphony concert, a Led Zeppelin tribute. There were some incredibly talented musicians involved for sure. But what made it a special evening of spectacular music wasn’t because they each decided what and how to play. There was a conductor who also happened to be the arranger of the musical score. Rather than everyone doing his or her own thing, playing what they wanted, how they wanted, and when they wanted, they all followed his direction. They had to submit to his authority and trust his judgment and leadership. When they did, rather than being chaos, there was a coherent harmony.
And, rather than being restrictive, it was liberating for them and enabled them to become a part of something they couldn’t do themselves. Bassoons and oboes aren’t great solo instruments, but put them with violins, cellos, clarinets, electric guitars and drums … the results are awesome!
In the same way, when we submit to God’s authority and do what is right in His eyes, we experience the opposite of what happens when we do what is right in our own eyes. Chaos, confusion, and conflict is replaced by clarity, certainty and calm. Destruction and death gives way to liberty and life – real life, abundant and eternal life.
That’s what happens when we operate with a different set of eyes and let Jesus take His rightful place “in the driver’s seat” of our lives.
Who wouldn’t want to allow Him behind the wheel? A lot of people apparently.
I’ve heard countless folks say: “I know God doesn’t approve…but it feels right to me (or makes sense to me) and I’m sure He’ll understand.” Really?!
Why don’t you ask the Israelites how well that approach works? Remember the Judges cycle and how disobedience leads to distress and defeat? It’s not that God causes bad things to happen to rebellious people (although He may), it’s that He says, “Okay, if you want it your way, you get it…with all the associated consequences” (and without His divine providence and protection).
I have no experience but my own, but I’ve learned that life goes much better when I choose God’s way over my own way or the world’s way. Sometimes I’ve had to make major lifestyle changes to get out of the driver’s seat. Other times, and more frequently, I’ve had to just be quiet and let Him drive. But in both cases, the ride became a lot less bumpy and much more enjoyable.
Here’s the point I’m trying to make: God’s way works…if you and I work it. So don’t end up like the Israelites at the end of the Book of Judges. Instead of doing what is right in your own eyes or others’ eyes, look to Jesus.
Submit yourselves to God. (James 4:7a GNT)
Place yourselves under God’s authority. (James 4:7a GWT)
Do what is right in God’s eyes. (James 4:7a CCT – Craig Carter Translation, my paraphrased version ☺)