By Richard Lim
The final three chapters of the book of Judges highlight the fact that everyone did what was right in his own eyes. “In those days there was no king in Israel, everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). This is a very fitting end that accurately describes Israel’s condition: Each was doing what he or she believed was right. They were not following God! One of the stories that demonstrate the chaos and lawlessness of the time is the account of the Levite and his concubine, which begins in Judges 19 and ends in chapter 22.
Sometimes we ask the question, “How can such a violent book be a part of the Scriptures?” Well, this account really shows us in very graphic terms what happens when people turn their back on God. Paul described what happened to the Gentiles who turned their backs on God: “Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen (Romans 1:24-25). When people turn their backs on seeking after God, they begin to act in very cruel ways. There is no set of values they seek to follow. Each does what is right in his own eyes!
But what is right? I believe most people want to do what is right. But how do we know what is right? Who defines what is right? Is it each individual? Is it the world or God? We need to know because it is a very serious mistake to be wrong about what is right. Isaiah pronounced woe to those people who were doing wrong things and calling them right. “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter” (Isaiah 5:20).
Nowadays it’s a common thing for people to insist that some principle or deed is right when it has long been established as wrong. If you hold that it is still wrong, then you are marked as the wrongdoer because you won’t change with them. They who are wrong make themselves out to be right; whilst you who are right are called the evildoer.
Peter reminds us of how the world lives in 1 Peter 4:3-5 – “For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles—when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries. In regard to these, they think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation, speaking evil of you. They will give an account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.”
Today, in the public media, most kinds of sexual immorality and other excesses are presented and promoted as normal. The governments pass laws to grant people the “right” to do wrong. This gives wrong an appearance of respectability. The truth of the matter is people can call evil good, and promote it as progress, but it’s been evil since antiquity. It is still evil despite all the attempts, ancient and modern, to make it good.
The verse in Isaiah 5:20 is followed by this: “Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight” (Isaiah 5:21). This verse tells us why people call evil good, and good evil. It’s because they do what is right in their own eyes. Moses laid down a principle for those who were about to enter the promised land: “You shall not, anymore, do as we are all doing today: every man doing what is right in his own eyes” (Deuteronomy 12:8). But generations later (in the time of the judges), “every man did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6). They were ignoring the prohibition that Moses had made law.
The fact of the matter is that we should be doing what’s right according to God’s word! The Lord is the one who judges what is right and what is wrong. We don’t. So, we should not be doing what is right in our own eyes: “Every way of man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the hearts.” (Proverbs 21:2). On the last day, we will not be judged by our opinion, our feelings, parents, etc., but with the words of Jesus (John 12:48-50).
Josiah became king of Judah when he was only eight years old. The scripture tells us, “He did what was right in the sight of the Lord, and walked in all the ways of his ancestor David. He did not turn to the right or left” (2Ki 22:1-2) Look at what Hosea says, “The ways of the Lord are right; the righteous walk in them” (Hosea 14:9). God chides Israel, “You say, “The way of the Lord is not right”. Hear now O Israel: Is it not my ways that are right, and yours that are wrong?” (Ezek. 18:29) David sums it up for us in these lines: “Good and upright is the Lord. So he teaches sinners in the way. The humble he guides in what is right, and he teaches the humble his way” (Psalms 25:8-9).
How did the downward spiral and the moral decay of Israel happen? In Joshua 24, they actually started off very well. They have all made a commitment together with Joshua to follow and obey the laws of God. Nevertheless, their mistake was that they did not follow fully what God commanded them. Deuteronomy 7:2-3 – “and when the Lord your God delivers them over to you, you shall conquer them and utterly destroy them.
You shall make no covenant with them nor show mercy to them. Nor shall you make marriages with them. You shall not give your daughter to their son, nor take their daughter for your son.” The Psalmist reiterated in Psalm 106:34-35 “They did not destroy the peoples, Concerning whom the Lord had commanded them, But they mingled with the Gentiles and learned their works.”
The lesson that we can learn here is that when children of God intermingle with those of the world, there are dangers. It is a great danger because it happens in the course of everyday family life and it’s subtle. Morality is not high on the list of priorities of the worldly. The children of Israel slowly but surely assimilated and conformed with the behaviors and lifestyle of the heathen nations around them.
In the New Testament, Paul told this to the Christians at Corinth, “Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals” 1 Cor. 15:33. He further instructed them, “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?” 2 Cor. 6:14.
When sin starts to become tolerated an entire culture becomes degenerate, which is what happened.– The wicked do not detect or hate their own sin. They plot evil on their bed and do not reject what is wrong (Psalms 36:1-4). The people of Benjamin had degenerated into despicable acts of sin and pride.
God punished them the same as he had punished the people of Sodom and Gomorrah half a millennia before. God is consistent. Through all times, all cultures, and all people, sin will be punished. The price of their disobedience was the almost total wiping out of a tribe.
Centuries down the road, the church in Corinth had the same problem. Instead of disciplining and confronting the error of one brother who had his father’s wife, they tolerated the sin. Paul had to rebuke them in 1 Corinthians 5:1-2 (ESV) – “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife.
And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.” They were told instead to take action to discipline this brother. 1 Corinthians 5:11-13 (ESV) – “But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. ‘Purge the evil person from among you.’”
Indeed, these Biblical examples both in the Old and New Testaments are for us to learn and be forewarned of these mistakes and not follow after them. Romans 15:4 – “For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” Also 1 Cor 10:11-12 – “Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore, let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.”