What Happens When Everybody Does What is Right In Their Own Eyes? #224 The Importance of Absolute Truth
Hello friends and a Joyful Friday to you! Deep topic today from a disturbing passage of Scripture. Indeed, almost the entirety of the book of Judges is disturbing, because – as we have discussed before, the whole theme of the book is that everybody in Israel was doing what was right in their own eyes. There is civil war in Judges, wife-stealing, violent rape, body-dismembering, spiritual prostitution and actual prostitution, and so many forms of abuse that one loses count. Why is all of this in the Bible? Why must we read a book like this that doesn’t always demonstrate a clear redeeming value? The answer is:
In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did whatever seemed right to him.
Unfortunately, the situation is not resolved when a king comes. Saul turns away from God and is unable to repent. King David – a man after God’s own heart – is so corrupted by power, lust and his own sin that he commits murder. Solomon – wisest man on earth – displays incredible foolishness when he is able to acquire everything he wants to acquire. The majority of the kings after them were no better, and most were worse – all doing whatever seemed right in their own eyes, and sliding further and further into depravity. Are we better than them? In some ways, we are far more civilized…in other ways, perhaps not. So many people in the church still make decisions and build their morals around whatever seems right in their own eyes (in their own heart and in their own feelings) and they ignore what God says is right and pleasing to Him. This is as dangerous to us today as it was to the Israelites during the time of the judges. The postmodern West has been steeped in decades of opposition to absolute truth and the embracing of whatever seems right and feels right. The Word of God, however, points us to the existence and importance of absolute truth, and the book of Judges demonstrates to us over and over and over – in as dark and disturbing a way as possible – the perils and depravity of ignoring the truth of God. As John Piper writes:
Without the conviction that there are absolutes that can be shared and made the basis for society, the only end will be anarchy where everyone does what is right in his own eyes. Therefore the need for truth is a deep need of the human soul and human society. And Jesus came into the world to say, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). And then he rose from the dead to vindicate his claim. Jesus has a right to tell us what is absolutely true because in the resurrection God proved him to be absolutely true.
John Piper, Sermons from John Piper (1990–1999) (Minneapolis, MN: Desiring God, 2007).
Let’s read Judges 21 and see more examples of the danger and depravity of doing whatever feels right.
That is a disturbing passage, right? Some might read Judges 21 at a glance and come away believing that the Bible advocates sexism in its most extreme form, but that’s not what is going on here. What we see in the last few chapters of Judges is the Israelites heading into apostasy and ignoring the commands of God – something we hear God lamenting and charging Israel with over and over in the book of Jeremiah, set hundreds of years after the book of Judges – hundreds of years of ignoring and defying the commands of God. Why is the end of Judges so bleak? Here’s Tim Keller with a good answer:
There’s a gang rape of a woman that leads to not just civil war between the tribes of Israel, but genocidal destruction of whole towns and villages down to the infants. What’s so strange about this is that there are no judges, no salvation, no nothing. Now what’s going on here? On the one hand, this is terrible storytelling. Now when I say terrible storytelling, I don’t mean I think this was just made up, but you see, this incident was chosen out of this whole period of history. Why?
Why was it chosen? When I say it’s a bad story … First of all, in a good story, you have to have somebody, some character who you get engaged with, who you care about. You have to have some character you’re concerned about. Otherwise, it’s just a terrible narrative. And there’s nobody here who you care about. None of them are very good or very bad. They’re very shallow. They’re very uninteresting. They’re very boring. They’re very unprincipled. They don’t stand for anything. And not only that, there should be some kind of crisis that’s resolved, right? But the crises there are only crises that come about because they’re so shallow and uninteresting and boring and unprincipled. Why is this here, and why would this be in front of this horrible story that comes right after? Well, it began to dawn on me, and it has dawned on other people. There are no judges here. Isn’t this interesting? Every other part of the book is about God’s salvation, and what the author is showing us (and, therefore, what God is showing us) is what we look like without his salvation, what we look like without him, what we are in our natural state. In other words, this is showing us the nature of sin, and this right away actually shows us some things that are very, very surprising to us.
Timothy J. Keller, The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive (New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church, 2013).
The book of Judges shows us the horrors of sin and the depth of depravity that good religious people will go to when they follow the leading of their heart and not the Word of God. There’s something else the book of Judges does for us, and though it is subtle, it is much more hopeful. Here’s David Platt discussing the book of Judges, and the history of the kings of Israel, and how their failure leaves the people of God longing for a savior:
So, that when you get to Judges 16, and you see the final one of these judges raised up, from Judges 17 to Judges 21 in this book, you don’t see repentance again. You see, in a sense, God’s people given over to their immorality, and the book closes with that deafening verse, Judges 21:25. “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” It’s one of the most depressing ends to a Bible book, and it’s there for a purpose. This book is intended to show us that God’s people in their sin are under divine judgment and in need of divine mercy, and no judge, no matter how great they are, is able to save them from divine judgment and show them ultimate divine mercy. It sets the stage for kings to come, none of whom will be able to do that either; prophets to come, none of whom will be able to do that. The book of Judges leaves us longing, wanting, waiting for God to send one who is indeed able to rescue us from divine judgment and is indeed able to show us divine mercy. The book of Judges leaves us longing for Jesus, for God to come Himself and to rescue us and to show us His mercy. So, that’s the book of Judges in a nutshell.
David Platt, “Depravity and Deliverance,” in David Platt Sermon Archive (Birmingham, AL: David Platt, 2010), 2490–2491.