This week in worship, Pastor Doug concludes the series “Lessons from Leaders from the Book of Judges” by exploring the question “What’s Wrong with Doing What’s Right (In My Own Eyes)?” and the consequences for the Israelites when they failed to recognize God as Israel’s King. It shows us what happens to us when we forget God and go our own way. Thankfully, God has given us a cure for our eyes.

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What’s Wrong with Doing What’s Right (In My Own Eyes)?

Many of us have seen the 1993 movie, Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray as cynical TV weatherman Phil Connors who goes to the small town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to film a report about their annual Groundhog Day celebration. However, Phil finds himself waking up on the same day, Groundhog Day, for more than eight years.

It’s an excellent movie especially in the development of Murray’s character. At first, he’s annoyed and confused, then he realizes he can do whatever he wants and wake up the next day with no consequences. He breaks all kinds of rules and laws as he selfishly does what’s right in his own eyes without any regard to the consequences for the people he is lying to or seeking to take advantage of or using. He robs an armored truck, pursues women for his own pleasure and eats whatever he wants without any concern for consequences or for other people.

What is the result of his doing what’s right in his own eyes? He finds that life is empty and barren.

I know it’s a movie, but I think it’s accurate in its view that human beings left to our own devices can be selfish, greedy, and short-sighted, doing whatever we want for the moment without regard for other people or the longer term consequences of our choices or behavior. The Bible, human history, and the current world all testify this is the case.

We’ve been in the book of Judges for six weeks and it ends with this stark and haunting statement: Judges 21:25, “In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes.”

The same phrase or part of it appears three other times in the closing chapters of Judges (17:6), “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (18:1), “In those days there was no king in Israel.” (19:1) “In those days, when there was no king in Israel…”

These statements should catch us short like when you’re in a car and slam on the brakes. Because our immediate response is to be, wait a minute, God is supposed to be Israel’s King. God didn’t want any other king over Israel. 

The lesson of Judges is not that Israel needed a king, but that Israel needed sound spiritual judgment. Israel needed to recognize and follow God who had led and guided them. But they didn’t.

In the final chapter of Judges, the tribes of Israel have been torn apart by civil war because rather than seeing themselves collectively as God’s people, each emphasized their own tribe and sacrificed a larger sense of unity. This was very destructive.

The tribe of Benjamin was at risk of not having a future because the other tribes vowed never to let their daughters marry them. Feeling caught between their vow and the future extinction of a tribe, the Israelites remember that the men of Jabesh Gilead have failed to help in the crisis, so the tribes decide to punish them. A force is sent to destroy Jabesh Gilead and to seize its young women to be wives for the surviving Benjaminites. When there is still a shortage of women, the Benjaminites are encouraged to abduct the girls they need from a festival at Shiloh. To justify their outrageous action, they claim it’s more important that the tribe of Benjamin continue to exist even though they could have simply changed their minds about their vow regarding their own daughters and a city would have been spared and lots of women wouldn’t have been abducted and forced into marriages.

So, doing what is right in their own eyes, God’s sinful people lurch from moral disaster to bloodshed and injustice. There is no faithfulness, wisdom, restraint, ethics, or decency.

“All the people did what was right in their own eyes.” This is stated as something that’s not good at all.

Yet some people today see nothing wrong with that statement. What’s wrong with doing what’s right (in my own eyes) they would ask.

Many people think everyone doing what’s right in his or her own eyes is exactly the way life should be. But is it?

Take an everyday example like driving. How safe would it be if everyone did what was right in their own eyes without regard to traffic laws? If people drove on whatever roads they wanted to even driving the wrong way on roads and highways? If one-way signs, stop signs and traffic signals were simply ignored and people just did what they wanted in their own eyes what would happen? There would be chaos, collisions, and death.

What if doing what is right in your own eyes is harmful to someone else? Should you still be able to do it? If not, why not? Where does a sense of right and wrong come from?

Let’s look at the Ten Commandments as an example. In simplified form they are: No other gods before the Lord, no graven images or idols, don’t misuse God’s name, remember to keep the Sabbath as a day of rest, worship, renewal, and relationships. Honor your parents, don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t bear false witness, don’t covet anything that belongs to your neighbor. Those are the Ten Commandments.

The people in the time of the Judges knew about them but didn’t try to obey or live by them at all. Given a choice, would you rather live in a community that observed and practiced the Ten Commandments, or a community that didn’t? I’d prefer to live in a community that did.

It would be wonderful to live in a community that put God first, that treated God’s name with the weight it deserves, where everyone took a sabbath day, so everyone had a break every seventh day. To live in a community where parents and grandparents were honored, where no one committed murder, faithfulness and commitment were a part of every marriage, where everyone had integrity and no one stole from anyone, where people valued and told the truth and no one lied or bore false witness, and everyone was content with what they had and didn’t live with the corrosive nature of envy and jealously eating away at their heart and spirit. This wasn’t happening at the time of Judges even though they were the people who had received God’s law, nor is it happening today.

In his book The Reason for God, pastor Tim Keller shares the comments of a young New York artist named Chloe who expressed her view of Christianity this way: “A ‘One-Truth-fits-all’ approach is just too confining. The Christians I know don’t seem to have the freedom to think for themselves. I believe each individual must determine truth for him or herself.”

I’m sure you’ve heard something like that before: “Whatever works for you.” “You’ve got to do what’s right for you.” “Who are you to judge me or to tell me what I should do?” When it comes to my feelings and my assessment of life and my desires and my opinions and my experiences and my rights, I am king, or queen. I will do what’s right, in my “own eyes.”

This can be just as true for people who claim to believe in God and be a Christian as it is for people who claim no faith in God at all.

You might say, “I believe in moral absolutes. I believe in right and wrong.” But how often do you struggle with other people not doing things the way you think they should be done? How often do you struggle with other people not acting the way you think they should act? How often do you struggle with your spouse not meeting your needs as you define them? How often do you struggle with giving into a sinful word or sinful pleasure because it feels right to you? How often do you struggle with judging other people because they are not like you and are not doing what is right in your eyes?

The book of Proverbs expresses God’s assessment about our own eyes.

Proverbs 16.2 tells us: “All one’s ways may be pure in one’s own eyes, but the LORD weighs the spirit.”

Proverbs 21:2, “All deeds are right in the sight of the doer, but the LORD weighs the heart.” We may justify our actions and attitudes, but the Lord who weighs the heart and spirit tell us Proverbs 30:12, “There are those who are pure in their own eyes, yet are not cleansed of their filthiness.”

We often can’t see our own condition clearly. That’s why Proverbs 26:12 declares: “Do you see persons wise in their own eyes? There is more hope for fools than for them.”

Proverbs 3:7 urges us, “Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.”

So, the message is: Don’t do what’s right in your eyes, do what’s right in God’s eyes. The prophet Hosea (14:9) announces, “The ways of the Lord are right; the righteous walk in them” We are not to do what is right in our own eyes, but what is right in the sight of God. Through the prophet Ezekiel (18:29) 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?”

In the first Star Wars movie, Luke Skywalker gets his initial lesson with a light saber from Jedi Master Ben Kenobi. Ben has Luke cover his eyes with the blast shield on his helmet and young Luke says in a whiny voice, “But with the blast shield down, I can’t even see! How am I supposed to fight?” Ben Kenobi replies “Your eyes can deceive you. Don’t trust them.” Kenobi is helping Luke take his first step into a larger world that involves the Force that binds the galaxy together. Our eyes can deceive us.

In the Bible, the age of the Judges continues into the next book which is 1 Samuel where Eli and then Samuel also serve as judges.

Samuel is like old Ben Kenobi in being one of the few remaining faithful followers of the true path.

1 Samuel 8:4-8 is a heartbreaking scene near the end of Samuel’s life after all he’s done to try and get Israel to worship and follow God’s ways.

4 “Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, 5 and said to him, “You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.” 6 But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to govern us.” Samuel prayed to the LORD, 7 and the LORD said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. 8 Just as they have done to me, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so also they are doing to you.”

Samuel did appoint a king for them. But as the hundreds and hundreds of years to follow demonstrated, even when in those days when there was a king in Israel, God’s people still struggled with doing what was right in their own eyes. Every king struggled with doing what was right in his own eyes.

Moses had warned the people about 100 years before the time of the judges in Deuteronomy 12.8, “You shall not act as we are acting here today, all of us according to our own desires.”

Yet that’s exactly what happened to God’s people and it hasn’t changed much since. While we’d like to think more highly of ourselves, the reality is that we’re all sinners and human beings are inclined to selfishness, greed, pride, arrogance, ignorance, and violence. The history of humanity is brutal.

Even for those who seek to pursue a higher path of love, compassion, and holiness we often fall short.

As Paul writes in Romans 7:18-19, 24-25 (NIV),

“For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

The book of Judges is an “eye opening” book. It shows us what happens to us when we forget God and go our own way… and it’s brutal and violent.

Thankfully, God has a cure for our eyes.

Hebrews 12:2 describes it this way, “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Fixing our eyes on Jesus is a way to stop our eye problems! And how do we do this? By accepting the authority and kingship of Jesus in our lives. Living for Him and not for ourselves. Accepting Christ’s gift of salvation and becoming His disciple.

This takes effort. Christian author C.S. Lewis wrote, “Repentance means unlearning all the self-conceit and self-will that we have been training ourselves into.”

We need to remember who is king and it’s not us. Your greatest need, my greatest need, is for God to be seated on the throne of our hearts.

God has provided for our greatest need in the person of Jesus Christ.

Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords who reconciled us to the King of heaven through his death on the cross. The reconciliation that Jesus makes possible means a new heart as well, one that was made to love and serve God and to love our neighbors as well. This will be reflected in our eyes.

Jesus says in Matthew 6:22-23,

“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”

Are you a servant of the true King through Jesus Christ? Then God has given you a new heart, empowered by His Spirit, so that you can serve faithfully as you love, grow, and share as his follower, so that it never has to be said of you, “in those days there was no king”.

There is a King! And we can serve him in humility, gratefulness, and love. And if you know God is not occupying the throne of your heart this morning, I encourage you to consider praying with me and ask God to do so through Jesus.

Prayer: “Jesus I want you to be the king of my heart and the leader of my life. I’d like to be one of your disciples. I want to follow you. I invite you into my life. Please forgive me of my sins. Today I have decided to entrust my life to you. Thank you for accepting me and counting me as one of your people, Amen.”

Blessing Ephesians 1:18, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints.”

1 Corinthians 13:12, For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.”

2 Corinthians 4:16-18

16 So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. 17 For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, 18 because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.

Questions for Discussion or Reflection

  1. From what you know of the Bible, human history, and current events, what would you say is/are the most influential factor(s) that shape human decisions and actions (for example love, self-interest, greed, power, kindness, faith)?
  2. How would you answer the question, “What’s wrong with doing what’s right in my own eyes?”
  3. How safe would driving be if everyone did what was right in their own eyes without regard to traffic laws? If people drove on whatever roads they wanted to and if one-way signs, stop signs and traffic signals were ignored and people just did what they wanted in their own eyes what would happen?
  4. What if doing what is right in your own eyes is harmful to someone else? Should you still be able to do it? On what basis do you reach a decision?
  5. Discuss or reflect on this statement by C.S. Lewis, “Repentance means unlearning all the self-conceit and self-will that we have been training ourselves into.”
  6. “Don’t do what’s right in your eyes, do what’s right in God’s eyes.” What steps can you take to make this more of a reality in your life? How can you make sure you are following the one true King?
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