There is a sense of personal fulfillment that comes from knowing you are trusted to make the right decisions. But being trusted to do the right thing, and actually doing a thing right, are two different things.
Which makes the final words of the Book of Judges so jarring. The book spans approximately 400 years of Israel’s history, focused on a repeating pattern. That is, the people are doing well, they turn from God, they get into trouble, God raises up someone to save them, they repent for a period, things are going well… Rinse and repeat.
Here then is how the Book of Judges concludes: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”
To be clear, this was not a call for a monarchy, nor was it a cheery description of some anarcho-libertarian paradise. Instead, it should be read with a resigned sigh, as a sad statement of fact.
God had given His people the opportunity to govern themselves under His kingship. He gave them clear guidelines for how to organize a peaceful and prosperous civil society unique in the world. They rejected all of it.
And in that rejection they had no fixed standard for what was actually right, what was good, what was just. So each man simply did what he decided was right. If the 400 years covered in about 15,000 words by the Judges demonstrates nothing else, it shows that, without the fixed standard of God, men cannot be trusted to know what the right thing is.
Having refused to do what was right in God’s eyes, and having failed to govern themselves, that 18-word epitaph explains what would come next. The people chose to live under a human king, and it went badly for them.
They did what was right in their eyes, and they suffered mightily for it.
When work was finished on the U.S. Constitution, Benjamin Franklin was allegedly asked what sort of governing system was adopted. His response: “A republic, if you can keep it.”
This was the same Benjamin Franklin who declared that, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”
The modern history of our nation has consisted of a series of surrenders: giving up little bits of liberty to gain some perception of safety. And in so doing, we have begun to allow our republic to slip away.
In each case, it is because we have tried to do what was right in our own eyes.
We must recognize that our standard of right ends up being very wrong when it is unhinged from the truth of God. To reclaim our republic, to restore that essential liberty, we must take our eyes off ourselves and fix them on the word of God.