“Every man did that which was right in his own eyes.”
Thus the book of Judges presents it in the very last verse of its last chapter.
And the explanation of all this is, “In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.”
It is not our intention to advocate a monarchy. A good democracy is to be chosen above a corrupt monarchy. The point in that statement in Judges 21:25 is that there was no government, no ruling body in Israel. Moses and Joshua had gone the way of all flesh. Samuel was not yet in the land of the living. Judges had been raised up by God, but they also had taken their last breath of this life. And a period of time elapsed when there was no man or group of men to keep order and decency. Each went his own way. Each was a law to himself. Each man was free to strive to take away the other man’s freedom.
That is what happens! When there is no king and no central government, those most free in the pursuit of their evil lusts, take away the freedom of the meek. Those with the most gold and silver and power trample upon those who cannot compete with these advantages. Then might makes right; and the end result is that every man is not able to do that which seems right in his own eyes. It may work for a time that each one goes his own way; but soon enough the freedom of some is stolen by those who are bolder and more calloused in their sin.
We can only wonder whether we will not soon be in such days as those of which Judges 21:25 speaks, but from a different point of view. In Christian Economics, volume XVII, Number 1, the January 12, 1965 issue, the Rev. I.E. Howard raises an interesting question as he views evidences of this fact that to such a great extent today men do that which is right in their own eyes and flout authority and rule. He asks the question, “Is it Democracy or Mobacracy?” And he refers to the incident of the riot at the University of California on December 3, 1964. But this is only one incident in a multitude that threatens to turn our democracy into mobocracy. The Rev. Howard has coined a correct word for it. Not only do gangster mobs run and control much of that which goes on in our country, but mob riots and revolts, rebellion and revolution are rather the order of the day.
Men speak so quickly today of their rights and then in their pursuit go and trample on some one else’s rights. The sit-down strikes in the factories of decades ago were mobocracy in which the possessions of others were boldly and wickedly destroyed without penalty to the evil doers. The manufacturer today is often denied the right to ship out his products or get in raw materials, to hire men or to lay off men. He is denied this right by men who are not the God-ordained authorities but who claim that right to bar, to boycott, to obstruct, and to harass. The right to take life, to cause injury, to cause a man’s milk, meat, and produce to spoil, to keep him from making a livelihood for his family is claimed by those who think only of their “rights” and want no king in “Israel” but one that will allow them to continue their evil.
By democracy some mean self-rule in the narrow, selfish sense of the word. Democracy means: Let me do as I please, and if you do not give me my way, I will not call it democracy anymore but tyranny. When there is no king in Israel, men are going to go their own way. And when men themselves become king and decide matters by majority vote, it stands to reason that, when the nation turns from God, and those who live in His fear become the minority, liberties are going to be taken away from this minority by government decree. But in mobocracy it is defiance of the government, condemnation of the government and of their enforcement officers for protecting those whose ways and ideas differ from the mob, the majority of bold and carnally courageous men.
This right to assert self, this demand for freedom to do as seems right in one’s wicked eyes is not confined simply to the affairs of the State. Men do not simply rise up as a mob against government decrees and get away with it exactly because the mob cannot be apprehended, and the State is often in no position to jail and feed them all. But all down the line in every sphere and department of life, there is that clamor for freedom and the right to do that which is right in one’s own eyes. The riot in California was in the university. And a spirit of rebellion against law and order has been in the world for some time. Even in the fields of music and art this revolt against rule is to be seen. Some call it art, but the farther you can get from beauty of line, and the more clashing the color, the more praise the “painting” receives; and words of ridicule about prize-winning pictures abound. It seems as though hanging such a piece of “art” upside down or even framing the piece of cloth on which the “artist” cleaned his brushes expresses much more and is more beautiful than the “painting” itself hung properly. In the field of “music” the closer one can come to jungle noises, dissonant, harsh and weird sounds, the more “musical” the composition is. It is an age of riot and revolt, with everyone free to express the devilishness of his heart with the expectancy that men will praise him for it.
Now freedom is to be coveted, and freedom is to be cherished.
But man does not have freedom until he has freedom to serve. Not only is it chaos, rather than freedom, when all are allowed to go their own way; but it is the slavery of sin that causes men to do that which is rightin their own eyes. Only God has the right to determine what shall be done and what may not be done. Therefore only that man is free who is able to serve God according to His sovereign will.
Jesus stated it in different words when He declared inJohn 8:31, “If ye continue in my words, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” There are not many free men in the world then, for there are not many who are Jesus’ disciples indeed. And to be His disciples indeed certainly means that we are His disciples in deed as well as in name.
Have you ever noticed how Paul and James and Peter and Jude introduce themselves to their readers as “servant of Jesus Christ?” An apostle is a servant. He is one who is sent out by Christ to witness concerning Him and to represent Him in this world. He serves in that capacity. And we had better get it straight and accept it as an undeniable fact that the highest freedom and the only freedom is to be able to serve the living God. To do that which is right in our own eyes is to be a slave of sin. To be able to do that which is right in God’s eyes is freedom and life.
It is to be understood that in the world and among the unbelievers these truths are not accepted and that they make no sense at all. For man under the power of the lie can only see the truth as false, the light as darkness, righteousness as unrighteousness, and wisdom as folly. One has to be made free from the lie by the truth before he can understand what true freedom is. We are all aware, no doubt, of the three stages in man’s progress from paradise to the new Jerusalem and expressed in the freedoms which he experienced on the way. We will give it in the English, although some of the force and beauty is missed that the Latin contains: Adam was created able not to sin, that is free to do the good. He fell into sin and became not able not to sin. He lost his freedom and became a slave to sin. In Christ he becomes not able to sin and reaches a state wherein he is free from sin and free only to serve God. This is the truth in that beautiful statement of John wherein he comforts the elect, regenerated sinner, “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.” There you have true freedom. Not until man has the life of God in him, so that what is right in God’s eyes is what is right in his eyes, does he have freedom. He must be free to serve God, or he is a slave of the worst sort. Satan gives no Emancipation Proclamation. All those not born of God in that day when Christ returns will receive no Emancipation Proclamation from Him either. It will be consignment into outer darkness, where man will have no rights to anything good, and where he will know in the awfulness thereof that he has been deprived of all right except to despair and pain.
With that life that is free only to serve God we will also serve our fellow men. If we love God, we will in that love deal with all His creatures in the way that He has prescribed for us in His law. To serve Him we must serve with the creatures round about us. And we can serve the rational-moral creature round about us only by dealing with him in that love of God.
It is to be expected that among unbelievers there will not be that love of neighbor to neighbor. A fleshly love between those related by blood may be found. But that is found also in the beasts of the field. We are speaking of a love towards God manifested in using his creatures in accordance with His will. We mean a love that bows before God’s will and is in itself a matter of the will and not of the emotions of the flesh. Such a love towards God you will not find in the unregenerated. It is therefore a foregone conclusion that capital or management is going to abuse labor. It is going to get the last ounce out of labor for the least in wages, risk the laboring man’s life, deliberately place him in danger, create a sweat-shop, and discard him cruelly after his health is broken in that inhuman condition of toil. What else can you expect? It is everyone for himself, if it is not everyone for the glory of God, And it is for that very reason also that labor rises up in rebellion, maintains the right to hold the job and to keep others from it, while it seeks to force capital to its knees by the curtailment of work and loss of business. Capital speaks of its rights, and labor speaks of its rights. Each does that which seems right in its own eyes and both are beneath serving each other, because both are beneath serving the living God. Men, as they are by nature, seek a freedom not to serve. They desire to live a life that is not one of service to their Creator, and as a consequence they have no thought of serving each other. Even then, when for utilitarian reasons he will serve, it is because he wants to be served, and not because he wants to serve God. It is a vicious circle, a vanity of vanities, for which there is no hope apart from the regenerating grace of God.
That which unifies mankind and ends all revolt, revolution, riot, and rebellion is and must be that men’s hearts are united in the love of God, and consequently in the desire to serve Him. We must all walk with God, if we are all to walk together. Whenever we find ourselves walking against our fellow men, it is due either to the fact that we or they are walking against God. And we have true freedom then only when we serve God.
Surely, this is a freedom that no man can give us. This is a freedom which the governments of this world cannot guarantee and in which actually they have no interest. To give this freedom one must be able to control the heart of man and to fill it with that love of God. And he who does not have it himself cannot give it to others. Those who do have it receive it from God and are unable to impart it to others. How many a parent would give that love of God to his child, if only he could! It is God’s gift to give to whom it pleases Him in His mercy to give it. And freedom to serve means also freedom to praise and thank God for this gift through the Son of His love.
Are you free?
The answer to that question is found in the answer to this other question: Do you like to serve? Riot and revolt are not service and surely are not in His fear. Peace and service are the works of those who live in His fear. Freedom to serve God is freedom that comes from God. And freedom to serve God is a freedom in His fear.
Indeed, there are those who must give out the law. There are those who must be served and may rightfully behave as masters and employers. But unless they serve God in giving out their orders, they are slaves of sin and in bondage even while they hold others in bondage. The true freedom we will enjoy in that day when the kingdom of God is come in the new Jerusalem. We will be free to serve God and completely freed from the slavery of sin. God’s law will be our delight; and we will understand that to be out of that law is slavery of the worst sort. We were created to serve God, and we cannot be truly happy until we are free to do so again with all our being.