We will find ourselves in the book of Judges for the next few articles. The period of the fifteen judges takes place after God brought Israel to Canaan, and after the death of Joshua, the successor of Moses. Time and again, two themes arise in Judges: the unfaithfulness of the covenant people, and the faithfulness of Jehovah in His covenant. Both themes will come out in the history we consider in this article.
Judges is rich with lessons for us as young people. We do not have the time or space to consider all the lessons in the book, nor to be exhaustive in the lessons we do have the time and space to cover. Instead, we will focus on a few instructive parts of the history and make applications to the youth. This time, we turn our attention to a sub-theme in Judges: “…every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Judg. 17:6). This idea is embedded in the history of Micah, Micah’s mother, and a traveling Levite, which we find in Judges 17.
A dark history
Before us is dark history. The history is so dark, perhaps you think that this is about a family of the world, say, among the Philistines. But that is not so. Judges 17 is about a family in Israel. Let us not be surprised when we find appalling sin also in the church; such has been the case through the ages.
One part of this sobering history is the story of Micah and his mother. Micah was a man from mount Ephraim, a portion of the hill country of Canaan west of the Jordan River that had been assigned to Ephraim after the conquest under Joshua. Micah’s mother one day discovered that her 1,100 shekels of silver were stolen from her. When her own son Micah confessed to the crime, the mother turned from cursing to blessing (Judg. 17:2). The mother dedicated the returned silver to Jehovah: she sent some of the silver to a founder, who made a graven and molten image, through which God would be worshiped. This image was placed in Micah’s house, where also the ephod (a garment originally worn by the high priest) and teraphim (household gods) were found. Micah consecrated one of his sons to become a priest in this house of gods.
The other part of this grievous history is the account of the traveling Levite. This young Levite, Jonathan, was a sojourner in Bethlehem-Judah, about twenty or thirty miles south of mount Ephraim. As Jonathan traveled to find a place, he came to the house of Micah. Recall that Micah’s own son had been priest in the house of gods; but now, Micah consecrated Jonathan to be the priest, reasoning that the worship in his home would be more legitimate if a Levite were the priest.
Living according to self-standards
The nature of this disturbing history is given to us in Judges 17:6: “…every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” Every man did what was right in his own eyes. The eye is the organ of the body that you use to see. Perception is inseparably tied to sight. Often, the scriptural idea “in the sight of” refers to what a man perceives, what he thinks, what his judgment of a matter is. Everyman was doing what was right in his own eyes; that is, each one was acting according to his own perception, thinking, or judgment.
Every man did what was right in his own eyes. Right means straight. Here, though, “right” does not mean actually straight. Rather, “right” means what each man according to his sinful perception, thinking, or judgment determined was straight. In actuality, therefore, what each man was doing was crooked or perverse.
Every man did what was right in his own eyes. They were not doing what was right in the eyes of the Lord, what He revealed in His Word, particularly His law. This law is the unchanging standard, what is actually right or straight. When Micah, his mother, and Jonathan did what was right in their own eyes, this means, therefore, that they rebelled against the standard of God’s law and exalted their own standard. In one word: disorder.
There was disorder in Micah’s home. Consider Micah’s mother. She was a permissive parent. What did she do when her own son confessed to stealing her money? She blessed him—no discipline, but only smiles upon her son. What is even more, she encouraged her son to sin against the second commandment (graven images). Micah himself transgressed the first commandment (idols) and the second commandment. Micah had no problem violating the eighth commandment (stealing) when it came to his mother’s money. Besides this, without having any authority to do so, Micah consecrated one of his sons to be a priest, and that son was not even from the tribe of Levi as God required. And later, Micah consecrated Jonathan to be priest—but Jonathan had no right to serve as priest, and certainly not at Micah’s house. On top of this all, Micah set up his own personal place of worship at home, instead of worshiping in nearby Shiloh, where he should have been. Every man did what was right in his own eyes.
Micah and his mother covered this self-standard-exalting behavior with a layer of piety. Neither mother nor son came out and said, “We are violating God’s law!” They knew better than to say that; after all, they were Israelites who knew what to say and what not to say. Instead, they clothed their wicked actions with religious talk. The mother said, “I had wholly dedicated the silver unto the Lord…” (Judg. 17:3). Micah said, “Now know I that the Lord will do me good, seeing I have a Levite to my priest…” (Judg. 17:13). What was in reality wicked, they twisted to give the appearance of right.
Every man does what is right in his own eyes; this is our age, too.
Of course, this sort of disorder characterizes the world. The proof is downtown buildings with lower- level windows smashed out, burning car dealerships, and all-out warfare against the police. The right is called wrong, and the wrong is called right.
But Judges 17 is not about Philistia (the world). Judges 17 is about Israel (the church). The applications here are directed to our churches and homes.
Like Micah, one area where we exalt self-standards is worship. Micah set up his personal worship place at home, instead of going to Shiloh. Staying home for Sunday worship is a growing movement today in the Christian church world. Let us not look at other denominations where the young people no longer attend church, and say, “That will never happen in the Protestant Reformed Churches.” With stay-at-home orders during COVID-19, we have discovered just how comfortable and convenient listening to the sermon in sweatpants on the couch can be; perhaps we felt the pull to stay home even after the stay-at-home orders ceased. There might be that attitude in a young person: “I will stay home from church and worship from the living room.” He who resists public worship will never actually say that he is violating the fourth commandment, because he knows better than to talk like that. Instead, he will cover it with a layer of piety: “I am worshiping God! The only difference is that I am doing it from home. And I feel that I get so much more out of it when I am in my own home environment.” Do you see what is going on, and how subtle it is? What is sin is called right. Such a one does what is right in his own eyes.
Besides this application derived directly from Judges 17, there are many others. Consider, for example, what exalting our own standards in dating might look like. A young man begins dating an unbeliever. This man knows better than to say, “I am flying in the face of Scripture’s demand that I marry (and date) in the Lord.” Instead, he dresses up the relationship to make it look good. He begins to reason that God doesn’t want him to be lonely, that the girl he’s dating is nice, and that she will likely go to church after they are married; besides, dating this unbeliever is sharpening his ability to witness to others. He does what is right in his own eyes.
May the Lord open our eyes to see this piety-cloaked disorder in our own lives and cause us to turn from it.
Amid all this darkness, there is a reminder in Judges 17: “In those days there was no king in Israel” (v. 6). Israel lacked a king who was representative of God’s kingship and God’s rule among them. The Lord was their King and He had given them His law, but there was no earthly representative of that rule of the Lord among them in this period. Micah, Micah’s mother, and Jonathan were representative of what was going on more broadly in Israel. Disorderly Israel needed a king.
Jehovah was faithful. The covenant people deserved to be cast off and destroyed. But faithful Jehovah would never cast them off! Jehovah would raise up a king— David, the man after His own heart. But even David would fail. Disorderly Israel had to look for Another —not a king, but the King.
That King is Jesus Christ. This is the King Israel needed; this is the King we need! The Lord Jesus never did what was right in His own eyes, but always did what was right in the eyes of His Father. Perfectly He obeyed the law. Always He did the will of His Father. His life was one of orderliness, and nothing less. He came to save His broken, disorderly people who do what is right in their own eyes. For our sins He died. With the robes of His righteousness we are covered. Our King is now in heaven, graciously ruling over us at God’s right hand. We have a King who governs us by His Word and Spirit, a King who so works in us that we desire to do what is right in the Lord’s eyes. Look to this King alone! Thank God for this King!