Judges 17:6 “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”
The latter part of the book of Judges can largely be summarized by the verse above. Basically, this verse is nothing but a reiteration of what had been said very early in the book: “Then the Lord raised up judges, who saved them (i.e., the people of Israel) out of the hand of those who plundered them. Yet they did not listen to their judges, for they whored after other gods and bowed down to them. They soon turned aside from the way in which their fathers had walked, who had obeyed the commandments of the Lord, and they did not do so. Whenever the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge, and he saved them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge. For the Lord was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who afflicted and oppressed them. But whenever the judge died, they turned back and were more corrupt than their fathers, going after other gods, serving them and bowing down to them. They did not drop any of their practices or their stubborn ways” (Judges 2:16-19). In essence, the people lived in a spiritual free-for-all. Although they called themselves Israelites, the lives and religious practices of these “people of God,” showed little resemblance to the law that God had laid down for them to obey. They worshipped idols of all kinds, they ordained priests in any old way they wanted, and they deceived themselves into thinking that the evil they did was righteous, for it “was right in their own eyes.”
What a reflection of what we see all around us in our day and age. It seems no matter how gross the sin, people have a very self-righteous view of themselves. They live according to various standards that they have conceived, and because they adhere to those standards, they believe strongly that everything is right in their world. Although their lifestyle and belief system bear no similarity to the laws God has established in His Word, it doesn’t matter to them, because they have no fear of God, and His Word doesn’t matter to them.
So, how did people get to this point? How did man, who was originally created in the image of God, walked with Him, and spoke personally to Him in the Garden of Eden get so out of whack with respect to his relationship with the true God today. Well, much of it is rooted in warped rules that have been developed by sinful and warped hearts. It’s a process that has occurred throughout the history of man and that Paul describes with the following words from Romans 1:21-23: “For although they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.” We see this in ancient Israel, who became as idolatrous as the pagan nations who lived around them, and we see it today in every form of false religion as well as in so-called “secular” mindsets, where the idol is that person’s own mind or some other created thing that he or she gives honor to instead of the only true God.
I heard a pastor explain it this way once, and I think it summarizes it very well. He said that God has written His law on our heart, which is explained in Romans 2:15 with these words: “They (all people) show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.” It is because God’s law is written on our hearts that when anyone violates that law, there is a conflict produced by way of our God-given conscience. So, how does one deal with the emotional pain of a tweaked conscience – for no one likes pain? Well, it’s in one of two ways: they will either seek conformity to God’s law by confession of sin and repentance, or they will try to alter God’s law and conform it to how they are living. It will become a mission with them. They will try to convince both themselves and others that this “new law” is right, because it is “right in their own eyes.” In this process they will come to a point of calling behaviors good that God calls evil in His Word, and they will call behaviors evil that God calls good. The result is woeful, and the end is destruction (Isaiah 5:18-23).
It’s a sad state of affairs, but it’s what we see everywhere we look today. As it was in the days of the judges, so is it in our own day and age. For you see, man really never changes – and neither does God. The question is whether we will submit to and honor Him, Who Jesus said alone was good (Mark 10:18), or we will honor ourselves and live life by our own rules, things that are “right in our own eyes” but anathema to God. We are free to choose the way, but God has warned us all, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death (Proverbs 14:12),” for there is one and only one Way that leads to life (John14:6).