“In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” Judges 21:35
“My Way Or The Highway”
“Before you can help make the world right, you must be made right within.” John Miller
Have I ever made a decision in my life where I did something that was “right in my own eyes” yet the consequences proved I was wrong in the end?
“To be right with God has often meant to be in trouble with men.”
A. W. Tozer
“The greatest discovery I made in life was that God was probably right when I thought Him to be wrong.” R. A. Torrey
Yesterday we looked at the first text in the book of Judges. We found that after the death of Joshua, there was what I’d call a “leadership vacuum.” The children of Israel asked God, “Who will lead us now?”
The past few months, as as we studied Judges Chapters 1-9, it was clearly obvious the children of Israel’s behavior most often reflected the character of the leader who was installed as the “Judge” of Israel. We learned that Caleb, one of the two faithful spies, had a son-in-law who, like Caleb, was a man-of-God.
Othniel became a judge in Israel and during his tenure, his Godly leadership inspired the people. After his death though, we find God’s children lost their way like sheep without a shepherd. Then in Judges 4, during the courageous influence of the first woman Judge, Deborah, Israel again rose to the level of esteemed leadership among the nations which God originally intended for them. Sad to say, not long after Deborah’s death, again the children of Israel lost their way. And by the time we read about Gideon, his family and all the other Israelites were living in mountain caves because they were so afraid of the fierce Midianites. After routing the Midian army in battle, we find that although God’s children had subdued the enemy threat, even Gideon began to live a life like the “heathen” around him as he took many wives and decided to have a concubine on the side in Shechem.
Our text today is what I call the other half of the pair of bookends that contains the highs and lows of the stories of God’s children during the time of rulership by the Judges. One bookend asks the question in Judges 1:1, “Who will lead?” The other bookend which is the last verse in the book of Judges gives us the answer to the question, “Who will lead?” In Judges 21:25, we are informed, rather matter-of-factly, that in the absence of a leader, everybody did what they thought was right in their own eyes.
This was the “do your own thing” generation. God’s children became people who blatantly said, “It’s my way or the highway,” which is an expression here in the United States that means “Do it the way I want or hit the road. Out the door!”
All you have to do is be in a room with a bunch of people and have somebody yell, “fire,” to see how doing what you personally think is the right thing to do, irregardless of others, can cause a total disaster to develop.
When I used to travel several days every week by plane to visit company clients, I sometimes found myself bored by the repeated instructions given by stewardesses on the plane. I’m certain some of you have heard the directions for leaving the plane during an emergency including how to use an oxygen mask and a floatation device along with knowing where all the emergency exits are and how to open the doors on the plane. All the talk seemed so repetitious until the day the plane I was on hit terrible turbulence and we were instructed to not move about and to be prepared for an emergency landing. All of a sudden I was counting the rows of seats between me and the plane door and I made certain I knew how to use the oxygen mask. Doing what was right in my own eyes had no place in my life at that moment. I wanted to do what would save my life.
As we continue our study in the book of Judges, having identified the fact that we want God to lead us, the next step in our journey means doing God’s will not our own. In the words of Adelaide Pollard, “Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way! Hold over my being absolute sway! Filled with Thy Spirit, till all shall see, Christ only, always, living in me.”
The great reformer Martin Luther described the choice of our life to follow what God says is right, rather that what we think is right, as a decision of our will, which he calls a “beast of burden.” As he noted, “If God mounts it, it wishes and goes as God wills; if Satan mounts it, it wishes and goes as Satan wills … the riders contend for the possession of our will.”
The American song writer and folk singer Bob Dylan wrote a song years ago that is to this day one of my favorites, “Gotta Serve Somebody.” In this true to life sermonette, Dylan states:
“You may be a preacher with your spiritual pride,
You may be a city councilman taking bribes on the side,
You may be workin’ in a barbershop; you may know how to cut hair,
You may be somebody’s mistress, may be somebody’s heir
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed you’re gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.”
Copyright 1979 @ Special Rider Music
Without someone in charge, God’s children decided that rather than serve God, they would serve themselves – their own selfish desires and their own greedy wants. As we will see, when my needs become the driving force of my life, when the leadership of God is pushed aside and completely ignored, chaos follows. This is exactly what happened to not only individual personal lives but to life in the Israelite community when everybody decided to do what their own will dictated and follow a path of behavior that was right in their own eyes. As author Susan Ertz described one character in The Story of Julian, “We were like a lot of clocks, he thought, all striking different hours, all convinced we were telling the right time.”
The gospel of the Judges generation became a gospel of doing your own thing and making yourself as happy and comfortable as possible.
How sad that the description of life during the time of the Judges reflects so accurately our world today. And the price for all this ill-defined behavior became a terrible price indeed to the daughters of God, as we will learn.
“It seems odd that whenever (men and women) choose to play God – God loses.” Felicia Lampert
“Lead Kindly Light”
“Lead, kindly light, amid the encircling gloom,
Lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home;
Lead Thou me on.
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.
I was not even thus, nor prayed that Thou shouldst lead me on;
I loved to choose and see my path; but now lead Thou me on.
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will: remember not past years.
So long Thy power hath blast me, sure it still will lead me on.”
Dorothy Valcárcel, Author
When A Woman Meets Jesus
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