My Bible reading plan had me in Judges earlier this week. As I read the last parts of Judges on Tuesday and Wednesday, I came across a refrain that shows up in Judges 17:6, 18:1, 19:1, and then at the very end of the book in Judges 21:25. The Judges 21:25 version reads this way read: In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
Judges is kind of a sad book. It shows a repeated cycle of Israel ignoring God, getting into trouble, crying out to God, who redeems and rescues them through different judges, and then the people go back to rejecting and ignoring God. That cycle ends with deeply sad stories from Judges 17-21. Throughout those chapters are examples of people simply doing what seems right in their own eyes. And what is right in their own eyes is a long way from what is right in God’s eyes. Adding to the refrain of “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” is the observation that there was no king in Israel. Given that in terms of the historical timeline, Judges is followed by 1 Samuel and the crowning of the first king, Saul, we might be tempted to think that is what Judges was implying was needed. We need a king like Saul to lead us. That is not exactly the message. We know from 1 Samuel 8:7 that Israel’s request for a human king was a rejection of God. That does not mean that we do not need a king. Rather, it means that we need the right king. If we are going to move away from doing what is right in our own eyes, we need the true King. We need God as our King. As the Lord’s Prayer has shown us, we need to pray for His kingdom to come and His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.
As I reflect on the stories that make up Judges and the cycle that governs most of the book, I am struck by how easy it is for us, or at least me to drift to what I think is right. I am also struck, because of that, how much I need the right leading in my life. I need God as my King. I need to follow His will, what is truly right. Reading Judges has been a good corrective for my soul.