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February 26, 2012
Because of Selfishness
Gritty, grimy, and grotesque—these are not words that are normally used to describe passages in the Bible. It is true that there are plenty of passages that tell of horrible things. Paul tells of the awful background of some of the Corinthian Christians; they had been fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, effeminate, homosexuals, thieves, covetous, drunkards, revilers, and swindlers (1Corinthians 6:9-10). However, this isn’t as bad as it might seem at first glance because we see the power of God at work with repentant hearts: “Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” (1Corinthians 6:11). The scene of the crucifixion of Jesus is intense and sordid. However, in this scene, the love of God comes shining through: “walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.” (Ephesians 5:2).
There is a passage which describes things so despicable, that it is seldom dwelt upon in studies. It tells of man’s complete rejection of the Lord and what becomes of man when that is the prevalent attitude. The passage is Judges 17-21. In the earlier chapters of the Book of Judges, we read of people who sin, but turn back to God after being oppressed. We then see God raising deliverers to rescue the repentant people from their enemies. In the next book in the Bible, we find the beautiful story of Ruth and the power of faith and love. In between these sections of the Bible is Judges 17-21—a narrative of a people of selfishness, of darkness and disturbance. It is a depiction of people who reject God, instead substituting their own idea of what god should be. It is so disturbing to see what becomes of man in the absence of the acceptance of God.
These chapters are book-ended by the scariest, most disturbing phrases imaginable: “In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6) and “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). These people had rejected the true King, the Lord of all. Later, God reminds Samuel of this very thing: “The LORD said to Samuel, ‘Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them.’” (1Samuel 8:7). The only standard these people adhered to was that of their own will and desire.
God had given His people laws to live by. They should have remembered the basis of it all as summed up in the commandments given through Moses at Mount Sinai. However, in these chapters is seen the shattering of each of these commandments. Because of people’s sins, Moses had broken the first tablets on which the commandments were written, but these people went far beyond breaking tablets—they broke the very commands.
In the first six verses of these chapters alone, the first, second, third, fifth, eighth, and tenth commandments were broken. A son dishonored his mother by stealing the silver he coveted from her. When he returned it, she made an empty use of the name of God by declaring she would worship God in her own way—by taking the silver and having graven and molten images made in honor of her son (who had just stolen from her!). Soon after, this family would become even more engaged in false worship by setting up a family priesthood. “And the man Micah had a shrine and he made an ephod and household idols and consecrated one of his sons, that he might become his priest.” (Judges 17:5). This false and useless approach continued to be a source of faithlessness and destruction recorded throughout these chapters. Already, we see the theme: “In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 17:6).
In the following verses, members of the tribe of Dan also showed a covetous streak. Scouts traveled to find a land for their tribe to claim. They came upon the house of Micah, who now had a Levite in his employ, and they desired Micah’s idols and priest-for-hire. As the Danite warriors passed through by the house of Micah they approached the Levite: “They said to him, ‘Be silent, put your hand over your mouth and come with us, and be to us a father and a priest. Is it better for you to be a priest to the house of one man, or to be priest to a tribe and a family in Israel?’” (Judges 18:19). The Levite himself was covetous: “The priest’s heart was glad, and he took the ephod and household idols and the graven image and went among the people.” (Judges 18:20).
The Danites proceeded to Laish, where they slaughtered the citizens and burned their city. They rebuilt it and lived in it and called it Dan. They continued in their false worship which lasted until the captivity of the land (Judges 18:27-31).
The Danites aren’t the only people who were involved in slaughter and torture. There was a Levite in the hill country who took a concubine. She was an adulteress (Judges 19:2), but what happened to her is hideous. When the Levite retrieved her from her father’s house to return to the hill country, they stopped in Gibeah. Men of the city wanted to “have relations” with the man, but instead, “the man seized his concubine and brought her out to them; and they raped her and abused her all night until morning” (Judges 19:25). Upon her death, the Levite cut her in pieces and sent them through the country as a message.
The only time in this entire narrative in which the Lord was sought was when the men of Israel went to war against their own brothers of Benjamin. The men of Benjamin would not turn over the worthless men of Gibeah and the other tribes gathered for war. The Lord was consulted to determine who should go up against Benjamin first (Judges 20:18). Things were bad in Israel, but the sins of the men of Gibeah brought condemnation even from the rest of the nation. The tribe of Benjamin was almost destroyed (Judges 20:46-48).
These are the things that happen because of selfishness. These are things that happen when men choose to do “what is right in their own eyes.” There is another sad aspect to this story—it describes you and me. We may not be murderers or rapists as these people were, but we are guilty of sin. We sin when we do what is right in our own eyes, too. We might try to couch our actions in attitudes in the guise of righteousness. Just those who had priests-for-hire, we can always find people to say the things we want to hear (2Timothy 4:3-4).
We are the ones who crucified Jesus. We were sinners, but He loved us and gave Himself for us. Instead of being selfish, He was selfless. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.” (Romans 5:8-9). Will we do what is right in our own eyes or what is right in God’s eyes?
—S. Scott Richardson Sr.