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It Can’t Be Wrong When It Feels So Right...

Sermon passage: (Judges 21:1-25) Spoken on: September 28, 2009
More sermons from this speaker 更多该讲员的讲道: Dr. Tan Hock Seng
For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: Judges

Tags: Judges, 士师记

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About Dr. Tan Hock Seng: Dr. Tan teaches New Testament studies, theology and biblical languages in various seminaries in Singapore.

Sermon on Judges 21


The literary structure of the book of Judges is similar to the content-structure of a hamburger. The hamburger has a piece of loaf at the top, and a piece at the bottom, with the beef patties in the middle section. Likewise, the book of Judges has a “double introduction” (1:1-2:5; 2:6-3:6) and a “double conclusion” (chs 17-18; chs 19-20). In between the introduction and conclusion, the book contains the stories of 6 minor judges (Shamgar, Tola, Jair, Ibzan, Elon & Abdon) and 6 major judges (Othniel, Ehud, Deborah, Gideon, Jepthath & Samson). The introduction and the conclusion have a 2-fold purpose: first, both sections provide us the social and theological background for the stories of the judges (the heroes); and second, both sections complement each other in helping us what lives was like during those days.

A. “Right in Their Own Eyes… but Evil in the LORD’s” (Judges 21:25; 2:10)

The introduction tells us generally that the Israelites did evils in the eyes of the LORD, but we are not told in exact details the kinds of evil that the people committed. However, the conclusion elaborates in details the kinds of evil that the Israelites did in 4 short stories: Story 1 (Judg. 17) is about Micah who steals 13 kilograms of silver from his mother. He uses the silver to make household gods and institutes a family-based cult. After which Micah hires a Levite to become his personal priest in order to secure sanctions and blessings from the LORD. Story 2 (Judg. 18) ends the Micah’s episode with a twist – the thief (Micah) loses everything (his loots) to a gang of thieves (the Danites). Story 3 (Judg. 19-20) is a violent and gory story about how the death of a Levite’s concubine (due to gang-rape) leads to a civil war that ends with a massive blooshed of 40,000 Israelites and 25,100 Benjamites. The last story (Judg. 21) narrates how the atrocious avengers (the 11 tribes) attempt to undo the unexpected ill-consequence of their rash oath against the Benjamites by acting on a “loop-hole” in their deadly vows – “Yes, we cannot give you women… but you can take from among us”

The above 4 stories illustrate one key theological theme of Judges “everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”

The conclusion of Judges describes the specific ways that the Israelites “did evil in the eyes of the LORD; they forgot the LORD their God and served the Baals and the Asherahs.” (3:7, see also 2:10; 4:1; 6:1 & 10:6) Yet, we are told that in all those ungodly and inhuman acts, the people of God still thought that what they did was very right – morally perfect – in their own eyes (21:25 & 17:6).

Relative ethics prevails in our post-modern world. The sense of right and wrong becomes subjective to the individuals (“What is wrong to you, maybe right to me”); subjective to a society (What is permitted in one state may not be allowed in another). The judgment of right and wrong is often determined by self-interests (“This is what I want, and it is my rights”), by the end-results (“It’s the result that counts, the means doesn’t t really matter”); and by societal values & traditions (“This is the way that we do things here;” “please do not interfere”). However, relative ethics presuppose the absence of a Creator-God, who is absolutely moral. If a holy and righteous God did not exist, then there is really no such thing as absolute morality. In that case, all sense of right and wrong becomes a relative and subjective issue.

However, the Creator-God who is absolute moral does exist. He created humanity in His moral likeness. As Christians, we know the Maker through His Son Jesus Christ. We can observe character of this Creator (e.g. His compassion, patience, righteousness, mercy and love) in the life of Jesus. Thus, as Christians our moral and ethical values and choice cannot be relative, but ought to be based on the Creator-God’s character and His purpose for humanity

B. “Right in Their Own Eyes… in the LORD’s Name”

The book of Judges concludes by summarizing the moral condition of ancient Israel with these words “In those days there was no king in Israel, everyone did what was right in their own eyes” (21:25). However, the narrative stories further tell us two things – Firstly, whatever was right in the people’s own eyes was evil in the LORD’s; and secondly, The people did what they thought was right in the LORD’s name.

The ancient community of God’s people did what was right using the LORD’s name in four ways:

1. They mixed their own interests with God’s interest

The stories in chapters 7 & 8 show us that the people fought battles with mixed motives – “A Sword for the LORD and for Gideon” (7:20). They fought partially for the LORD and partially for their leader Gideon. The judge Gideon served God with mixed motives too. He took personal vengeance in God’s name (8:7-20). Then, while desiring God to reign over Israel, Gideon rejected the people to be their king. Nevertheless he still lived and died like a king before the Israelites (8:22-31). We say, “Action speaks louder than words.”

2. They treated their own interests as God’s interest

Gideon made a gold ephod and placed it in his hometown, Ophrah. That very ephod later became a worship-object of the people and a snare for Gideon and his household (8:27). In Judges 17, Micah also started his own worship center, but it turned out to be a center for syncretism (the place promoted the worship of the LORD and idolatry objects).

3. They obeyed the Torah selectively

The Israelites obeyed the LORD in taking possession of the land but they did not choose to obey the command to drive out all its former inhabitants. The tribes of Benjamin (1:21), of Manasseh (1:27), of Ephraim (1:29), of Asher (1:31) & Naphtali (1:33) did not drive all the Canaanites out of the land when they were supposed to. Why? The text merely tells us that the Israelites were interested to exploit the Canaanites as forced labors (1:28, 30, 33, 35). However, we may learn more reasons from social background studies that the Canaanites’ religions were more “attractive” in their worship rituals. Those rituals enticed, particularly, the new generation of Israelites to forsake the LORD and serve the Baals (2:11-13). The Canaanites were also more advanced in metal works [e.g. making iron chariots, Judg. 1:19], and in farming techniques (e.g. farming on terraced hills).

4. They applied the Torah wrongly

The story of the Israelite civil war shows us the people would participate in sacrificial worship (e.g. make burnt offering) and seek inquiry of the LORD prior going into battle. In other words, they would often “pray first, before they sin.” One specific example of applying God’s word incorrectly was that they applied “cherem” (holy war) on one of their very own Israelite city Jabesh Gilead, instead of restricting for the Canaanites (as an expression of God’s judgment).

C. How Then May We Do What is Right in God’s Eyes?

1. The Torah was given to God’s People to teach them how to live.

The Torah reflects God’s moral characters. What is truly right for the people of God should be consistent with God’s moral character. In Leviticus 11:44 the Covenant-God instructed the people through Moses and Aaron:

I am the LORD your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy
because I am holy.

Because God is holy, whatever thing or people that is set-apart for Him becomes holy. The lifestyle of God’s people should then be consistent with their holy status.

The Torah that God gave His people are meant to regulate holy living. The different types of laws and instruction emphasize the ethical principles of justice, of mercy and of humility.

The prophet Micah summarizes the requirement of the Torah by asking the people who had missed the central focus of covenant-living this question, “And what does the LORD require of you?” He then reiterates, “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Christians should study the Bible carefully to know what is right & wrong. As Christians our moral and ethical values and choice cannot be relative, but ought to be based on the Creator-God’s character and His purpose for humanity. For example, I want to be a righteous because the Creator is a Righteous God. I do not choose to be righteous because righteousness will bring me more successes. I will stay righteous even though that I may lose much profits and business opportunities.

As Christians, our sense of right and wrong must be consistent with the character and will of God. Otherwise, we might be living like the Israelite during Judges time “Everyone did what was right in their own eyes.”

2. The Israelites lived lawlessly because the Torah was neglected

The covenant-God desired the Hebrew parents to teach God’s Law to their children. He desired the priests to teach His people God’s Law about proper worship & holy living. The LORD also desired the king to exemplify in walking with God according to God’s Law.

The book of Judges seeks to show God’s people, particularly those who went into exile, that the early Israelites failed because the Torah was neglected, particularly in the period where there was no king, especially, a god-fearing king. [The book of Judges was probably produced during the time when Israel was ruled by a good king. Whereas in the reigns of evil kings, the moral and spiritual condition of Israel was no better off than that in the times of the Judges].

The northern kingdom and the southern kingdom fell because of two primary reasons: the first was idolatry; and the second was that the Torah was neglected. The parents failed to teach their children to walk in the way of the LORD; the priests failed to teach the people proper worship of the true God; and the kings failed to live exemplary lifestyles and lead the people according to God’s law.

Christians must pay careful attention to biblical teachings. The teachings of the Bible are our moral tuning fork. God is our creator and savior. His teachings are our guide to living right. Interpreting the Bible incorrectly and applying the biblical instructions wrongly might lead us to become religious fanatics. We can become intolerant towards others and exclusive in our community living. We can hurt people instead of bring them the healing love of God. We need to learn to interpret the Bible correctly and then apply the biblical principles rightly. We need give time to read and study the Bible to hear God speaks.

Then, those Christians who are parents should learn to teach their children about the Creator-God and His plan for humanity. Those who are following Jesus should learn to teach God’s truth and continually living them out.

The Israelites did what was right in their own eyes in the days of the judges when there was no king. May we as God’s people of the new covenant do what is right in the God’s eyes in our age when Jesus is our Lord.