Saturday, July 28, 2007

Right in Their Own Eyes

The last line of the book of Judges summarizes the book perfectly:
In those days there was no king in Israel.
Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
It amazes me how powerful this simple statement is, against the sordid backdrop of the stories we’ve been through. Gideon made an idol which became a snare to his sons because it seemed to be the right thing to do at the time. Shechem conspired with Abimelech to kill his brothers because it made sense to do so. Jephthah made a vow which ended up costing his daughter’s life because he thought it was the best way to ensure victory. Sampson pursued a foreign woman because she was “right in his eyes” and continued to follow them blindly until the Philistines shut them for good. The citizens of Gibeah raped the Levite’s concubine to death because it seemed like a fun way to spend the evening.

So far the Bible doesn’t seem too impressed with pursuing what is right in your own eyes. This has actually been nothing but trouble from the beginning:
So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate.
Back in Numbers, the Lord had asked the people to start the custom of putting tassels on their clothing:
And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the Lord, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to whore after. So you shall remember and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God.
The point could hardly be clearer. The intentions of man’s heart are evil from his youth; he simply cannot trust his instincts. So what can he trust? The answer is, of course, to listen to the voice of the Lord, and do that which is right in his eyes. His are the only ones that see clearly.

So what do the people need? Right now the story is in a holding pattern, or, worse yet, a downward spiral. What can get them back following the law of the Lord, rather than the desires of their own hearts?

If Judges is to be believed, Israel needs a King. Oh, they’ve had plenty of “judges” – great warriors who rise up and beat back their enemies. But this is always damage control. What they need is a ruler who will guide them in obeying the voice of the Lord in the first place. They need someone who hears and obeys His voice.

It's funny that you should say that at this point in the story, Israel needs a king.

I say this because God was never in favor of a monarchy. In fact, He said that Israel's request for a king was a rejection of his leadership. He even warned them of the problems that they would face if they had a king like all of their neighbors.

Granted, God allowed the people to have a king. Of course, if they were going to have one, it needed to be someone who would listen to God and follow him, but the Bible is clear that from God's perspective, a monarch was not what Israel needed...ever.

I'm reading Samuel right now in preparation for blogging on it. And you are right - the desire for a king is presented there as a sin of the people. But there seems to me to be clear tension between the conclusion of Judges and this declaration of Samuel. If the problems in Judges were due to people doing what is right in their own eyes, and this was due to having no King, then the book concludes with an acknowledgment of the need for a king.

So there's a tension. But we also know that the eventual king, David, is a man after God's own heart, and his kingdom is to be established forever. Furthermore, the messianic hope of Israel is one who would sit on David's throne. But how can this be, if the desire to have a king is born from a desire to have a king other than the Lord? How can the fulfillment of Israel's hopes be the result of a dubious desire?

In short, how can Israel have a human king when the Lord is their king? How can the messiah be David's lord, and also his son?

Well, in Deuteronomy some of the laws already foresee a king. Is it possible that the motivation behind Israel's request was the problem, more so than the request itself?

On another subject - doing what is right in your own eyes seems to be the operative principle in much of Christendom right now...

"doing what is right in your own eyes seems to be the operative principle in much of Christendom right now..."

Really? That's news to me.

IMO, it's interesting that the two clauses are said together as if there is a causal connection. Let's see:

1. Without a King to decide to what is right and wrong, people will do as they please.

2. Without a King to enforce what is right and wrong, the people will do as they please.

3. People will do as they please because there is no King.

4. People will do as they please unless there is a King.

Contrast these ideas to when there was a King of Israel. I shouldn't need to tell you that the King did as he pleased. So - why should the King be the moral center of the nation?

So, hmmmm....let's extrapolate these prinicples to modern areas.

Should a "King" really mean government? Can a democratically elected President, Prime Minister, or First Comrade subsistute?

Does a "King" equal central moral authority? A Divine right of King where a king can do no wrong.

Does a "king" really mean the Pope? The Scylding seems to believe Christian anarchy reigns right now, surely, if Christianity obeyed the Pope, this would end.

This, of course, begs the question that perhaps there is no connection between the two clauses. Perhaps, people will do as they please even if there is a King (or Pope, or police, or God, etc...).

All interesting questions, Royale. The question of how having a king moves the story forward, and how this relates to God's purposes is certainly going to be central moving forward.

I do think Scylding's observation holds - our culture is certainly one where individual choice trumps nearly everything. People are fond of saying things like "it doesn't matter what you believe as long as you are sincere" and "You have to follow your heart". One of the things I appreciated about the immediate aftermath of 9/11 was the merciful lull in hearing people say this sort of thing.

Anyway, I do think we can safely say that, so far, though the Bible has a very high view of man (man is a good thing) it has a very low view of the intentions of man's heart (evil continuously). So what are the people to trust if we can't trust our own intentions? The law of the Lord, apparently, but the people don't really do a good job following the law so far. Instead they simply follow their hearts. Will a king help enforce the law, and guide the people to follow it?

Let's find out...

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