To follow God means to tust him as the source of truth and not allow culture and comfort to influence our faith and service.
When we started the book of Judges, we began with this verse:
Judges 21:25 || 25 In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did whatever seemed right to him. [CSB]
The exact same words were uttered earlier in the book:
Judges 17:6 || 6 In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes. [NLT]
The book of Judges documents the tragic fall of Israel – away from God.
Sandwiched between 17:6 and 21:25 is the story of Micah. He was not a good man.
Judges 17:1–6 || 1 There was a man named Micah, who lived in the hill country of Ephraim. 2 One day he said to his mother, “I heard you place a curse on the person who stole 1,100 pieces of silver from you. Well, I have the money. I was the one who took it.” “The Lord bless you for admitting it,” his mother replied. 3 He returned the money to her, and she said, “I now dedicate these silver coins to the Lord. In honor of my son, I will have an image carved and an idol cast.” 4 So when he returned the money to his mother, she took 200 silver coins and gave them to a silversmith, who made them into an image and an idol. And these were placed in Micah’s house. 5 Micah set up a shrine for the idol, and he made a sacred ephod and some household idols. Then he installed one of his sons as his personal priest. 6 In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes. [NLT]
He stole money from his mother! That is our introduction. Then, she made a idol for him. MOM thinks it will bless God to make an idol for her son? Micah makes a shrine for the idol and then makes some more, lesser idols for himself. Then, he appoints his son as priest over the idols, even making him a special priestly garment for him to wear.
Eventually, Micah hires a Levite to be his priest so we can really have the blessing of God.
Judges 17:12–13 || 12 So Micah installed the Levite as his personal priest, and he lived in Micah’s house. 13 “I know the Lord will bless me now,” Micah said, “because I have a Levite serving as my priest.” [NLT]
Micah mixed his culture and his faith and created this awful hybrid that he and his mom thought would please God and bring blessing, but obviously was not pleasing to God.
Eventually the tribe of Dan comes marching through the region. The Danites steal the idols, garments and even the priest from Micah and threaten with force. Then, we read:
Judges 18:30–31 || 30 The Danites set up the carved image for themselves. Jonathan son of Gershom, son of Moses, and his sons were priests for the Danite tribe until the time of the exile from the land. 31 So they set up for themselves Micah’s carved image that he had made, and it was there as long as the house of God was in Shiloh. [CSB]
They stole from each other, threatened each other and did whatever was best for themselves. The people of God had abandoned God and made their own gods, appointed their own places of worship, consecrated their own priests.
All of this is summed up with the phrase:
everyone did whatever seemed right to him
Relativism - the doctrine that knowledge, truth, and morality exist in relation to culture, society, or historical context, and are not absolute.
When everyone does what is right in their own eyes, you have relativism. It is the belief that there is no ONE truth that is absolutely true, but that truth comes from culture. And as we read in Judges, we find that the people decided to make their own standards and that brought about the anger of God.
STATEMENT: God has a standard of right and wrong. It is an absolute standard. God’s truth, wisdom and morality do not change. Ignoring them does not mean they cease to exist. They are absolute.
But we don’t always like absolutes, do we? Sometimes we like relativism.
Most of us only like relativism when it works in our favor. Let me give you a for instance. Let’s say you are playing a game of Uno with your family, and you are losing. To create a new rule such as “the person with the most cards in their hand gets to give half of them to the player across from them” would seem like an awesome rule! However, I am guessing the other players, especially the one across from them, would not like that rule.
When we do what is right in our own eyes, it means we do what we want, the way we want and have no regard for God or others. It is the OPPOSITE of the 2 great commandments!
One of the problems with a life of relativism is that the rules always change and you can never know exactly what to expect.
The other problem with relativism is that it makes everyone the ultimate law giver. It makes the individual their own god. When we make ourselves gods, the next step is for us to make gods for ourselves that we can “manage”, gods that meet our needs and desires.
Israel’s decline came as they started to worship other gods.
What causes us to do what is evil in God’s eyes and what seems right in our own eyes? When our eyes and hearts are focused on the wrong things.
When we were studying James, I mentioned that sin is always a walk away from the Lord. Notice the wording: they worshipped the Baals and abandoned the Lord. They walked away from Him. The followed other gods.
Judges 2:11–13 || 11 The Israelites did what was evil in the Lord’s sight. They worshiped the Baals 12 and abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed other gods from the surrounding peoples and bowed down to them. They angered the Lord, 13 for they abandoned him and worshiped Baal and the Ashtoreths. [CSB]
NOTICE: as everyone did what was right in their own eyes, they also did what was evil in Yahweh’s eyes.
They walked away from God and into the arms of another lover, the gods of their enemies: Baal and Ashtoreth. The followed, bowed down to and worshipped. They were led by, submitted to and lived for other gods. This is a great way to define false gods and idols: anything other than God that we follow, submit to and live for more than God.
The Canaanites were polytheistic – they believed in and worshipped many gods. This is the way most of the world was. The Roman and Greek gods, etc. However, the Jews were a unique people and called by the one God to love and serve ONLY the one God – we call this monotheism.
El was the father of the gods. He was believed to live “at the source of the two rivers” which would correspond to Eden. He had three wives, who were also his sisters, one of which was Asherah.
Baal was the Canaanite god of storm and rain, while Ashtoreth (also known as Astarte) was his consort, the goddess of love and fertility. Both of these deities were worshiped under a variety of local manifestations and were perceived as the key to agricultural success in the land of Canaan.
The Canaanites explained nature by reference to their gods. Each god represented some force of nature. The moon, sun, important stars, and visible planets were each considered a god or goddess. Baal, seen as god of the thunderstorm, personified the power of all nature.
There were rituals to Baal that were designed to bring blessing on the harvest and on fertility. In both cases, it was a smack in the face to Yahweh who is the creator and sustainer of all life and the one who ultimately provides.
The people chose to worship the gods of nature over the God who created nature. According to Jeremiah 7:31 and 19:4-6, the Israelites went so far as to sacrifice their children to Baal!
The people went from seeking God’s direction to acting in their own strength and forgetting to keep God’s commandments. This phrase, “doing evil in the sight of Yahweh” repeats itself throughout the book of Judges. It is continually referring to the action of the people of God walking away from Yahweh.
Judges 3:7 || 7 And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. They forgot the Lord their God and served the Baals and the Asheroth. [ESV]
Judges 3:12 || 12 And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord strengthened Eglon the king of Moab against Israel, because they had done what was evil in the sight of the Lord. [ESV]
Judges 4:1 || 1 And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord after Ehud died. [ESV]
Judges 6:1 || 1 The people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord gave them into the hand of Midian seven years. [ESV]
Judges 10:6 || 6 The people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth, the gods of Syria, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites, and the gods of the Philistines. And they forsook the Lord and did not serve him. [ESV]
Notice the downward spiral. It was just Baal and Ashtoreth that were listed in the beginning. By the time we reach 10:6 there are no less than seven gods referenced. Once we start down the path away from God, it is very easy to keep walking further and further away.
If you were God, what would you do at this point?
God punishes the nation, but he does not abandon them completely. God will allow us to live out the consequences of our actions – that is part of what it means that he is a just God.
What did God really want of Israel? What did God really expect of them?
Deuteronomy 8:11–20 || 11 “Be careful that you don’t forget the Lord your God by failing to keep his commands, ordinances, and statutes that I am giving you today. 12 When you eat and are full, and build beautiful houses to live in, 13 and your herds and flocks grow large, and your silver and gold multiply, and everything else you have increases, 14 be careful that your heart doesn’t become proud and you forget the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery. 15 He led you through the great and terrible wilderness with its poisonous snakes and scorpions, a thirsty land where there was no water. He brought water out of the flint rock for you. 16 He fed you in the wilderness with manna, which your fathers had not known, in order to humble and test you, so that in the end he might cause you to prosper. 17 You may say to yourself, ‘My power and my own ability have gained this wealth for me,’ 18 but remember that the Lord your God gives you the power to gain wealth, in order to confirm his covenant he swore to your fathers, as it is today. 19 If you ever forget the Lord your God and follow other gods to serve them and bow in worship to them, I testify against you today that you will perish. 20 Like the nations the Lord is about to destroy before you, you will perish if you do not obey the Lord your God. [CSB]
God had always wanted Israel to experience HIM and his love for them. Remember, this is part of the great narrative of God, that he is all about rescue, redemption and restoration. He desires to be near us and to redeem us from our own sinfulness. He even warned them that His blessing could turn into their curse if they start to make themselves gods.
God wants this for you and me today. He does not want us to think of ourselves as gods who can make up their own rules. He does not want us to make idols for ourselves. He wants our wholehearted devotion and love.
He wants us to experience HIM. But that means we have to do things God’s way, not our own way.
Proverbs 14:12 || 12 There is a way that seems right to a person, but its end is the way to death. [CSB]
Proverbs 12:15 || 15 A fool’s way is right in his own eyes, but whoever listens to counsel is wise. [CSB]
Proverbs 16:2 || 2 All a person’s ways seem right to him, but the Lord weighs motives. [CSB]
Proverbs 21:2 || 2 All a person’s ways seem right to him, but the Lord weighs hearts. [CSB]
We must do things God’s way, not our own way. That means we need to get rid of our idols.
ASK: What IDOLS do we have today? What are the things that grab our attention and devotion that can sway our affections away from God? Things that we follow, that we submit our schedules to and dedicate our time and energy to following?
These are things that have crept in from our society and that we have perhaps begun to think are the right things. There is a way that seems right… but if that right comes between us and obedience to God, then it is a false truth.
What if we contextualized Judges 2:11-12 to today?
The people of God did what was evil in the LORD’s sight. They worshiped entertainment/sports/sex/work and abandoned the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had rescued them from sin and death. They lived for self-gratification and pleasure like the rest of their culture and put that ahead of their love for God. They angered the LORD, for they abandoned him and lived no differently than the people who had not been re-born by the Spirit of God. They sought their identity in what they could do and acquire rather than in being the special people of God.
Deuteronomy 10:12–13 || 12 “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you except to fear the Lord your God by walking in all his ways, to love him, and to worship the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul? 13 Keep the Lord’s commands and statutes I am giving you today, for your own good. [CSB]
Brothers and sisters, there is an absolute truth, and it comes from God. There is an absolute God, and he is Yahweh. There is a way at is right, and it is described in God’s Word.
Just like the nation Israel, you and I WILL struggle with our own idols. I am reminded, very frequently, of the things I can put ahead of God. We will struggle:
We started our time studying a man named Micah who had a distorted view of God. A story of the Danites who has a distorted view of justice and mercy.
I want to end our time with the words of another Micah, a prophet of God, who gives us an encouragement and a hope:
Micah 6:8 || Mankind, he has told each of you what is good and what it is the Lord requires of you: to act justly, to love faithfulness, and to walk humbly with your God. [CSB]
As we humble ourselves before God, burning our idols in the fires of repentance, asking for forgiveness and declaring our allegiance to him, we can be restored and experience the joy of our salvation. We can experience the presence and the blessing of God.