In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes. (Judges 21:25)
Living Without A King
Following the conquest of the land of Canaan, the nation of Israel went through a period of anarchism because there was no king in the land. Joshua had led the people into the promised land and kept the people united through his leadership. Before he died, Joshua exhorted the people to follow the word of God and trust in His will to guide their lives. A large stone was set up under a large oak tree by the sanctuary of the Lord in Shechem as a testimony to the covenant of Israel with the Lord. It did not take long for the importance of the stone to lose its meaning.
After the death of Joshua, a generation arose that did not know the Lord and did not know the stories of the patriarchs like Abraham and the history of Israel coming out of Egypt led by Moses and the struggles in the wilderness. The people began to follow after Baal and serve other gods from among the people who were around them. Before entering Canaan, God had told the people He would fight for them and they would live in peace if they obeyed His word. Because the people rejected the counsel of the Lord, the enemies of Israel plundered them and despoiled them of all their blessings. God set up judges to rule them but the people refused to listen to them and played the harlot with other gods and bowed down to them. How quickly they turned away from the path of their ancestors, who had walked in obedience to the Lord’s commands.
Four times in the book of Judges the reason for the chaotic conditions of the nation are stated. Without a king, the people did what they wanted to do. There was no central leadership and authority to curtail their plunge into idolatrous worship. Without measures in place to curb the appetites of the people, nothing was left to chance and they fell headlong into the carnal pleasures of the flesh. The rebellion of the people came from the lack of sufficient authority to subdue their desires. Without law, the land is filled with lawlessness. Everyone does what they think is right in their own eyes. There is no single measure of the law. Anything that pleases the individual is acceptable and no one can judge another to what is right and wrong. Authority challenges the personal desires of the individual and without authority everything is acceptable.
At first glance, the reason for the nation to be lawless is there was no king in the land to judge them. Later, during the days of the last judge, Samuel, the people demand a king. This helps unify the nation and for 120 years, Israel is united. After the death of Solomon, Israel divides into two kingdoms with the northern tribes going after the Baal’s and Ashtoreth’s and they were destroyed 200 years later. Judah would follow a little over 100 years later to captivity.
Israel had kings but they were still wicked, lawless, and rebellious. Why? The problem during the period of the Judges was because there was no central figure of authority to guide the people. There was no king and everyone did what was right in his own eyes. The failure of the nation came because they did not retain God in their hearts as the king of their lives. Having a central figure of authority like Saul, David, and Solomon helped but when the nation divided having kings on the throne did not always do well for the nation. When the heart of the people is not faithful to the King Most High, it matters not who sits on a throne in Jerusalem. What the Lord wanted from His people was for them to serve Him because He was their King and Master. Allegiance had to come from the devoted heart of those who wanted to serve God with or without a man sitting on a throne. The first problem was there was no king in Israel but the bigger problem was there was no king in the heart of the people.
Obedience can only be measured by who rules the heart of men. The church is organized with men who shepherd the flock of God to guide, instruct, admonish, challenge and direct the hearts of the saints among them. Their guidance is crucial to the furtherance of the gospel and the eternal work of the church of Christ. The Bible is the fully revealed word of God telling men of the grace of God to save those who would obey Him. Everything needed to save a man’s soul is given to the world but if the heart is not willing to accept the Kingship of Jesus Christ, everyone will do what is right in their own eyes. Preaching has no effect if the heart is not open. Leadership is destroyed if allegiance to God is not practiced first.
Israel could have prospered without a king sitting on the throne if the people had only let God rule in their hearts. The sinfulness of man tries to excuse his actions by complaining they need a man on a throne when the real trouble lies in the failure of the heart to accept the rule of God. If a man does not first establish God as ruler of his life, everything that follows will be shallow and lawless. Arguments about scripture come from hearts that are unwilling to accept the authority of the Lord as final. A man can reject the Lordship of God in this life but death will bring the great awakening of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. To please God, you must first enthrone God. Nothing matters if this is not done first.