The Libertarian Reader: Classic and Contemporary Writings from Lao Tzu to Milton Friedman is a collection of essays from a variety of sources on a variety of topics related to libertarianism. The first chapter in the book is “1 Samuel 8” and it provides a rather striking example of eisegesis, anarcho-capitalist style.
The most important book in the development of Western civilization was the Bible, which of course just means “the Book” in Greek. Until recent times it was the touchstone for almost all debate on morality and government. One of its most resonant passages for the study of government was the story of God’s warning to the people of Israel when they wanted a king to rule them. Until then, as Judges 21:25 reports, “there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes,” and there were judges to settle disputes. But in I Samuel, the Jews asked for a king, and God told Samuel what it would be like to have a king. This story reminded Europeans for centuries that the state was not divinely inspired. Thomas Paine, Lord Acton, and other liberals cited it frequently.
Anyone who has read Judges and 1 Samuel is immediately struck by David Boaz’ statements. It’s clear he never read that section of the Bible and instead relied on Thomas Paine to tell him what it meant. Judges 21:25 is not a commendation of the situation in Israel, it is a condemnation. The Israelites had a law, a divinely imposed law, and yet they ignored it and did what was right in their own eyes. Contrary to Boaz, that is not a good thing. (Furthermore, the state, the sword, is divinely imposed – Gen 9:5-6; Rom 13:1-7; see Political Philosophy: Biblical Answers)
What John Robbins points out in his lecture on political philosophy is something Boaz misses: both totalitarianism and anarchy are lawlessness. In one a king does whatever is right in his own eyes, in the other everyone else does what is right in their own eyes. What is lost in both is the rule of law. Robbins notes in his essay “Rebuilding American Freedom in the Twenty-First Century” (we’re not off to a good start):
Americans sometimes foolishly overlook crime as a threat to freedom, thinking that the only threat comes from government. It doesn’t. Our neighbors may also be threats to our freedom. In fact, lawless governments and lawless individuals aid each other. The criminal and the dictator are twins distinguished only by the amount of power at the disposal of each. Each becomes the others’ excuse for more and more lawlessness, less and less freedom. The loser in such a contest is the rule of law. Freedom, we must keep in mind, is now lawlessness, but the result of effective application of moral law to both ruled and rulers.
Israel’s problem was one of lawlessness. They turned away from the law God gave them and did what was right in their own eyes. They also turned away from God as their sovereign king and demanded a king of their own. Boaz sees virtue in one of these two things where the Bible sees sin in both. When we abandon the rule of law, what we are left with is lawlessness:
1 Samuel 8:1 When Samuel became old, he made his sons judges over Israel. 2 The name of his firstborn son was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; they were judges in Beersheba. 3 Yet his sons did not walk in his ways but turned aside after gain. They took bribes and perverted justice.
4 Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah 5 and said to him, “Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.” 6 But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” And Samuel prayed to the Lord. 7 And the Lord said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. 8 According to all the deeds that they have done, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt even to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are also doing to you. 9 Now then, obey their voice; only you shall solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.”
10 So Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking for a king from him. 11 He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. 12 And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. 15 He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. 16 He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. 17 He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. 18 And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”
19 But the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel. And they said, “No! But there shall be a king over us, 20 that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.” 21 And when Samuel had heard all the words of the people, he repeated them in the ears of the Lord. 22 And the Lord said to Samuel, “Obey their voice and make them a king.” Samuel then said to the men of Israel, “Go every man to his city.”
19 thoughts on “Every Man Did What Was Right In His Own Eyes”
Pingback: Hey, Social Conservatives, Libertarians want Jesus back. | LostRepublic.us
I haven’t read Boaz’s book but I disagree with your statement here:
“Judges 21:25 is not a commendation of the situation in Israel, it is a condemnation. The Israelites had a law, a divinely imposed law, and yet they ignored it and did what was right in their own eyes”
I don’t think it is either a commendation OR condemnation, simply factual. It is simply reminding you (Judges 21:25, 18:1 & 19:1) that there was no king and so people HAD to do what was right in their own eyes. If you aren’t having a law imposed on you, then you have to act according to your internal law. You are correct that the Israelites had a divine law but unless a King is enforcing his version of it, the Israelites have to base their actions on their individual interpretations. When those interpretations came into conflict with another, that’s where Samuel and the earlier judges came into play. They were dispute arbitrators.
Lastly, if this was a condemnation on the Israelite’s social structure, why did God prefer the non-human king structure over the human-king structure? If God is to be king of the us, it has to be through individual acceptance, which is essentially doing what is right in our eyes. Our goal is to further align our definition of ‘right’ to the Lord’s so that we will make good choices.
I realize this is a rather old post, but I found it through google while looking up a few things for today’s post.
Thanks for your comment and my apologies for taking so long to respond. You raise some interesting points. You might possibly have support in Deut 12:8.
However, I think a key area where I have to disagree with you is when you say everyone HAD to do what was right in their own eyes because there wasn’t a King enforcing his version of it. This may seem like a logical deduction, but can you point to anywhere in the text that says the accounts in the book of Judges are just examples of individuals interpreting God’s divine law in their own way? If you can, then I think your objection has merit. However, I don’t think you will find that anywhere. What you will find is example after example of the Israelites sinfully disobeying and disregarding God’s clear law. The main focus of the book of Judges, particularly chapters 17-21 (where we see this phrase repeated 3 times) is the sinful disobedience of Israel to what God told them to do.
Simply compare these two passages:
Judges 17:6 says that Micah making a carved image to worship was “everyone doing what was right in his own eyes”. There is no way this can be Micah “internally” interpreting God’s law. This was Micah disobeying God’s very clear law. “What was right in his own eyes” is not contrasted with “What was right in his neighbor’s eyes” but with “What was right in God’s eyes”.
You said “If you aren’t having a law imposed on you, then you have to act according to your internal law.” But this is precisely where you miss the point. The Israelites were having a law imposed on them. It was a very, very clear divine law written down for all to see. There was no need to look “internally” because the law was explicit and clear and external. Furthermore, there was a King enforcing His version of it. God was enforcing His version of it as we see Him punishing disobedience throughout this time. Ignoring the fact that God was the King of Israel enforcing the law is precisely the error of the Israelites in demanding they have their own king. God says in 1 Samuel 8:7 “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.”
See above. This was not a condemnation of Israel’s “social structure.” It was a condemnation of their sin. You’re assuming what you’re trying to prove at this point.
Wrong on two points:
1) We are not Israel. Israel was a unique situation where God sovereignly saved them out of Egypt and placed himself over them as King. Nowhere did this happen “through individual acceptance”. Israel had to submit to their king, or be killed, as many of them were. This is not true today. Yes, today all must accept the rule of Christ through individual repentance, but today is not yesterday. We are not Israel.
2) Submitting to Christ as Lord is not “essentially doing what is right in our eyes.” Submitting to Christ as Lord is essentially doing what is right in Christ’s eyes, not our own. For what is right in our own eyes is usually sinful and not right in God’s eyes. I recognize you allude to this, but it is misguided to refer to it as doing what is right in our eyes. It is doing what is right in God’s eyes.
Great comments, thanks for responding. No worries about the delay, it’s not like the original post was 2.5 years old or anything. 😉
I agree with you on the disobedience side. Micah was following his internal law, which obviously was against God’s divine law. It wasn’t an interpretation of God’s law, just simple, obvious, disobedience. It wasn’t my intention to imply that even disobedience to God’s law is a just interpretation of God’s law. Even if you are doing what is “right in your eyes” doesn’t mean it is “right in God’s eyes”. Only when you seek to understand God’s laws is doing what is “right in your eyes” actually “right”. My desired point was more trying to show that it isn’t a condemnation like it is typically used in the church.
Very true, there was a King enforcing His laws as He saw fit at the time. Plenty of enforcement exists as depicted here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Biblical_judges.png So the Israelites had even LESS of an excuse to allow their internal morals to deviate so far from God’s law. I still do not think this is a condemnation of “doing what is right in our eyes”; just a condemnation of deviating too far from God’s law. Unless you internalize God’s law as right in your eyes, you WILL deviate from God’s law.
As long as it’s a condemnation of their sin then I am in total agreement. Again, I was more attempting to clarify that “doing what is right in your own eyes” is neither sinful, nor moral. It is a neutral statement. One can follow God while doing what is right in your eyes, as well as sinful acts. Without the strict individually applied legal system of a King God’s punishment was typically applied more to the nation as a whole when they deviated to far.
1) True and good point. We have a wonderful benefit that the Israelites didn’t have: direct, individual communication to God. I do believe that that system – of God being the sovereign with people doing what is right in their own eyes – could have worked up until Christ, and beyond. I do not think that God had that social structure set up for Israel as a unique situation; if God preferred that over human sovereigns for Israel then I believe He still prefers that over human sovereigns for Israel and all nations.
2) Disagree. You aren’t constantly thinking of God’s laws as you act throughout the day. You’ve internalized (or had it written on your heart) many of God’s laws into your personal belief structure SO THAT, when you do what is right in your eyes, it is right (or mostly right) in God’s eyes. Much of our life is spent in letting God work in us so we internalize His teachings, so that we can “advance the ladder” so to speak and work on more subtle laws (like how to love my wife better versus how to not hate my neighbor). Excuse my assumptions, but You and I do not need God to tell us not to murder someone. Akin to 1st Timothy 1:8-9 “But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully, realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious”. Or Plato’s “Good people do not need laws to tell them to act responsibly” and my biblical paraphrase “Godly people do not need laws to tell them to act Godly”.
Great thoughts, would love a follow up.
You’ll have to speak for yourself on that one. I must continually think of God’s laws as I act throughout the day. My fight with indwelling sin is such that I must continually and constantly meditate upon God’s standards. I think that you and I may be gulfs apart in our understanding of sin and holiness, given the fact you quoted Plato. “Godly people do not need laws to tell them to act Godly” is not the testimony of Scripture.
And in the immediate context of the Israelites pre-king that we have been discussing:
Our fight with sin requires us to daily, hourly, minutely correct what is right in our eyes with what is written. Sin is so deceptive and often subtle that we cannot rely upon ourselves to do what is right. We must constantly conform our thoughts to what is written. http://marshill.com/media/guests/be-killing-sin-or-sin-will-be-killing-you
If that is true, then why did God act uniquely with Israel? Why did he not do the same for Egypt?
What Israel experienced, their entire government, was a unique situation. God spoke to them from Mt. Sinai in the midst of thunder and fire. The structure he set up for Israel was unique and came in the form of the Mosaic Covenant, which they ultimately broke, and thus, as Hebrews 8 says, it is obsolete. God has never made a similar covenant with any other nation. He set them apart as distinct from every other nation. Israel was unique in history and was never to be repeated. It is a type or shadow of what the new heavens and new earth will be. It was never a model for all nations (this is the error of North’s theonomy). There is no indication anywhere in Scripture that God would prefer that all nations be ruled directly by Him now, prior to Christ’s return. When Christ returns, then all nations will be ruled and judged by Him, as Israel was.
Even if we grant that God intentionally set up Israel to “do what was right in their own eyes” (which I do not grant), Deut 12:8 says this was not to continue, that it was temporary. That verse refers to how the Israelites were to offer their sacrifices. While they were still wandering, before they had conquered Canaan and established themselves, people could offer their sacrifices as they saw fit. But this was not the goal. The goal was for Israel to be established, for a temple to be built, and for God’s presence to be located in a specific place (Jerusalem) at which time they would then be bound to obey every letter of sacrificial law given to them (see context of 12:8).
1) Yes, Israel’s punishment was largely corporate. But this did not change when a king came to power. Israel’s punishment was largely corporate because the Mosaic Covenant, the law they were bound by, was a national, corporate covenant
2) The simple statement “doing what is right in your own eyes” may be neutral. But context determines that. In Deut 12:8 it is neutral. It is a statement of fact that is neither praising nor condemning. But in Judges 17:6 it is very clearly a condemnation of Micah doing what was right in his eyes, rather than what was right in God’s eyes. There is no other way to interpret that verse. It seems you are taking that one statement and abstracting it, making it a statement of political philosophy, and then commenting on it. This is precisely the error of Boaz that initiated this post. The entire chapter of Judges 17 is a description of sinful actions. All of 17-21 is an account of Israel’s sinful disobedience. They were doing what was right in their eyes, not what was right in God’s eyes. To suggest that this statement is a statement about any particular political structure is eisegesis, not exegesis, in my opinion.
I hope I’m not misunderstanding or talking past you. Thoughts?
I have to be short today, and I’m gone this weekend so don’t think I’ve abandoned this or disappeared. 😉
If someone angers you, do your really need to mediate on “Do no Murder” so that you do not murder that individual?
As for Plato, just because I quote him doesn’t mean he’s right in all respects but he still has God given wisdom in some issues. God has revealed himself through Christians, Jews, and Non-Christians throughout history. So when someone’s words ring’s of Scripture it helps show the innate truth of Scripture. Obviously only the Scripture can be taken by itself.
I hope I’m misunderstanding you here. We are not to focus on our sin constantly; but on Christ. Do you really need to focus on how you are sinning while you are cooking dinner for your family? Do you think Sin are actions and thoughts not conforming to Christ or do you think of Sin as some primordial black ooze that covers are whole body despite our actions?
Agreed, but how were they bound?
So if it can be neutral and bad, then can it be a good in context? or can it only be neutral and bad (which seems odd).
Have a good weekend!
I need to meditate on “Do not murder”, which Jesus explained really means “Do not hate”, because I am prone to hatred and unrighteous anger. Although I am a Christian, and although I have spent a lot of time studying Scripture, I still need to look outside of myself, especially when someone angers me, because my wicked heart will find a way to rationalize and justify my hatred of someone who has angered me. I have not internalized “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” to the point that I no longer need to look to Scripture, but need only look inside myself, and I will not do so until I enter heaven (Heb 12:23).
I agree that Plato and other non-Christians can say wise things because they are created in the image of God and therefore have knowledge of God (Rom 1:19-20). (But I completely disagree that God “reveals” Himself through them). However, Plato knew nothing of sin and righteousness. He knew absolutely nothing of the gospel. That was my point. If we take the statement “Godly people do not need laws to tell them to act Godly” then we have contradicted Scripture. As the Psalms I have quoted demonstrate, the blessed, righteous man looks outside of himself to God’s Word, which is external to him.
Forgive me for being confusing. I was not speaking of law vs. gospel. Yes, we are to look to Christ, but we are to do so through the written Word of God. Jesus said “Sanctify them in the truth. Your word is truth.” Jesus did not say “Look inside yourself, because now you’re righteous and you know the truth.” My point is internal vs. external, not law vs. gospel.
“Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, any law of God, given as a rule to the reasonable creature.” I’m not sure I understand your question or what prompted it. Perhaps I am miscommunicating. Here is what I was trying to articulate:
They were bound by God, in whom they were in covenant with. When they disobeyed, God punished them in a variety of ways including killing them with wars and plagues and famines, as well as exiling them from the promised land (Deut 28:15-68; and the rest of the OT). I’m not sure I understand your question.
Yes, it could theoretically be used positively in a given context. But my point is that neither you, nor Boaz, has provided anywhere that it has been used in context to mean something positive.
Looking at Judges 17, do you believe that v6 has any reference to v1-5 and 7-13? Do you believe “Every man did what was right in his own eyes” has any reference to Micah, or do you think it is just an abstract statement about everyone in Israel that is not related to the story of Micah?
I realized I did not directly address your reference to 1 Tim 1:8-9 directly. We need to be careful to interpret this passage so that it does not contradict other statements about the law. Throughout the NT, Christians are exhorted by the law and told to follow it and obey it. This would not be necessary if the law was not intended for Christians. Yes, those who are born again have the law re-written on the new hearts of flesh, and thus have a desire to obey the law of God from their inner being… however, as Romans 7 points out, the old man, the indwelling sin within all of us muddies the water and deceives us so that what we think “internally” becomes inaccurate and sinful. Thus we need to be washed with the Word constantly to correct our errant internal compass that is still marred by sin.
With specific regards to 1 Tim 1:8-9 I have found these comments by Richard Barcellos helpful:
I still agree with my original reading of it which is that we are to essentially internalize God’s law; and once we internalize it the law then holds no sway over us. Which is simple and is logically coherent. Same as how if I don’t murder someone because I don’t have issues with hate, the human laws about murder have no sway over me, I have no need to study what is and isn’t murder, what the differences are between degrees of homocide, …. It doesn’t matter, those laws aren’t meant for me. It isn’t that because we are Christians the entire law has no sway over us (I am nowhere near that righteous), but because we are righteous in specific areas, those specific areas of law have no hold over us. That’s an important distinction, one which I don’t think Richard above disagrees with too much.
If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.
(James 2:8-11 ESV)
hah! just realized that my correction was still wrong. I obviously meant “homicide”. Don’t know how I put down homidice.
Agreed. But the action themselves are not the same. You still transgress the law and sin, but they are different actions which have different consequences (at least while on Earth)
I can’t respond directly to your response so I’m putting in a new comment.
Ugh, I don’t mean to imply that you only need to look inside yourself; that’s dangerous, sinful ground. Hate and murder are all part of the same law, and obviously I agree with Jesus that hating someone is murdering them in your heart. You, like me it sounds, need to focus on not having unrighteous anger or judgement on to others, but that is not the same thing as murder. Christ wasn’t saying that. An orange isn’t an apple, but they are both fruit. If you eat an apple, you’ve eaten fruit; if you’ve eaten an orange, you’ve eaten fruit. However, if you eat an apple, you have not eaten fruit.
Oh I think it has complete reference to Micah. But to me that is almost like saying “in those days David was King”. To give a historical reference, but also implying a bit of negativity to David’s rulership. Same thing here. It’s giving historical reference and also stating why Micah was able to get away with such sin.
Thanks John. I think this discussion has probably run its course. I appreciate the dialog. I still think the comparison is right in own eyes vs right in God’s eyes. That’s the most obvious meaning in the immediate context. I look forward to chatting with you as you read/listen through the material the Trinity Foundation.
Agreed and I as well still think it is a goal to be able to do what is right in God’s and our own eyes. So that our morals match God’s.
Well I appreciate the time you took out of your day, talk to you later.
Pingback: Luther and First Principles « The Economical Engineer
Pingback: Everybody does what is right in their own eyes | Set Apart People