Two common phrases dominate throughout the book of Judges:
- The people did evil in the sight of the LORD
- Every man did what was right in his own eyes
God makes it clear that He is King over Israel. But Israel’s actions show they are far from accepting God’s leadership. Surrounded by enemies, constantly in and out of trouble with one neighbor or another, Israel salivates for a human leader under whom to rally. They want to be led to victory, not by an invisible God, but by a person they can see, hear, and touch.
Living according to what each person thinks is best leads to chaos. Two episodes at the end of the book of Judges underscore the nastiness, the utter shamefulness that ensues when we think we know better than what God says.
In the first episode, a man named Micah creates his own shrine to God, including making false idols and even importing a Levite to name as priest over his collection of religious memorabilia. When a troop of soldiers happen upon Micah’s setup, it doesn’t take much to persuade the Levite to join the soldiers instead, taking all of Micah’s religious items with him. Instead of truly understanding the God who should be worshiped, Micah and others learned the hard way that no one benefits when we believe in the power of things over the power of the living God.
In the second incident, a Levite and his concubine wind up in a village among the tribe of Benjamin. They are offered hospitality by another stranger who happens to be staying in the village, but the rest of the men there knock on the door in the wee hours of the morning demanding access to the Levite so that they might defile him. The concubine, considered property, gets offered to the men of the village instead. When the Levite finds her assaulted to death the next morning, he returns home, cuts her in twelve pieces and sends those pieces across Israel to tell the tale.
In vengeance, tribe goes against tribe, so that the tribe of Benjamin is almost completely wiped out. It seems that even people going along in life following their own definition of good and bad have their limits. But God’s limits are even more strict, and certainly more consistent, than anything man can create. Saul’s rise and fall proves how thin the line between bowing to God’s edicts and deciding what is right according to your own heart and mind.
Saul starts from a good place. When Samuel tells him he has been chosen to rule his people, Saul reminds the prophet that he comes from the smallest tribe and one of the smallest families in that tribe, so unworthy of the title of king. For a man of striking good looks, who stands a head above everyone around him, Saul’s humility seems like a good sign.
However, Saul shows a distinct habit of thinking too much from himself without following Samuel’s instructions concerning God’s guidance. First, when Samuel runs late for his meeting with Saul before a battle, Saul goes ahead and offers sacrifices himself, ignoring the fact that he is no priest and therefore not allowed to offer said sacrifices. Then, when God hands the Amalekites over into Saul’s hand for victory, instead of killing all the livestock as God instructed him to do, Saul saves the best animals to offer in sacrifice at the altar.
Each of these acts may look like simple slips, logical assumptions on Saul’s part that he justified in his own mind as honoring God when he should have squashed them instead. We might want to shake our heads at Saul, but we must remember the king grew up in a world that decided what was right in its own eyes. How easy it is in those situations to follow human logic instead of Godly instruction.
Reading Judges, I can’t help but think about how much in our society we also decide what is right in our own hearts rather than following God. How often in each day do we make decisions assuming we know what God would have to say about a matter without really specifically and prayerfully approaching Him about it before acting? Do we fall in the trap of looking to the outside world to validate what we decide in our own mind is right? How many churches have turned a blind eye to the secular immorality of couple living together? To marriages dissolved not because of infidelity but because no one wants to work on the relationship anymore? How many think it’s OK to embrace politically-correct lifestyles, even though no biblical foundation exists to credit these lifestyles as righteous?
God makes His reaction to disobedience very clear. He tells Saul that his proclivity to choose according to Saul’s heart has cost Saul the kingship. God plans on passing the kingdom on to a man “after his own heart,” David.
More than that, God makes it clear that there can truly be only one REAL king in a believer’s life, and that King is GOD HIMSELF. When Samuel feels rejected because the Israelites don’t want Samuel as judge anymore, God is quick to assure the old prophet that the one being rejected is God. They don’t want me as King, God tells his faithful servant, which is too bad because I had such plans for them.
God has plans for me, for you, for the guy selling newspapers at the street corner even though the wind is bitterly cold these winter mornings. He invites us to let Him in and let Him lead.
If I don’t want to end up like Saul, thinking my logical mind and its shortcuts work somehow better than what God clearly states He wants, I can learn well from the man after God’s own heart. The lessons from David’s struggles against Saul teach us much about leaning on the understanding that God’s will is the only inevitability.
Next time, I want to share some really cool insights about David’s way of approaching stressful situations that have helped me deal with my own anxieties and stress. I hope you find them as helpful as I have in your own spiritual journey.