The People’s Choice
“And the next day…Everyone did what was right in their own eyes.”
Judges 21:4, 25 (ESVUK)
There has been a lot of talk recently about the values of democracy. Certainly, compared to tyranny and to other forms of oppressive government, it seems a safer option. Is, however, what the people want always the best way forward?
Much of the book of Judges is a verdict on styles of government. The loose confederation of the twelve tribes of Israel were guided sometimes by strong leaders such as Deborah and Gideon, by groups of powerful men, or by the will of the people.
By the time we get to Judges 19, 20 and 21 things go from bad to worse. Although they made a show of religion, the Israelites had lost their moral compass. It’s a terrible story. A gang of Benjaminite men, “worthless fellows” (19:22), wanted to abuse a Levite stranger. When they could not get their way with the man, they took his common-law wife and violated her. This atrocity led to a war against the Benjaminites, who were defeated heavily, leaving perhaps only 600 men alive.
The next morning after the final battle, the people of Israel came together in prayer and wept bitterly. Some regretted that the Benjaminite tribe might now die out. They remembered that they had sworn previously that no Benjaminite would be allowed to marry any of their women. So the people hatched a heinous plan. Their decision was to slaughter all the children, men, and married women of a nearby town. This they did and in the end only 400 virgins of the town survived. Then the “whole congregation sent word” (21:13) to the remnant of Benjamin to lie in wait and to snatch for themselves a wife of these 400 young women at an upcoming religious festival.
The people thought that God would bless their collective action because they had prayed about it together when, in fact, what happened had little, if anything, to do with God’s gracious will for his people. That’s why the book of Judges ends the way it does. It was democracy that had turned into anarchy: “everyone did what was right in their own eyes”.
There is, of course, a better way than to trust solely in our own judgments. It involves putting Christ first in our thoughts. Proverbs 3:5-6 points to this: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”
Help us, Father, please to trust in your Son, Jesus, and not to lean on our own understanding. In Jesus’ name.
Study by James Henderson
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