“In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:18 NKJV).
We often hear others, especially young people, express the desire to be free to do whatever they choose to do. After years of chafing at parental discipline, school schedules, and domination by adult authority, growing up becomes a matter of self-rule and self-will.
The goal of graduation and maturity is seen to promise a life of choice and the ability to decide for oneself, without restrictions from others.
As ideal as that may sound to the individual, there are abundant examples of the folly of such a course, especially when applied to society. As a simple and straightforward example, I suggest a close examination of traffic patterns in many overcrowded Asian cities.
Some years ago I was in a medium-sized town in Bangladesh and we were caught by a train. As traffic waited on our side of the tracks, drivers began to pull out of the proper lanes and come as near to the track as possible, regardless of which side of the road they were on.
Before long the street was filled with cars from one sidewalk to the other, all heading in the same direction.
Eventually the train passed and when we could see to the other side, we were faced with the exact same situation on that side of the tracks, except that all those cars were going in the opposite direction, toward us.
The street was completely jammed, with no room for anyone to pass. Every driver had chosen to ignore the law and to “do what was right in his own eyes.” The result was complete gridlock, with no one being able to do anything.
The same principle is witnessed every day on countless highways and streets. Buses pass dangerously without clear lanes, often causing terrible accidents resulting in many deaths.
City streets are clogged when vehicles pass or turn in unauthorized manners, tying up traffic for blocks. Each person seems determined to do whatever he or she chooses, without regard for traffic ordinances, the rights of others, or the common good.
Judges 21:25 is not written in praise of individual freedom. It is rather an explanation of what was wrong in Israel. There was no recognized authority, and there was no self-discipline. The nation was beset with selfish individualism that lead to chaos and anarchy. As a result, the people suffered and the country was vulnerable to invasion from its enemies.
As intended and authorized by God, civil rulers are not a threat to freedom or personal liberties.
“The authorities that exist are appointed by God . . . For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same” (Romans 13:1b, 3).