In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes. – Joshua 21:25
I have said over the many years I have lived on this earth that the only two things a person has to do is die and live with the consequences of their choices until then. In this narrow context, life is full of freedom. Other than those two things, there is nothing that a person HAS to do. You don’t HAVE to eat; starvation is an option. You don’t HAVE to breathe; asphyxiation is a choice. You don’t HAVE to sleep; with great effort, you can prevent yourself from sleeping…and die of the many conditions that come from never getting any.
We humans have a way of abusing this kind of freedom. We accidentally or voluntarily hurt other people. We make terrible choice with our freedom. We overspend our money. We deprive our bodies of needed activity. We become addicted to destructive behaviours.
Don’t misunderstand me; we do a lot of good with our freedom as well. Being charitable to others is a choice. Speaking kindly to those who do not reciprocate is our choice.
The only point I’m trying to make so far is that the freedom that we have—the freedom defined above—gives us such a wide array of choices for good or bad.
Most people are not trying to do wrong. And even if they are, it isn’t for very long. Even Hitler, the twisted man who authorized Jewish genocide, felt that he was doing the right thing. It’s not a common thing when a person says, “This activity is seriously wrong, and yet I choose to do it all the time.”
The reality is that people often do what they think is right. They may not always be right about what is right, but that is the intended goal.
But, God has a warning for us in this moment. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” (Proverbs 14:12, ESV). During the time when Moses and Joshua had died and Israel had no leader, the people languished. They had no one ruling over them. The text in two different places in the Book of Judges says that the people did what was right in their own eyes. So God appointed Judges to rule over the people. They weren’t sovereign royalty, but they were chosen to employ governance and wisdom for the people in this difficult time.
But God didn’t want the people to have judges. He didn’t want them to have a king. He wanted them to simply follow His ways. They had a law. They had rules for living given to them by Him. Yet, somehow, they couldn’t keep that going.
For those of us today, there are some lessons to be learned from the ancient Israelites:
1) Maximum freedom and minimal restriction only works if we are following God and His ways.
2) No matter how right we think we are, that is not a guarantee that we actually are right.
3) Relying solely on human-made rules will eventually lead to nothing good.
There is but one way to right living. Order, peace, and justice comes not from below but from above. Following His ways has proven over the millennia to bring maximum freedom with minimal restriction. It has also proven to bring stability both to the individual and the community.
How do we know His ways? “But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do” (James 1:25, NIV). In other words, spend time in the Bible. Read it. Memorize it. Study it. Discuss it. Live it.
Hey, it’s your choice.
Some have said that peace is the most elusive treasure in all the world. It's so hard to find. Some believe it's an illusion. Others feel it is temporary and beyond our control. But the words of God paint a different picture about finding true peace.