Way of Grace Church

When There Was No King (Judges 21 25) 11-1-09

Crying for a King

When There Was No King
Judges 21:25
November 1st, 2009
Way of Grace Church

I. "The Throne Shall Never Be Empty"

"The King is dead! Long live the King!"

What comes to mind when you hear that phrase? For some people this could be a tribute to a pop icon like Elvis or Michael Jackson; maybe an enthusiastic affirmation of what they believe will be that artist's enduring legacy.

But this phrase is in fact a traditional proclamation made following the accession of a new monarch in countries like the United Kingdom. It is a proclamation established on the idea that as soon as one monarch dies, the power to rule is immediately transferred to his or her heir, the heir to the throne.

In England, this idea about the transfer of power dates back to 1272, when Henry III died and his son Edward was away fighting in the Crusades. To avoid the possibility of false claims on the throne and civil war, the Royal Council decreed that Edward had still, in fact, become the king, even though he was ruling 'in absentia'. The Council wrote, "The throne shall never be empty; the country shall never be without a monarch."

The Royal Council of England in the 13th century understood a very, very important point about our world, about human nature: when there is no authority over us, our default belief is that everything should be under us.

Turn with me this morning to Judges chapter 21. Judges is the seventh book in the Bible, right after Joshua and right before Ruth.

II. The Passage: "In Those Days..." (21:25)

Look with me at the final verse of chapter 21, the final verse in the book of Judges, verse 25. It states this:

In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

Now this may seem like a strange verse on which to build a sermon, but bear with me and I promise I'll explain why were studying this one verse.

Notice though that the situation described here is precisely the situation the 13th century leaders of England were trying to avoid, the very scenario that they decreed in writing should never take place in their country again: "there was no king".

Let's do this: let's look at this reality of "king-lessness" from two perspectives. Let's consider "king-lessness in terms of history", but also "king-lessness in terms of the heart".

A. King-lessness in Terms of History (17:6; 18:1; 19:1)

So let's talk first about "king-lessness in terms of history. If we were to study through the final chapters of this book Judges, we would discover something interesting. We would discover that the same phrase we find at the beginning of Judges 21:25 appears three other times in the closing chapters of Judges.

In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. (17:6)

In those days there was no king in Israel. (18:1)

In those days, when there was no king in Israel... (19:1)

Very clearly, the writer here is emphasizing the political situation on the ground in Israel: there was no king. In fact, there never had been a human king. The period described here took place before the Israelites were led by a human monarch. That's what the writer wants to stress.

And why is he emphasizing that point? Well, if we had the time to read through the final five chapters of Judges, we would discover how awful things were in that time of 'king-lessness'. Almost every form of heinous sin is represented in these chapters.

So the writer or compiler of this material, who is clearly doing his work in a time when there was a king in Israel, this writer wants his readers to understand how bad things were in that time of the judges, before there was a king.

Remember, the 'judges' were those deliverer that God raised up from time to time to rescue the nation when the people were being attacked or oppressed by some foreign army. These judges served as leaders only as long as it took for God's people to get back on track in terms of faithfulness to their covenant with God.

But even if you look at the progression of judges in this book, you will see that the quality of the judges was getting worse and worse with every new judge. God used these people to rescue His people, but near the end of this progression of leaders, moral leadership was not even on the radar with most of these final judges.

Now again, you may be asking, "Why in the world is this important?" It's important because today we are embarking on a journey through the books of I and II Samuel, which in the original Hebrew Bible, is only one book. So as we begin this study this morning it is important that we try to understand something about the setting of this book. When does it take place? What was happening with God's people at this time?

To answer that with two verses, look first at I Sam. 4:18. We read, "As soon as he mentioned the ark of God, Eli fell over backward from his seat by the side of the gate, and his neck was broken and he died, for the man was old and heavy. He had judged Israel forty years."

Now flip forward a few chapters to I Samuel 7:15. There we read, "Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life."

What those two verses tell us plainly is that Eli and Samuel were judges. Therefore the setting of the books of Samuel is the time of the judges. And based on our main verse, Judges 21:25, and the repetition of what that verse states, and the content of the last five chapters of Judges, we know that coming into Samuel, the situation is not good. The situation is awful.

B. King-lessness in Terms of the Heart (21:25b)

Now to understand why life in the land of Israel was so awful at the beginning of the book of Samuel, we need to talk not only about "king-lessness in terms of history". We also need to talk about "king-lessness in terms of the heart".

Look again at the last part of Judges 21:25:

In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.(x2)

Now the relevance of this book of Samuel for us today in 21st century America is highlighted so clearly by the fact that for most people today, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that statement. For so many of our fellow Americans, everyone doing what is right in his or her own eyes is exactly the way it should be, right?

In his book "The Reason for God", Manhattan pastor Tim Keller records the comments of a young New York artist named Chloe who expressed her view of Christianity in these words: "A 'One-Truth-fits-all' approach is just too confining. The Christians I know don't seem to have the freedom to think for themselves. I believe each individual must determine truth for him or herself."

I'm sure you've heard something like that before: "Hey, whatever works for you." "Well, if you feel it's okay..." "That may be wrong for you, but I feel it's right for me." “You’ve got to do what’s right for you.” "Who are you to judge me, who are you to tell me what I should do?"

You see, while we still have laws that govern our civic life, more and more, when it comes to the broader category of moral absolutes, "there [is] no king" on the throne. And when there is no king, when the idea of absolute right and wrong is dethroned, when their is no authority over us, our default belief is that everything should be under us.

When it comes to my feelings and my assessment of life and my desires and my opinions and my sensitivities and my experiences and my rights, everything is under me. I will do, I will find a way to do what is right, in my "own eyes".

Now, be careful. Be careful not to take yourself out of the equation too quickly. You might say, "I believe in moral absolutes. I believe in right and wrong. I'm a person under authority." And that may be true. But it doesn't mean that all of us are not affected by, that all of us do not struggle with our 'default belief that everything should be under us'.

How often do you struggle with other people not doing things the way you think they should be done? How often do you struggle with other people not acting the way you think they should act? How often do you struggle when people don't respect your schedule? How often do you struggle with your spouse not meeting your needs as you define them? How often do you struggle with giving into a sinful word or sinful pleasure because it feels right to you? How often do you struggle with judging other people because they are not like you?

Do you know what God's word says about our "own eyes", about doing what is right in our "own eyes"?

Instead of building a temple around my opinion, and enshrining my personal judgment, the Bible speaks about the quicksand, the visual impairment of my "own eyes". The book of Proverbs expresses God's assessment very clearly in many places:

Proverbs tells us that:

All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the spirit. (16:2)

Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart. (21:2)

So if our default is to justify all of our actions and attitudes, what does the Lord tell us, the one who weighs the heart. He tells us that:

There are those who are clean in their own eyes but are not washed of their filth. (30:12)

The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who can answer sensibly. (26:16)

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice. (12:15)

The morally impure, the sluggard, the fool, all of them believe they are 'a-okay', when in fact God calls "a spade a spade" and reveals what they really are. Our "own eyes" are incapable of seeing what is spiritually true. That's why Proverbs asks:

Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him. (26:12)

It's for this reason that God says through Solomon in Proverbs 3:

Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. (3:7)

Wisdom according to our "own eyes" always seems to be connected to evil. Do you see that? The Bible is very clear, God is very clear about our true condition "when there is no king". We are blind. We are deluded. Spiritually we are impaired and incapable and incapacitated.

In those days there was no king in Israel. [And what happened when there was no king? What happened when human beings were living according to our 'default belief'?] Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

King-lessness in terms of the heart always means me setting myself up as the ultimate judge.

But without God, my judgment is always corrupted, my perspective is always off.

So what am I supposed to do? What are we supposed to do?

III. Crying for a King

After the first seven chapters of I Samuel, after existing in the chaotic world described for us in those first seven chapters, by chapter 8, we find the people of Israel looking for a way out; specifically, in those days when there was no king in Israel, we find the people crying for a king.

Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah; 5 and they said to him, “Behold, you have grown old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint a king for us to judge us like all the nations.” (I Samuel 8:4, 5)

As we will see in the months to come, Samuel did appoint a king for them. But as the hundreds and hundreds of years to follow demonstrated, even when in those days when there was a king in Israel, God’s people still struggled with doing what was right in their own eyes. Every king struggled with doing what was right in his own eyes.

Yes, kingship in Israel did bring a level of civic order that was painfully missing in the time of the Judges, that is it did help in terms of history, but in terms of the heart, the monarchy could not deal with the ‘me-archy’ of men and women’s lives.

The irony is that the people of Israel were right to cry out for a king. Their problem was in recognizing which king they really needed. This is why God says only two verses later in I Samuel 8:

And the Lord said to Samuel, “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. (I Samuel 8:7)

Doing what is right in our own eyes is always wrong because what is truly right is that which is right in God’s eyes, not ours. He is the King of heaven. He is the King over every other king. This is why the third king of Israel, Solomon, gave this instruction to his children:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. 6 In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. (3:5-7)

Yes, the book of Samuel is a book about the kingship Israel experienced. But it also is a book about the kingship Israel needed. It’s a book about the kingship we need. And because we so often find ourselves living in moments when there is, for all intents and purposes, no king; because in times of conflict and temptation we are so often prone to imagine that the throne is empty and we’re calling the shots, Samuel is a book we desperately need to hear.

IV. The Throne of Your Heart

In what ways, in which attitudes, in what parts of your life, in which opinions and perspectives, are you doing what is right in your "own eyes"?

When it comes to forgiveness, are you doing what is right in your own eyes? When it comes to your finances, are you doing what is right in your own eyes? When it comes to your free time, are you doing what is right in your own eyes? When it comes to dealing with your past…when it comes to how you speak to your spouse or your kids…when it comes to what you watch, what you listen to, and what you read, are you doing what is right in your own eyes?

Are you able to see in your life all of those actions and attitudes and words about which it would be fair to say, “In those days, there was no king in Bryce’s heart. He did what was right in his own eyes.” What kind of conclusion would those closest to you make about the ‘political’ condition of your heart?

Your greatest need, my greatest need is for God to be seated on the throne of our hearts.

Listen to how an old Puritan prayer embraces and expresses this need:

O God of the highest heaven,
occupy the throne of my heart,
take full possession and reign supreme,
lay low every rebel lust,
let no vile passion resist thy holy war;
manifest thy mighty power,
and make me thine forever.
Thou art worthy to be
praised with my every breath,
loved with my every faculty of soul,
served with my every act of life.

Is that your prayer? Is that what you desire each day? Well, there is an incredible difference between those who were crying for a king in the time of the judges and those who cry for a king today. God has provided for our greatest need in the person of Jesus Christ.

Not only is Jesus the great human king promised to God’s people, but he is also, at the same time, the King of kings and Lord of lords; Jesus Christ is the King of heaven who came down to earth. And because he came down to earth, he has reconciled us to the King of heaven through his death on the cross.

Reflecting on God’s grace, Paul says this of those who believe: For He [God] delivered us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

And the reconciliation that Jesus makes possible means a new heart as well, one that was made to love and serve God.

Are you a servant of the true King through Jesus Christ? Then God has given you a new heart, empowered by His Spirit, so that you can serve faithfully, so that it never has to be said of you, “in those days [in his days, in her days] there was no king”. There is a King! And we can serve him in humility, gratefulness, and love, without fear of punishment.

Your life today, this week should be motivated by the same words of that 13th English Royal Council; those same words declared with joy and certainty because of God’s power and God’s promises in Jesus Christ: “The throne shall never be empty…”

I hope you can say that about your heart. I hope we live in light of that truth in every circumstance, in every trial, in the face of every temptation.

Let’s do something this week in light of this. I want you to think about your biggest challenge right now or your biggest opportunity or your closest relationship, and I want you to ask this question in regard to that area of your life. I want you to ask, “How will the pleasure of the King of heaven be served in this situation [or is the pleasure of the King of heaven being served in this situation], or am I simply doing what is right in my own eyes.”

Let’s take a minute of quietness, and I want you to think about and pray about that very issue. And if you know God is not occupying the throne of your heart this morning, pray and ask him to do so through Jesus.

Let’s take some time in quietness and then I’ll close us in prayer.

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