Everyone Did As He Saw FitBy Nathan Mates
All was not well, however.
The Israelites, which had fallen into despair (Exodus 14:10-12), grumbling (Exodus 17:1-3), idolatry (Exodus 32:1-8), fear (Numbers 13:31 - 14:4), lust (Numbers 25:1-3), and just about every other sin imaginable, did not change their behavior much, at all, when they reached the promised land. As Judges 2 recounts:
The book of Judges is the history of several hundred years of falling away from God and into sin, getting into trouble because of that, and crying out to God for rescue. God was faithful, and continued to raise up leaders (judges) who restored some of the proper balance, but the cycle would reoccur again. [In fact, looking at the Old Testament, it is clear that the temptations to worshiping other Gods never really went away, except by the time of the New Testament the Pharisees had arisen who worshiped a misunderstanding Mosaic law.]
Towards the end of the book of Judges, this statement appears: "In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit." [Judges 17:6] While this indicates that the book of Judges was written after Israel got its first king (Saul), it is more telling of the nature of the people at the time. With no strong force from outside to direct people's actions, they will naturally do what pleases them. Disputes, strife, warfare, and the like were prevalent in the days of the judges because there was no strong authority to keep things in place. The priests were to provide theological direction and leadership to the people, but they refused that, doing as they saw fit.
With a king in place, the theological leadership was still not present, even though it had been commanded that the king know and revere the law (Deuteronomy 17:18-20). But, the political and societal signs of respecting authority were in place. A king could (and did) collect taxes, raise armies, and generally enforce law and order. It would have been better to have a strong theological leader, who could inspire the people to live better. But, seeking refuge from the problems of the day, the Israelites demanded simply the political solution.
Why did this have to happen? In short, because the people had lost all respect for the law-- political and spiritual-- they sought relief from the problems that led them into. These days, I feel our societies are rapidly heading down the same paths. So many laws are being ignored simply because they are regarded as an inconvenience. Some consumers, have twisted the adage "the customer is always right" to mean "the customer can pay nothing if they want" in terms of music, software, movies, and more. (Most tend to justify their theft in other terms, but that is usually a smokescreen.) Freeways are jam packed and tempers rise when some people declare that they can force their way into merging at the last second or drive on the shoulder while everyone else is waiting their turn. Business fraud has swindled millions (billions) from others. Some diseases are on the upswing as people decide that "it feels good" is a justification for doing what God declared to be solely within marriage.
Centuries ago, the Israelites found that freedoms abused turn into freedoms denied. As a recent movie, _Spiderman_ noted, "with great power comes great responsibility." The human tendency is to take what one can, ignoring the consequences for others. But, when the consequences build up, the solution is to take away some freedoms from all, even from those who could use them responsibly. If we value the freedoms we have, we need to make sure that we-- and others-- use them well.