This statement has bugged me for a long time, especially when it is quoted to condemn believers who earnestly do their best to follow YHVH’s commandments. This phrase is also almost always quoted as a reason for the disunity that is evident in the Messianic community. Sometimes it is used to manipulate others to compromise their beliefs for the sake of unity. Anti-missionaries like to quote it when they refer to us who believe in Y’shua. This has become quite a popular phrase…
However, is it right to use this phrase in these contexts? Was it intended to refer to believers who sincerely, search for the truth and then follow their convictions? We will show you from the Scriptures how inappropriate this quote really is when it is used to refer to believers who are obedient to YHVH. Let us first look at the process of finding truth.
The process of finding truth
We are living in very interesting times; interesting, but also quite frustrating. Frustrating in the sense of being presented with so much information and not always being able to investigate it due to time constraints. It remains our responsibility, though, especially when it comes to matters affecting our faith. It is a good practice to verify anything we hear or read before we repeat it. We are not to go around happily quoting everything we hear as truth. It is no easy task and takes time to verify and to search for the truth ourselves, but if we don’t do it, it will lead to confusion and deception.
YHVH has also given us a Helper, His Spirit (Ruach) to help us along the way as we search for truth. Once we have done this searching with YHVH’s help and reached a conclusion, it becomes our conviction on that particular matter. It may change if more facts are presented to us, if we are open to it, but until then it will remain our point of view.
So, if we search the Scriptures like this and are led by YHVH’s Set Apart Spirit, and live according to what we have learned, are we then doing what is right in our own eyes? This doesn’t sound right, does it? To study and live YHVH’s commandments is doing what is right in His eyes, not ours.
Let us now look at how this phrase is presented in the Scriptures in its original context to see if this is indeed so.
What does “everybody does what is right in their own eyes” mean?
We must go back to the context for clarification. We find several passages siting this phrase in Scripture. We shall now go to each and study the context for better understanding. The first reference is from the book of Deuteronomy.
When you come into the land
8 â€œYou shall not do at all what we are doing here today, every man doing whatever is right in his own eyes; 9 for you have not as yet come to the resting place and the inheritance which YHVH your Elohim is giving you.
This was said just before the Israelites crossed the Jordan, after forty years of wandering. We know, for example, that all males had to be circumcised before they could celebrate the Passover. This means they did not circumcise their children during that time. As for the keeping of the rest of the commandments, we can only speculate, which we won’t do.
We found another interesting reference regarding this generation in Psalm 95.
10 â€œFor forty years I loathed that generation, And said they are a people who err in their heart, And they do not know My ways.
If that generation erred in their heart and did not know YHVH’s ways, did they teach their children to walk righteously? Also, consider that YHVH, before they entered the land repeated many of the commandments previously given. Would it be necessary to repeat something if people were doing it perfectly? You can read more about this in the article “When you enter the land â€“ Understanding the full context leads to better understanding.
The next two references are in the book of Judges.
The time of the Judges
The phrase is repeated twice in the book of Judges. Let’s look at the context.
When Israel inhabited the land, they were commanded not to make covenants with the people of the land, but to drive them out. They did not obey that command. We read in Judges 2:1-3, that YHVH sent a messenger to them to inform them of the consequences thereof.
3 â€œTherefore I also said, â€˜I will not drive them out before you; but they will become as thorns in your sides and their gods will be a snare to you.â€™ â€
So, did this happen? It is written that after Joshua died there arose a generation who did not know YHVH.
10 All that generation also were gathered to their fathers; and there arose another generation after them who did not know YHVH, nor yet the work which He had done for Israel.
When you read further, you will notice that they seem to know about YHVH, yet did not live in obedience to Him. The idols of the nations had indeed become a snare to them. You will notice when you read the book how often the phrase “then the sons of Israel again did evil in the sight of YHVH” (Judg 2:11; 3:7; 3:12; 4:1; 6:1; 10:6; 13:1)Â is used. From this, we can conclude that the nations they didn’t drive out had become a snare toÂ them.
Here are the two references where we find the phrase “every man did what was right in his own eyes” in the book of Judges.
1 Now there was a man of the hill country of Ephraim whose name was Micah. 2 He said to his mother, â€œThe eleven hundred pieces of silver which were taken from you, about which you uttered a curse in my hearing, behold, the silver is with me; I took it.â€ And his mother said, â€œBlessed be my son by YHVH.â€ 3 He then returned the eleven hundred pieces of silver to his mother, and his mother said, â€œI wholly dedicate the silver from my hand to YHVH for my son to make a graven image and a molten image; now therefore, I will return them to you.â€ 4 So when he returned the silver to his mother, his mother took two hundred pieces of silver and gave them to the silversmith who made them into a graven image and a molten image, and they were in the house of Micah. 5 And the man Micah had a shrine and he made an ephod and household idols and consecrated one of his sons, that he might become his priest. 6 In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes.
Here in verse 6, we find the second occurrence of this phrase in Scripture. Note that here and in the next quote, we find a reference to the absence of a king. The author of the book of Judges may have seen a king as a solution to the problem of this period.
We find this phrase repeated in Judges 21:25.
25 In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
What is the context here?
The men of Israel went up against the men of Benjamin because of all the disgraceful acts Benjamin committed. You can read Judges chapter 20 if you want to learn more about this. The book of Judges concludes with this phrase “ In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes”
This phrase “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” is actually the theme throughout the book of Judges. The people of Israel were caught up in a cycle of sin, deliverance and then sin again. What we see in the book of Judges is the consequence of people doing what is right in their own eyes instead of doing what is right in YHVH’s eyes; His commandments.
Can you still say it is fair to use this phrase to refer to Torah-observant believers in Y’shua searching and living YHVH’s truth to the best of their ability?
We find some more references in the book of Proverbs.
The book of Proverbs
15 The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, But a wise man is he who listens to counsel.
Could this be interpreted to be about keeping YHVH’s commandments, would such a person be called a fool or would he perhaps be a wise man?
12 There is a way which seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death.
If this way that seems right to a man is about keeping YHVH’s commandments, why would it’s end be the way of death? The way that seems right to a man is usually his own way, not YHVH’s. It would otherwise be called YHVH’s way and will lead to life.
YHVH knows the heart
2 Every manâ€™s way is right in his own eyes, But YHVH weighs the hearts. 3 To do righteousness and justice Is desired by YHVH more than sacrifice.
Why do we do what we do? YHVH knows our intentions, He knows whether or not we willfully disobey Him. He desires that we do righteousness and justice.
12 If you say, â€œSee, we did not know this,â€ Does He not consider it who weighs the hearts? And does He not know it who keeps your soul? And will He not render to man according to his work?
YHVH certainly knows our hearts, but we are not to use this phrase as a justification to be disobedient. Many people do. They know, for example, that the seventh day is the Sabbath, but continueÂ to rest on the Sunday justifying it with, “YHVH knows my heart” He does indeed, but not the way you think. He knows when we have a rebellious heart, like when we are willfully disobedient to his eternal commandments.
We find a great example of YHVH commending people for their conviction.
In a previous article Unityâ€¦how not to achieve it, we have written about the Rechabites. YHVH used them as an example of obedience. They didn’t only obey YHVH, but their father also. YHVH did not say they were doing what was good in their own eyes; He commended them for being obedient to their father’s instructions. They lived according to their conviction of not drinking wine and not owning land. We don’t know what their reasons were for having this conviction. It is, however, important to understand that YHVH commended them for doing what they believed was right. It is, however, important to keep in mind that their conviction, did not contradict YHVH’s commandments in any way.
If we were to put the Rechabites in our modern times and ask any scholar about their convictions, they would say it is a wrong interpretation of Scripture. The Rechabites would be condemned by most for “doing what was right in their own eyes” and accused of creating disunity with their different convictions. Sad but trueâ€¦ do we even care how YHVH sees people or is it just our own opinion that counts?
My dear friends, is it really so wrong to be different? Let us embrace each other’s differences and not talk down on others who hold differing convictions. Don’t take scripture out of its original context and use it to condemn others who are doing their best to follow YHVH. We are to pray daily to see people through YHVH’s eyes. We might have more mercy then.
7 â€œBlessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
1 Corinthians 4:5
5 Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Master comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of menâ€™s hearts; and then each manâ€™s praise will come to him from Elohim.
In conclusion, I would like to share this great quote that sums the time we live in really well.
Doing what is right in someone’s own eyes is lawlessness. Scripture teaches that and so should we.
- All quoted passages are from the New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update. LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995. We have substituted YHVH for LORD and Yâ€™shua for Jesus.