The Condition of Society

Bible Book: Judges  17
Subject: Society, Condition of; Evil Generation

Dr. Lawrence O. Richards explains, “History books seldom provide as much insight into a period as do stories of men and women who lived in it. In three brief slices of life, the author of Judges shows us how dark the era really was.”  He further comments, “The material in these last chapters of Judges is undated. It is not associated with any specific judge. It is instead ‘slice of life’ material: cross sections taken from the period to reveal the religious, personal, and social consequences of Israel’s failure to serve God. These stories illustrate the price ordinary people paid for the apostasy of the nation.”1

The Book of Judges provides the history of Israel from the death of Joshua (Judges 2:8) to the days of Samuel (1 Samuel 8:5-7).  Judges 2:11-19 reads, “Then the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD, and served the Baals; and they forsook the LORD God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt; and they followed other gods from among the gods of the people who were all around them, and they bowed down to them; and they provoked the LORD to anger. They forsook the LORD and served Baal and the Ashtoreths.  And the anger of the LORD was hot against Israel. So He delivered them into the hands of plunderers who despoiled them; and He sold them into the hands of their enemies all around, so that they could no longer stand before their enemies.  Wherever they went out, the hand of the LORD was against them for calamity, as the LORD had said, and as the LORD had sworn to them. And they were greatly distressed.  Nevertheless, the LORD raised up judges who delivered them out of the hand of those who plundered them.  Yet they would not listen to their judges, but they played the harlot with other gods, and bowed down to them. They turned quickly from the way in which their fathers walked, in obeying the commandments of the LORD; they did not do so.  And when the LORD raised up judges for them, the LORD was with the judge and delivered them out of the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge; for the LORD was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who oppressed them and harassed them. And it came to pass, when the judge was dead, that they reverted and behaved more corruptly than their fathers, by following other gods, to serve them and bow down to them. They did not cease from their own doings nor from their stubborn way.”

Deuteronomy 12:1-14 reads, “These are the statutes and judgments which you shall be careful to observe in the land which the LORD God of your fathers is giving you to possess, all the days that you live on the earth.  You shall utterly destroy all the places where the nations which you shall dispossess served their gods, on the high mountains and on the hills and under every green tree.  And you shall destroy their altars, break their sacred pillars, and burn their wooden images with fire; you shall cut down the carved images of their gods and destroy their names from that place.  You shall not worship the LORD your God with such things.  But you shall seek the place where the LORD your God chooses, out of all your tribes, to put His name for His dwelling place; and there you shall go.  There you shall take your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the heave offerings of your hand, your vowed offerings, your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks.  And there you shall eat before the LORD your God, and you shall rejoice in all to which you have put your hand, you and your households, in which the LORD your God has blessed you.  You shall not at all do as we are doing here today--every man doing whatever is right in his own eyes--for as yet you have not come to the rest and the inheritance which the LORD your God is giving you.  But when you cross over the Jordan and dwell in the land which the LORD your God is giving you to inherit, and He gives you rest from all your enemies round about, so that you dwell in safety, then there will be the place where the LORD your God chooses to make His name abide. There you shall bring all that I command you: your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the heave offerings of your hand, and all your choice offerings which you vow to the LORD.  And you shall rejoice before the LORD your God, you and your sons and your daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levite who is within your gates, since he has no portion nor inheritance with you.  Take heed to yourself that you do not offer your burnt offerings in every place that you see; but in the place which the LORD chooses, in one of your tribes, there you shall offer your burnt offerings, and there you shall do all that I command you.” (Emphasis mine)

Both Judges 17:6 and 21:25 read, “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”  Our title, “The Condition of Society” comes from John G. Butler’s commentary on Judges 17:6.2  We need a spiritual awakening in the United States of America!

Dr. Albert Barnes (1798-1870) explains, “The repetition of this characteristic phrase (compare Judges 17:6; 18:1; 19:1) is probably intended to impress upon us the idea that these disorders arose from the want of a sufficient authority to suppress them. The preservation of such a story, of which the Israelites must have been ashamed, is a striking evidence of the divine superintendence and direction as regards the Holy Scriptures.”3

From The IVP Bible Background Commentary we read, “Given limited central authority, the judges were not able to undertake significant spiritual or social reform among the people, nor were they in a position to adjudicate intertribal squabbles. The priesthood, the tribal leadership and the judges are seen in the narrative to be part of the problem rather than part of the solution. Inauguration of a central, civil authority had the potential to resolve some of these problems, but only the appropriate view of kingship would result in progress. As 1 Samuel 8-12 will point out, there are drawbacks to kingship as well, and it is a dangerous mistake to treat a spiritual problem with a political solution.”4

Related to the condition of society note three things.

I. First, there is the moral and ethical confusion.

Dr. Lawrence O. Richards writes, “Judges now shifts focus, to look at undated events which sum up the spiritual, moral, and social deterioration that took place during an era when ‘everyone did as he saw fit’ (17:6; 21:25).  Judges 17 tells of Micah, an individual who steals (vv. 1-4), sets up a shrine in his house featuring silver idols, ordains a son as a priest until he hires a Levite (vv. 5-12), and expects God to bless him for his piety (v. 13). The irony is that each of Micah’s acts directly disobeys commands found in the Mosaic Law—and Micah does not know!”  Dr. Richards warns, “One who thinks ‘I know’ can be wrong.” Judges 17:13 reads, “Then Micah said, ‘Now I know that the LORD will be good to me, since I have a Levite as priest!’”

Dr. Richards exhorts, “Let's check all our ideas about God and His ways against what God has revealed in His Scriptures.”5  Someone wisely states, “It’s not the will of God if it goes against the Word of God.”

Several years ago Dr. Ben Haden (1925-2013) highlighted the frequent use of the term “ethics” in a message based on Judges 17:6 titled, “Right or Wrong”.  Herein, Dr. Haden explains, “Ethics according to Webster’s Dictionary, ‘It is the discipline to determine what is bad and what is good, what is right and what is wrong, what is the moral obligation.’”6

Dennis James DeHaan (1932-2014) explains, “. . . today, many people, even some professing Christians, ignore God’s clear revelation of Himself in His Word.  They think they are free to form their own ideas of what God is like and what He expects.  Strongly influenced by a godless culture, they live at the center of their own little world and walk in their own ways.”7

John Stonestreet recently wrote a thought provoking article titled, “Progressive Christians Want Jesus but Not the Bible”, in which he explains, “Our approach to the Bible is vitally important. God's inspired word is not a calendar of inspirational, therapeutic quotes. When we open the Bible, we are stepping into God's story, understanding our place in His design, and encountering Him on His terms. When we don't find what we're looking for, we should ask whether we're looking for the real God — or remaking a god in our image.”8

Dr. John Philip Newman (1826-1899) shares the following on “The mission of law”:

“In a general sense law is the manner in which an act shall be performed. In civil life it is a legislative declaration how a citizen shall act; in morals it is a rule of conduct proceeding from one who has the right to rule, and directed to those who have the ability to obey. In this sense laws are mandatory, prohibitory, permissive, according to the object to be obtained, commanding what shall be done, forbidding what shall not be done, permitting what may be done. There is an antagonism prevailing in our country and in other lands against the authority of these old mandates received by Moses from the hand of the Almighty. It is difficult to understand that some who assert the uniformity of nature, or what they are pleased to call ‘material law,’ yet seek to emancipate themselves from moral obligation, which is natural law. They declare for absolute liberty; that man should be governed by his own tastes, desires, and passions; that he should gratify himself without interference from society or the restrictions of law. It is enough to say that man is not constituted for such conditions of liberty, for restraint seems to be as beneficial as law itself. Man is organised restriction, ever subject to consequences and penalties. He cannot pass a certain boundary without peril; he is a living code of law. Unlimited gratification is the right of no man. Such is his constitution that man can think so far, can see so much, can eat and drink to such a degree, can sleep so long, endure so much, and beyond this he cannot go. He is ever within the embrace of law—‘Thus far shalt thou go, and no further.’ It is true of him in his worst and in his best estate.”9

II. Second, there is the historical and eventual conduct.

From The Bible Knowledge Commentary, we read, “Theologically chapters 17-21 constitute an epilogue giving illustrations of the religious apostasy and social degradation that characterized the period of the Judges. Those conditions were viewed by the author (probably early in the monarchy) as indicative of the anarchy which prevailed when ‘Israel had no king’ (17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25). Historically the events recorded in these chapters form an appendix to the book, having transpired fairly early in the preceding history. An early date is indicated by the presence of the grandsons of both Moses (18:30) and Aaron (20:28) and by reference to the ark at Bethel (20:27-28). Possibly the events in chapters 17-18 took place in the days of Othniel, the first judge.”10

Dr. Adam Clarke (1760-1832) writes, “The word melech, which generally means king, is sometimes taken for a supreme governor, judge, magistrate, or ruler of any kind; (see Genesis 36:31, and Deuteronomy 33:5); and it is likely it should be so understood here.”  Dr. Clarke further writes, “He was his own governor, and what he did he said was right; and, by his cunning and strength, defended his conduct. When a man's own will, passions, and caprice, are to be made the rule of law, society is in a most perilous and ruinous state. Civil government is of God; and without it the earth must soon be desolated. There was a time when there was no king in England; and that was, in general, a time of scandal to religion, and oppression to men.”11

Dr. Arno C. Gaebelien (1861-1945) writes, “The last five chapters of the book form an appendix. The events given did not occur after Samson’s death, but they happened many years before. These chapters are not in chronological order but arranged in this way to teach the root of the evil and its results. This answers much, if not all, of the objections of the critics. These chapters reveal the internal corruption which existed in Israel during the different declensions. Idolatry and lawlessness are the two characteristic features. True worship and dependence on God is given up and then follows the dreadful fruit of this, which is hatred, strife culminating in lawlessness. The predictions in the New Testament reveal the same two phases. Departure from the faith is followed by moral corruption (1 Timothy 4:1; 2 Timothy 3:1-4). Then we find in these chapters a statement which does not appear elsewhere in the book. ‘There was no king in Israel’ is the statement made four times (Judges 17:6; 18:1, 19:1; 21:25). A king was needed to remedy these sad internal conditions, this departure from God and strife of one against the other. This is an evident link with and preparation for the history which follows. Even so in this age of evil, darkness and cunning lawlessness; what the world needs is a king, the King of Righteousness and Peace. When He comes, order will be brought out of chaos, all strife and war, all bloodshed and lawlessness will cease.”12

III. Third, there is the temporal and eternal consequences.

Dr. Theodore J. Cabal shares, “This statement, repeated at the end of the book, is the ‘motto’ of the book of Judges. The absence of recognized spiritual authority leads to social chaos; the narrative of Judges lays out the consequence when a people ignores its responsibility to honor, and observe, the Lord's directives for the conduct of human life.”13

Dr. Walter A. Elwell shares, “The Book of Judges closes with an analysis as to why these terrible events occurred: there was no king in Israel (21:25). There was no king to embody the concept of the ideal, godly leader. There was no king to exemplify and enforce religious loyalty to the covenant. There was no king to expedite the conversion and assimilation of the Canaanites—or the annihilation of those who resisted. There was no king to maintain public order and to prevent outrages such as the one in Gibeah. There was no king to prevent these evil trends from culminating in a murderous civil war.

Actually the consequences of the evils recorded in this book were more tragic than indicated. Even in the Old Testament, God's general purpose was to use Israel as his holy priest-nation (Exod. 19:6) to reach the entire world. Therefore, the breakdown in God's purposes recorded in this book are not merely a setback for his plans for one nation. These failures represent a setback for God's worldwide purposes for all mankind.14

Jeff Carroll shares, “The privatization of religion is going on at several different levels. As we already noted, religious identity is now a matter of individual choice rather than family or community loyalty, but even beyond that, individual, make-your-own religion is one of the choices. A famous example is Sheila, the California nurse interviewed by the authors of Habits of the Heart, who called her personal assortment of beliefs ‘Sheilaism.’

‘I believe in God. I'm not a religious fanatic. I can't remember the last time I went to church. My faith has carried me a long way. It's Sheilaism, just my own little voice.’

Sheila is remarkably typical. Most Americans say that they believe in God, but increasingly they ‘practice’ religion by themselves, on their own. In addition, many of those who do go to church are what William McKinney calls independents, persons who think that the church they attend should not regulate the way they live.”15

In Romans 1:25 we read about those “who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.”  1 Timothy 4:1-2 reads, “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron.”  Paul warns in 2 Timothy 3:5 about those “having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!”

Dr. Leith Anderson describes the challenge of ministering to ‘Baby Boomers’: “The baby boomer who is a conservative Christian heterosexual opposed to nuclear disarmament may be fully accepting of a liberal agnostic homosexual who promotes nuclear disarmament. But this is more than mere tolerance; it has become a belief that what is right for me is right for me and what is right for you is right for you. Even absolutes begin to seem relative.”16

Romans 2:12-16 reads, “For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the law  (for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified; for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them) in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel.”


Dr. Howard F. Vos writes, “The book of Judges is a sad book that tells of human proneness to wander from God and the results of spiritual decline. Actually it pictures a series of recurring cycles: apostasy from God, punishment in the form of oppression by neighboring tribes, cry to God for relief, redemption or release from bondage, and a period of rest from oppression. One must not conclude that the book depicts only gloom, however. Of the 410 years referred to in the book, during only some one hundred years of that time are the people said to have been in sin. So it is also a book of faithfulness to God, and it is a book of God's grace in watchcare and restoration.”17

Dr. Warren W. Wiersbe writes, “In his well-known poem ‘The Second Coming,’ the Irish poet William Butler Yeats describes the collapse of civilization in vivid and frightening imagery. Each time I read the poem, I feel chilled within; and then I give thanks that I know the One who is coming.

‘Things fall apart,’ writes Yeats; ‘the center cannot hold.’

The closing chapters of the Book of Judges echo that theme: ‘the center cannot hold.’ The nation that once marched triumphantly through Canaan to the glory of God now disintegrates morally and politically and brings disgrace to His name. But what else can you expect when there is ‘no king in Israel’ and the people are flouting the laws of God?

The events described in chapters 17-21 took place earlier in the period of the Judges, probably before the forty-year rule of the Philistines. The movements of the tribe of Dan would have been difficult and the war against Benjamin impossible if the Philistines had been in charge at that time. The writer departed from historical chronology and put these events together as an ‘appendix’ to the book to show how wicked the people had become. In three major areas of life, things were falling apart: the home, the ministry, and society.”18

Dr. Lawrence O. Richards writes, “During the age of the Judges, the knowledge of God and His will was lost, diluted by Canaanite concepts which found their way into the religious consciousness of Israel.”19  We need to keep these things in mind when we consider the condition of society.

1Lawrence O. Richards, The 365-Day Devotional Commentary, “Results of Apostasy” (Judges 17-21, Judges 21:25) February 25, Reading 56

 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1990), 161.February 25, Reading 56, “Results of Apostasy” Judges 17-21, Judges 21:25. 

2John G. Butler, Analytical Bible Expositor – Joshua to 2 Samuel (Clinton, IA: LBC Publications, 2010), 335. Database © 2014 WORDsearch.

3Albert Barnes, Barnes' Notes on the Old Testament [1834]. Database © 2010 WORDsearch Corp.

4John H. Walton, Victor H. Matthews and Mark W. Chavalas, The IVP Bible Background Commentary – Old Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 271. Database © 2015 WORDsearch.

5Lawrence O. Richards, Bible Reader's Companion, (Colorado Springs, CO: Cook Communications Ministries, 1991, 2004), 170. Database © 2007 WORDsearch Corp.

6Ben Haden, “Right or Wrong” Sermon Notes (Judges 17:6) #640.pdf-#645.pdf, Guido Gardens Library. 

7Dennis James DeHaan, “Free To Do What is Right” Devotional (Judges 17:6), Our Daily Bread, (Grand Rapids, MI: RBC, n. d.), n. p., Guido Gardens Library #638.pdf.

8John Stonestreet, “Progressive Christians Want Jesus but Not the Bible” Accessed: 02/19/16 . 

9The Biblical Illustrator, ed. Joseph S. Exell – Deuteronomy, J. P. Newman, D.D. “The Mission of Law” (Deuteronomy 5:6) (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, n. d.). Database © 2012 WORDsearch Corp.

10The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures by Dallas Seminary Faculty, Old Testament Edition, eds. John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, a division of Scripture Press Publications, Inc., 1985), 408. Database ©2014 WORDsearch. 

11Adam Clarke, Adam Clarke's Commentary. Database © 2004 WORDsearch Corp.

12Arno Clemens Gaebelein, The Annotated Bible – Volume 2:  Joshua to Chronicles, (New York, NY: Publication Office “Our Hope”, 1921), 108. Database © 2015 WORDsearch Corp.

13The Apologetics Study Bible: Understanding Why You Believe, gen. ed. Ted Cabal (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2007), 392. Database © 2014 WORDsearch.

14Baker Commentary on the Bible, ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1989), 177. Database © 2009 WORDsearch Corp.

15Robert N. Bellah, et. al., Habits of the Heart (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1985), 221. Cited in 6,000 Plus Illustrations for Communicating Biblical Truths. “Make-Your-Own Religion” Portions Copyright © 1985 to 1997 by Jeff Carroll. Portions Copyright © 1998-2001 by Christianity Today, Inc. Database © 2012 WORDsearch Corp.  

16Leith Anderson, Dying for Change (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 1990), 88. 

17Howard F. Vos, Concise Introduction to the Bible (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publications, 1993, 2004), 83. Database © 2007 WORDsearch Corp.

18Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary – Old Testament– History (Colorado Springs, CO: Victor is an imprint of Cook Communications Ministries, 2003), 155. Database © 2007 WORDsearch Corp.

19Richards, Companion, 170. 

Dr. Franklin L. Kirksey, pastor First Baptist Church of Spanish Fort 30775 Jay Drive Spanish Fort, Alabama 36527

Author of Don’t Miss the Revival! Messages for Revival and Spiritual Awakening from Isaiah and

Sound Biblical Preaching: Giving the Bible a Voice [Both available on in hardcover, paperback and eBook] & /   / (251) 626-6210

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