They “did evil in the sight of the Lord” is a repeated refrain in Judges 2:11; 3:7; 4:1; 6:1; 10:6.
And then at the end of Judges it is phrased different (17:6; 21:25): “In those days…everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”
The point is that the Israelites were not doing evil “in their own eyes.” In other words, their perception was that their behavior was morally acceptable. They did not think: I know this is evil but will do it anyway.
This teaches us 2 things about sin:
1. The definition of sin. Sin does not ultimately consist of violating our conscience or personal standards but rather consists of violating God’s will for us.
This flies in the face of modern thinking. It is most often asserted that “only you can define what’s right and wrong for you.” In other words, “my own eyes” determine right and wrong.
If evil is only determined by our own eyes, how could we tell the Nazis that it was wrong to exterminate the Jews? Sin is defined as violating our relationship with God.
2. These phrases show us the deception of sin. They remind us how easily self-deceived we are and to what extent we will rationalize sin. The Israelites were in “group denial.” In their own perception, there was nothing wrong with what they were doing.
This should lead us to be very careful and to evaluate ourselves constantly through biblical reflection and accountability.