And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD, and served Baalim:…
I. SOME CHARACTERISTICS OF NATIONAL SINS (vers. 11-13). There is an amazing tendency in communities to commit the same sins. We are such creatures of imitation that every community develops a certain individuality; all composing it, while having personal peculiarities, do yet have many modes of speech and thought and habits of life in common. Every nation, every city, has its characteristic virtues, its characteristic sins. It is easy to "follow a multitude to do evil." So the Jewish people developed a propensity to idolatry. But a still more striking fact regarding national sin is the way it is promoted by the influence of other nations. Israel followed the gods of the people that were round about them.
II. THE RETRIBUTION OF NATIONS (vers. 14, 15). A nation must be punished in this life if at all, for it has no hereafter. Consequently, in national experience the connection between sin and the loss of prosperity is most distinctly seen.
III. THE IMPORTANCE OF GOOD MEN AS LEADERS (vers. 16-18). It is God's method to elevate and save nations by the influence of men whom He brings forward for the purpose. They may hold very different positions in public life, they may be men of very different character and abilities, but we are to recognise the work they do as made possible through the goodness of God. We must trust God more in national emergencies, and pay more heed to the counsels of men who are appointed of God to be our leaders. It is worth our notice here that the judges of Israel were simply the vicegerents of God. God was the Chief Magistrate of the nation. He claimed absolute authority. The government was a theocracy; that is, God enacted the laws of the nation, interpreted them, and enforced them. He combined in Himself the three departments of government — the legislative, the judicial, and the executive. Our governments are under equal obligation with the judges of old to bring God's thought before the people and to enforce His will. Our rulers show themselves to be raised up of God, and are delivering us from the misery of our national sins only as they act for God and express His will in their government of the people.
IV. THE AMAZING TENDENCY OF NATIONS TO RELAPSE INTO SIN (ver. 19). It is a sad record, but true to nature and repeated in every age of the world. Reform makes progress, as the tide advances, by refluent waves, only each succeeding wave rolls a little higher up the beach. The wave sweeps in, but it does not stay there. It rolls back and leaves the shore bare, and everything seems swept out to sea. That is a very discouraging feature to the eager reformer. There is need for us of to-day, in view of this law of retrogression in progress, of two things. One is never to be discouraged by any seeming discomfiture. There are undoubtedly moral lapses in communities. In Cromwell's day, in England, there was a great advance in morals and high purpose, but with the death of Cromwell and the accession of Charles
II. the wave of progress flowed back again and left the unhappy kingdom demoralised and given over to folly. But this was only a temporary reverse. In time the right re-asserted itself, morality triumphed, and the nation rose to a higher level than ever before. We may be sure this is God's design for us.
V. THE PROBATION AND DISCIPLINE OF NATIONS BY TRIAL (vers. 20-23). Just as David was fitted for kingship by the rude discipline of his life as an outlaw, so was Israel fitted to introduce Christ to the world by its bitter experiences in the time of the judges, in the days of the captivity, and under the hated Roman yoke. God is doing the same thing for this nation, training it for great usefulness, or at least giving it opportunity to be so trained, by its successive trials.
(A. P. Foster.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD, and served Baalim: