A Fresh Revival in Israel
The peaceful times of Tola and Jair did not prevent the people from sinking lower and lower. The declension increased, and the evil became more pronounced. "And the children of Israel did evil again in the sight of Jehovah, and served Baalim, and Ashtaroth, and the gods of Syria, and the gods of Zidon, and the gods of Moab, and the gods of the children of Ammon, and the gods of the Philistines, and forsook Jehovah, and served not Him" (v. 6). Never before had such an assemblage of false gods been seen in Israel. The people were wholly given over to idolatry.
Ammon was raised up as the rod of Jehovah and oppressed Gilead eighteen years. He also passed over Jordan to fight against Judah and Benjamin. Then, under the pressure of circumstances, grace wrought in the conscience of the people. It is a remarkable fact, that, in proportion as apostasy approaches its final development, the awakenings in conscience became deeper. I do not say that they widened. We have but to call to mind the song of Deborah, which brought out in the clearest light all the privileges of the people of God. But Israel, at that time, had but a slight sense of their responsibility, the conscience of the people was less aroused, and self judgment less marked. We find here, for the first time, divine light penetrating the conscience of the people, and leading them to judge themselves deeply (c.f. Judges 6: 7‑10). "We have sinned against Thee, both because we have forsaken our God, and also served Baalim" (v. 10). Then God reminds them of all His grace and His deliverances on former occasions. and of the number of the nations out of whose hand He had saved them, adding: "Yet ye have forsaken me, and served other gods" - driving home, like an arrow in their consciences, the word which their distress had wrung from them, and He closes with these words: "Wherefore I will deliver you no more" (v. 13). Israel, as a whole, could not be restored. This finds its counterpart in the history of the church.
On hearing these words, the children of Israel took a further step in the salutary path in which the Spirit of God was leading them. "We have sinned; do Thou unto us whatsoever seemeth good unto Thee." Confessing their sin, passing judgment upon themselves, and acknowledging the righteousness of God's judgment, they added: "Deliver us only, we pray Thee, this day" (v. 15). They appealed to His grace. Could He turn a deaf ear to their cry? Impossible! Repentance led them to a fuller knowledge of Jehovah than they had ever had before.
This restoration would not have been real, had it not borne fruit. "And they put away the strange gods from among them, and served Jehovah" (v. 16); turning to God from idols they served the living and true God. Then Jehovah opened to them the treasures of the pity of His heart.
God wishes that this should be the character of revivals in the sorrowful days in which our lot is cast. It is well for souls to be acquainted with their privileges and heavenly position; but it is also necessary that a deep work in the conscience should accompany the revival, in order that fruits of true holiness, humble devotedness, complete consecration may be borne by Christians, and that without ostentation or putting themselves forward to speak of themselves, but, forsaking idols, to serve the Lord.
However blessed this day of revival was, one thing was painfully lacking - a knowledge of the fundamental truths which God had confided to His people. "And the people and princes of Gilead said one to another, what man is he that will begin to fight against the children of Ammon? he shall be head over all the inhabitants of Gilead" (v. 18). They had no sense of the unity of the people. Gilead made of himself a party. The authority and guidance of the Spirit of God were but little known, for they said: "What man is he?" They had only another step to make - to choose for themselves; this step they took in vs. 4‑11 of the following chapter. Not that Jephthah was not raised up of God, but Gilead took part in the choice. How widely different was this from the call of Gideon, and how painfully characteristic ofthe last days of declension - this inter‑meddling of man.