And the children of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD, when Ehud was dead.…
In this section are presented several influences, such as affect the life of man in every age - the personal influence of Ehud, the material or physical influence of Sisera, and the spiritual influence of Deborah. In judging of conduct we must take into account all the circumstances that are brought to bear upon a person or a nation. The penalties inflicted will then appear reasonable or otherwise.
I. THE PERMANENT TENDENCY TO EVIL. "When Ehud was dead" should be "for Ehud was dead." The eighty years of "rest" which the land enjoyed, and during the whole or most of which Ehud had ruled, now came to an end. But not causelessly. The "children of Israel again did (continued to do) evil in the sight of the Lord." The interval of comparative piety is over, and the under-current of distrust and idolatry again resumes its influence. The spiritual fidelity of Israel is an occasional thing; the apostasy is the result of a permanent tendency, often checked, but ever recovering its sway. "The imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth" (Genesis 8:21). "And God saw that.., every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually" (Genesis 6:5). Israel is described as "a people that provoketh me to anger continually" (Isaiah 65:3), etc. The best of men have been the first to confess their inherent depravity. At a religious meeting held in Florence, when the lowest and vilest of the city were present, the question was asked, "Is there one here who is not a sinner?" Only one man dared to say in bravado, "I am not!" but he was speedily silenced by the jeers and condemnation of the audience. The duty and wisdom of all is, therefore, not to question the existence of this tendency, but to guard against it. Unbelief is "the sin that doth so easily beset us" (Hebrews 12:1). Nor are we only the passive subjects of improving influences in the providence of God and the order of the world. We are to be "fellow-workers with God," "to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, for (or because) it is God that worketh in us," etc. (Philippians 2:12). In dealing with our fellow-men or ourselves we must ever reckon upon this, the force of inborn corruption.
II. TEMPORARY MORAL INFLUENCES. That these have such weight at one time or another is a strong proof that salvation is not from within, neither, on the other hand, can it be wholly from without. We see here -
1. How much is involved sometimes in a personal influence. Ehud, by the moral ascendancy he had acquired, is for the time the bulwark of his people's faith. Such power is a precious gift. In measure like this it is the possession of the few. But every one has some moral influence, either for good or evil. "None of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself" (Romans 14:7). It ought to be our care so to behave that our influence shall be increasingly for righteousness. But there are limits and imperfections in this. Although "the memory of the just smells sweet, and blossoms in the dust," it is present influence with most of us that is most vividly impressive and practically effective. Still we can never gauge the extent of our influence. In God's hands it may be multiplied indefinitely. In Christ we see the most glorious instance of personal, spiritual ascendancy. And his power shall never fail.
2. The moral effect of a material advantage, The presence of Sisera in "Harosheth of the Gentiles" - 'probably Harethieh, a hill or mound at the south-eastern corner of the plain of Acca, close behind the hills that divide this plain from that of Jezreel, on the north side of the Kishon, yet so near the foot of Carmel as only to leave a passage for the river' (Thomson, 'The Land and the Book,' ch. 29.) - with "nine hundred chariots of iron" overawed the Israelites (cf. ch. 1:19); and "twenty years he mightily oppressed" them. This force powerfully affected their imagination, and rendered them all but helpless. They forgot that God is able to break the chariots in pieces, and to make all their massive strength a disadvantage and a difficulty, as when the Egyptians laboured heavily in the Red Sea sand and waves; that the spirit that animates an army is greater than weapons or fortifications. But this cowardice of Israel just corresponds with the fear that so often unmans Christians of to-day, when confronted with great names, popular prejudices, and the shows and forces of the world. Nothing is easier than to over-estimate opposition of this sort. We have to learn in strenuous contest that "greater is he that is in us than he that is in the world" (1 John 4:4).
3. Spiritual power vindicating itself amid external weakness. Amidst the universal decay of religion there are ever a few who "have not bowed the knee unto Baal." God never entirely deserts even his unfaithful ones. Some are left from whom the new era may take a beginning.
(1) Jehovah does not leave his people without a witness. As at other times of national misfortune a judge is raised up, "Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, she judged Israel at that time." Her authority is recognised, for "the children of Israel came up to her for judgment." A certain negative and secular respect is accorded to her. Divine ideas have no active power Over the lives of the people; but Divine officials and institutions are still acknowledged in the general government and social life of Israel. She herself, however, is evidently full of the Spirit of Jehovah, and magnifies her office. The singularity of a woman exercising judicial functions has a powerful effect upon the national mind. Even the leading men and mighty soldiers obey her.
(2) This witness is an instance of Strength in weakness. The witness is only a woman. A sign this of the decay of the heroic spirit. But she initiates a bold and warlike policy. Evidently rising above the weakness of her sex, like Joan of Arc, she is determined to break the spell of the "nine hundred chariots of iron." The moral power she has obtained is seen in the obedience of Barak to her call and her instructions, the general answer of the nation to her summons, and the refusal of Barak to go against the enemy unless she accompanied them. So in the Messenian war ('Paus.' 4:16) "the soldiers fought bravely because their seers were present." We are not to understand Barak's insistency as cowardliness or perversity, but as a further tribute to the presence of God in his servant. The Ironsides fought bravely when they went into battle from praise and prayer. As the exigency is great, so the instrument of restoration is most insignificant and humiliating. - M.
Parallel VersesKJV: And the children of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD, when Ehud was dead.