Here is, I. A humble confession which Israel make to God in their distress, Jdg. 10:10. Now they own themselves guilty, like a malefactor upon the rack, and promise reformation, like a child under the rod. They not only complain of the distress, but acknowledge it is their own sin that has brought them into the distress; therefore God is righteous, and they have no reason to repine. They confess their omissions, for in them their sin began—“We have forsaken our God,” and their commissions—“We have served Baalim, and herein have done foolishly, treacherously, and very wickedly.”
II. A humbling message which God thereupon sends to Israel, whether by an angel (as Jdg. 2:1) or by a prophet (as Jdg. 6:8) is not certain. It was kind that God took notice of their cry, and did not turn a deaf ear to it and send them no answer at all; it was kind likewise that when they began to repent he sent them such a message as was proper to increase their repentance, that they might be qualified and prepared for deliverance. Now in this message, 1. He upbraids them with their great ingratitude, reminds them of the great things he had done for them, delivering them from such and such enemies, the Egyptians first, out of whose land they were rescued, the Amorites whom they conquered and into whose land they entered, and since their settlement there, when the Ammonites had joined with the Moabites to oppress them (Jdg. 3:13), when the Philistines were vexatious in the days of Shamgar, and afterwards other enemies had given them trouble, upon their petition God had wrought many a great salvation for them, Jdg. 10:11, 12. Of their being oppressed by the Zidonians and the Maonites we read not elsewhere. God had in justice corrected them, and in mercy delivered them, and therefore might reasonably expect that either through fear or through love they would adhere to him and his service. Well therefore might the word cut them to the heart (Jdg. 10:13), “Yet you have forsaken me that have brought you out of your troubles and served other gods that brought you into your troubles.” Thus did they forsake their own mercies for their own delusions. 2. He shows them how justly he might now abandon them to ruin, by abandoning them to the gods that they had served. To awaken them to a thorough repentance and reformation, he lets them see, (1.) Their folly in serving Baalim. They had been at a vast expense to obtain the favour of such gods as could not help them when they had most need of their help: “Go, and cry unto the gods which you have chosen (Jdg. 10:14), try what they can do for you now. You have worshipped them as gods—try if they have now either a divine power or a divine goodness to be employed for you. You paid your homage to them as your kings and lords—try if they will now protect you. You brought your sacrifices of praise to their altars as your benefactors, imagining that they gave you your corn, and wine, and oil, but a friend indeed will be a friend in need; what stead will their favour stand you in now?” Note, It is necessary, in true repentance, that there be a full conviction of the utter insufficiency of all those things to help us and do us any kindness which we have idolized and set upon the throne in our hearts in competition with God. We must be convinced that the pleasures of sense on which we have doted cannot be our satisfaction, nor the wealth of the world which we have coveted be our portion, that we cannot be happy or easy any where but in God. (2.) Their misery and danger in forsaking God. “See what a pass you have brought yourselves to; now you can expect no other than that I should say, I will deliver you no more, and what will become of you then?” Jdg. 10:13. This he tells them, not only as what he might do, but as what he would do if they rested in a confession of what they had done amiss, and did not put away their idols and amend for the future.
III. A humble submission which Israel hereupon made to God’s justice, with a humble application to his mercy, Jdg. 10:15. The children of Israel met together, probably in a solemn assembly at the door of the tabernacle, received the impressions of the message God had sent them, were not driven by it to despair, though it was very threatening, but resolve to lie at God’s feet, and, if they perish, they will perish there. They not only repeat their confession, We have sinned, but, 1. They surrender themselves to God’s justice: Do thou unto us whatsoever seemeth good unto thee. Hereby they own that they deserved the severest tokens of God’s displeasure and were sure he could do them no wrong, whatever he laid upon them; they humbled themselves under his mighty and heavy hand, and accepted of the punishment of their iniquity, which Moses had made the condition of God’s return in mercy to them, Lev. 26:41. Note, True penitents dare and will refer themselves to God to correct them as he thinks fit, knowing that their sin is highly malignant in its deserts, and that God is not rigorous or extreme in his demands. 2. They supplicate for God’s mercy: Deliver us only, we pray thee, this day, from this enemy. They acknowledge what they deserved, yet pray to God not to deal with them according to their deserts. Note, We must submit to God’s justice with a hope in his mercy.
IV. A blessed reformation set on foot hereupon. They brought forth fruits meet for repentance (Jdg. 10:16): They put away the gods of strangers (as the word is), strange gods, and worshipped by those nations that were strangers to the commonwealth of Israel and to the covenants of promise, and they served the Lord. Need drove them to him. They knew it was to no purpose to go to the gods whom they had served, and therefore returned to the God whom they had slighted. This is true repentance not only for sin, but from sin.
V. God’s gracious return in mercy to them, which is expressed here very tenderly (Jdg. 10:16): His soul was grieved for the misery of Israel. Not that there is any grief in God (he has infinite joy and happiness in himself, which cannot be broken in upon by either the sins or the miseries of his creatures), nor that there is any change in God: he is in one mind, and who can turn him? But his goodness is his glory. By it he proclaims his name, and magnifies it above all names; and, as he is pleased to put himself into the relation of a father to his people that are in covenant with him, so he is pleased to represent his goodness to them by the compassions of a father towards his children; for, as he is the Father of lights, so he is the Father of mercies. As the disobedience and misery of a child are a grief to a tender father, and make him feel very sensibly from his natural affection, so the provocations of God’s people are a grief to him (Ps. 95:10), he is broken with their whorish heart (Ezek. 6:9); their troubles also are a grief to him; so he is pleased to speak when he is pleased to appear for the deliverance of his people, changing his way and method of proceeding, as tender parents when they begin to relent towards their children with whom they have been displeased. Such are the tender mercies of our God, and so far is he from having any pleasure in the death of sinners.
VI. Things are now working towards their deliverance from the Ammonites’ oppression, Jdg. 10:17, 18. God had said, “I will deliver you no more;” but now they are not what they were, they are other men, they are new men, and now he will deliver them. That threatening was denounced to convince and humble them, and, now that it had taken its desired effect, it is revoked in order to their deliverance. 1. The Ammonites are hardened to their own ruin. They gathered together in one body, that they might be destroyed at one blow, Rev. 16:16. 2. The Israelites are animated to their own rescue. They assembled likewise, Jdg. 10:17. During their eighteen years’ oppression, as in their former servitudes, they were run down by their enemies, because they would not incorporate; each family, city, or tribe, would stand by itself, and act independently, and so they all became an easy prey to the oppressors, for want of a due sense of a common interest to cement them: but, whenever they got together, they did well; so they did here. When God’s Israel become as one man to advance a common good and oppose a common enemy what difficulty can stand before them? The people and princes of Gilead, having met, consult first about a general that should command in chief against the Ammonites. Hitherto most of the deliverers of Israel had an extraordinary call to the office, as Ehud, Barak, Gideon; but the next is to be called in a more common way, by a convention of the states, who enquired out a fit man to command their army, found out one admirably well qualified for the purpose, and God owned their choice by putting his Spirit upon him (Jdg. 11:29); so that this instance is of use for direction and encouragement in after-ages, when extraordinary calls are no longer to be expected. Let such be impartially chosen to public trust and power as God has qualified, and then God will graciously own those who are thus chosen.