One of the great tragedies of the Christian life, however, occurs when, through apathy or neglect or overt attitudes and actions, we allow the Holy Spirit’s ministry to become grieved and even quenched, leaving us powerless and restless. (K. W. Osbeck, Amazing grace)
As my mind travels across America, pondering the many visits to hither and yon, I have experienced of late a certain din that seems to permeate our land. At first I thought it was the tinnitus whirring in my ears. But it was not a presence I heard but alas an absence. When Tocqueville travelled our land, he noticed something right away. He could not put his finger on it at first, so he investigated until his curiosity was soothed with its finding. It was the zest that springs forth eternal from the wellspring of our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. It was the song of liberty sung by a soul set free echoing from sea to shining sea. I cannot hear this song today. It has been replaced with something I cannot describe. I see it in the eyes of those I meet and hear it in their tone. But when challenged to paint a portrait of its features, it runs away illusive. Where is the fire that sets pulpits aflame with righteousness? Where is the passion for the lost? Where is the love of neighbor that lets them see Jesus high and lifted up? Where is the Shekinah that dulls the noonday sun? Have we not pushed the Word of God out of our lives? Have not the many denominations thrown the Bible through the front door the church and into the street and then prayed for power? The washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit comes when we are kneeling in the presence of the Holy Writ. If we are not humbly and prayerfully committed to the Word, then the washing of degeneration from our reprobate minds will lead us to believe that we are something when we are really nothing!
The Americans combine the notions of Christianity and of liberty so intimately in their minds, that it is impossible to make them conceive the one without the other; and with them this conviction does not spring from that barren traditionary faith which seems to vegetate in the soul rather than to live. (Alexis de Tocqueville (The Republic of the United States of America and Its Political Institutions, Reviewed and Examined, Henry Reeves, (Garden City, NY: A. S. Barnes & Co., 1851), Vol. I, p. 335.)
In view of the great importance of the ark, one had naturally supposed that the loss of it would have made the deepest possible impression on Israel, that they had made the most desperate efforts to recover it from the Philistines; or that they had unitedly humbled themselves before the Lord and with fastings and prayers besought Him to intervene and remove the grievous dishonor cast upon His name. But apart from the grief of Eli and his daughter-in-law, there is no hint of any perturbation in the Nation. They appear to have been stolidly indifferent. And has not the same grievous lack of zeal and concern for God’s glory characterized Christendom? When British and American professors echoed the infidelity of the German theologians, when almost every cardinal doctrine of the Christian faith was denied by the very men who had taken solemn ordination vows to defend it, was not their wicked perversion of the Divine Testimony met, generally, with callous apathy! How none of the churches followed Spurgeon’s example when he withdrew from the corrupt system. And though here and there an individual protested and walked out, the majority complacently tolerated or approved. (Arthur W. Pink)
The nation of Israel quickly decayed after a new generation took over, a generation that knew neither Joshua nor Joshua’s God. “And the people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders that outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great works of the Lord, that He did for Israel...and there arose another generation after them, which knew not the Lord, nor yet the works which He had done for Israel” (Jdg. 2:7, 10; and see Josh. 24:31). Instead of exhibiting spiritual fervor, Israel sank into apathy; instead of obeying the Lord, the people moved into apostasy; and instead of the nation enjoying law and order, the land was filled with anarchy. Indeed, for Israel it was the worst of times. (W. W. Wiersbe, Be available)
A young Levite named Jonathan (18:30)1 had been living in Bethlehem of Judah, which was not one of the cities assigned to the priests and Levites (Josh. 21; Num. 35). He was probably there because the people of Israel weren’t supporting the tabernacle and its ministry with their tithes and offerings as God commanded them to do (Num. 18:21–32; Deut. 14:28–29; 26:12–15). Why live in one of the levitical cities if you’re going to starve? When God’s people grow indifferent to spiritual things, one of the first evidences of their apathy is a decline in their giving to the work of the Lord; as a result, everybody suffers.
When the Lord complains that He is not being honored by His people, they bluntly deny His charge despite clear evidence that the priests are indifferent and worse than careless in performing their ministry (Malachi: 1:6–14). God sternly rebukes His priests, whose apathy and distorted teaching have corrupted the nation (2:1–9). But God has a dispute with the people too. Their marriages to foreign wives and their quickie divorces, motivated by passion, reflect their disloyal character (vv. 10–16). It’s because they are a people who break faith, with one another and with God, that the Lord no longer hears or answers their prayers. (L. O. Richards, The Bible readers companion)
Will there be lapses of devotion and faithfulness in the case of genuine disciples? Yes. All the virgins awaiting the bridegroom’s coming fell asleep. In the next chapter Matthew showed readers that despite Jesus’ exhortations to vigilance (in this case, in prayer) disciples may fail (the same word, gregoreō, “keep watch,” used in 24:42–43 and 25:13, is also in 26:38, 40–41). Matthew did not recount the disciples’ failure to pray in Gethsemane to provide fodder for excuses, but to show how necessary is divine enablement if frail disciples are to remain faithful, and how hurtful to Jesus their apathy and indifference can be. (R. B. Zuck, A Biblical Theology of the New Testament)