And the people of Israel did not remember the Lord their God, who had delivered them from the hand of all their enemies on every side
I read these episodes in the Book of Judges and am incredulous. How could Israel so quickly forget what God had done for them? It seems crazy, as if mass amnesia affected them all. Exactly how does a nation forget its recent history?
This text has a clue. The reason Israel could so easily forget is that their hearts were idolatrous. They turned time and again to the worship of false gods. The text says they went after Baal with whorish hearts (Judges 8:33). A wild energy was devoted to the pursuit of false gods. They lusted after them like sex. And that misplaced affection led the nation to reinterpret their recent history, telling it without God present in it.
Spiritual decline begins not so much in absent-minded forgetfulness, but in deliberate fixing of the heart on an idol. And as that idol starts to direct the heart, God is further and further from the thoughts. Soon He is no longer even a memory as the new idol holds us in fascination and demands our worship as it controls us.
So this warning about the process of spiritual decline is personally instructive. It keeps us clear and aware of the dangers. We will worship something if we do not worship the Lord. That is the big repeated theme of the book of Judges.