It is a sad sight to look around an area that was once the centre of activity and which is now quiet and empty. When we stand in such a place there seems to come to our ears sounds from years past, as we imagine the bustle of a former day. There is a sense of melancholy and loss. The question always is, "What happened to bring this about?".
In Israel, before Deborah and Barak roused the nation to withstand its foes, the highways stood empty. They were unused, and those who found it necessary to travel did so on the "byways", the crooked, narrow, restricted side roads. The enemy controlled the country and to travel on the main highways was to put ones life at risk.
The foes of Israel, if they could not remove the nation from Canaan, acted to restrict the liberty of the people. Thus it was not possible for the Israelites to travel throughout the land that had been given to them as an inheritance. They could not enjoy it, view its beauty, and savour the sights and splendour of their inheritance. Their enjoyment of Canaan was severely restricted! This led to another loss, in that they were not able to enjoy the fellowship of other Israelites. They were isolated and, as a result, much weakened. The villages were empty; parts of the land had been abandoned. These were circumstances caused by the nation allowing the enemy to take control but were actually symptoms of a deeper malaise.
They had chosen new gods! Herein lay the root of the problem. When love for the Lord wanes, other "gods" take its place and the blessing that He has bestowed on us no longer can be enjoyed. What should have been for their joy and enjoyment had become a place of restriction and fear. Their liberty had been taken from them, and the implacable foe responsible for this was determined that there should be no alleviation of their sorry condition. Their powerlessness was clear for there was not a shield nor a spear seen among forty thousand in Israel (Judg 5.8). The slide into this abject poverty started when devotion for the Lord was lost!
Does the misery of Israel reflect the heart condition of some reader? Enjoyment of the blessings of the Lord is no longer what it once was? There are memories of better days, when the heart thrilled to wonders of the Word of God and the experience of walking with Him was joy. Today, however, there are "new gods". Other interests such as materialism, associations, or "friends" who do not know the Lord or who, despite professing salvation, have little interest in spiritual matters, have supplanted the Lord. It may also be the "new gods" of laziness, of entertainment, or of leisure activities that have gripped the heart.
The result is that the "land" is no longer enjoyed. Just as the villages of Israel ceased, so spiritual territory once possessed has been abandoned and the liberty that once allowed enjoyment of all that He had bestowed has been lost. Fellowship with other believers that was a large part of life is a thing of the past. The Lord has given so much, but the enemy has destroyed enjoyment of all of that. There are no weapons to fight this, and it may be even that there is no desire to do so. If that is so, it is time to take stock. So much is being forfeited, and what has taken its place is not worthy of having part in the life of a believer.
Christian life should be joyful. One of its great purposes is for us to know the Lord more closely, to appreciate the bounty He has given us, and to enjoy the wonders of His grace. This can only be done when the enemy has been expelled. Tackle and destroy him in the presence of the Lord. Determine to be obedient to His Word. Then the land in all its beauty can be enjoyed, the fruits to be found in it will sustain, and the highways of the land will again be travelled.
Let us resolve that there will be no unoccupied, neglected highways in our spiritual lives, but that until He takes us home, we will explore them, enjoy the vistas they open to our view, and savour the fruits we are able to gather on the journey. It is "a good land and a large flowing with milk and honey" (Ex 3.8). Do not let the enemys cheap and tawdry substitutes rob you of it.