The Benjamites, however, did not drive out the Jebusites, who were living in Jerusalem; to this day the Jebusites live there with the Benjamites.
Judges 1:21 (NIV)
As we approached the end of my sophomore year in high school, my English teacher called me up to his desk. He had his grade book on his desk in which he wrote down the grades of all the assignments for every student in class for that semester.
“Your grade this semester is right on the line between an A and a B,” he said. He then pointed to a blank box on the grade book. “You never turned in your third book report this semester.”
He was right. I didn’t really learn the joy of reading until late college and after. I was a terrible reader when I was younger. I didn’t like reading.
“You’re right,” I told my teacher. “I didn’t do it.”
“That’s all you have to say?” he asked.
I had only been a follower of Jesus for just over a year at this point, but I knew what Jesus expected of me was honesty.
“I could stand here and make up an excuse like ‘the dog ate my paper,” but the truth is that I simply procrastinated the assignment and didn’t get it done. I’m sorry. If that means that I get a B instead of an A, then I get that you have to give me a B. I understand that’s the consequence of my not doing it.”
Looking back, that was kind of a small step forward in a larger spiritual journey for me, the journey of honesty, transparency, and confession. A journey I’m still on, for the record. I’m further down the road on that one, but I definitely haven’t arrived.
Today’s chapter kicks off the book of Judges which comes right after the book of Joshua which we just finished. It’s a continuation of the story, so it feels right to keep going. The Hebrew tribes conquered the Promised Land, divided the land, and settled into their allotted territories. Joshua is dead.
But the assignment isn’t finished.
Joshua’s conquest took control of the largest and most strategic cities and peoples living in the region. The Hebrew tribes were dominant in the area, but the inhabitants still remained in smaller areas, cities, and villages. It was now up to each tribe to finish the task and drive the remaining inhabitants from their tribal lands.
The author of Judges begins the story with a record of which tribes succeeded at this assignment, and which did not. Judah and Manasseh were the two largest tribes with the largest fighting forces. They had some early successes, but their campaign stalled.
Whenever I’m reading a chapter of the Great Story and I notice repetition, I always try to pay attention. Here’s what I noticed today:
- “but they were unable to drive the people from the plains”
- “The Benjamites, however, did not drive out the Jebusites…”
- “But Manasseh did not drive out the people of…”
- “…they pressed the Canaanites into forced labor but never drove them out completely.”
- “Nor did Ephraim drive out the Canaanites living in Gezer…”
- “Neither did Zebulun drive out the Canaanites living in Kitron…”
- “Nor did Asher drive out those living in Akko…”
There are even more, but you get the picture. The tribes failed to complete the assignment, and that’s exactly what the author of Judges wants me to know because everything else I’m going to read in the subsequent stories is the consequence of this very fact.
There is a formal liturgy used by both Catholic and Protestant institutions called the Litany of Penitence. I occasionally use it in my personal time with God. It opens with this line:
“I confess to you and to my brothers, and to the whole communion of saints in heaven and on earth, that I have sinned by my own fault in thought, word, and deed; by what I have done, and what I have left undone.“
In a moment of spiritual synchronicity, I also read James 4 in the quiet this morning, in which James tells followers of Jesus:
“If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.”
Some mornings, Holy Spirit makes the lesson quite clear. Procrastination comes easy for me. Part of it is the way I’m wired to go with life’s flow. There is a part of it, however, that is much more than that; Its willfulness, laziness, and a nasty habit of not finishing what I started. Unlike Larry the Cable Guy, I often fail to “git ‘er done.”
Ironically, my high school English teacher gave me an A for that semester, and that’s why I still remember the story. That teacher (who was, ironically, Jewish) has always been a reminder to me of a gracious and forgiving God who says, “if you confess your sins, I am faithful and just, and will forgive your sins and cleanse you from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
In the quiet this morning, I once again confess that I’ve still got a ways to go in both honestly owning my own shortcomings, and faithfully finishing tasks on my list.
And so, I enter another day in the journey. Time to get to work on the task list.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.