Have you ever had the same illness so often that you learned to recognize it even from the earliest signs? That happened to me with sinus infections. When the weather began to change from the consistent heat of summer to the dryer coolness of fall, my sinuses would go nuts. I’d try to fight off the oncoming storm with allergy medicine and over the counter drugs and anything I could find to help, but eventually, when the infections got bad enough, I would need to see a doctor for antibiotics, otherwise there would be no getting rid of the stuff. Thankfully, the antibiotics did the trick.
The antibiotic treatments always came with directions I wasn’t used to seeing on medicine labels: make sure to finish the entire prescription according to the schedule. The reasoning is simple: if the treatment isn’t completed, the infection may return. So, naturally, if I want to get better, I need to follow the directions fully. True health didn’t come when I felt better, but when I finished the antibiotics. Only then could the medicine have its full effect.
In the opening chapters of Judges, the people of Israel were facing a similar issue. Chapter one tells of the many peoples that Israel failed to drive out of the promised land. Simply put, the people of Israel didn’t finish the work God had called them to accomplish. I don’t know if they grew lazy or comfortable or if they just believed they had done enough. But they stopped short of completing the mission; they allowed the enemy live among them. This led to the gradual adoption of idol worship among the Israelites as they turned from the one true God to bow to false gods.
If you follow the story, you’ll find that things didn’t begin badly. The author of Judges writes,
And the people served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great work that the LORD had done for Israel.
Somewhere along the way, however, things began to turn. According to verse ten, the next generation of Israelites didn’t know the Lord, which seems to imply that their parents didn’t pass along the truth to their children. Again, I’m not sure exactly how this looked. I don’t know if they stopped thinking about God and, thus, stopped speaking of his provision, or if they spoke of God while trusting in their own strength, making the stories of the Lord less passionate and more procedure-like. However it happened, the younger generation didn’t fear the Lord, so, when they began to intermingle with the nations still living in the land, they fell into the pagan practices and rituals of their neighbors.
From these two issues sprang a world of darkness and turmoil, of struggle and sin. And the truth evidenced in these chapters is true for us today: when we fail to faithfully follow the word of the Lord, we open ourselves up to the consequences. When we fail to finish the work, leaving even the smallest traces of sin alive in our lives, we will soon find sin growing like a cancer. But take heart. Because Jesus has died in the place of sinners and has risen in victory over death, opening the door for all to be saved, we can find help in temptation, salvation from sin, and sanctification in trials. Because of the good news of Christ, we can press on toward the finish line. And because of the gospel, we can find a joy and peace that surpasses any this world can give us. So do not give place to sin. Let it have no room in your life. Finish the race well. As the author of Hebrews writes,
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.