Sunday, May 20, 2012

[Matt's Messages] "Unfinished Business"

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“Unfinished Business”
Downward Spiral: The Message of Judges
May 20, 2012
Judges 1:1-2:5

In the year 2003, we began together a long term Bible study as a church in a special series of sermons that cover the Big Story of the Bible.

How many were here, raise your hand, for the book of Genesis in 2003?

Pop quiz! What are the three major promises of the Abrahamic covenant? [A., Offspring, Land, and Blessing.]

This series was to go on odd numbered years.

How many remember the book of Exodus with the Red Sea Rescue in 2005?

How many remember the book of Numbers in 2007?  Why did we skip Leviticus? [A. Because it’s boring.  Not really. Because it doesn’t carry on much of the big story line of the Bible. It has a different purpose.]

We didn’t do Deuteronomy for the same reason. Most of Deuteronomy covers the same story as Exodus and Numbers, though it would be good to study Deuteronomy at some point. It’s an awesome book.

But in 2009, we did our last book in this long-term series. It was the book of Joshua.

How many remember Joshua?  We called that series: Possessing the Promises.

And Joshua was the story of victory. The promises that the LORD had made to His people were being fulfilled in the promised land.

And that book ended on a super high note.

They had conquered Canaan and divided up the land and Joshua told the people to follow the LORD. “As for me and my house, we were serve the Lord.”

And that’s where we left things in 2009.

After that, I got sidetracked by the Gospel of Luke and his amazing sequel, the Book of Acts.

So, we didn’t do Judges in 2011 as I had originally planned.

And that’s okay. God had different plans for us.

But I believe that He’s bringing us back now to that Big Story series.

And back to Judges.

Judges is a depressing book.

If Joshua was the book of Victory, Judges is really a book about defeat.
If Joshua was a book about Conquest, Judges is a book about being conquered again.
If Joshua was a book about obedience, Judges is a book about disobedience.
If Joshua was a book about possessing the promises, Judges is a book about forgetting the promises and living in unbelief and its disastrous consequences.

So, Judges can be a very depressing book. I’m warning you in advance.

But it’s a book that we’re supposed to read.

As we read last week, all Scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteous so that we are fully-equipped for every good work.

Judges is the dystopian novel of the Old Testament.

Most of us don’t know what “dystopian” means, and never use it in a sentence, but the popularity of The Hunger Games has brought that word out in our culture over the last two years.

A dystopian story is the opposite of a utopian story.

A utopian story is a story about life as it should be.Where everything works and everything is perfect and right and good. Heavenish.

A dystopian story is one where everything falls apart. Where the world is not as it should be. Where things aren’t working, are far from perfect. Where things are wrong and bad. Hellish.

Judges is a dystopian story.

And yet, it is a dystopian story that is part of a Bigger Hopeful Story where God will keep all of His promises and make everything right where it had gone so wrong.

But, in general, it is dystopian.

In fact, my title for this whole series is “Downward Spiral - The Message of Judges.”

We’ll find out next sermon just how much of a downward spiral Israel was on.

But that’s the title of the series.

The book itself is named after its famous “heroes,” the Judges.

Let’s name some of them.

Name some Judges (without looking!):


It gets harder doesn’t it?

How many are there?

There are twelve. Isn’t that interesting?

How about Othniel? Shamgar! Tola, Jair!

What did they do?

How many here have ever heard a sermon on Othniel?

Most of us know something about Samson and Gideon and almost nothing else about Judges.

Let’s fix that over the Summer, okay?

The “judges” were not “judges” like we think of today.

They did not wear black robes and sit on a raised platform and dispense judgements–at least, that’s not what they did most of the time.

The Hebrew word is “shophatim,” and it could be translated “Tribal Leaders” or “Deliverers.” Next sermon, we’ll see what kind of delivering they did.

The judges were deliverers, saviors, rescuers from the trouble that Israel had brought upon itself.

And chapter one begins to the tell the story of why they were needed.

The judges themselves were a motley crew. We will see that by and large they are not good role models for us today. For the most part they were men who were falling apart themselves in a day and age where the people of God were falling apart.

But God did use them to deliver and save His people time and time again.

They were, imperfect pictures of the Savior that we all need–the Lord Jesus Christ.

May He be exalted as we study this book.

How did Israel go from victory to defeat?

That’s the question that chapter one begins to answer for us.

How did Israel go from the heights of victory under Joshua to the need for these deliverers in the book of Judges?

That’s an important question for our lives today because we do not want to live defeated lives, do we?

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to live a defeated life.

I don’t want my life to be pointed in a downward spiral.

I don’t want to get flushed down the drain of life.

How did Israel go from the top to the bottom?

Here’s our title for today, “Unfinished Business.”

They got from the top to the bottom by leaving things undone that should have been done.

They began their descent by leaving important tasks incomplete, uncompleted.

They had unfinished business.

Look with me at Judges chapter 1, verse 1.

“After the death of Joshua, the Israelites asked the LORD, ‘Who will be the first to go up and fight for us against the Canaanites?’” Stop there for a second.

Notice that opening phrase, “after the death of Joshua.”

A new era has begun. Who led Israel before Joshua?

Moses did, right?

And then Moses died and Joshua stepped up to lead.

Who is going to lead after Joshua dies?

[... Do you hear the crickets in the background?]

Was there supposed to be a leader?  No.

At this point, the promised people of God are in the promised land and they are supposed to operate as a confederation of semi-autonomous tribes.

Joshua sent everybody home and said in effect, “Follow the Lord, He will be your King. Take possession of your lands, and follow the Law.”

And they start by showing a lot of potential, a lot of promise. They start by asking God for direction.  Way to go!

“After the death of Joshua, the Israelites asked the LORD, ‘Who will be the first to go up and fight for us against the Canaanites?’”

Which tribe will lead the way?  God answers. V.2

“The LORD answered, ‘Judah is to go; I have given the land into their hands.’”

Rulers will come from Judah. The Bible has already told us this.

Before Judah goes up, they get some help from their little brother. V.3

“Then the men of Judah said to the Simeonites their brothers, ‘Come up with us into the territory allotted to us, to fight against the Canaanites. We in turn will go with you into yours.’ So the Simeonites went with them. When Judah attacked, the LORD gave the Canaanites and Perizzites into their hands and they struck down ten thousand men at Bezek.”

Wow. A good start!

However, verse 5.

“It was there that they found Adoni-Bezek and fought against him, putting to rout the Canaanites and Perizzites. Adoni-Bezek fled, but they chased him and caught him, and cut off his thumbs and big toes. Then Adoni-Bezek said, ‘Seventy kings with their thumbs and big toes cut off have picked up scraps under my table. Now God has paid me back for what I did to them.’ They brought him to Jerusalem, and he died there.”

Lord-Bezek sure is philosophical, isn’t he?

“Oh well, I did it to others, now I’m getting what I had coming for me.”

What I find troubling here is not that they cut off his thumbs and big toes to keep him from being a threat. It is that they didn’t kill him outright.

That’s what they were commanded to do.

The Canaanites needed to get out of the land or be killed. It was God’s judicial sentence on them for their many piled up sins.

But Judah, being given victory by God is acting (already!) like the Canaanites acted around them.

Unfinished business.  V.8

“The men of Judah attacked Jerusalem also and took it. They put the city to the sword and set it on fire. After that, the men of Judah went down to fight against the Canaanites living in the hill country, the Negev and the western foothills. They advanced against the Canaanites living in Hebron (formerly called Kiriath Arba) and defeated Sheshai, Ahiman and Talmai.”

By the way, I thought about putting up maps like we did for Acts, but at this point at least, I think that would be disorienting and complicate matters.

You can see what is happening, Judah is being successful in defeating the Canaanites. Some of this, by the way, actually happened before Joshua died. It’s a flashback sort of thing and a summary of the whole process. V.11

“From there they advanced against the people living in Debir (formerly called Kiriath Sepher). And Caleb said [remember Caleb?], ‘I will give my daughter Acsah in marriage to the man who attacks and captures Kiriath Sepher.’ Othniel [remember that name!] son of Kenaz, Caleb's younger brother, took it; so Caleb gave his daughter Acsah to him in marriage.”

These folks are not natural born Israelites. They have been adopted into the tribe of Judah. Strangely enough, they are related to Moses’ father-in-law Jethro.

And they are, especially she is, taking hold of the promises. V.14

“One day when she came to Othniel, she urged him to ask her father for a field. [She wants more blessing.] When she got off her donkey, Caleb asked her, ‘What can I do for you?’ She replied, ‘Do me a special favor. Since you have given me land in the Negev [deserty land], give me also springs of water.’ Then Caleb gave her the upper and lower springs. The descendants of Moses' father-in-law, the Kenite, went up from the City of Palms with the men of Judah to live among the people of the Desert of Judah in the Negev near Arad.”

Remember Othniel, we’ll come back to him soon.


“Then the men of Judah went with the Simeonites their brothers and attacked the Canaanites living in Zephath, and they totally destroyed the city. Therefore it was called Hormah [destruction]. The men of Judah also took Gaza, Ashkelon and Ekron–each city with its territory.”

Now pay attention. Unfinished business ahead. V.19

“The LORD was with the men of Judah. They took possession of the hill country, but they were unable to drive the people from the plains, because they had iron chariots. As Moses had promised, Hebron was given to Caleb, who drove from it the three sons of Anak.”

Now, this is interesting.

God was with these men. Verse 19 is clear on that. They took possession of the hill country, but they were “unable to drive the people from the plains, because they had iron chariots.”


The other guys had tanks, so they couldn’t fight ‘em?

And the LORD was with them?

The LORD can’t take on an iron chariot?

Tell that to Jericho.

And wait until we see what happens in chapter 4 with about 900 iron chariots.

I think that verse 19 is Judah’s excuse for their leaving their business unfinished.

What is your excuse?

What excuse have you been using?

I have mine. What’s yours?

The story far is generally one of success, right?

Verses 1-20 are basically one story of success after another.

But there are hints that there is still much to be done.

In verses 21-36, there are no hints. It’s just plain. V.21

“The Benjamites, however, failed to dislodge the Jebusites, who were living in Jerusalem; to this day the Jebusites live there with the Benjamites.”

Now, that’s a little strange because we just read the Judahites had taken Jerusalem.

Apparently, it had been lost again at some point and Benjamin had tried to take it and failed.

The point here is the failure. V.22

“Now the house of Joseph attacked Bethel, and the LORD was with them. When they sent men to spy out Bethel (formerly called Luz), the spies saw a man coming out of the city and they said to him, ‘Show us how to get into the city and we will see that you are treated well.’ So he showed them, and they put the city to the sword but spared the man and his whole family. He then went to the land of the Hittites, where he built a city and called it Luz, which is its name to this day.”

Good or bad?

Both, right?

This wasn’t the same deal as with Rahab who was converting to Israel and coming under her wings. This is making a deal with the devil.

Did they destroy Luz? Yes, but did Luz continue? Yes. The land of the Hittites is also in Palestine.  Luz was just transferred, not defeated.

It’s a job half-done.

Here’s the principle. Half-obedience is disobedience.

We tell that to our children, right?

Well, God is telling that to us.

Where are you half-obeying God?


“But Manasseh did not drive out the people of Beth Shan or Taanach or Dor or Ibleam or Megiddo and their surrounding settlements, for the Canaanites were determined to live in that land.”

How come the Israelites were not more determined?

“When Israel became strong, they pressed the Canaanites into forced labor but never drove them out completely.”

You see the picture?

They even defeat them, but they don’t kill them and drive them out completely like God wanted them, too.

It’s half-obedience which is disobedience.

Are they in charge? Are they winning? Yes, but they are disobeying.


“Nor did Ephraim drive out the Canaanites living in Gezer, but the Canaanites continued to live there among them. Neither did Zebulun drive out the Canaanites living in Kitron or Nahalol, who remained among them; but they did subject them to forced labor. Nor did Asher drive out those living in Acco or Sidon or Ahlab or Aczib or Helbah or Aphek or Rehob, and because of this the people of Asher lived among the Canaanite inhabitants of the land.  Neither did Naphtali drive out those living in Beth Shemesh or Beth Anath; but the Naphtalites too lived among the Canaanite inhabitants of the land, and those living in Beth Shemesh and Beth Anath became forced laborers for them.”

Half, half, half, half, half.

Unfinished business.

“The Amorites confined the Danites to the hill country, not allowing them to come down into the plain. And the Amorites were determined also to hold out in Mount Heres, Aijalon and Shaalbim, but when the power of the house of Joseph increased, they too were pressed into forced labor. The boundary of the Amorites was from Scorpion Pass to Sela and beyond.”

That’s the worst one. The Amorites confined the Danites.  That’s the Canaanites with the upper hand over the Israelites.

And when the balance of power swtiched, they only pressed them into forced labor, they did not drive them out.

Unfinished business.

Why is that so bad?

Why is unfinished obedience so bad?

That’s the point of chapter 2, verses 1 through 5.

“The angel of the LORD went up from Gilgal to Bokim and said, ‘I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land that I swore to give to your forefathers. I said, 'I will never break my covenant with you, and you shall not make a covenant with the people of this land, but you shall break down their altars.' Yet you have disobeyed me. Why have you done this?”

No longer, are the people of Israel going to the LORD with question.

Now, the LORD is coming to ask them some questions.

The messenger or envoy or angel of the LORD is the special representative of the LORD. He will appear again and again in this book–more than in any other book in the Bible.

He speaks for God.

He may even be God in some mysterious appearance.

And this is what He says, “I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land that I swore to give to your forefathers. I said, 'I will never break my covenant with you, and you shall not make a covenant with the people of this land, but you shall break down their altars.' Yet you have disobeyed me. Why have you done this?”

Here are three reasons why unfinished business is so bad.


That’s what we’ve learned so far in this Big Story of the Bible series.

We learned it in Genesis, in Exodus, in Numbers, in Joshua.

God saves His people.
He blesses His people.
He rescues them and makes promises to them.
He gives them a covenant that they can trust.

And this is how we repay Him?

He goes all the way with His business!

But we can’t be bothered to go all the way for Him?

Unfinished business is bad because it is the opposite of our God.

Number two. Unfinished business is bad.


And it disappoints God.  Look at verse 2 again.

“Yet you have disobeyed me. Why have you done this?”

Have they disobeyed Him?

There have been lots of battles here.

But they stopped short. They didn’t go all the way.

Half-obedience is disobedience.

That’s bad, and it disappoints God.

I don’t want God to say to me, “Why have you done this?”

That’s the worst.

The third one is the most practical.  Unfinished business is bad...


Look at verse 3.

“Now therefore I tell you that I will not drive them out before you; they will be thorns in your sides and their gods will be a snare to you.’”

Here is the judgement on Israel.

They didn’t drive out the Canaanites, the Canaanites will not be driven out.

Not yet.

Instead, the things they tolerated, the compromises they made will be a thorn in their sides.

There will be consequences.

And their gods will be a snare for them.

They will trap them.

We’re going to see again and again in this book how the gods of the Canaanites were a trap for the Israelites.

That’s the biggest reason why they were supposed to wipe them out.

Because if they didn’t, they would become like them.

When you and I fail to go all the way in obedience to God, then we set ourselves up to be frustrated and trapped by the very things that we are allowing to stay in our lives.

Bad idea.

So, what do we do.

We finish our business.

We start by weeping and repenting. V.4

“When the angel of the LORD had spoken these things to all the Israelites, the people wept aloud, and they called that place Bokim. There they offered sacrifices to the LORD.”

That’s a great start.  The first step is to recognize that we have unfinished business.

But that’s where they ended.

Unfortunately, there is no mention here of any true follow-through and true repentance.

Their repentance appears to be short-lived.

The next step would be to actually finish our business.

Let me give you three areas where this might apply to you and me.

#1. Sinful Actions Unconfessed.
#2. Sinful Habits Unsurrendered.
#3. Sinful Conflicts Unresolved.

Is there something you have done that you have not yet agreed with God about?

Some sinful action unconfessed?

He knows. You know.  Why haven’t you asked Him for forgiveness yet?

Is there an area of your life that you know that God has put His finger on that you have not yet yielded to Him?

I was just talking with a friend yesterday about his profane and sometimes filthy mouth.

He had recently spouted off without thinking, and trying to be a good friend, I confronted him on it.

You know what? He immediately agreed with me and said that it was something that he’s working on surrendering to the Lord.

Isn’t that great?

He is fighting the battles with the Canaanites.

The battles aren’t over–it’s unfinished business in that sense–but he’s still fighting. He’s not settling for half-obedience which is disobedience.

What about you?

Is there something you know that you’re supposed to do, and you’re just making excuses?

Maybe it’s unresolved conflict.

The Bible says that as much as it depends upon you, live at peace with all men.

Now, that means that some conflicts are going to be unresolved because they depend upon someone else’s actions.

But as much as it depends upon you?

Are you harboring bitterness?

Have you buried the hatchet, but you still know where it’s buried?  You can still see the handle?

Unfinished business will come back to bite you.

Bitterness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.

It will be a frustration and a trap.

Don’t let it.

Finish it.

Don’t lie to yourself and say that these unconfessed, unsurrendered, unresolved sinful actions, sinful habits, sinful conflicts are “under control.”

“It’s under control.”

I’ve got it under control. It’s subjugated. It’s forced labor.

No. Finish it. Drive out. Go the whole way.

Deal with it.

Finish your business, because God always finishes His.

Messages in This Series: