Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A Story of Procrastination in Judges 19

These verses tell of a Levite going to fetch back his concubine from her father’s house and focuses on what happened while there.  Notice what happens as the Levite tries to leave.

4 And his father in law, the damsel’s father, retained him; and he abode with him three days: so they did eat and drink, and lodged there.
5 ¶And it came to pass on the fourth day, when they arose early in the morning, that he rose up to depart: and the damsel’s father said unto his son in law, Comfort thine heart with a morsel of bread, and afterward go your way.
6 And they sat down, and did eat and drink both of them together: for the damsel’s father had said unto the man, Be content, I pray thee, and tarry all night, and let thine heart be merry.
7 And when the man rose up to depart, his father in law urged him: therefore he lodged there again.
8 And he arose early in the morning on the fifth day to depart: and the damsel’s father said, Comfort thine heart, I pray thee. And they tarried until afternoon, and they did eat both of them.
9 And when the man rose up to depart, he, and his concubine, and his servant, his father in law, the damsel’s father, said unto him, Behold, now the day draweth toward evening, I pray you tarry all night: behold, the day groweth to an end, lodge here, that thine heart may be merry; and to morrow get you early on your way, that thou mayest go home.
10 But the man would not tarry that night, but he rose up and departed, and came over against Jebus, which is Jerusalem; and there were with him two asses saddled, his concubine also was with him. (Judges 19:4-10)

I know at other times I have read this story and said to myself, “What is that all about?  Why do we even care?”  But this story resonated with me recently and I’ll explain why.

We have a Levite who kept being persuaded by his father-in-law to procrastinate his departure.  Notice how sneaky the father-in-law is about this.  The Levite gets up early in the morning to leave and the father-in-law tells him, “Oh, you’ve got to eat first.” So they eat, but that takes so long that when they are done, the father-in-law tells them, “Oh, you can’t leave now; it’s too late in the day.  Stay over night.”

The father-in-law pulls this two days in a row before the Levite gets wise and decides to leave anyway, even if it is in the middle of the day.

The father-in-law keeps telling the Levite, “Comfort thine heart” (v5) and “Be content” (v6) and “thine heart may be merry” (v6) and “comfort thine heart” (v8) and “thine heart may be merry” (v9), but here’s the problem – it is impossible to be comforted, content, and merry if you know there is something you have to get back to or get done and you’re being kept from it.  That Levite wouldn’t actually be comforted and merry until he actually went back home to do what he knew he had to do.   The Levite probably had some responsibilities connected with the tabernacle, yet the father-in-law may have thought, “Oh, you don’t a farm, so you can make your own schedule, so why not stay longer?”

The father-in-law may have thought he was doing the Levite a favor, offering more hospitality, but he was actually destroying the Levite’s character bit by bit, by deflecting him from what he decided to do and then trying to comfort him that he could do it tomorrow, and then again subverting each attempt as it was made.

Why has this resonated with me?  I have found myself lately in the position of that Levite, saying to myself, “I am going to get up early and do this-and-such” and then have found myself tempted to do other things instead until I have lost the window of opportunity.  Then I think, “Well, I can do it tomorrow,” and then I get deflected the next day as well.  This kind of procrastination destroys my confidence in myself that I can do what I decided to do and it makes me very unhappy, in spite of my own efforts to talk myself into being happy and telling myself to relax.  

Finding this story has helped me.  It shows me that I’m not the only one who has had troubles with this.  I am very grateful to whoever decided to include that in the account of Judges.  It reinforces that this is a problem and has to be fixed.  (Sometimes we need these problems called out for us to recognize how serious they really are.)

I notice that on the fifth day, even though it was late and the father-in-law was trying to get him to stay another night, the Levite finally just left anyway.  It feels good to just do it, even if you realize it isn’t the ideal time.

Let’s keep alert for those voices that are trying to get us to procrastinate our duty.  Those voices don’t go away when we yield; they get stronger and stronger.  Let’s remember that procrastinating won’t make us happy, or content, or merry, but only agitated and mad at ourselves.  It feels satisfying to get things done, even if it isn’t at an ideal time.  Instead of saying, “I’ll just have to wait until tomorrow,” why not say, “Let’s see what I can still do to redeem the day.”