The book of Numbers starts where Leviticus ends. God has provided a path to be in His presence and now He will outline the particulars of this society of people. We’re still on the journey with God’s chosen people and we’re moving towards the promised land. As you prepare to read about some of the big ideas from Numbers, take some time to read Numbers and watch the Bible Project’s video outlining the framework of the book (https://thebibleproject.com/explore/numbers/) as we dive into this week’s “Baseball Guy’s Bible Guide.”
Due up in the Bottom of the Ninth:
- The Wilderness
- Causing Unrest
- Loving Numbers
While we know this book of the Bible as Numbers, the Hebrew phrase for Numbers is “In the Wilderness.” Knowing this context, we can engage with the book less focused on the census (which is certainly still important), and more on the difficulty of the people. The strongest parallel for an “in the wilderness” feeling in baseball is the slump.
For anyone who has played, it is likely that he has gone through a dry spell at the plate. The mental toll of strolling to the plate after a spell of hitless at bats can feel as grueling spiritually as wandering through the desert as the Israelites did. The worst slump in Major League history belongs to Bill Bergen at 46 games, but he was a career .170 hitter. It seems like people may have expected such a slump from him in the early 1900s. But in the late 1980s, no one expected such a slump from Robin Ventura.
Ventura entered the big leagues with the Chicago White Sox during the 1989 season after a much-heralded college career at Oklahoma State. A Golden Spikes and gold medal winner in 1988, Ventura posted an NCAA record 58-game hitting streak in 1987 as he led the Cowboys to the national title game. After a quick start in the major leagues, Ventura found himself in the wilderness. 41 consecutive at bats of wilderness. An 0-for-41 slump as a rookie.
Ventura would find his way out of the wilderness and play for 16 years, and later managing the White Sox. He was an All-Star and Gold Glove winner multiple times. His time in the wilderness is one that players at all levels of the game can relate. The Israelites time in the wilderness is one that those who experience long periods of spiritual dryness can also relate. It’s why the story is in the Scriptures. And, while we’d like to think we’d react better, many of us react poorly in times of difficulty.
Unfortunately, many of us (yes, I’m including myself) react as the Israelites in those times when we’re in the desert. We cause unrest. We rile things up. We force our problems on others and make more problems. Our lack of peace becomes a lack of peace for everyone around us.
Bleacher Report posted an article of the 50 biggest clubhouse distractions in MLB history, those times when the problems became bigger than the team. One name came up repeatedly - Milton Bradley. I don’t know Milton Bradley and have certainly never interacted with him personally, and it’s not my intent to throw another man under the bus. It seems, though, that his clubhouse problems make for a fitting example of how the Israelites acted and reacted to their time in the desert.
In the book of Numbers, the people complain and complain. They badmouth Moses. They stage a mutiny and ask for God to deliver them back to Egypt because of what they see during their scouting mission into the Promised Land. Ultimately, God grants their request and doesn’t allow that generation to enter the Promised Land. God has provided for them throughout their journey, and now He is just with the people as He gives them what they want. Even then, God is faithful.
Loving Numbers (from October 22, 2018)
I love numbers. Anyone who knows me or has coached with me or has played for me knows that I’m always trying to figure out which numbers to use to guide our thinking and performance. If I’m coaching a game, I’m watching the numbers tell me a story. If I’m teaching a hitter, he’s got a sensor on his bat and I’m measuring other external data as well. Without the numbers, I believe I’m uninformed. With the numbers, I feel informed and like a more effective guide for a team or player. I love numbers.
I know that the Red Sox and the Dodgers are a step ahead of their competitors in how they use the data as well and that’s one reason they appeared in the World Series in 2018. That can be said for most, if not all, of the teams in the MLB Postseason. In fact, this winter I met a young man who pitched in the big leagues for two organizations this year. One of the organizations had made the postseason and the other did not. I asked him about the difference between the two organizations. He said it boiled down to the scouting reports and the data. The one who made the postseason was way ahead of the game in using data and giving it to their players, even in the minor leagues.
I’m also coming to love (maybe appreciate is a better word) the book of Numbers in the Bible. God instructs the people to take a census and He arranges the people around the tabernacle. God shows an order and He’s in the center.
But that’s not the most interesting part of Numbers. That’s in the rebellion of the people in the wilderness. It is in the book of Numbers that the people’s complaining intensifies and they demand to go back to Egypt. We see that God allows His people to obey or disobey, and face the consequences of those choices. In the end, God determines that this generation of people will not enter the promised land but that their children will.
God’s grace, mercy, and faithfulness in the face of rebellion is on display through the book of Numbers. We see how God allows us to walk towards him or walk away, and to face the consequences of our choices. It’s free will and sovereignty on display. Having walked into the wilderness for a couple of years now, I can tell you that I’m thankful for God’s grace, mercy, and faithfulness. I continue to pray that we will be proven obedient and worthy to enter whatever promised land He has for us. It is my hope that one day I will look back and love Numbers as much as I love numbers.