As Joshua passes away and we transition into the book of Judges, we are again reminded of a leader who calls his people to be faithful to the Lord. Joshua’s desire is for the people to show the other nations what God is like. In that vein, Judges is one of the most disappointing accounts in the Bible. We see distinctly what it is like when God’s people choose their own path instead of the Lord’s. As you prepare to read about some of the big ideas from Judges, take some time to read Judges and watch the Bible Project’s video outlining the framework of the book (https://thebibleproject.com/explore/judges/) as we dive into this week’s “Baseball Guy’s Bible Guide.”
Due up in the Bottom of the Ninth:
- My Way
- Stories of Warning
Sometimes we like to think we’re living in the most relativistic time in history. We see everyone defining their own path to “truth” and believe this is as bad as it can be. But those of us who immerse ourselves in the Word of God know better. All we’re experiencing now is a repeat of the book of Judges. The final line of Judges, which appears in Judges 21:25, reads, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”
This warning brings a special importance to the stories included in the book of Judges. There is much for us to learn about the repercussions of turning away from God and choosing to do things “my way.” In a baseball context, Bryce Harper may provide us with a profound example of the idea of doing things “my way” and illustrating the idea of doing what is right in his own eyes. In no way am I judging Harper - a generational talent who clearly possesses extraordinary skill in the game of baseball.
Harper’s path to the big leagues began with a choice to circumvent traditional means and accelerate his process to get to the draft at a younger age. He earned his GED in October of 2009 during his sophomore year of high school to earn eligibility for the June 2010 MLB Draft. In the spring 2010 season, he enrolled at the College of Southern Nevada and promptly dominated the league, and was named the conference player of the year along with the Golden Spikes Award as the best amateur player in the United States.
Just nine years later after winning the Rookie of the Year in 2012, MVP in 2015, and being named to the All-Star team six times, Harper signed a record 13-year, $330 million dollar contract with the Philadelphia Phillies. It certainly seems like Harper’s way is working. But his commitment to his way will be something to watch and observe through the course of his whole career. Will he win a World Series? Make the Hall of Fame? Be a beloved member of the community? We will all wait and see without judgment, and in observation of the fruit of doing things “my way” over the long haul.
Building a championship baseball team takes a lot of effort and happens in a similar cycle. There is a period of Building followed by Learning or Gelling as a unit. Those stages are followed by Winning and reaching that team’s Pinnacle, the window for potential championships. Finally, the cycle ends with a period of Falling.
The Red Sox of the 2000s followed this cycle.. Their period of Building included the signing of Manny Ramirez in 2000, a new ownership group in 2002, the hiring of Theo Epstein, and a commitment to cultivating homegrown talent to match the great free agent signings. The organization’s Learning/Gelling and Winning phases flowed together. They lost the 2003 ALCS and hiring Terry Francona after that season. Then in 2004, a symbolic come-from-behind win and fight with the Yankees on July 24 led to them coming back from a 3-0 deficit in the ALCS that fall against the Yankees to advance in win the World Series. Three years later, the organization would win the World Series again in 2007. Lastly, the organization experienced an epic stage of Falling in 2011 when they blew the biggest September lead - a nine-game margin through September 3 - and missed the playoffs.
The book of Judges also shows a cycle, this one is a spiral downward before coming to a positive end. The six main Judges in the book show a cycle of Sin leading to the Oppression of the people. It leads the people to Repentance and a period of Deliverance, which ends with a period of Peace. In simple terms, we see the Israelites repeatedly turning away from God and facing the consequences. God raise up judges in different times of rebellion, repentance, and restoration.
Teams working to build a baseball championship are a lot like each of us in different times of our spiritual walks. We go through periods that are easily labelled, possibly even big-picture themes such as Sin, Oppression, Repentance, Deliverance, and Peace.
Stories of Warning
Baseball history is littered with stories that make our spirits squirm. Gambling scandals such as the 1919 Black Sox and Pete Rose. The cocaine epidemic of the 1980s, the subsequent trials around cocaine usage and distribution in the game, and the peak of the problem taking down stars such as Cy Young award-winner Dwight Gooden. Phillies first baseman Eddie Waitkus being shot by an obsessed fan in 1949 like Roy Hobbs at the beginning of The Natural. Mike Kekich and Fritz Peterson swapping wives and lives in 1973. Mass hysteria during Disco Demolition Night in 1979 and 10-Cent Beer Night in Cleveland in 1974. Baseball has not been immune to iniquity.
The book of Judges is filled with disturbing, violent, and tragic tales. The stories seem to progress form okay to bad to worse throughout the text. We have epic and bloody stories, sexual abuse and violence leading to civil war, and stories serving as a warning to turn away from the wicked ways that have perverted the way of life for all people.
These stories simply point to a hope for the future. A need for God’s grace and a belief that he will send a gracious, capital-K King who will rescue all of God’s people. Even in its worst moments, the book of Judges points us to Jesus - the King of all kings. Let us be reminded through the book of Judges that our ways are limited, that there is a cycle of redemption in which we find ourselves, and the worst stories in history lead to an ultimate redemption in Jesus Christ.