Numbers 6:22-27 (Part 4) – How To Explain God’s Protection When Faced With the Death of A Teenager

Posted: July 20, 2016 in Book of Numbers

Numbers 6:22-27 (Part 4)

The Priestly Blessing

Today, we find ourselves a couple of days removed from a tragedy in our community. A teenage boy, a young vibrant boy whose was a member of our local high school (James F. Byrnes High School, Duncan, SC) football team drowned in a local lake. Here in Spartanburg County School District 5 (or D5 as we call it here), we are very proud of our football team at the district high school. The Byrnes Rebels are a nationally relevant high school football program that is regularly ranked among the nation’s best. The school has 11 state football titles to its credit, 10 of which have been won within the last 15 years. To be on the football team is every kid’s dream here. It makes you somewhat of a local celebrity to be a member of the Rebels football team. At most high schools in upstate South Carolina as the area becomes more urban, diverse, and transient, it is difficult to fill high school football stadiums. At Byrnes, that is not the case. You could rob the towns of Duncan, Lyman, and Wellford blind on Friday nights when the Rebels are at home. Most home games are packed. There is significant support for this team in the district. The booster club generates significant monies that finance the high profile program that Byrnes football is. I have the privilege of knowing some of the coaches and you will not meet a finer group. These are tough on the kids but the expectation is excellence here. They push these guys hard because Byrnes plays in one of the toughest conferences in the state and plays a rugged non-conference schedule as well. Kids that play well here at Byrnes do not have to yearn for college recruiters’ attention, they automatically get it because of the program’s reputation and because of the excellence of the coaching staff here. Bottom line, Byrnes is actually a high school that has to cut players from the roster during the preseason drills. Some schools will take any warm body that shows us just so that they will have a full complement of players to fill out their roster. At Byrnes, you have to actually make the cut. It’s not like they cut a large number of kids but still, it shows that there are more players than there are slots, an interesting luxury to have in high school football. To make the team, to be a member of the Rebel football program, to be a part of the amazing legacy of this school’s football team is an honor and a privilege that these kids do not take lightly.

 

So, for Markell Nesbitt, he was living the D5 kids dream. He was a Rebel football player. He was living the life that every kid dreams of here in D5. They start ‘em young here in the Byrnes system. They start teaching the components of the Byrnes offensive and defensive schemes as soon as they start playing pee wee football. The Byrnes football uniforms are ever-present at every age level. It’s a big deal. So for Markell, no matter what the rest of his life may have been like, being a Rebel footballer was like a dream come true, just as it was for any player who puts on the Byrnes uniform. Life was good this summer. Football practice would be starting soon. Weight training goes on year-round but school is out and two-a-days have not started yet so there was time to relax and hang out with friends at Lyman Lake. Teenagers in the summer time at the lake. What could be better? But something went deadly wrong earlier this week. Markell was hanging out on the dock with friends. Probably horsing around with his buddies like any teenage boy. Jumping the water was not just fun but necessary this summer as it has been one of the most oppressively hot summers in the upstate South Carolina in a good while (and that’s saying something…summers in the South are just like saunas every summer but this one has been brutal). Jumping in the water this summer was a necessary thing just to cool off for a few minutes at least. Something went wrong. Markell did not surface when he was supposed to. The fun of the afternoon of teenage leisure before the storm of football season and its grueling practices and the long season (here, 15 games is the expectation – the number of games necessary to complete a regular season and make it through the playoffs to the state championship game) turned to meaninglessness. Football is great but Markell did not come up. Football is the dream here for our young boys but Markell did not come up. Innocence of teenage fun turns to tragedy. Imagine a mom and dad expecting a fall football season ahead with their boy being on the team that he’s loved since childhood hearing the news that he will never play football again. He will never wake up in their house again. He will never roam the halls of Byrnes High School again. He will never hang out with his buddies again. The day started out as a fun get together of summer swimming and sunbathing but now it’s divers searching murky waters and innocence lost. Now, it is funeral planning for parents rather than planning for travel for away football games, and planning for school dances, and proms, and planning for life beyond high school. How radically life changes when a child dies. We go from seeing what we want from their future to just wishing they were still here to hold and to hug and to discipline and to goof around with and to see, to touch and to feel.

 

It is the sudden and tragic death of a young, vibrant high school teenage boy that I thought about when I read this passage today. It struck me is how would I explain “to keep” to the parents of Markell Nesbitt. How would I do that? We pray for God “to keep” us in this Priestly Blessing in Numbers 6:22-27. How do I explain to the parents of Markell Nesbitt, if I had to do so, how an omnipotent God, and omnipresent God, the God who created all things, allows a young boy with a bubbling personality, according to one of his coaches (and my friend, Trey Bailey), with a bright future to die suddenly and tragically. It reminds me of when, during my second marriage, we lost my second wife’s son and my stepson to a car accident when he was 16 years old. Her son, Trey (not the Trey mentioned as coach above), was a good looking boy. The girls loved him. He was talented musically. He was a burgeoning white boy rapper. He was the definition of cool. He walked into a room and people noticed. He just had that air of confidence that you knew this kid was going to be something. Everybody followed him. He made the trends instead of following them. He was that guy at school that every other guy wanted to be. Yet, with all the brightness of his future, he was taken suddenly from us after having an argument with his girlfriend and reacting in the way that 16 year old boys do – taking it out on his car and driving faster than he should have been. We ask the mighty God of the universe to “keep us”. Both boys, Markell, age 16, and Trey, age 16 in 2002, had accepted Christ as their Savior too within one year of each their deaths. Are we not protected from tragedy of young death? What does it all mean in context of this tragic world in which we live?

 

Let us read through today’s passage and think of what “keep” really means here. Here, again, we read Numbers 6:22-27 once again for today:

 

22 The Lord said to Moses, 23 “Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them:

 

24

“‘“The Lord bless you

    and keep you;

25

the Lord make his face shine on you

    and be gracious to you;

26

the Lord turn his face toward you

    and give you peace.”’

 

27 “So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.”

 

In this case, the word we translate into English as “bless” is the word, shamar, in Hebrew. It means to preserve. It means to protect. The word for “keep” here is often used of guard duty, of a soldier stationed to protect his post. This is the promise of God’s watchful care over us, His people, to ensure nothing happens to us apart from His loving concern. It can also be thought of too as a hedge of protection for us such as thorny bushes or walls of a city. That’s the shamar in it usage here in this passage. That is the “to keep” that is inferred in the English translation of the Hebrew word, shamar.

 

It is easier to explain the death at the hands of terrorists, or murderers, or whatever. There is evil in this world and we know it. God does not allow death. Death in these cases is the expression of evil free will. We live in a fallen world and the every spiraling funnel of sin of mankind has made this world into a din of sin’s consequences that swirl outward and capture good people in its wake at times. To be saved from this mess is somewhat of blessing. To be taken to the streets of gold and away from the cruelty of man toward man is the dream of every Christ follower. To explain to myself that when my mother died after several years of pain and suffering with back issues that had her bedbound in the end that she was no longer suffering the vagaries of a decaying body and that she was young and free again is easy to reconcile. She is better off in heaven than she was here. Eas-IER to explain.

 

How do you reconcile God’s omnipotence and his mighty hand of protection when a teenager dies tragically? How do you explain that to His parents. In her article, Where is God in Tragedy, Sarah Sumner says,

 

If you think about it, the question, Why does God allow people to suffer? is really not a question at all. It’s a protest. It’s an angry declaration that says, “People shouldn’t have to hurt like this!” or, many times, “I shouldn’t have to hurt like this!”

 

Pain is what people protest. It is pain that people find so problematic. Though we might think we’re blaming God because God has power to stop things, the thing we want Him to stop is the insult of our pain.

 

She goes on to say later in the article:

 

Hanging on a cross, absorbing the sin of the world, suffering unimaginably, Jesus prayed Psalm 22. Though He uttered the first line when on the cross, just saying that first line is the Hebrew way of referring to the Psalm. Jesus was thus thinking:

 

My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me? Far from my deliverance are the words of my groaning. O my God, I cry by day, but Thou dost not answer; and by night, but I have no rest. Yet Thou art holy, O Thou Who art enthroned upon the praises of Israel. In Thee our fathers trusted; they trusted, and Thou didst deliver them. To Thee they cried out, and were delivered. In Thee they trusted, and were not disappointed.

 

Jesus trusted God, even in His most galling, grueling, groaning, gagging pain.

 

 

Here is the conclusion to which I must come when trying to explain to a parent of a 16 year old boy who drown, to the parents of Markell Nesbitt. It is in pain in this sin-filled fallen world that tragedies of unexplainable proportions happen. They have had a bombshell dropped in their lives. They will never be the same. We cannot explain or understand Markell’s death on this side of heaven. When we ask God to keep, to protect us, sometimes we simply have to trust that He has got a reason for things that happen. We may not see the reason. We may not understand the purpose. We may not understand the way in which He is protecting us. We are not God. We have to ultimately trust Him with the things that we do not understand and that which we may even protest in anger and tears against. As a parent may put us as kids through discipline or through teaching moments that we do not understand at the time but understand only later when we become parents ourselves, we must trust God with some of these things until we learn the truth about until we get to heaven ourselves. We must trust God that His protection comes thorugh us trusting Him in tragedy. His protection comes through our faith born more deeply in tragedy. His protection comes in crawling in His lap and crying out heart out. It comes from going out in the backyard and screaming at God until we fall weeping to the ground and ultimately trust Him with our pain.

 

We sometimes have to let go to learn of God’s love and protection. We have to fall to the ground in a heap of weeping emotion before we give total control to God and find His protection as a result. May that be the purpose. May people be drawn closer to God through the memory of the smiles of Markell Nesbitt. May we be drawn closer to God knowing that this young man is celebrating at the Savior’s feet right now and would not trade it for anything that could have happened to him here on earth. Yes, we grieve. But yet we must trust blindly in God. In trusting Him blindly, we find his full “to keep”. We find his full protection.

 

Amen and Amen.

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