Numbers 21:10-20 – Getting Ready for the Biggest Game of Your Life

Posted: October 6, 2016 in 04-Numbers

Numbers 21:10-20

Israel’s Journey to Moab

Have you ever had a big game as an athlete? Whether you are a superstar or not, we all have played in big ball games during our youth. In this egalitarian world in which we live where we have little league organizations that don’t keep scores and don’t keep the standings of teams, the kids know. They keep track. It is just in our nature to be competitive and see how we stack up against one another. So, even little kids know when a big game is a big game. Back in my youth, we actually did keep score and keep the official standings of the teams in our leagues that we played in. At various sports over the years while growing up, there were big games that I participated in. My fondest memory of a big game that I played in was when I played church league basketball when we lived in Anderson, SC. The highlight of my athletic career at age 12. LOL!


In our church league that year, we had twelve church teams in our age bracket that participated from our county. We played 18 games between January and mid-March and the championship tournament was during the latter part of March. Of the 12 teams only 8 made the championship tourney. Because of qualification issues for me (for some reason my parents did not have a state-certified birth certificate so we had to order one) and because Eddie Yount had an injured ankle, our first three games of the season were a disaster. We started 0-3. Then, when I was able to play and Eddie had recovered (we were the best players on the team), it took a while for us to gel together as a team. By game 9, we were only 3-6 as will split the six games after Eddie and I joined the team. However, things began to click at that point, and we won 8 out of last 9 games to finish 11-7 for the year. We were the hot team but because of our early season struggles, we were seeded in the tournament as Seed #4. We watched the standings. We knew that if we won our first round game, we would have to play First Baptist Anderson in the second round. They were the #1 seed. By the luck of the draw during the season they were one of the 6 teams in the league that we had to play twice during the regular season. They pounded us into the ground in game #2 of the season when Eddie and I were out. Then, the second game which was during our stretch of winning 8 of 9 games, they still pounded us even with Eddie and me playing. They were just so much taller than us and everybody else they played. They were undefeated, 18-0 through the regular season. They were the Alabama football team of our church league basketball. They were better than everybody else because they had the best players and they played with a precision and a confidence uncommon among their so-called peers in the league.


As expected, we being on a hot streak easily handled our first round game with First Presbyterian. That was a smack down in church league 12 and under boys basketball standards. We doubled them up. We beat ‘em 35-18. In 12 and under basketball, 35 points was a lot. By myself, I scored as many points as the whole First Prez team. I was on fire that game. And as expected, First Baptist easily handled their first round game as they had easily handled pretty much everybody they played that year. Thus, the showdown game was set for the semi-finals. The big bullies of First Baptist, 19-0, against a team that was only 12-7, but had now won 9 out its last 10 games. It was rematch time. We were 0-2 against them in the regular season. They were the lone loss in our hot streak. The First Baptist team was known throughout the city’s youth as being unstoppable. We weren’t the talk of town. We were just the next victim. It was like the Houston Cougars against the ragamuffin N.C. State Wolfpack in the 1983 NCAA championship game. Remember, Jimmy V.’s team that year that had a rough start to the year but finished hot, won the ACC Tournament, and ended up winning the whole thing. We were NC State to First Baptist’s Houston Cougars. Houston as you remember was outscoring everybody they played by wide margins and looked damned good doing it too. They dunked the ball so often they were called the fraternity of dunk, Phi Slamma Jamma!

Because of deference to parent’s work schedules, our tournament was not played on back-to-back-to back nights. It was every other night. So, we had a day off after our first round game to practice and get ready for the game. Practice was quiet and somber when usually it was giggles and not doing what we were told half the time. We knew it was a big game. We knew that they had handed our heads to us on two occasions already. But, it was not a defeatist attitude. It was a determined one. Practice was crisp and we did everything Coach Middleton told us to do the very first team. It was a big game coming up and we knew it. The game plan was not to stand around or have only a couple players moving. It was to be constant movement, picks, popping people open and lots of outside shooting by Eddie and me, and in-your-face defense. Coach wanted us up in the face of each player the whole game. Usually we were a zone defense team but for this game we were going to get up in their guard’s faces and disrupt their offense right from half court. It was going to be a gamble on defense but Coach said the guards were the key. Everybody that played them sank back and try to prevent their tall guys from scoring. But we were going to force their guards to play the game. Practice was hard. We were sore and tired at the end of it. No one complained though. The big game was in front of us. We knew that we had to play the game of our lives to win. No joking around. Just 12 year old steely resolve.


It was that idea of the big game ahead, the game of your life, that I thought of. That lead up to the First Baptist game from my youth is still with me. It’s funny how the things that you learn from youth sports stay with you all your life. And, it is odd to me that, it was that championship tournament week back when I was twelve that I thought of this morning when I read this passage. But that was the feeling I got from reading this passage. It was about to be “big game time” for the Israelites. A big battle is about to happen and here they are at the precipice of the battle. They had journeyed through their season. It was not always a pretty season. But yet they had survived to the point of being ready for the big game. It was their chance to redeem themselves from their early season debacle (the first pass at the Promised Land). The big game was at hand. A battle lie ahead. Let’s read the passage, Numbers 21:10-20, now:


The Journey to Moab


10 The Israelites moved on and camped at Oboth. 11 Then they set out from Oboth and camped in Iye Abarim, in the wilderness that faces Moab toward the sunrise. 12 From there they moved on and camped in the Zered Valley. 13 They set out from there and camped alongside the Arnon, which is in the wilderness extending into Amorite territory. The Arnon is the border of Moab, between Moab and the Amorites. 14 That is why the Book of the Wars of the Lord says:


“. . . Zahab[a] in Suphah and the ravines,

    the Arnon 15 and[b] the slopes of the ravines

that lead to the settlement of Ar

    and lie along the border of Moab.”


16 From there they continued on to Beer, the well where the Lord said to Moses, “Gather the people together and I will give them water.”


17 Then Israel sang this song:


“Spring up, O well!

    Sing about it,


about the well that the princes dug,

    that the nobles of the people sank—

    the nobles with scepters and staffs.”


Then they went from the wilderness to Mattanah, 19 from Mattanah to Nahaliel, from Nahaliel to Bamoth, 20 and from Bamoth to the valley in Moab where the top of Pisgah overlooks the wasteland.



When I first read through this passage, I was like, “What on earth am I going to write about this morning?” That’s when you know that the Holy Spirit guides us in our understanding of Scripture. It came to me that this is not just so throw away passage, between bigger passages. It was that you notice something different about the Israelites. On the eve of the big game, they are not whining and complaining and goofing off as they normally have done as we have seen. They are actually focused on God’s guidance and God’s provision. Maybe, it’s battle ahead that they knew was coming and they knew they had to forge ahead this time and do it God’s way. They had tried it their way and see where it got them, wandering in the wilderness for nearly 40 years. Maybe, this time, on this occasion, they were going to listen to God and do things His way. They were focused and ready. They were praising God. No complaining just steely God praising resolve.


That’s the takeaway for today. Some of us may have big events coming up in our lives and it may seem insurmountable. Just as my 12 and under team knew that we were going to play a game against a team that had spanked us already twice. We knew we had to do things a different way and we had to listen to our coach if we had any chance at victory. That’s what I see as the changed hearts here from the Israelites. We have to throw our pride aside and depend on God when we have insurmountable tasks ahead of us. We must be all-in in our dependence on God. We must understand that He will guide and provide. He will show us what we need to do to win. He will enable us to eat the elephant one bite a time. He will show us the way. We just have to listen to Him. Just as we had to listen to Coach Middleton’s game plan to have any chance at being the big bad bullies of First Baptist, so too do we have to listen to God and do things His way to get through the tough schedule of life that is full of big games and seeming insurmountable odds. When we listen to God’s guidance, we will make it through. We will have victory when we humbly do what He says.


Amen and Amen.


PS…We did win that semi-final game against the bad boys of First Baptist. Our stifling in your face defense disrupted them in to the numerous turnovers that we needed to win. It was still a struggle but we won by six and went on to the championship game. It was a stunner!

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