Deuteronomy 1:26-48 – That’s Why They Play The Games on The Field, Not on Paper

Posted: November 28, 2016 in Book of Deuteronomy
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Deuteronomy 1:26-48

Israel’s Rebellion Against the Lord

There is an age-old cliché that states, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” It is used typically to express that no matter how big a problem is, you have to break it down into manageable steps and methodically accomplish those individual steps. It means too that even if a problem sees huge and insurmountable, you must develop a methodical plan to attack the problem and work diligently to accomplish your goals.

 

Never was this more true than when my favorite college football team, Clemson, played against Alabama last year in the college football national championship game last year. Alabama, under Coach Nick Saban, has become the perennial top dog in college football. They have won four national championships during the ten years that Coach Saban has headed up the football program there. Alabama has always been one of the top football programs in the country over the years but Coach Saban has taken them to another level. They are now the gold standard of college football. All other football programs are compared to them. It is true again this year. Alabama has been ranked #1 all year long and are the odds-on favorite to repeat as national champions again this year. No one is expected to really challenge them. They are a lock to be the number 1 seed when the 4-team playoffs begin at the end of December.

 

Last year, when Clemson beat Oklahoma in the semi-finals of the playoffs thus earned the right to play Alabama for the national championship (as Alabama too had won its semifinal game – against Michigan State), no one gave Clemson a chance. The age-old bias against the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) as a football conference reared its head in many of the conversations about the game. The ACC is a weak conference and Alabama’s conference, the Southeastern Conference (SEC), is the strongest in the country. Clemson was only ranked high because they were the new darlings of college football because of their recent run of success. Alabama was the standard. Clemson, even though ranked as the #1 seed in the playoffs last year, was an underdog to mighty Alabama. Clemson was thought to be the #1 seed because they were the only undefeated team left in college football. Even mighty Alabama, last year, had lost one ball game. As a result of being perceived as being from a weak conference and only being ranked #1 by virtue of having no losses, no one gave Clemson a chance against mighty Alabama. Their defense was going to stifle Clemson’s wonder-kid sophomore quarterback, DeShaun Watson, both in his passing and his running. The defensive line and linebackers from Alabama were going to manhandle Clemson’s perceived weak offensive line. Although Clemson’s defense was given some respect, they, too were going to be no match for Alabama’s offensive line. Alabama was Goliath and Clemson was David. The Tigers might as well have not showed up for the game. They were just going to be cannon fodder for the coronation ceremony of another Alabama national championship.

 

What happened? Alabama did win another national championship at the end of last season. They did beat Clemson. So, if that’s the case, what’s your point, Mark? It was not the fact that Alabama won the national championship game. It was that Clemson could have listened to all the hype about Alabama and just rolled over for the national champions. However, the game turned out to be one of the classic struggles of college football national championship games (in whatever form they have taken over the years). The game was in doubt throughout the contest. Alabama only sealed its victory when it successfully covered the on-side kick from Clemson with less than 2 minutes left in the game. Clemson came to play and it was a back and forth struggle. It was like a heavyweight fight. It was Rocky vs. Apollo Creed in the first Rocky movie. Rocky didn’t win the fight but Apollo Creed knew he had been in a titanic struggle when it was over. Clemson gave Alabama all it could handle this past January out in the desert oasis of Glendale, AZ. They didn’t win the game, but Alabama walked away knowing that they have vanquished a worthy and strong adversary. Clemson could have actually won the game were it not for two lapses on special teams (a kickoff return for a touchdown and the recovery of an surprise on-side kick by Alabama that allowed Alabama to have an extra possession). It was a battle where neither defense could really stop the other team. The final score of Alabama 45 Clemson 40 was an indication of what a struggle the game was.

 

If Clemson had listened to the prognosticators, they would not have even showed up for the game. They might as well not even have developed a game plan for the ball game. However, it was one of the most entertaining national championship games ever. If Clemson had listened to the prognosticators and played with fear of losing badly instead of with the desire for victory in their own right, it would have been the expected bloodbath that was predicted. That’s why the play the games on the field and not on paper.

 

That constant barrage of negativity about Clemson in preparation for last year’s national championship game was what I thought of when I read through this passage today and how it is was eerily similar to the content of this passage, Deuteronomy 1:26-46. Let’s read through it together:

 

26 But you were unwilling to go up; you rebelled against the command of the Lord your God. 27 You grumbled in your tents and said, “The Lord hates us; so he brought us out of Egypt to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us. 28 Where can we go? Our brothers have made our hearts melt in fear. They say, ‘The people are stronger and taller than we are; the cities are large, with walls up to the sky. We even saw the Anakites there.’”

 

29 Then I said to you, “Do not be terrified; do not be afraid of them. 30 The Lord your God, who is going before you, will fight for you, as he did for you in Egypt, before your very eyes, 31 and in the wilderness. There you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place.”

 

32 In spite of this, you did not trust in the Lord your God, 33 who went ahead of you on your journey, in fire by night and in a cloud by day, to search out places for you to camp and to show you the way you should go.

 

34 When the Lord heard what you said, he was angry and solemnly swore: 35 “No one from this evil generation shall see the good land I swore to give your ancestors, 36 except Caleb son of Jephunneh. He will see it, and I will give him and his descendants the land he set his feet on, because he followed the Lord wholeheartedly.”

 

37 Because of you the Lord became angry with me also and said, “You shall not enter it, either. 38 But your assistant, Joshua son of Nun, will enter it. Encourage him, because he will lead Israel to inherit it. 39 And the little ones that you said would be taken captive, your children who do not yet know good from bad—they will enter the land. I will give it to them and they will take possession of it. 40 But as for you, turn around and set out toward the desert along the route to the Red Sea.[a]”

 

41 Then you replied, “We have sinned against the Lord. We will go up and fight, as the Lord our God commanded us.” So every one of you put on his weapons, thinking it easy to go up into the hill country.

 

42 But the Lord said to me, “Tell them, ‘Do not go up and fight, because I will not be with you. You will be defeated by your enemies.’”

 

43 So I told you, but you would not listen. You rebelled against the Lord’s command and in your arrogance you marched up into the hill country. 44 The Amorites who lived in those hills came out against you; they chased you like a swarm of bees and beat you down from Seir all the way to Hormah. 45 You came back and wept before the Lord, but he paid no attention to your weeping and turned a deaf ear to you. 46 And so you stayed in Kadesh many days—all the time you spent there.

 

When the scouts returned with reports of giants and walled cities, the people were afraid to move ahead and began to complain about their predicament. But the minority report of Joshua and Caleb pointed out that the land was fertile and the enemy was vulnerable, and that God was on their side. We can become fearful and immobile when we focus on the negative aspects of a situation. How much better is it to focus on the positives – God’s direction and promises. When are confronted with an important decision and know what you should do, move out in faith. Focus on what you can do not what you can’t and trust the Lord to overcome the things that you cannot do. Just because a problem is greater than you alone, don’t let it rob you of victory. Trust in the Lord to help you overcome those giants in your life. Trust the Lord to help you attack the fortified cities of your life. With God, nothing is impossible.

 

Just as Clemson did not focus on the negative reports of the sporting press and the majority of football fans, they went about developing a game plan that made the game winnable for them. They did not play a flawless game in that Clemson’s special teams let them down. Otherwise they could have very easily won the game. They didn’t not listen to the prognosticators. Instead of playing not to lose badly, they played to win and darn near did it.

 

How can we overcome the problems in our life, it we do not play the game? How can we overcome insurmountable problems in our life if we say they are not solvable and give up and away? We can overcome any situation in our life by doing our part (God expects us to work ourselves out of our situations), developing a game plan, and then trusting Him to guide us through the whole process. We must not listen to detractors but rather listen to God saying I am with you. We overcome if we stand still and accept things the way they are and let them defeat us. We trust in God. We listen to Him and execute the plan He gives us. We enter the Promised Land and fight the fight that needs fighting. We cannot win the fights that need fighting if we do not go out into battle.

 

God is bigger than any problem that we might face. He will tell us that the elephant can be eaten. He will give us a plan on how to eat it. But we must execute the plan. We must go out and battle the elephant.

 

Amen and Amen.

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