Three Strikes You’re In

Growing up in Canaan, New Hampshire without a whole bunch of pocket change, baseball was something that entertained my friends and me because it didn't take more than a ball and a glove to enjoy it. Well, it generally was better if there were at least two gloves. 🙂

I suppose just like cricket in other countries, watching baseball is an acquired taste. Many, perhaps most, people find it a bit slow and boring…whereas I can still remember, with a bunch of my buddies, closely listening to a game on a portable AM radio (in our tent made out of black 30-gallon trash bags) as the Red Sox and Yankees went into extra innings. It was the antithesis of boring to us. (Bad news, the Yankees won that game. Good news, as we left the tents to go sneak around town in the middle of the night, we discovered a glow-in-the-dark fungus exists in New England.)

So, do you enjoy baseball? Hate it? Can put up with it, but won't tune into it on television if there are other options?

Regardless of your opinion of the sport, if you've lived a long time in the 50 United States your language has likely been affected by "America's pastime." Have you ever given a presentation at work where someone afterward said, "You hit that out of the park?" Or have you ever personally said, "That's in the ballpark" instead of "That's close"?

Perhaps the baseball-related concept that is most familiar to the American public is, "Three strikes, you're out!" Even those who believe in second chances understand the notion that after someone has messed up three times they've used up all their grace. There are even "three strikes" laws, used to lockup individuals who may not commit individual crimes that warrant long sentences, but whose overall behavior means it would be best for them to be separated from society for significant periods of time.

People only deserve so many chances…or so it would seem.

That's why, as I read through all 66 books again, I found something in Exodus and Numbers especially interesting. If you take a look at Exodus 32:7-14, Numbers 14:11-20, and Numbers 16:41-50 you'll see the same situation repeated three times. Looking at a portion of each…

Strike 1:

And the Lord said to Moses, "I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you" (Exodus 32:9-10).1

Strike 2:

And the Lord said to Moses, "How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them? I will strike them with the pestilence and disinherit them, and I will make of you a nation greater and mightier than they" (Numbers 14:11-12).

And strike 3:

And when the congregation had assembled against Moses and against Aaron, they turned toward the tent of meeting. And behold, the cloud covered it, and the glory of the Lord appeared. And Moses and Aaron came to the front of the tent of meeting, and the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, "Get away from the midst of this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment." And they fell on their faces (Numbers 16:42-45).

We can kind of understand how Moses "persuaded" God to spare the Israelites the first time…and the second time…but would anyone blame our Lord if after "strike 3" there was nothing Moses could say or do that would assuage God's wrath and He went ahead and "consume[d] them in a moment"?

But, He didn't. Instead, He lived up to what He told Moses shortly after the first time He offered that man of God the opportunity to be a great nation after first destroying the idolatrous Jews:

The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, "The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin…" (Exodus 34:6-7a)

The Lord Almighty was merciful…and not because Moses figured out the magic combination of words and/or actions…but because that is His character…His nature. It is no wonder that the same Jesus who said, "You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48) also answered Peter's question, "Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?" with "I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times" (Matthew 18:21).2

We are to be like our Father.

Now, as I continue to read through the Bible in 2012 I will see just how the Israelites kept on rebelling against God, and how they did not pay attention to the rest of what our Lord told Moses in the 34th chapter of Exodus:

"…but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation" (Exodus 34:7b).

As with Israel, in these last days at some point it'll be time for His patience to run out, and Jesus will return to collect those who turned from their iniquity and to the Messiah. At the same time He "will by no means clear the guilty"—those who haven't accepted the greatest and most costly gift ever offered.

The gift of mercy and forgiveness where judgment and condemnation was deserved.

1 All quotes are from the English Standard Version.
2 Other versions say "seventy times seven."

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Alan is an ordinary guy, living in a small, high plains Colorado town...and humbled to be a minister of God...

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