Oh, my goodness! What a strange finish to Super Bowl 49! For those of us in the Northwest who happen to be Seahawk fans, we experienced another roller coaster of emotions, not unlike what happened in the NFC Championship game where Seattle came back from a 16-0 half-time deficit to win in overtime after some very bizarre plays and risky play calling that worked, with a little “luck” thrown in. Again yesterday there were some “gutsy” play calls which worked—except for the final one of the game. With Seattle down 24-28, Jemaine Kearse had an amazing reception while lying on his back, putting the Seahawks in scoring position. After another punishing run by Marshawn Lynch, nicknamed “Beast Mode,” (giving him 102 yards rushing for the game, 133 overall), the Seahawks had three downs and one time out to gain one yard and win their second consecutive Super Bowl. Surely with football’s most-bruising runner in your backfield, you can punch it into the end zone given three plays and a little less than a yard to go! But that’s when it happened, shocking players, spectators, and the millions of us watching—they ran a slant pass to Ricardo Lockett which was intercepted by a rookie free agent from West Alabama, Malcolm Butler. You’ll have to admit, it was a surprise, and sometimes that can work to your advantage, as it had on numerous occasions for the Seahawks. The call was made by offensive coordinator, Darrell Bevell but could have been overruled by Pete Carroll, head coach, or changed at the line by Russell Wilson, Seahawk quarterback. But they ran the play and with it ended their chance to repeat as Super Bowl champions. There, of course, has been lots of commentary on the play call, especially since a similar thing happened when Pete Carroll was head coach at USC, costing them a third consecutive national championship. Had the pass call worked successfully, the whole outcome would have been different. They would have been interviewing Seahawk players and coaches and they would have been heroes instead of goats—what a fine line between the agony of defeat and the thrill of victory. It can be determined by the minutest of detail.
We may all be questioning the play call by the Seahawks, but I can’t help but recall some of God’s play calls recorded in Scripture—ones we would surely have questioned had we been participants in the events. I think, for example of how God led the Israelites out of Egypt yet brought them to the Red Sea when Pharaoh changed his mind about releasing Israel and sent his army after them. The Israelites found themselves between “the devil and the deep blue sea,” or rather Pharaoh’s army and the Red Sea. They must have thought, “God, we should never have left Egypt. Now we are surely all going to die!” But God parted the water for them (2-3 million!) to cross and then closed the waters drowning Pharaoh’s army as they pursued.
I think of God’s play call to take the walled city of Jericho as they entered the land. God’s plan! He had them march around the city once a day for six days, led by seven priests with rams’ horns. Then on the seventh day, they were to march around the city seven time and the priests were to blow their trumpets and the people were to shout. What a seemingly ridiculous play call—but they obeyed and the walls, which may have been as high as 30 feet, fell flat so the people could walk right into the city. (Probably the walls sunk into the ground to allow that).
I think of God’s play call for Gideon’s army of 32,000 (Judges 7:3) when they went up against the Midianites who numbered 135,000 (8:10). Gideon’s men were outnumbered more than four to one, so what kind of play would God call? He told Gideon he had too many men. Say what? “And the LORD said to Gideon, ‘The people who are with you are too many for Me to give Midian into their hands, lest Israel become boastful, saying, ‘My own power has delivered me’” (7:2). God had Gideon pare his army down to 330 men! Now the odds weren’t four to one; they were 450 to one! God had Gideon divide the men into three companies of 100 and give each man a trumpet and a pitcher with a torch inside. They surrounded the Midianites’ camp, blew trumpets and broke the pitchers and shouted, “A sword for the LORD and for Gideon!” (7:2). The Midianites panicked and began killing each other or fleeing. Gideon’s little band of 300 men routed a Midianite army of 135,000. God captains an unbeatable team and His play calls always work—no matter how strange they may seem to us. It is not the size of the army in the fight; it is the size of God in the army! God had promised the Israelites: “If you walk in My statutes, and keep My commandments so as to carry them out (follow my play calls), …then five of you will chase a hundred, and a hundred of you will chase ten thousand, and your enemies will fall before you by the sword” (Lev. 26:6). The Apostle Paul wrote: “What then shall we say to these things, if God is for us, who is against us?…But in all these things, we overwhelmingly conquer through him who loved us” (Ro. 8:31,37).
On one occasion, Wicked King Sennacherib and his huge, ruthless Assyrian army (of terrorists) had invaded Judah and put Jerusalem under siege, King Hezekiah spoke to encourage the people of Jerusalem, saying: “Be strong and courageous, do not fear or be dismayed because of the king of Assyria, nor because of all the multitude which is with him; for the One with us is greater than the one with him. With him is only an arm of flesh, but with us is the LORD our God to help us and to fight our battles. Hezekiah and Isaiah, the prophet prayed about this and cried out to heaven. And the LORD sent an angel who destroyed every mighty warrior, commander and officer in the camp of the king of Assyria. So he returned in shame to his own land. And when he had entered the temple of his god, some of his own children killed him there with the sword. So the LORD saved Hezekiah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem from the hand of Sennacherib the king of Assyria, and from the hand of all others, and guided them on every side” (II Chr. 32:7,8,20-22).
God often has very surprising play calls, ones which don’t make any sense to us, definitely not the ones we would run, but He is the sovereign, omnipotent, omniscient God and we are not. We read in Isaiah: “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,’ declares the LORD” (Isa. 55: 8). Jesus’ teachings are totally contrary to the ways of man. His play calls just don’t make any human sense. He said that when we are insulted and persecuted and evil is spoken against us because of Him, we are to “Rejoice and be glad” (Mt. 5:11,12).
Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (Mt. 5:43,44). The Apostle Paul taught us to: “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone…If possible, as far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take you own revenge…But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him drink…” (Ro. 12:17-20).
I have to admit, God’s play calls often don’t make any sense from our human view point, especially to our old sinful flesh. His ways are definitely not our ways, but guess what. His always work! He has never run a play that didn’t succeed. So, it behooves us to follow Solomon’s advice: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean to you own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight” (Pr. 3:5,6). When it comes to life on earth, especially in the world of sports, it is easy to second guess those who call the plays, especially when those plays fail. After all, we are creatures of dust with limited knowledge and capability, but “As for God, His way is blameless (perfect)…” (Psa. 18:30). Trust His play calls, even if they don’t make human sense or seem to be working—they will! “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Cor. 15:57).