I have a deep appreciation for the game of baseball.
When I say “deep”, I mean that I’m not just in it for the flashy home run hitters and high scoring innings — as fun as they may be to watch at times. I also love sitting on the edge of my seat during a tense pitcher’s battle, taking note of the strikes, the fouls, the infield flies, the walks and the double plays. When I’m into the game, I go into scorekeeper mode, and watch every pitch, every swing of the bat, every step off first base, and every dive under a fielder’s mitt.
I love this game.
I love the games where a hit-by-pitch, a stolen base, and a good third base coach can mean the difference between a win and a loss. As boring as some fans find it, I love me some small ball.
And in those games where small ball rules the day, there’s nothing like seeing a solid hitter come to the plate with a man on first and nobody out, expecting him to swing for the fences and try to get a two-spot on the board… and instead seeing him drop into a crouch at the last second and lay down a perfect sacrifice bunt.
To the casual fan, there’s no glory in a sac bunt. There’s no home run trot, no padded stats, no fireworks… Just another out in a game where the home team is already having a rough time racking up the hits, which may or may not bear any fruit. There’s no personal glory, which is why it’s a sacrifice.
In 2 Samuel 24, King David had sinned in his determination to take a census of the people he ruled. The purpose was pride, unlike previous counts that God had commanded, and when it was done, David was overwhelmed with guilt. God gave David a choice of what punishment would be given for his actions, and David chose the one that showed the most reliance on the mercy of God: a three-day plague, as opposed to a famine that would have Israel weakened before its neighbors, or months of war and persecution from his enemies. The plague hit Israel hard, but David interceded for his people, and begged God to punish him and his family instead.
Then David was commanded to build an altar on that very ground, the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite, in order to offer a sacrifice. David asked to buy the land from Araunah, and Araunah — trying to be a good subject — offered it as a donation, in addition to the animals for the burnt offerings and the fuel.
Araunah was willing to give whatever was required of him to the cause, but King David refused to accept it as a gift.
24-25 But the king said to Araunah, “No. I’ve got to buy it from you for a good price; I’m not going to offer God, my God, sacrifices that are no sacrifice.”
So David bought the threshing floor and the ox, paying out fifty shekels of silver. He built an altar to God there and sacrificed burnt offerings and peace offerings. God was moved by the prayers and that was the end of the disaster. (2 Sam 24:24-25, MSG)
How many of us have ever been asked to fast, and been tempted to give up something that really didn’t matter to us? Have you ever considered giving things that you didn’t want anymore to charity as “good enough”? Isn’t all that really just a meaningless sacrifice, much like David refused to give?
But don’t we all sometimes hold back from giving what God asks of us, because we will be inconvenienced in our pocketbook, or our schedule… or just our freedom to do our own thing?
And speaking of the freedom to do our own thing:
22 But Samuel replied:
“Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
as much as in obeying the Lord?
To obey is better than sacrifice,
and to heed is better than the fat of rams.
(1 Sam 15:22, NIV)