Biblical Bracket Busters

I love the month of March.  From springtime temperatures to shamrock shakes, to me it is the most exciting time to be alive.  But the number one reason I enjoy this month is March Madness.  This is the most exciting athletic competition in all of sports.  Sixty-eight collegiate teams get invited to the month-long basketball tournament, but only one will win the national championship.  Like most people, I root for my favorite school as long as they are participating but also root for the underdogs in the other matches.  My wife, a Kansas Jayhawk fan and myself, a Michigan State Spartan alumnus frequently find ourselves deeply invested over the course of the month within the brackets.  From the storylines, upsets, and buzzer-beater, we are captivated from beginning to end.  One of the most intriguing aspects of the tournament has always been the #16 vs. #1 matchup.  Never in the history of March Madness has a #16 defeated a #1 seed.  That is, until last year (2018) when the University of Maryland, Baltimore County Retrievers defeated the top-ranked Virginia Cavaliers in the ultimate bracket busting matchup.

It is interesting to me that when we read the Old Testament, we read account after account of #1 vs #16 matches.  Matchups on paper, where no doubt the overwhelming favorite should have been victorious, but because of God’s lovingkindness, the underdog prevailed. Consider these matchups:

  • (#16) Noah vs. (#1) The Wicked World
    • The Lord was sorry He made man (Genesis 6:6), but Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord (Genesis 6:8).  God established a covenant with Noah and his family, and Noah did all that God had commanded him (Genesis 6:22).  Noah, a preacher of righteousness, undoubtedly was ridiculed day in and day out for building the ark.  It was Noah (and his wife, three sons and daughter-in-law’s) against the world. Just like a #16 seed, the odds were not in his favor.  But we know how that ended!
  • (#16) Jonah vs. (#1) Nineveh
    • Jonah was sent to Nineveh (Jonah 1:2) by God to preach against their wickedness.  If you’ve ever studied about Nineveh and the Assyrian Empire during those days, you know how wicked of an environment it was (I heard a preacher once compare it to the actions of Isis x10).  No wonder Jonah ran away from the Lord.  Jonah, after spending three days and nights inside the great fish (Jonah 1:17), preached that one sentence sermon (Jonah 3:4) and the city repented: an epic upset!
  • (#16) Elijah vs. (#1) The Followers of Baal
    • Baal’s prophets of 450 men (1 Kings 18:22) were challenged by Elijah on Mount Carmel.  The prophets of Baal were to build an altar and call on the name of their god. Elijah also was to build an altar and call on the name of his God.  The one who answers by fire would be declared the true God (1 Kings 18:24).  Baal’s prophets called on the name of Baal from morning until noon, but there was no answer.  Elijah had his altar doused with water and he prayed to God and the fire of the Lord consumed the burnt offering (1 Kings 18:38).  Elijah, a true underdog, knew God would deliver him from the hands of his enemies.
  • (#16) David vs. (#1) Goliath
    • This is probably the most famous #1 vs #16 in the Old Testament.  The youngest son of Jesse accepted the challenge of the great champion Goliath of the Philistines (1 Samuel 17:4) and killed him with a single stone shot from a sling when no one else would dare challenge him.  He knew the Lord would deliver him from the hand of this Philistine (1 Samuel 17:37).  Talk about a bracket buster.  No one, not even his own brothers, would have had David advancing pass Goliath in battle.

How encouraging is it that God did not “root” for the strongest or most intimidating team, the team with the biggest and most prestigious fanbases, or because of the superstars that played for them?  “The Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but because the Lord loved you…” (Deuteronomy 7:7-8).  “But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong”(1 Corinthians 1:27).  Notice in these Scriptures that Moses and Paul, writing to God’s people, are describing them as #16 seeds.  No one would give them a chance against such odds.  But they loved and obeyed God.  God desires our love and obedience.  God desires “bracket busters!”

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