There was a funny moment during the recent cricket World Cup in England, in a press conference with the Australian captain, Aaron Finch. Australia were doing well in the competition, everyone felt good about how games were going and there was a light-hearted mood as Finch took questions. One of the questions came from a 10 year old, Zachary, the son of former player, Brad Haddin.
“Are you going to win a coin toss?” was the probing question from young Zach, prompting raucous laughter from journalists in the room. Finch was on the brink of setting a record for losing the toss at the start of a match, by which the opposing captains determine which team will bat first. Correctly call heads or tails and you get to make that choice.
Did you know that there’s a bible verse that mentions heads and tails?
Check out Deuteronomy chapter 28. There you’ll find a list of the blessings that would come upon the nation of Israel if, when they entered the promised land, they kept to the ways of God as a community and as a nation. Most of these blessings are as you’d expect – the promise of good weather, good crops, strong families and success against enemies. Then at the end comes this strange sounding promise: “And the Lord will make you the head and not the tail.” (vs 13a)
Not what you or I might naturally think when we wish good things to happen for someone! However, it’s quite a profound idea. Being the head and not the tail means that it’s a blessing to be the one setting the direction, rather than the one being dragged along behind. It means you get to have influence and impact, rather than being dictated to.
The opposite is pronounced in the second half of the chapter, which lists curses that would come on the people if they strayed from God, concluding with the warning that disobedience would mean that the stranger in their land would be the head and they the tail (vs 44).
To continue with a cricket theme, to illustrate what this means, I think of the ‘sandpaper scandal’ that engulfed the Australian team last year. Players like Steve Smith and David Warner had great influence and power in the team as the leaders, but their behaviour on that South African tour – falling well short of accepted standards – meant that they lost all that. They were banned from playing for a year, and stripped of the chance to be leaders when they did return to the team.
They became tails rather than heads in the world of cricket.
There’s a monetary link to this head and tail idea. One of the themes among the blessings in Deuteronomy 28 is that the Israelites would be in a strong financial position and thus able to make plans to do things like feed their livestock so herds could grow, and to build houses and villages. They wouldn’t need to go into debt just to keep themselves alive, but would be in a position to provide funding and support to others. The curse upon disobedience includes financial impoverishment and dependence upon the good will of others.
We have to be careful not to do what many had done by Jesus’ times and turn these principles into a view that if you were rich you were blessed and that must mean you were holy, but if you were poor then you were cursed and unworthy. That’s not what God meant when he gave them the Law! We should read Deuteronomy 28 not as a set of accounting standards, but as a faith and relationship standard. Jesus’ version of that chapter is found in John 15. “Abide in me”, Jesus said, “and you will be fruitful.” (vs 5). Then later, “abide in my love, keep my commandments, and your joy will be full” (from vs 9 – 11).
It’s great to have enough to help our families, churches and communities to grow, rather than scratching around to cover costs. I don’t discount that for a moment. Even more important, however, is to learn to be content in all financial circumstances, relying first and foremost on God to be our provider, not chasing the false happiness of having more money and more wealth. The apostle Paul spoke of this in Philippians 4, which provides a great example of someone who is experiencing the blessing of being the head and not the tail. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” he declared (vs 13).
May we declare that too.
Warren Bird, Executive Director, Uniting Financial Services