Thursday, August 16, 2012

Ahimaaz - Patron Saint of Cross Country Running?


    I have two children who run.  Not just a little, they run a lot.  During this time of the year my son and daughter are training for the upcoming Cross-Country season in which they will race other students and other schools in races that are 3.2 miles long.  Each day they can run six to eight miles during practice and often, added to that, they work out in the weight room or do yoga core exercises.  They make me tired just hearing about their workouts.  This past week, as I prepared for Sunday’s message I discovered a man who is, perhaps, the first cross-country runner named in the Bible. 

    Of course there were many runners before him.  Before cell-phones or radio, the way that battlefield commanders communicated with their kings and their armies was by sending runners or riders.  In the time of Samuel, Israel wasn’t known for having many horses so they would send runners back and forth carrying important messages and news.  In 2 Samuel 18, as the king’s armies pursue David’s traitorous son Absalom, David’s General, Joab captures Absalom quite by accident (Absalom’s hair got snagged in the low lying branches of a tree) and plunges three javelins through his chest despite David’s orders to treat him gently.  

    A man by the name of Ahimaaz son of Zadok volunteers to carry the news to David but a Cushite runner is selected to carry the news instead.  Undeterred, Ahimaaz again asks Joab for permission to run to Jerusalem saying, “Come what may, please let me run behind the Cushite.”  Joab the general is puzzled by this and asks why Ahimaaz would want to go especially since this is not good news and there will be no reward at the other end.  To this Ahimaaz replies, “Come what may, I want to run.”  At this Joab allows the young man to run but Ahimaaz, despite giving the Cushite a significant head start, runs a different route and arrives in the king’s court first.

    The notable thing about this story is not only that Ahimaaz liked to run and was evidently pretty good at it, but that he honors Joab and despite arriving first, does not announce the news of Absalom’s death.  The official message was given to the Cushite and Ahimaaz allows him to give the news to David.  When he is questioned about the welfare of Absalom, the king’s son, Ahimaaz says only, “I saw great confusion just as Joab was about to send the king’s servant and me, your servant, but I don’t know what it was.”

    The patience and self-control of Ahimaaz shows, I think, a stark contrast from the impatience and self-importance of Joab.  Joab heard the king’s command not to harm Absalom, and one of Joab’s lieutenants even reminded him of their orders but Joab insists that he is not going to wait and kills David’s son immediately.  Ahimaaz is known as a good man by the watchmen on the walls of Jerusalem and he shows it through his obedience, patience and self-control.  

    I think that it is fitting that Ahimaaz is perhaps the first man in the Bible who is said to love running.  Cross Country is not a quick dash to the supermarket.  Cross Country athletes often train all year long, they run miles and miles every day and their races often take 20 to 30 minutes to complete.  Cross Country is a sport that requires an abundance of patience and self-control and Ahimaaz, I think, is a fitting role model.

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