Red Rover Red Rover

Then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, Who is on the LORD’S side? let him come unto me. And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together unto him. Exodus 32.26

As kids we used to play games out in the front yard by the hour. We played tag, and hide and go seek. At family gatherings we used to play a game called Red Rover.

Red Rover (also known as forcing the city gates and octopus tag) is an outdoor game played primarily by children on playgrounds. This 19th-century children’s group game (requiring around 10 or more players total) is thought to have originated in Britain and then spread to Australia, Canada and the United States.

Rover is a Norwegian word for “pirate”, so perhaps the early British were showing bravery by daring the Viking raiders to “come over”.

The game is played between two lines of players, usually around thirty feet apart. The game starts when the first team (usually called the “East” or “West” team, although this does not relate to the actual relative location of the teams) calls out, “Red Rover, Red Rover, send [name of player on opposite team] right over.” or “Red Rover, Red Rover, let [name of player of opposing team] come over.” or “Red Rover, Red Rover, we call [name of player on opposite team] over.”

The immediate goal for the person called is to run to the other line and break the “East” team’s chain (formed by the linking of hands). If the person called fails to break the chain, this player joins the “East” team. However, if the player successfully breaks the chain, this player may select either of the two “links” broken by the successful run, and take them to join the “West” team. The “West” team then calls out “Red rover” for a player on the “East” team, and play continues.

When only one player is left on a team, they also must try and break through a link. If they do not succeed, the opposing team wins. Otherwise, they are able to get a player back for their team.

I would like to write about changing sides today. There are people who would have done well to change sides in life. They couldn’t, or can’t, break through the chain.

One such man had several sons. I see him sitting on his porch looking out on his property. It has gone down in the last few years. He remembers happier days with his sons playing games and working around the place.

Now the weeds are taking over. The crops, what there is, are untended, and going unharvested. He is facing financial ruin. His life has gone south. For several years now it has gone from bad to worse to disaster. He sits on the porch a bitter old man wondering where he went wrong.

He tried to do things right. At one time, things were so fantastic. He had fame and recognition. People spoke his name with awe. He had five sons! Five! That was not uncommon in his day for many people had many sons. What was uncommon was the quality of his sons.

You see all five of his sons were champions. Tall, strong, formidable, challenging, warriors of the highest level. His family was destined to greatness. He knew they would sing ballads of his family for generations and he was right. But the songs ultimately were sung from a different viewpoint.

This day he lets his mind once again go down memory lane. The early years of the boys growing up. How quickly they outgrew their clothes. Boyhood scraps between them, settling their disputes, channeling their abilities in the right direction.

He allowed himself a smile as he remembered their successes early on. No one in the area could compete with them. Later their renown ebbed to farther reaches and finally they became national heroes and he was a proud father.

When his oldest son was asked to go to battle against the hated enemy he felt so proud. Certainly he never once considered his son could lose. No one in the nation could come close to defeating his tall strong son.

He watched his son leave for the battlefield filled with fatherly pride. He expected to retell the battle for years to others, and he actually did just that. But the telling was gut wrenching, and horrible.

For you see….his son lost his life in the battle.

Not only did his son lose, he lost to a small undeveloped soldier. Actually, just a lad. It still seemed surreal that his son, the greatest warrior in the land could be killed by just a boy! How many tears of rage and frustration had he wept? Bitter sorrow still washes over him every time he revisits the memory.

By this time he cannot stop his mind, it is on auto pilot. He goes to the funeral, that horrible day they laid his oldest son to rest. He remembers the weeks that passed in a blur. He was shamed. He was inconsolable. Slowly after a long time the pain eased. It never went away, but life began to go on. Gradually he could smile occasionally, and sometimes even laugh.

And then, an unbelievable thing happened. His second son wanted to go to battle and redeem the family name. He could restore the prestige that had been turned to averted looks and the dreaded whispers at the market place. No one said anything directly, but the rumors were out there on the wind about how his brother had been defeated by just a boy.

With mixed feelings and hope, and a twinge of pride the old man watched his second son prepare his war chest for the redeeming of the family name. Surely this would cure their blight.

The old man remembers well the news coming to him that unbelievably his second son had fallen in battle. The funeral was a blur. His inner feelings raged out of control. The weeks and months of not showing his face in public because of his shame.

Twice his sons, who were incredible warriors, had been killed by inferior enemies. What do you say? How do you answer? He detested their pity, their ridiculous efforts to show support. Didn’t they understand his sons were dead?

Is it incredible to tell you this scenario was repeated five times? Son number three, then son number four, then the day son number five left for battle?

Five tall strong sons. All champions! And today he sits on the porch and looks at dead dreams and weeds. His life is empty.

When life played Red Rover with his sons, and Israel said Red Rover Red Rover let Ishbi-benob come over, Red Rover Red Rover let Saph come over, and one by one David and his men had taken out the sons of the Giant of Gath, did the old man ever wish he had changed sides?

Others had changed sides. There were those like Uriah the Hittite, and Ittai the Gittite. He could have stopped the hemorrhage a long time ago. His sons could now be national heroes instead of corpses.

But he never had the courage or good sense to change sides. He kept playing until he lost everything. Now he is a broken bitter man with nothing but a graveyard and bitterness to fill his days.

2 Samuel 21.15-22

I wonder if the old man wishes he had changed sides?

What will it take for you to change sides?

After Goliath he should have cut his losses and changed sides. Certainly after Ishbi-benob. Why buck a stacked hand? Was it pride? As his sons fell and his future ran through his hand like sand, I wonder why he never changed sides?

Why do you keep living in the land you live? Why not come over to the land of blessing and favor today?

King Saul could have come over and lived happily ever after. Instead he chased David all the way to suicide and infamy.

Ananias and Sapphira could have changed sides and died with honor and respect. Instead they stubbornly held their course and ship wrecked.

Demas could have changed sides and been one of Paul’s greats. Instead he pursued small ideas and died a name we speak with shame.

The list lengthens every time I read the Bible….Judas…Hymenaeus and Alexander….Diotrephes….Lucifer himself….

This would be a good day for you to change sides!

What does it mean to change sides?

Join the other team.
Wear their uniform, play their game.
Defeat the other team, even bring their players over.
Celebrate team victories!

Red Rover Red Rover, c’mon over to the winning side!