I don’t know about you, but there is something odd about the number of times that we assume that God is on our side. Isn’t it suspicious, how often God agrees with us? I think that often we assume that we are doing the right thing and, therefore, God must be on our side. It is also interesting, at least to me, how often we find ourselves doing things that are other than that which the Bible teaches, whilst still adamantly assuming that God agrees with us.
The truth is, most of us do not set out to move in the wrong direction and so we assume that we are moving in God’s direction. It is not that, when we stop and assess the things we are doing, we think that God agrees with us. It is simply that we assume that we are right and rarely take the time to truly assess what God says or might be saying.
Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, ‘Are you for us or for our enemies?’
‘Neither,’ he replied, ‘but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.’ Then Joshua fell face down to the ground in reverence, and asked him, ‘What message does my Lord have for his servant?’
The commander of the Lord’s army replied, ‘Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.’ And Joshua did so. (Josh. 5:13-15)
This passage surprised me and spoke to me afresh when I read it this week.
Joshua and the people of God are moving away from the River Jordon, having crossed the river in flood and committed themselves to taking the Promised Land. As they march towards Jericho’s walls, they meet a powerful warrior who stands in the way of their huge army. He must have been powerful, since standing alone he makes so much impression that Joshua, the leader, confronts him.
‘Are you for us or for our enemies?’ (Josh. 5:13)
The man’s reply would not be strange or surprising if he is just a man out for a walk with his sword. It might be expected that he would want to remain neutral in that case. Yet, he is not a man out for a walk. This warrior is the commander of the heavenly army of God.
‘Neither,’ he replied, ‘but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.’ (Josh 5:14)
What surprises me in his reply is that Joshua and the people of God were themselves acting on the instructions of God. They are seeking to invade and take the promised land as a result of God’s command. Yet, the Warrior says he is neither on the side of the People of Israel nor the People of Canaan. Instead, he asserts that he is in the army of the Lord and, by implication, that he is on the Lord’s side.
I think that there is a really important issue at play here. Joshua asks whether the warrior is on the side of the People of Israel or of their enemies. The warrior’s reply is that neither party leads him or defines his actions. Instead, he is on the Lord’s side and the actions of the army of the Lord will be decided wholly according to the will of God for the glory of God, not by any group of people.
The truth is that Joshua’s question places the people of Israel at the heart of the situation, when it is God who is ALWAYS at the heart of ANY situation. Everything in Creation is created solely for the Glory of God. Therefore, if the will of God leads to another 40 years in the wilderness or defeat at Jericho, that is up to God. The people who claim to be God’s people must simply walk the path that He lays out for them knowing that whatever happens, God is Lord of All.
Joshua realises his error and falls down in front of the warrior. He understands that here is a commander who really knows what it is to follow God rather than people and politics.
Then Joshua fell face down to the ground in reverence, and asked him, ‘What message does my Lord have for his servant?’
The commander of the Lord’s army replied, ‘Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.’ And Joshua did so. (Josh. 5:14-15)
Joshua immediately understands that the key issue in the journey of the people of Israel into possession of the promised land is not the comfort of the people of Israel. It is the glory and honour of God. God was Lord whilst Abram lived in Ur and Jacob looked after his uncle’s sheep. God was Lord whist the people were in Egypt and whilst they wondered in the wilderness. He will be Lord whether the Promised Land is populated by Canaanites, Philistines or Israelites. God is Lord! The key issue is always God. It is all about Him. So Joshua bows down and worships.
The warrior then places God at the centre by saying, “take off your shoes and remember that you are on Holy Land.” Why? Because the people of God are ALWAYS on holy land whilst they are walking with God. They walk with God so He is present.
The question that every one of us who are disciples need to ask is NOT, “is God on my side?” but, “am I walking with the Lord? Am I on God’s side?”
If we follow God’s will for our life, it does not matter if we win a battle or lose a battle, nor if we are in the wilderness or the land of promise. God is with us and that is all that really matters.
All that matter is that we walk with God. I commit myself again to follow God.
Father, I choose to follow you wherever you lead. If it is where I prefer or fear, I will follow. If it leads to pain or pleasure, I will follow. If it leads to prosperity or suffering, I will follow. If you lead to the wilderness or the promise, I will follow. Jesus, I am your man. Tell me where to walk and I will follow. Where else can I go? With you are the words of eternal life. I will follow. Amen. (My prayer)