And then this, while Joshua was there near Jericho: He looked up and saw right in front of him a man standing, holding his drawn sword. Joshua stepped up to him and said, "Whose side are you on—ours or our enemies'?" He said, "Neither. I'm commander of God's army. I've just arrived." Joshua fell, face to the ground, and worshiped. He asked, "What orders does my Master have for his servant?" God's army commander ordered Joshua, "Take your sandals off your feet. The place you are standing is holy." Joshua did it. (Joshua 5:13-15, The Message)
Only Joshua and Caleb remained of the people who had either seen or heard first-hand the report the twelve spies brought back about the land they were to possess. And, while Joshua brought a good report, you have to believe that somewhere, in the back of his mind, his human nature was reminding him that these cities were walled and well-fortified. Imagine that these thoughts, along with the order from God to go in and conquer the land, are running through his mind one night and he just can't settle down. He decides to go stretch his legs and breath in the desert night air, perhaps in hopes that it will clear his mind. He's in for just a little bit more, as it turns out.
Out there, on his walk, he sees a gleaming being approaching him. He stops, squints, and sees the man is holding an outstretched sword. Much like his mentor Moses with the burning bush, Joshua gets a little closer, albeit with great caution. Then he utters the words every good military man will say in this situation, "Who goes there? Friend or foe?" The answer isn't at all what he expects.
The God of Heaven, it turns out, is standing there right in front of him. And we would expect God to answer, "Friend, Joshua. I'm here to be on your team." Instead, God says (as my pastor says the most literal translations render it), "No." Then He explains Himself. He isn't there to join up with the Israelite army. He's the Commander-in-Chief of the armies of Heaven, and He's here to take over. He lays out a plan for Joshua that no sane military strategist would even give a second glance. It involves daily aerobics and a short concert – all followed by a war cry. Do that, and Joshua need only sit back and watch what happens next.
As my pastor presented this passage and message, I found myself in pretty strong agreement. It seems to me that many of us have taken the position that God is on our side, that He joins forces with us. As we see in this exchange with Joshua, nothing could be farther from the truth. It reminds me that we are called to humbly obey and to trust. And, when we do that, just look what God will make happen in our lives! A little walk, some horns, a shout, and the walls of our Jericho crumble to rubble right before our very eyes. We didn't lift a finger in the actual battle – we merely took off our shoes as the Messenger told us to.
It was that way with Jesus when He came and dwelt on Earth for those thirty-three years. People thought He should join sides, choose their team. And what team wouldn't want a star quarterback or expert player? We'd be crazy not to embrace that idea. Yet, that isn't how God works. Jesus came as a member of nobody's team – He made Himself of no account. Instead, He humbly carried out a plan He and the Father had drafted before time began and He died the most brutal of deaths with the common criminals. Outcasts all, nobody wanted Him on their team anymore. But that was OK, because He didn't come to pick sides anyway. He came to take control and change everything we thought we knew about relationship to God.
The Crooked Path brings many times when I want to cry out, "God, aren't you supposed to be on my side?" I feel abandoned and I'm sure you do as well. During these times, we would do well to remember Joshua's encounter in the night and God's answer of "neither". He has promised not to abandon us, and what He really wants is for us to trust Him completely and know that He will fight all our battles in the way He deems best. It would be far better that we seek to be on His team anyway.
- So, do you find yourself asking if God is really on your side? Can you see from this account in Joshua that God's answer is "no"?
- Are you tired of fighting your own battles, at losing sleep while you plot and plan how to carry out your next move? Can you set aside your pride and self-sufficiency long enough to see that's not the best approach to take?
- Do you need some "fresh night air" where you can encounter God and hear Him tell you to stop trying to do it yourself? If you had that encounter, do you have the heart to listen and know how much He cares about you and wants to take control?