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 facedown 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. (Joshua 5:13-15)
Again and again, I find myself coming back to Joshua’s encounter with “the commander of the Lord’s army.” I feel it has something super important to say to the church today.
Joshua was Moses’ successor. Moses led Israel for forty years. He prepared the people to enter the Promised Land by teaching them God’s commandments, directing them in the construction of the tabernacle, and interceding for them through all their rebellions. He was the man for the preparation, but not for the advance. For entering the land, they needed a soldier. So it makes perfect sense for Joshua to lead the nation next. After all, the Promised Land would need to be fought for.
The first great battle, if it can be called that, was Jericho. God directed Joshua and Israel there. They had spied it out. They had prepared themselves. They eagerly anticipated and expected their first victory. This is where it began. They were there at God’s command and on his business, and yet…
And yet, when Joshua came near Jericho he saw a man in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. He asks a logical question, “Are you for us or our enemies?” This figure must have been somewhat frightening. I would guess he would be the type of man Joshua would want fighting for him, not against him. So I think his question to be both logical and prudent. It’s the answer that I think speaks to us still. “Neither.”
Even though Joshua was about to enter a battle that God himself had sent him to fight, the “commander of the army of the Lord” does not say, “I am here to fight with you. I am on your side.” No, he says, “neither”. The commander of the Lord’s army was not there to assure Joshua God was on his side, instead he was there to make sure Joshua and Israel were on God’s side. It is so easy for us to co-opt God’s endorsement for our side, our views, and our agenda. In just how many wars have opposing sides both claimed God was fighting for them? Are we not guilty of this still today?
Does this mean God does not have an opinion on the battles of our day? I am pretty sure God has an opinion on pretty much everything. The question is, are we seeking it out? Are we humbly bowing down like Joshua did and asking, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?” Are we getting on his side and working from there? Are we entering the holy place, seeking his face, and with trembling hearts and minds saying, “Father, show me your ways that I may walk in them?” Or, are we instead, giving into the spirit of the age and justifying our venting under the banner, “I have a right to my own opinion and can say whatever I want.”
There are lots of battles taking place in our nation today. The lines are drawn and people tend to pick one extreme side or another. Should those who claim to be Christ’s ambassadors enter the fray, shouting as loudly and meanly as everyone else? Should we not instead, stand out from the crowd? Jesus’ apostles included a tax collector and a zealot, representative from two extremely opposing sides of the issues of that day. They found unity, not on the issues, but by laying down their lives, picking up their own crosses, and following him. There cannot be unity in the church today unless today’s disciples are willing to do the same. This is the starting place. Like Joshua there will be battles we will need to fight, but like him, first make sure we bow down, humble ourselves, and get on God’s side.