Christianity 201

January 31, 2014

When God is on Your Side

Joshua 5:13 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?”

14 “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 Lordhave for his servant?”

15 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 6:2 Then the Lord said to Joshua, “See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men. March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days…

15 On the seventh day, they got up at daybreak and marched around the city seven times in the same manner, except that on that day they circled the city seven times. 16 The seventh time around, when the priests sounded the trumpet blast, Joshua commanded the army, “Shout! For the Lord has given you the city!…

20 When the trumpets sounded, the army shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the men gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so everyone charged straight in, and they took the city.

Joshua 5:13-15 describes an encounter Joshua has prior to the taking of Jericho in chapter 6, some of which I excerpted above as well. I’ve heard this story before, but didn’t really think about verse 14 until yesterday. Such is the richness and depth of scripture that we can return to familiar passages and see things in a different light.

Joshua wants to know if the one he encounters is on his side or not. Fair question. But he is told “neither,” the one he meets self-describes as “captain of the Lord’s hosts.”

I thought this was interesting in light of the American Christian climate where God is sometimes assumed to be Republican, and not Democrat; or in light of this weekend’s climate to the American football season where people supporting both teams are asking God to help them win. Is God for Washington or Denver? (At this point, I was tempted to write, ‘I guess we’ll have to wait until Sunday to find out,’ but in fact, the win proves nothing so theologically profound.)

Theologians and lay-people disagree as to whether or not this scene describes a theophany, an Old Testament appearance of Christ himself. But if that is the case, why is the answer phrased the way it is? One pastor offers an answer to that (see esp. pp. 2 and 3) which serves to solidify the idea that Christ is the one to whom Joshua is speaking. The sword is also a clue to this identity. Another author offers that the appearance, title, instructions and Joshua’s reaction solidify the view that this is a theophany or Christophany.

But back to praying for political parties and sports teams, our focus today is also on the neutrality of Joshua’s visitor. While what is said clearly implies that neither side is favored, we know from the rest of the story that God is on Joshua’s side. So what does the comment mean?  The Reformation Study Bible offers this:

The commander of the Lord’s army encourages Joshua, but He is not under Joshua’s command. God is bound neither to destroy all Canaanites nor to deliver all Israelites, as is powerfully illustrated in the subsequent chapters in the experiences of Rahab (6:25) and Achan (ch. 7). See note 6:17, 18. (emphasis added)

God is on our side, but once assured of that, we can’t control or manipulate God. (This is part of the main thesis of Skye Jethani’s book With.)

Related reading:

*I found this checking to see if we’ve used the song, The God of Angel Armies, by Chris Tomlin here, which we have. But it fits so well, I’m repeating it today: