Is God for you or against you? I think this is an important question to ask, especially if we are desiring to know God and grow closer in relationship to Him. The verse in the Bible that speaks on this question is Joshua 5:13-15, which states:
13 And it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, a Man stood opposite him with His sword drawn in His hand. And Joshua went to Him and said to Him, “Are You for us or for our adversaries?”
14 So He said, “No, but as Commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped, and said to Him, “What does my Lord say to His servant?” 15 Then the Commander of the LORD’s army said to Joshua, “Take your sandal off your foot, for the place where you stand is holy.” And Joshua did so.
The setting of this passage involves the beginning of Israel’s military campaign into the land that God promised them, of which Israel just crossed the Jordan river--a miracle where God stopped the water from flowing, and the Israelites crossed on dry land--and arrived at the heavily walled city of Jericho that was home to the Canaanites.
So, it was in this setting that Joshua was scoping out Jericho, probably plotting and trying to figure out a way to overcome the city’s defenses. It’s in this context we read verse 13, “And it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted his eyes and looked…” Joshua’s eyes were looking downwards, either in thought or because he was sketching his plan out in the dirt, when he saw the Man before him. I think it is an interesting point that the Bible even mentions Joshua lifting his eyes. I think, in many ways, we all--when faced with great challenges and daunting tasks--tend to look downwards and begin plotting and planning on our own, rather than lifting our eyes.
1) Are you for me, or against me?
It’s no surprise then that amidst Joshua’s time alone, and probable state of thinking about how he will overcome Jericho, that he lifts his eyes and notices a Man standing opposite him. This Man “stood opposite him with His sword drawn in His hand.” (Joshua 5:13). This mysterious “Man” is armed, yet Joshua demonstrates boldness in approaching Him and asking, “Are you for us or for our adversaries?” (Joshua 5:13). This question that Joshua asks is very important. Joshua demonstrates the innate reality of the world we live in: are you for me, or against me? This mindset is a mindset of survival; are you going to further my objectives or hinder them? Do you have the best intentions for me or not?
Within our society, the same questions are asked, they are just framed differently. The self-sustaining culture of America is bent largely on doing what is best for me individually. This is understandable, considering the system of Capitalism that we have in place--but the system is not the root of the self-striving that we see. Even in systems of Communism and Socialism we see the natural tendencies of man to assume power and assert greater control over others in different ways. Whether it’s in America, through the striving of business moguls and politicians; or in China, with their chairman and board members; it’s all the same and speaks on the same issue of the heart of man: pride.
A clear area where we see such a festering of pride is in politics, and it’s exactly this that Joshua’s question brings light to. Our minds are naturally tribal, carnal; naturally prone to think in terms of friend or foe, simply based on the agenda we are striving for within ourselves. It is through this striving--which, many times, can come from a starting point to do good--that we begin to allow the belief within us to become a part of our identity, and the motive transforms itself from something we saw as a separate, good objective outside of ourselves, and into a mask that we wear that has taken the place of our face. Of course, it is not a bad thing to stand up for what we believe in, but when our own pride becomes the main motive of something, then we are no longer dealing in truth.
And while national and international politics are oftentimes clear demonstrations of the striving of man, we all have to deal with pride on a daily basis in our own lives--whether you believe in anything or not. What keeps someone from the simple task of asking for forgiveness, or forgiving someone else? Is there any other root prevention aside from pride? It is because of pride that we refuse to budge on saying sorry, or accepting an apology. Sometimes, wounds are so great that it seems that reconciliation is impossible; that there is no way you can forgive that person, or that it’d be impossible to find forgiveness from that somebody. But is it impossible? With man, yes, it very well probably is; but with God, nothing is impossible (Mark 10:27).
2) No, but as the Commander of the army of the LORD I have now come
And it must be away from this reality of pride and striving that we move our eyes, and instead, lift them up to see the Man standing before us. This Man wields a sword, and His response to Joshua’s question may not make sense in the self-serving, individualistic world that we are a part of: “No, but as the Commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.” (Joshua 5:14). The Man simply says He is not for Jericho, and He is not for Joshua. Who is this Man? This Man can only be God, because we then see Joshua give Him divine worship; something that only God can accept:
"And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped, and said to Him, ‘What does my Lord say to His servant?’ Then the Commander of the LORD’s army said to Joshua, ‘Take your sandal off your foot, for the place where you stand is holy.’ And Joshua did so." (Joshua 5:14-15).
Notice, the Man does not deny Joshua’s worship, but rather, He affirms it by telling him to take off his sandals, stating that the ground on which he stood was holy. This was the same command given to Moses when he encountered God at the burning bush (Exodus 3:5). Yet, this form of God talking to Joshua is a Man. There is only one Man that the Bible speaks of that is in the position of God, and that is Jesus Christ. With this understanding, this passage is believed to be a Christophany (an appearance of Christ in the Old Testament).
So, why is this important? This is extremely important to understand, because the same God that appeared to Joshua with sword in hand, and provided him the way of overcoming Jericho and it’s impenetrable walls, is the same God that died for us at the cross and fought the war of sin that we never could have waged. God wants us to lift our eyes from the dirt and our own plotting and planning, and look to Him and see that He is fighting our battles. But we also must remember that God is not the Commander of my army or your army; He is not serving our purposes and objectives, He is serving His.
3) God alone is truly and perfectly good
What does this mean? Does God not love me? Of course God loves you and I--why else would He be willing to die for us--but He wants our humility; for us to humble ourselves and seek His way. God wants us to set our pride down at the cross, and fall with our faces to the earth before Him like Joshua (James 4:6; Joshua 5:14). We cannot mistake our own will with the will of God, and like God says: “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,’ says the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9). We are not the same as God--He is on an entirely different level of existence and comprehension. And while it is tempting to feel as though God is for us in the individualistic sense, that is not true.
As Jesus demonstrated to Joshua, He is not on the side of any human’s agenda, “No, but as Commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.” (Joshua 5:14). God simply says “No,” not even bothering to explain Himself. The thing is, however, that He doesn’t have to. God’s motive/cause/agenda/team/way is His own; there isn’t a better or morally superior way than His. Are we seeking His way, or not? Could it be that the suffering of this world can be used… for good? Of course it can, that is exactly what God does (Romans 8:28)! The sacrifice given by Jesus demonstrates this reality: that He suffered in the worst way, took upon Himself the worst punishment of God that was meant for the world, and yet, rose again and overcame it all to bring life to those who did wrong against Him who would believe in His name. Does that sound fair to you at all for Jesus?
There will be suffering in this world no matter what we believe or do; but we have a choice to either receive it and let it feed our pride, or set it before the Cross and let it humble us. In Joshua’s case, this meant lifting his eyes and asking God the big questions--of which, God gave His answer and more, by destroying the walls of Jericho and giving the victory to the Israelites. But through it all, and in every story of the Bible (from Genesis to Revelation), the victories and the miracles are not for the glory of Israel, Joshua, Moses, Abraham… or any other person, reason, or being; except for the glory of God alone.
When we are humbled before Christ, and begin to grow in understanding of how awesome God is, then the focus moves away from what we want, and more towards what He wants. And as we grow closer to the King of kings, it is He who fights our battles; for the sword is in His hand. And as our will aligns with God’s, we can rest in the knowledge that He has demonstrated how much He loves us in Christ, and that we can join His army by believing in His name. All God asks is that we lift up our eyes from the dirt and look to Him instead.