As the book of Joshua starts, the helm of leadership has been passed from Moses to Joshua. Moses had successfully led the children of Israel out of Egypt and right up to the border of the Promised Land. Now, I say “successfully”, but it certainly was not without its challenges. They got there, but it took them several decades longer than it should have.
It be like that sometimes…
Joshua would soon find that entering the Promised Land would also come with certain challenges of its own.
The first challenge? Jericho.
Jericho was a Canaanite city.
No doubt they were engaged in the kind of wickedness that other Canaanite cities were known for. They worshiped demonic idols, practiced unnatural sexual acts, and even sacrificed their own children to the Canaanite gods.
Now, to be clear, the Israelites were certainly not perfect, themselves. In fact, God had made it clear that it was NOT because of their righteousness or your integrity that they were going in to take possession of the Promised Land; but on account of the wickedness of the other nations…” (see Deuteronomy 9:5).
And so here the stage is set for Israel’s first big battle in the Promised Land. But before the battle ever ensues, something interesting takes place.
When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing before him with his drawn sword in his hand. And Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?”Joshua 5:13, ESV
Joshua comes face to face with the commander of the army of the LORD (though he fails to realize it), and he asks this rather simple question: Are you for us or for our adversaries?
Are you with us or are you against us? Are you on our side, or are you on their side?
We are so good at creating sides. If you are on my side, good. If you are against me, then I am against you.
This is no way to live our lives, of course, but in our sinful state it sure does come naturally for us to act this way.
So how did the commander of the army of the LORD answer Joshua’s question?
And he said, “No; but I am the commander of the army of the LORD. Now I have come.”Joshua 5:14a, ESV
Yowsa! I can’t hardly imaging being in this situation. Joshua is face to face not with any ordinary man, but with the commander of the army of the LORD!
And the answer to, “Are you for us or for our adversaries?”
I’m not so sure that God sees things the way that we see things. In fact, I know that His ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts (see Isaiah 55:9).
We see “friend”, or “foe”. He just sees “fallen”.
Joshua realized in that moment that he was asking the wrong question.
And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped and said to him, “What does my lord say to his servant?”Joshua 5:14b, ESV
“Are you for us or for our adversaries?” is the wrong question. The wrong questions lead to the wrong answers.
“What does my lord say to his servant?” Is the right question. The right questions lead to the right answers.
Perhaps there is something helpful in this story for us, today. Perhaps it is time for us to stop asking, even if only mentally, if others are for us or against us. Perhaps we have even been asking if God Himself is for us or against us. Simply put, those are the wrong questions.
The only question that matters is, “Are we actively living for God, or against Him?”