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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." (Joshua 5:13-14)
Most people who grew up attending Sunday School are familiar with the story of Joshua and the battle of Jericho (“and the walls came tumblin’ down”). By following the Lord’s peculiar commands, Joshua leads the army of Israel to a miraculous victory, with a heavy reliance on marching and trumpets.
Before the battle, however, there is a powerful encounter between Joshua and an angel who calls himself “the commander of the army of the Lord.” When Joshua sees this angel in the appearance of a man, he asks the angel whether he is on their side or against them. I’m sure most of us would have expected the angel to answer “I am on the side of Israel.” But surprisingly, he answers “neither.” The implication is clear: it’s not about whose side I am on, Joshua, but whose side YOU are on.
In our eagerness to convince people of God’s love and desire to bless them, we can often fall over ourselves to convince them that God is on their side, that He is for them, that He has plans to prosper and not to harm them, to give them hope and a future, to pull Jeremiah 29:11 out of context. But could it be that by taking that approach, we are unwittingly reinforcing the sinful self-centeredness we all possess? Could it be that by overemphasizing God’s favor and love, we are communicating to others that they are the center of the universe, and that God exists to serve them? If so, then when God doesn’t seem to be coming through on that “promise” the way we think He should, well, that’s when disillusionment and unbelief set in.
But what if the words of the angel in Joshua 5:14 are closer to the truth? What if we are not the center of the universe, and God does not exist to serve us? What if the real question is not whether God is for us or against us, but whether we are on God’s side or not, whether we are prioritizing His kingdom or our own, and whether we are seeking His will or ours?
When we have put our trust in Jesus and the gospel of grace, and when our lives are no longer self-centered but are focused on seeking first His kingdom, then we can rest secure, knowing that “if God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). But make no mistake – our holy God is the center of the universe, and the real question is not whether or not He is on our side, but whether or not WE are on HIS side.
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