“God turned up” Meditations: 6 : To Joshua
Josh 5:13-14 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.
It is a sad thing that there is so often a ‘them-and-us’ mentality in so many Christians. It may be about ‘us’ and other churches, or it may be between ‘us’ and the non-Christian world around us. Whatever it is, there are certain obvious characteristics to it: there is a sense of division, of being different and, even worse, of ‘us’ being superior, ‘us’ being right and ‘us’ having God on our side. It is a very small minded view born out of insecurity!
There are certain things about wars and fighting that everyone knows, things you hear and pick up along the way. The particular thing I have in mind is the sentry’s challenge, “Halt, who goes there?” It always struck me as being a bit odd because if it was then enemy they would probably shoot at you. Sometimes that challenge had added to it, “Friend or foe?” But it is fundamental in a battle situation, that challenge, because you need to know if you are about to be attacked.
This little encounter that Joshua has is interesting. Israel have entered the Promised Land and next day they intend to go and take Jericho. They are there at the Lord’s bidding. The supernatural supply of manna has just stopped so they will now be living off the wonderful provision of this land. It is very much a new day. They are on the plains of Jericho and Joshua is perhaps out on reconnaissance. Suddenly he is aware of a man simply standing before him – but he has a sword in his hand, so he is a potential threat. Who is he? Is he one of his own people? Rather unlikely! Is he from Jericho? Again somewhat unlikely. So who can he be?
Joshua challenges him: “Are you for us or for our enemies?” It is a legitimate challenge, it would seem, but the answer that comes back is startling! “Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.” Wow! Joshua is under no illusions about who it is before him: “Then Joshua fell face down to the ground in reverence.” This may not be God Himself but it is the next best thing, His representative.
There was Joshua minding his own business – well God’s actually – getting ready to take Jericho, and suddenly someone from ‘head office’ turns up. When inspectors turn up at a school or business or whatever other organization it is, everyone scurries around to please them for they know they are under the microscope, but it doesn’t seem to be that sort of thing here. This ‘man’ has come to tell Joshua that God is there – or at least His powerful representative is. His brief response has got two important elements to it. Let’s take the latter one first.
“As commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.” Hold on, which army? The Lord’s army! Which army is that? Is it the fighting men of Israel or is it an angelic host. A revelation of the latter came many years later when Elisha and his servant were shut up in Dothan: “And Elisha prayed, “O LORD, open his eyes so he may see.” Then the LORD opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.” (2 Kings 6:17). What this suggests is that when God instructed Israel to fight it would be a twofold army – human and angelic, but the important issue, Joshua, is that you are not the boss! God is, and this is his representative who has come to oversee the coming conflict against Jericho. There are those who suggest that the vibration of the army marching around Jericho was what brought down Jericho’s walls, but the presence of the Lord’s army commander suggests it was the angelic host doing what Joshua’s army could not do.
But there is another important element to this man’s response. It comes in the one word, “Neither.” i.e. I’m not here on your behalf or the enemy’s behalf. Hold on, aren’t you here on our behalf? No, you don’t understand; you’re here on God’s behalf. Yes, you are going to have this as your land but this is God’s plan and without Him you can’t do anything meaningful and the glory is going to be all His. You are serving Him not Him serving you. So no, I’m not here on your behalf; you’re here on my behalf, let’s just get that straight.
And Joshua understands and he falls down in reverence of the One from heaven. It doesn’t matter whether this is an angel or a theophany (human representation of God), this is the presence of God come down from heaven so, “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.” (Josh 4:15). When God comes, the place is made holy because God (or His representative from heaven) is holy. Respect that, honour him, worship and bow down before heaven’s presence.
This is all about getting a right perspective on life. If God calls you to service, He will guide you and equip you and empower you. He is the One who is working out His plan and He is the one who will give you the strength you need (see Phil 2:13 & 4:13). We are not here to glorify ourselves but to glorify Him. Being faced with a battle with the enemy confronting you? Remember, the battle is the Lord’s. Let Him direct it, equip and empower you with His grace. We’re part of His army, not Him part of ours!