There is a famous incident that I once remember hearing expounded with a succinct punchline that has stayed with me ever since I heard it. It concerns the episode described in Joshua 5:13-14. The context of this story is that after many years of wandering in the wilderness, subsequent to their Exodus from Egypt, the young Israelite nation had just crossed the Jordan River into the Land of Promise. Under the leadership of Joshua they were about to begin the mission of conquering the land that God had promised to them. I’m sure on a human level this was a daunting prospect, it was a huge task and one that this small nation might well have felt overwhelmed by. The incident recounted in these verses follows the nation’s spiritual preparations for the job ahead. As a Nation they had learned much in the wilderness with God but yet there was a lesson still to be learned! Their first challenge was the huge walled city of Jericho. As Joshua was walking near Jericho, possibly scouting out the city, or looking for weaknesses, planning his strategy he came face to face with an armed ‘man’ with his sword drawn for battle. Not recognising the person and unsure of his intentions or allegiance Joshua calls to him are you for us or against us? To which the ‘man’ replies; neither! This person stands alone strong, defiant, and fearless against Joshua. However, the man does not stop speaking here but continues, “neither am I for you nor against you but I come as Commander of the army of the Lord.” Joshua’s response is that of one who has come face to face with God; he falls to his knees and worships Him. It is obvious from this response that this individual is no less than an appearance of the Lord himself. This is no ordinary man, and reminiscent of the commissioning of Moses at the burning bush He commands Joshua to remove his shoes. The punchline I always remember expounded is this; Joshua in these verses asks this stranger, “Are you for us or against us?” To which the stranger replies, “Neither! – I have not come to take sides, I have come to take over!” As we now understand the identity of this man we can understand His authority and strength and Joshua’s submission. The lesson Joshua the leader needed to learn was right here. It is a lesson we all need to be conscious of, whether in leadership or not. The question Joshua and we need to ask is not is the Lord on our side but are we on the Lords side. There is an enormous difference in this turn of phrase, the difference between night and day. It is the difference between going our way and going Gods way, between success and failure, the difference between sin and consecration. Do we invite the Lord to bless our plans or do we seek to follow His plan? Frances R. Havergal the hymn writer puts it like this;
Who is on the Lord’s side? Who will serve the King?
Who will be His helpers, other lives to bring?
Who will leave the world’s side? Who will face the foe?
Who is on the Lord’s side? Who for Him will go?
By Thy call of mercy, by Thy grace divine,
We are on the Lord’s side—Saviour, we are Thine!
During the American civil war Abraham Lincoln, though not a church going man, during a prayer breakfast one of the ministers commented to his president “Let us pray that God is on our side” to which the President quickly and wisely retorted “No sir, Let us pray that we are on Gods side!” Though not a man of orthodox faith Lincoln did remind these men that religion is not a method of getting God to do what we want but rather a way of learning what God wants us to do, and to be, and then to do it. Do we follow our own agenda or do we follow Gods agenda as He reveals by His Spirit to us in the Bible? Moses, Joshua’s predecessor (Exodus 32:26) had learned this lesson, Moses says “All of you who are on the LORD’s side, come here and join me.” May we be encouraged by this short post to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness; to seek Gods will above our own, and to put Gods interest above self-interest.