Joshua 5:1-6:5, Isaiah 65

Read Joshua 5:1-6:5 and Isaiah 65.

This devotional is about Joshua 5:13-14.

Israel had just entered the Promised Land. It is time for the current generation to take the covenant sign of Abraham (vv. 2-9). This “rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you” (v. 9a) separating them forever from the uncircumcised Egyptians as a people belonging to God. They also celebrated the Passover (vv. 10-11) which also identified them with God’s deliverance from Egypt.

Then, in verse 13, we are told that “Joshua was near Jericho.” What was he doing there? A little scouting, perhaps? We don’t know but we do know that he had battle on this mind. God had already revealed that this would be the first city attacked in the Promised Land; now God revealed to Joshua the method Israel would use to win (vv. 2-5). Before he knew he was talking to the Lord, Joshua asked the soldier in front of him, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” (v. 13) The Lord’s answer is quite curious: “Neither” (v. 14 a).

Note something important here: the “commander of the army of the LORD” was Christ himself. Theologians call this a “theophany” or a “Christophany”–an appearance of Christ before he was born into the world as the man named Jesus.

We know that this “commander of the army” is God because “Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence” (v. 14), something mere angels never allowed. We also know this is God because verse 15 says, “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.” Again, mere angels–powerful and wonderful though they are–do not deserve worship and veneration; only God himself does.

And, we know this is Christ, not the Father or the Holy Spirit because Christ is “the Word”–the person of God who communicates to humanity. We also know that it is Christ because he is “the commander of the army of the LORD” which the book of Revelation reveals to be Jesus (see Revelation 19:11-16).

Why would the Lord say that he was on “neither” side in verse 14? These were God’s chosen people, after all. They were the recipients of the Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenants, God’s Law, and the promises of God’s blessing. This was their land which God had promised them! How could the LORD then say that he was not on their side?

The answer is that God is on his own side and Israel benefited from being on his side by grace. Their success in taking the land was dependent on them living obediently to God’s commands, starting with the command to attack Jericho as Christ directed them to in chapter 6:2-5. God would not fight for them if they tried to attack using conventional means; only the crazy form of “attack” described in 6:1-5 would do because only that method would show the supernatural power of God.

“Is God on our side?” is really the wrong question. The question is, “Are we on God’s side?” Our success at anything in this life can come only by the grace of God, his unearned favor. Also “success” only matters as God defines it, not anyone else.

Think about this the next time you sing or hear, “God bless America.” Of course we want God to bless America but is America blessing God? That’s using the word “blessing” in two different ways, I grant you. The first, “God bless America” is a petition for God’s favor on America (“God shed his grace on thee” and all that). My formulation, “Is America blessing God” is using the word “blessing” in the sense of “thanking and praising God through faith and obedience.”

Are you on the Lord’s side?

Exodus 33, Proverbs 9, Psalm 81

Today’s readings are Exodus 33, Proverbs 9, and Psalm 81.

This devotional is about Exodus 33.

There are frustrations that come with every responsibility in life–every job, every volunteer position, every relationship. One of the most frustrating things is not having what you need to do the job. If your job is to repair cars but the tools you use keep breaking or getting stolen, you’ll be frustrated.

Moses had one of the toughest jobs anyone ever had. God called him to it, so he couldn’t quit or evade responsibility. There were, by some estimates, millions of people looking to him for leadership, but many of them were complainers and others were uncooperative and disobedient.

In Exodus 32, Moses lost his cool and threw a fit when the Israelites worshipped the golden calf. Now, here in Exodus 33, God told Moses that he was on his own. Verses 1-3 say, “Then the Lord said to Moses, “Leave this place, you and the people you brought up out of Egypt, and go up to the land I promised…. I will send an angel before you and drive out the Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites…. But I will not go with you….” All of a sudden, Moses no longer had what he needed to do the job God called him to do. In verse 12, Moses explained his frustration to the Lord: “Moses said to the Lord, ‘You have been telling me, “Lead these people,” but you have not let me know whom you will send with me.’” What Moses said here was not really true. In verse 2 he said, “I will send an angel before you and drive out the Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites.” Later, in verses 15-16, Moses stated the true source of his frustration: “Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”

So, God had promised the angel’s power to clear the Promised Land in verse 2 but Moses petitioned God not to send them to the Promised Land under that plan (v. 15). But why not? If God promised that the angel would go before them and win the battles for them, wouldn’t that be enough to do what God had told him to do?

Yes, of course it would be enough to complete the basic task but it would not be enough to build a godly nation. What Moses wanted for himself and for God’s people Israel was to walk with God: “If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people” (v. 13). That statement was pleasing to God because verse 14 says, “The Lord replied, ‘My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.’”

Greater than the promises of land and protection and provision, what Moses wanted was God’s presence. He wanted to know God and to be discipled in godliness by God himself. As the leader of God’s people, he had hard responsibilities to fulfill and needed the most powerful tool–God himself–to accomplish it. But what he wanted from serving God was not influence or authority or recognition. He wanted to know God himself: “teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you” (v. 13).

Don’t crave the benefits God provides more than God himself.