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?