Now it came about when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing opposite him with his sword drawn in his hand, and Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us or for our adversaries?” He said, “No; rather I indeed come now [as] captain of the host of the LORD.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and bowed down, and said to him, “What has my lord to say to his servant?”
After crossing the Jordan; after circumcising all of the male Israelites who needed to be circumcised; after observing the Passover; after the manna stopped because the Israelites had eaten some of the produce of Canaan, Joshua went for a little walk near Jericho and encountered the captain of the host of the LORD. It is not the encounter itself that caught my attention — I have heard more than a few teachings on who this might have been and encountering the LORD or His messengers — but the question that Joshua asks and the answer he receives.
Joshua asks whose side the captain of the host of the LORD is on: the Israelites’ or that of their enemies. The captain’s response is fascinating to me. He does not answer the question that was asked, but the answer that should have been asked.
Joshua makes the situation into an Us vs. Them and implies that sides must be chosen. The captain, often thought to be a pre-Bethlehem appearance of Jesus Christ, gives this question and its implications a simple No. This is not an Us vs. Them situation … it almost never is.
The captain states that he has come in his role as captain of the host of the LORD. This could be understood a couple ways. First, this could refer to the angelic host and would mean that this individual came to command God’s spiritual forces in a conflict. Second, this could refer to the Israelites themselves, as they are God’s chosen people and therefore uniquely His. Either or both could be the case.
Joshua responds by submitting himself to the authority of the captain — he bows with his face on the ground and asks what the captain wants to say.
Sometimes, God has to correct my misconceptions before He can instruct me. Sometimes, God has to remind me that the battle is not against flesh and blood. The conflict is seldom, if ever, simply a matter of Me vs. Them or of Me vs. That Person. There are often other factors at play about which I am unaware if I do not stop and realize whose side I have chosen.
That is the perception adjustment that Joshua needed and it is the same adjustment that I often need. It is not whose side God is on, but who is on God’s side. The statement of Treebeard in the Lord of the Rings films (I do not remember, off the cuff, whether or not this quote was in the books) comes back, “Side? I am on no one’s side because no one is on my side.” I sometimes think God has the same response to believers who wonder whose side He is on. The right question is not “Whose side is God on?” but is, rather, “Who is on God’s side?”
Sometimes, I need to be realigned. Years ago, I had a car that would, at freeway speeds, rattle like it was trying to shake apart when it was out of alignment. It also drifted to the side when going street speeds. The only way to get that car driving straight and not shaking fillings loose was to realign it. My life experiences similar consequences when I am out of alignment with God. Things get going pretty quick and it feels like my life is going to shake itself apart. I am out of alignment. I am going along and find myself drifting to the right or the left when God tells me to go straight. I am out of alignment. I just need to ask the right question (Am I on God’s side?) and allow God to realign me, because, like that car, I cannot realign myself.
Father, I know that I have felt myself drifting and sometimes it has felt as if things were getting bumpier than the road warranted. Please realign me with You. I want to be on Your side.