Whose Side are You On?

by Cameron Arensen,

Pastor of the Evangelical Community Church of Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

I have been reading recently in the Book of Joshua and came across an intriguing and rather cryptic incident at the end of chapter 5. Joshua was doing his own personal scouting mission near the city of Jericho when a man appeared before him with a drawn sword. Joshua responds with great courage and goes boldly to confront the man and asks him: “Are you for us or for our enemies?”

That question made me stop and think. Our church has recently been going through some leadership challenges. When tensions occur, people are quick to take sides. The question becomes, “Whose side are you on?” In the church, we are quick to complicate the matter even further when we bring God into the fray and assume that, since we are “right”, God must be on our side. But whose side is God on?

That takes me back to the story in Joshua 5. Who is this armed warrior whom Joshua confronted? I believe he is God himself in human form. I believe this because when Joshua falls in worship, the warrior does not deny the appropriateness of the act. I also believe this because the instructions, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy,” are almost exactly, word for word, the same as those spoken by God to Moses when he appeared to him in the burning bush. If God can appear in the form of a burning bush, he can appear in the form of an armed warrior. This is God appearing to Joshua just as he had appeared to Moses.

With this in mind, the initial exchange between them becomes very insightful. Joshua asks, “Whose side are you on?” The warrior responds: “Neither, but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.” This is significant. It is subtle but it is profound. This is God’s answer; “I didn’t come to take sides. I came to assume command.” To his great credit, when Joshua realized whom he was addressing, he didn’t hesitate. He “fell facedown.” He bowed in worship, accepting God’s authority and asking for his instructions. “What message does my Lord have for his servant?”

We are quick to get things twisted around. We desire to be “missional”. So we make our plans, choose our battles and set out to build kingdoms and conquer cities. We recruit our followers and enlist the workers. Some follow and some do not. And then we ask God to help us, to join us, to be on our side. Belatedly we ask him: Whose side are you on? He responds to us, “Neither. I am the commander of the hosts of Yahweh. Whose side are you on? Are you ready to accept my authority, my rule, my sovereignty in your life?”

This is an important question and an important lesson for every follower of Jesus. But it is especially important for those of us, like Joshua, who find ourselves in positions of leadership. Leadership has a way of going to our heads. Even in the church, even among believers, power has a way of corrupting. We take the mantle of leadership, and with it comes pride and a sense of personal authority and personal entitlement. I think Joshua may have been facing that temptation. He was out scouting the city of Jericho. Do you think he may have been drawing up some battle plans? Do you think he may have been sketching out where to allocate his troops for the coming battle? After all, isn’t that what a good general is supposed to do? But when he recognized the One who stood before him, he prostrated himself facedown in worship and submission. That is a good place to be as a leader. The question really isn’t whether God is on our side. The question is whether we are on God’s side. Are we facedown in worship and submission to the commander of the armies of heaven?

By the way, take a look at the battle plans God drew up for Joshua in chapter 6. Do you think they are different from the plans Joshua may have been concocting in his mind? It makes one stop and think! Maybe we need to spend a little more time “facedown” before charging into battle.

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