Whose Side Are You On?

Whose Side Are You On?

Joshua 5:13-15 reads,

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?”

The captain of the LORD’S host said to Joshua, “Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.

Undoubtedly, Joshua was startled by the sudden appearance of an armed man in a war zone. Joshua challenged him to identify his allegiance. If Joshua had any doubts about the nature of this figure, his response made it clear that he was no regular soldier.

“Captain of the armies of Yahweh” suggests that this is one of the angelic beings, who are sometimes in Scripture described as “men” (Genesis 18:2, Daniel 9:21, Luke 24:4). It would seem angelic beings can appear in whatever form suits the occasion (2 Kings 6:17, Isaiah 6:2, Ezekiel 1:5-13). This one appears with a drawn sword, indicating God’s intention to fight (Numbers 22:31, Ezekiel 9:1-2).

Some go farther, based on the mention of holy ground (compare Exodus 3:5), and say this is the physical manifestation of Yahweh Himself, or Jesus in a pre-incarnate form, often depicted with a sword (Revelation 2:16, 19:15).

Whatever interesting possibilities about the identity of this captain, here are three applications from this scene:

Don’t Ask God to Play for Your Team.

Joshua gave this man option A or B, but the captain chose his own option, not even C but D. The captain certainly does not reply, “I’m on the Canaanites’ side.” But, maybe surprisingly, neither does he reply, “I’m on the Israelites’ side.” Nor does he reply, “neither,” suggesting a disinterested neutrality. He replies with a terse, “No,” which suggests he cannot be pigeonholed into limited options of human allegiance. The reply suggests that the narrowness of Joshua’s question misunderstands the greater work of God.

God is on His own side! God will not align His interests with any group; He is loyal to Himself. How scandalous it would be to pray that God would provide advantage to one football team over another! But it’s scarcely better when we pray for God to give victory to one political party over another, or one nation over another. Even in contests where we suppose it’s easy 

to identify the forces of good (Allies vs. Axis in WW2 for example) it’s possible to be deceived by parochialism. Plenty of Nazis prayed to God for victory. Besides, God may have His own will that confounds our expectations, granting victory to undeserving pagans for His own greater purposes. Recall Habakkuk’s surprise to discovered God was with the Babylonians (Hab. 1:5-6, cf. Jeremiah 29:7, 32:5). Again, it’s not that God was on Israel’s side or Babylon’s side; He was on His own side, accomplishing His good purpose for mankind.

It will always be our duty to join the Lord’s team—to identify the will of God, to declare our allegiance to Him, and to cooperate with Him (Joshua 24:15, 1 Kings 18:21, Matthew 10:32-33).

It’s Not Your Fight

We ought not read the conquest of Canaan as “an enterprise of the Israelites ... for which they claimed Divine sanction ... but rather a Divine enterprise in which human instruments are employed” (Ellicott). The captain had not come to serve as Joshua’s aide-de- camp, but to pour out God’s wrath upon the Canaanites now that the iniquity of the inhabitants had become complete (Genesis 15:16). God could have accomplished this with or without Israel. And while God certainly had plans to bless Israel in the outcome of the conflict, the real protagonist here is God.

Let us remember in our fight in this modern world, God is the glorious victor, and we simply do our part as instruments of God’s will (Romans 16:20, 2 Corinthians 10:4, 2 Timothy 4:7).

Obey Orders

The Lord’s instructions to Joshua are preposterous—they are to march around the city with the priests leading the way with the ark once a day for six days. On the seventh day they are to march around the city seven times then shout, and the walls will fall down flat. Of course, there’s no world-bound sense to this—their marching feet didn’t set up a harmonic resonance in the ground, their shouts didn’t produce a cone of force.

Through this manner, God honored Himself, and removed human prowess and strategy from the situation (recall Judges 7:2). Thus, the most important qualities of the Christian soldier are not quick thinking or speed or strength, but faith and patience and obedience.

—John Guzzetta