At a morning church service, we sang a song about God being “for us.” The idea comes from Romans 8:31: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (NIV) One of the pastors then told us to greet each other and say, “God is for you.” But one woman came up to me and asked, “Do you really believe God is for you?” It was a probing question that required some thought and soul searching. As I pondered the question through the rest of the service, Joshua 5-6 came to mind.
Joshua had led the people of Israel into the Promised Land and was about to begin the long campaign to conquer it. Suddenly, he was confronted by a soldier with a sword in his hand. Joshua didn’t recognize the man. He could have been one of the hundreds of thousands of Israelite soldiers, or he could have been a Canaanite. If the man was an Israelite, great. If he was a Canaanite, Joshua would immediately have had to fight. So, Joshua asked the obvious question: “Are you for us or for our enemies?” (Joshua 5:13) That is, he was asking: “Whose side are you on?” It turned out that the man was a messenger from God. From our modern entitled perspective, we would expect that the messenger would reassure Joshua and tell him not to worry because God was on his side. After all, it was God who had promised the land to the Israelites and told them to go in and conquer it.
But God’s messenger did not give that reassurance. Instead, he said, “Neither” (Joshua 5:14). And then he went on to say that he was the commander of God’s army. Specifically, he said that he was the commander of the army of Yahweh—the true God who had revealed Himself to Abraham, Moses, and the Israelites. And then he told Joshua to take off his sandals because he was standing on holy ground, that is, because he was in the presence of God. It was the same thing that God had told Moses from the burning bush (Exodus 3:5). And then the messenger gave Joshua instructions for what the Israelites were to do while God conquered the city of Jericho for them.
There is a story, quite possibly apocryphal, that one of US President Abraham Lincoln’s assistants asked him during the American Civil War, “Do you ever worry that God might not be on our side?” Lincoln supposedly answered that the question did not bother him at all but that he often worried that he might not be on God’s side.
The difference is profound. In our modern entitled age, we sometimes get the idea that, since we are children of God, God is on our side, that God will always bless us, that God is our servant. It is the other way around. God is not our servant. We are to be God’s servants. That is why Joshua took off his shoes, to show that he was submitting to God as God’s slave. It is also why Joshua and the Israelites obeyed God’s instructions to just march around Jericho and let God conquer the city. And when Israel sinned and disobeyed God, God did not help Israel when Israel attacked the next city, Ai. In fact, God fought against Israel, and Israel was defeated.
The great battle in life is not between us and our enemies, us and our challenges. It is between good and evil, God and the evil one. The question is not whose side God is on but whose side we are on. The question is not whether God is for us. It is a given that God loves us and wants to bless us. But the determining factor is whether we submit ourselves to God so that He can bless us. The question is not whether God is for us, but whether we are for Him, obeying Him and being totally committed to Him. That includes confessing when we are wrong and asking God to forgive us, as the Israelites did after their failure at Ai (Joshua 7-8).