No, God isn’t on Your Side (At Least not Unequivocally)

There are mostly two kinds of people in this world: the kind that think God is always for them and the kind that think God is always against them. I’ve met very few inbetweeners.

But the thing is it’s only the inbetweeners – those who don’t think God is for them or against them – who are holding a biblical belief.

Early on in Joshua’s tenure as Israel’s head honcho, the Lord/an angel/the pre-incarnate Christ appears to Joshua in the form of a man to give him instructions on how to conquer Jericho.

At first Joshua doesn’t seem to recognize this man is no ordinary man. Joshua approaches him and asks, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” (Joshua 5:13). Joshua realizes this man is not an Israelite. But some foreigners supported Israel, living among them and fighting with them in all their battles. So Joshua wants to know: is this guy on Israel’s side or Jericho’s side?

The man replied, “Neither…but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come,” (Joshua 5:14).

This revelation clues Joshua into the fact that this man is supernatural, sent by God to speak to him. Immediately, “Joshua fell face down to the ground in reverence, and asked him, ‘What message does my Lord have for his servant?'” (Joshua 5:15).

That word “neither” was most unexpected to me. How can God not be for Israel and against her enemies always? Israel is His chosen nation! He’s giving her leaders step by step directions on how to violently conquer and destroy every single breathing human being in every single nation in her path. What does He mean “neither”?!

There are two possibilities I can think of.

One is perhaps all God is trying to communicate here is that the man before Joshua is not human, like he had assumed. He’s not an Israelite or a sympathetic foreigner, and he’s not from Jericho. He’s neither. End of story.

The other possibility is God is communicating that and more, the “more” being that God doesn’t choose sides, at least not unequivocally. 

I know, I don’t like it anymore than you do. I want to believe God is cheering me on in every single thing I do, turning to the angels from time to time to say, “Do you see her?! That’s my daughter! Isn’t she wonderful?!”

Perhaps He does do that on occasion. But I guarantee you He doesn’t do that all the time.

In fact, there are times He must surely say to Himself what I often say to my daughters, “Oh, no, ma’am! That is not acceptable behavior.” And then He doles out some discipline to let His hard-headed daughter know He is not at all for her when she insists on sinning.

This is the case with Israel.

Yes, the Israelites are God’s chosen nation. Yes, He empowers them to win quite a few battles and to take possession of a choice expanse of land.

But when the Israelites choose to do wrong, God is quick to drop His support. He disciplines them and allows them to suffer all kinds of terrible consequences as a result of their disobedience, sometimes even causing the tragic results.

A couple of examples:

  • He is lightning quick to thoroughly punish the Israelites when they get impatient with how long Moses and God’s powwow takes on Mount Sinai. They decide 40 days is a ridiculous amount of time to wait, so they make a golden calf and worship a hunk of shiny metal instead. And God is anything but for them, instructing Moses to kill the idol worshippers, some 3,000 Israelites, and sending a plague on the rest of nation (Exodus 32).
  • God doesn’t hesitate to punish the Israelites with a 40 year death sentence in the wilderness because they don’t trust Him enough to enter the Promised Land when He tells them to. Because of their lack of faith, God tells them to go somewhere else instead. Upon hearing this consequence, the Israelites try to renege on their choice to disobey and agree to go to the Promised Land the next day. Moses tries to talk them out of it, but they erroneously believe disobeying God’s command to go somewhere else in an effort to obey His initial command to go to the Promised Land will be acceptable. On the contrary, He lets them know it isn’t by allowing the Amalekites to destroy many of them and sending a plague on many more (Numbers 14).

I could go on. In fact, most of the Old Testament attests to the fact that God doesn’t unequivocally endorse anyone, not even those who are supposedly especially tight with Him. God doesn’t jump on our team or another team. He does not proclaim unconditional loyalty to humans.

Why not? Especially this side of the cross, shouldn’t He always be in our corner if we are Christians?

Not only is that logically impossible (think of how many times you and another Christ-follower were on different sides of an issue – how could God be “for” both of you at the same time?), but God knows how fickle people are, even believers. He knows how we can worship Him with all our hearts one minute and be nose-deep in sin the next. Is it any wonder He won’t support us or anyone else unequivocally?

The reality is God doesn’t pick sides; we do. 

God has a team; Satan has a team. Humans decide which team to be on, sometimes jumping back and forth at a nauseating pace.

The Story is about God and His Kingdom, not us and ours. God is not for humans; God is for God. Are we?

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What Silence Really Says

In the olden days, God set up a system the feminists are none too pleased with.  Nonetheless, it existed, and it was described in Numbers 30.

The gist of the system was that two types of women couldn’t make vows or pledges without being given the okay.  First, unmarried women were checked up on by their fathers (Numbers 30:3-5).  Second, married women were monitored by their husbands (Numbers 30:6-8).

We can argue about why God arranged such a system or about how unfair it is that men didn’t have to run their vows and pledges by anyone before making them (Numbers 30:2), but that’s not my ax to grind.

Instead, I want to look at a powerful idea in verse 14.  Continuing to describe the husband’s authority to nullify the wife’s vows and pledges, the Lord gives these instructions, “Her husband may confirm or nullify any vow she makes or any sworn pledge to deny herself.  But if her husband says nothing to her about it from day to day, then he confirms all her vows or the pledges binding on her. He confirms them by saying nothing to her when he hears about them” (Numbers 30:13-14).

That last sentence got me.

How many times have I found myself in mixed company – believers and unbelievers together – and a touchy subject came up – religion, politics, ethics.  And how many times have I kept silent while vocal unbelievers proclaimed falsehoods as truth, or wrong as right?

We keep silent for a lot of reasons, and I am not saying there isn’t wisdom in keeping silent sometimes (Ecclesiastes 3:7).

But we must beware of what our silence communicates – agreement.

Perhaps this shouldn’t be the case.  We shouldn’t assume that just because someone doesn’t proclaim their dissenting opinions on everything that they agree with us.  But just because this shouldn’t be the case doesn’t mean it isn’t the case.

I would say that most people assume that silence = agreement on any given subject.  That is certainly the case in Numbers 30.  The husband confirms the wife’s words by saying nothing about them.

What are we confirming when we say nothing about _____________?

What do people think we are confirming when we say nothing about _____________?

We have to be sensitive to the Spirit’s leading to discern when it’s time to be silent and when it’s time to speak. And when it’s time to speak, we have to speak the truth in love.

When the Bible Doesn’t Help You

Sometimes we have to make decisions about which the Bible does not speak.

We have to choose what college to go to, where to live, whether or not to have another child, etc., etc., etc.

These specific situations are not spelled out for us in the Bible.  There is no verse to which we can look for black and white answers to most of life’s decisions.

What do we do then?  How are we to make wise choices when it’s not often clear to us whether one option is better than the other?

Moses had this problem once upon a time.  The Israelites had been roaming around the desert for over a year since leaving Egypt.  The Lord was giving Moses specific instructions for proper worship, and the Israelites were responding beautifully.  For once, they were obeying well, doing everything “just as the Lord commanded Moses” (Numbers 9:5).

In Numbers 9:1-2, “The Lord spoke to Moses…’Have the Israelites celebrate the Passover at the appointed time.'”

Most of the Israelites did so in obedience.  But there was one group that had a problem, “…some of them could not celebrate the Passover on that day because they were ceremonially unclean on account of a dead body” (Numbers 9:6).

The Israelites knew that cleanliness was important to the Lord.  They knew it was particularly important during worship.  They wanted to participate in Passover, obeying the Lord, but they didn’t want to do it in the wrong way.  They were worried.

Nowhere in the Law was there a prescription for what to do when the Lord commands you to celebrate the Passover, but you’re unclean.

Confused, the men went to Moses and Aaron and asked them what to do.  Moses answered them, “Wait until I find out what the Lord commands concerning you” (Numbers 9:6-8).

Wow!

Unlike many of Israel’s other leaders, Moses doesn’t make the decision himself.  He doesn’t rely on his common sense, his intelligence, or his authority as Israel’s leader.  Instead, he prays!  When he doesn’t know what to do, Moses asks God.

And you know what happens next?

GOD ANSWERS MOSES.

UNbelievable.

God gives a very specific direction to Moses concerning the unclean Israelites (Numbers 9:9-10).  They didn’t have to guess what the Lord would have them do.  They didn’t have to hope they guessed right.  They didn’t have to take matters into their own hands.  All they had to do when they were unsure was ask God for direction.  And He was faithful to answer.

I know it often doesn’t seem that easy in our lives.  We feel like we ask Him about our unclear decisions, but God doesn’t seem to answer.  But I want to challenge myself (and you) to believe that He will answer, even if He doesn’t seem to right away.  He was faithful to answer Israel, and He is faithful to answer us, some way, some how.

Does God Care HOW We Worship Him?

image via westmainbaptist.com
image via westmainbaptist.com

There is a popular idea out there that it doesn’t matter how you choose to worship, as long as you are sincere.  Within this idea is an unspoken conclusion that, somehow, no matter which religion turns out to be right, the god(s) of that religion will honor the valiant efforts of those who believed falsely, as long as they believed with passion and commitment.

(Why a god would reward wrong is beyond me.)

It is true that God cares about the heart.  He is deeply concerned with our motivations, our intentions, and our emotions, especially in worship (Deuteronomy 10:12).

But is God also concerned with the way we worship?  Sure, we need to be sincere, but does the how also matter?

Well, the Old Testament has two entire books – Leviticus and Deuteronomy – dedicated to laying out the means by which Israel was to worship God.  God is painstakingly specific and is serious about the Israelites worshiping Him in just the right way.

Why?

To distinguish the Israelites from the idolators around them (Deuteronomy 12:31).

God wanted the surrounding nations to know that the Israelites were not worshiping just any ole god – they were worshiping the One True God.

But there came a time in Israel’s history when they lost sight of the prescribed ways they were to worship.  Frankly, they just weren’t important to them anymore.

And, as a result, “…everyone did as he saw fit,” (Judges 17:6).

Even Israel’s first king, Saul, decided it’d be okay to come worship God however he wanted to.

In 1 Samuel 15 we read that God commanded Saul to totally destroy the Amalekites and everything that belongs to them (1 Samuel 15:3-4).  But Saul says to himself, “I will kill everyone except the king, and I will kill every animal except the best ones, and then I will sacrifice those best animals to the Lord!  God loves animal sacrifices; surely, He will pleased with me!” (1 Samuel 15:15).

What is Saul doing?  He is justifying disobedience.  He is worshiping God the way he wants to, not the way God told him to.  And he is mistaken that God doesn’t care about how people worship.

As a result, Saul loses the kingdom (1 Samuel 15:23).

And Saul is not the only Israelite to ever lose sight of the importance of the proper way to worship God.

In Numbers 3:4 two of Aaron’s sons – ordained priests – “…fell dead before the Lord when they made an offering with unauthorized fire before him…”

Aaron’s sons knew what the Law said.  They knew the proper way to approach the Lord.  That was their job.  But they made the same mistake Saul did – the same mistake you and I make – and decided to worship on their own terms.  And they paid for that choice with their lives.

What does this mean for us Christians?

God is the same today as He was in Old Testament times.  God cares how we worship Him.  He cares that we call Him Jesus and not any other name (Acts 4:12).  He cares that we believe He is the only God (1 Timothy 2:5; 1 Corinthians 8:4).  He cares that we worship Him only and not any other “gods” (Luke 4:8).  He cares that we worship in truth – not falsehoods – no matter how sincere we might be (John 4:24).

It simply isn’t true that we can worship any god in any way and earn eternal salvation on account of our sincerity.  God has a certain way He wants us to worship, and only that way will do.