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?