“When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing before him with his drawn sword in his hand. And Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” And he said, “No; but I am the commander of the army of the LORD. Now I have come.”” (Joshua 5:13-14).
Joshua’s responsibility was daunting. Not only was he supposed to follow in the footsteps of Moses who led the Israelites out of captivity-a feat involving many miracles and extraordinary leadership-but Joshua was also to now win military victories over all the nations of Canaan.
Crossing the Jordan in Joshua chapter 3 must have been terrifying. Joshua has just seen what YHWH had done to the whole nation of Israel; forcing them to live in the wilderness because of their disobedience, and so he knew the stakes.
Yet, throughout the book of Joshua, Joshua’s leadership is focused on one thing: faith in the Lord. The Lord commands Joshua in several chapters to “be strong and courageous” and while he falls in several instances; his response is always to repent and ask for forgiveness.
A key scene from the whole book for me, personally, is the scene from Joshua 5:13 where Joshua meets the commander of the Lord’s army. Joshua asks who this man with a sword is “for,” and the angel’s response is, depending on your translation, “no,” or, “neither.” This message is powerful to me.
It almost seems like God has smacked Joshua out of his wrong way of thinking. Are you here to serve the Israelites? “No.” Are you going to fight for us, or against us? “Neither.”
The next chapter involves the conquest of Jericho, in a manner that probably shocked Joshua in a similar way as when the commander of the Lord said the above answers to Joshua’s questions. God does not tell the Israelites to launch an offensive. He instead tells them to march in a specific way until the walls fall.
This point is even more interesting, when looked at from an archaeological perspective, which shows that the supposed site of Jericho had ancient walls that appeared to have fallen outwardly, not inwardly. Conquerors would usually bash the walls until they fell towards the city, or inwardly.
Yet, God uses his own methods to collapse the walls in a seemingly improbable way, and allows the Israelites to take the city without losing a single man.
Asking the Right Question
It is important to orient our lives in the proper direction. Church can seem like a great time to get instruction for our lives, and encourage us. Reading of the Bible can be informative, and allow us to give counsel to our friends using the scriptures. Yet, the primary purpose of all of these things is not for our own life betterment, but the glorification of God.
When we ask God if he is on board with our plans, we have missed the point. God is not omnipotent in order to give us what we want. He is not omniscient in order to get advice from our small minds. He is the all-powerful, all-knowing creator who uses us for HIS plan.
Joshua learned this lesson after asking a stupid question. Are we continuing to ask God for foolish requests that benefit us, or are we asking the right question: “What do you want me to do for you God?”