Whose “side” is God on?
People sometimes talk about whether God is “on our side” or “their side,” or if we should be more worried about being “on God’s side.” A short, little-known story of an angelic encounter in the Old Testament sheds some light on the question.
At this point in the Old Testament story, Moses has died and Joshua is now leading the nomadic Israelites. The Israelites have recently crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land, but it’s filled with other people groups and they are preparing to attack the city of Jericho.
That’s when Joshua has an incredible encounter.
“Now when Joshua was near Jericho,” the Bible says, “he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand.” (Joshua 5.13)
Since he’s preparing for war, Joshua is of course concerned about whose side this apparent soldier is on: “Joshua went up to him and asked, ‘Are you for us or for our enemies?'” (Joshua 5.13)
“‘Neither’ he replied, ‘but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.’”
Joshua immediately changes his approach: “Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, ‘What message does my Lord have for his servant?’ The commander of the Lord’s army replied, ‘Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.’ And Joshua did so.” (Joshua 5.14-15) After this, God gives Joshua instructions on how to take Jericho.
So what can we learn from this?
Remember that the Israelites were God’s special chosen people and that they preparing to conquer the Promised Land at God’s command. So you might expect God’s angel to say that he was on their side.
But he doesn’t.
When given the choice between being “for us or for our enemies” he says “neither,” and instead identifies himself as “commander of the army of the Lord.”
God, who is Love, of course wills our good. But far from being stuck in our earthly categories, God and his angelical armies seem to operate on a whole other level.
So whose side is God on? It looks like God is on God’s side.