I have never officiated as a qualified referee in an athletic contest, but I’ve often felt like I needed a striped shirt and a whistle when standing between couples or groups in the midst of a contentious squabble. Most of the time, both sides looked to me expecting to hear some kind of sage counsel that would resolve the matter once and for all. In many of those instances, what that really meant was that each participant was thoroughly convinced that his or her position was the only reasonable one to hold. Further, if I had at least two active neurons at work in my cranium, I would immediately recognize the profound wisdom of their point of view. Then I’d have no alternative but to declare them the winner, and announce that the whole matter was forevermore resolved. When I failed to do that, and then had the unmitigated gall to suggest that there might be valid alternative perspectives, it was not unusual to be met with a comment like, “Oh… I get it. You’re on their side.”
Almost everything we choose in this hyper-divisive culture we live in carries the perception that we have taken one “side” or the other. It’s so pervasive that people have a hard time figuring out how to act or what to say anymore that won’t result in being accused of employing a verbal “trigger” or some kind of ideological “dog whistle.”
PC Police Unhinged ~
It’s surprising that the PC police haven’t blown a gasket over use of the word “trigger” altogether, because the term does, after all, refer to a component used in guns, which they find categorically repulsive. And shouldn’t using a term like “dog whistle” raise some eyebrows? Wouldn’t dog whistles be discriminatory against people who have other pets, like cats, hamsters, aardvarks, hedgehogs, porcupines, and snakes? It isn’t fair that snake owners don’t have special whistles to call their pets, too. Never mind that snakes don’t have ears. Surely someone could invent a little device you could blow on and a little forked tongue would pop out and wiggle in a way that snakes find irresistible. Obviously, warning labels would be required. After all, you wouldn’t want to be blowing a thing like that in places like jungles or swamps where so many slithery creatures with toxic venom are hiding, and certainly not anywhere inside the DC beltway.
But I digress. There’s an episode about choosing sides that God shared with us that might be helpful at a time like this. It takes place shortly after the Israelites had crossed the Jordan River and entered the land God had promised to give them. They were finally in the land, but now they faced the challenge of conquering the territory God had given them. Even though the Jews had been engaged in warfare during their wilderness journey, they were not trained military tacticians and the well defended, walled city of Jericho stood between them and claiming the fulfillment of God’s promise. It was a time when the sides were clearly drawn and there was no middle ground. The inhabitants of Jericho had placed themselves in irresolute opposition to God and the prospect of compromise with them was not an option for God’s people. A fortress like Jericho, no doubt, seemed like an overwhelming obstacle, and there were more questions than answers. In the midst of contemplating the magnitude of the task before them, an unusual exchange took place that centered on a familiar question:
And it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, a Man stood opposite him with His sword drawn in His hand. And Joshua went to Him and said to Him, “Are You for us or for our adversaries?” Joshua 5:13 (NKJV)
A Provocative Question ~
It was a tense time for God’s people and what Joshua saw didn’t ease the stress. He looked up, perhaps from searching his mind and heart about what to do about Jericho, and saw a man with a drawn sword. With a reaction born of leadership instilled by God and refined under Moses, he approached the strange figure and spoke directly. In our vernacular, his words would simply sound like this: “Whose side are you on? Are you for us, or for them?”
The One standing before Joshua with the drawn sword is considered by conservative scholars to be a pre-incarnate appearance of the Son of God, because no lesser one would have commanded or allowed Joshua’s worship. That makes the question he asked particularly significant. Joshua may not have known who the imposing figure was initially, but it was clear that He had come to fight. It was the right time for asking questions, and the only question that seemed relevant to Joshua was which side would this warrior be fighting for?
But What about God? ~
When a fight is looming, it’s important to know which side people are on, and in this confrontational culture we live in, Joshua’s question is repeated constantly. It seems that everyone wants to know, “Are you fighting with us or against us?” When it comes to major issues, we want to know which side our friends and family have chosen, but what if we asked God whose side He’s on. There’s never any shortage of people invoking His name and suggesting or directly declaring that God is on their side. Joshua’s question isn’t complicated, and the answer isn’t laden with mysterious theological conundrums. It’s incredibly simple, profound and desperately needed today. Without hesitation, Heaven’s invincible Warrior answered Joshua:
So He said, “No, but as Commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped, and said to Him, “What does my Lord say to His servant?” Then the Commander of the LORD’S army said to Joshua, “Take your sandal off your foot, for the place where you stand is holy.” And Joshua did so. Joshua 5:14-15 (NKJV)
The response of God to Joshua’s question is as clear and enduring today as it was when Joshua asked it, and again in our vernacular, it simply comes down to this:
No, Joshua. You’ve got it wrong. I didn’t come to take sides. I CAME TO TAKE OVER.”
The Only Real Question ~
Regardless of the fight looming before us, whether it’s about politics, lifestyles, economics, academics, or church protocols, the path to victory will never be achieved by claiming to have God on our side. Many fights are underway today, and more will erupt in the days ahead. Obstacles will rise to stand in our way that seem insurmountable, and when they do, the real question for all of us is enshrined in Joshua’s reaction. Are we willing to stop asking questions about sides and ask instead whether we’re willing to fall on our face in surrender to the Warrior who came to take over? God makes this abundantly clear … The walls won’t fall until we fall first, but once we do, they cannot stand.
“TWEETABLES” ~ Click to Tweet & Share from the pull quotes below. Each quote links directly back to this article through Twitter.
- “Regardless of the fight looming before us, whether it’s about politics, lifestyles, economics, academics, or church protocols, the path to victory will never be achieved by claiming to have God on our side.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “Many fights are underway today, and more will erupt in the days ahead. Obstacles will rise to stand in our way that seem insurmountable, and when they do, the real question for all of us is enshrined in Joshua’s reaction. (Joshua 5:14-15, NKJV)” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “Are we willing to stop asking questions about sides and ask instead whether we’re willing to fall on our face in surrender to the Warrior who came to take over? God makes this abundantly clear … The walls won’t fall until we fall first, but once we do, they cannot stand.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
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