Are You For Us Or For Our Adversaries?

[Note: This is the prepared text for a sermonette given to the Portland congregation of the United Church of God on Sabbath, December 17, 2022.]

Not too long ago, I discussed with you all the biblical understanding that God is not our friend or ally whom we can call upon to accomplish our will. I would like to return to that subject with a slightly different emphasis, and that is explaining some of the reasons the Bible gives for why God does not act in such a fashion. This could be a fairly large subject, so let us narrow our focus considerably and look at one example where God notably refused to be an ally of the nation of Israel, as well as the reasons why the Bible gave for this refusal.

Let us begin with Joshua 5:13-15, where Joshua encounters the one who became Jesus Christ and asks him what side He is on. Joshua 5:13-15 reads: “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?” 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.” When Joshua encountered the one who became Jesus Christ, his response was exactly what it should have been. He stopped asking what side He was on and bowed in worship to Him and asked what message God had for him. Joshua, as a genuine servant of God, understood that it is our job to serve to advance God’s will according to His plans, and not to have God fulfill our own personal will and plans.

Two questions, though, should naturally come to us when we read a passage like this. First: What would it have looked like for God to be on Israel’s side? And Second: Why did God refuse to be on Israel’s side? The first question is not answered directly in scripture, but we can at least infer it based on our understanding of how we would expect God to be on our side here and now. When we are engaged in struggles and difficulties, we want God to smite our enemies, defeat them in battle or in elections, give them plague and distress, take away their power and money and blessings, and leave them utterly defeated and in despair or dead. During the time of Joshua, Israel was invading the promised land, and if God was an ally of Israel, there is no question what sort of help Israel wanted in wiping out the Canaanites and having secure possession of the land to enjoy without opposition, without difficulty, and without struggle. This is not what God gives us here and now, and it was certainly not what God gave ancient Israel. So why not?

There are at least three reasons that the Bible gives why God did not seek to give Israel and easy and complete victory in the promised land, and in the brief time that we have remaining to us, let us explore those reasons and see in those reasons why God also does not promise us easy and complete victories here and now in our struggles with our enemies.

We find the first reason, going in reverse order of when the reasons are given in scripture, in Hebrews 4:8-11. Hebrews 4:8-11 comes towards the end of a lengthy commentary that the author of Hebrews gives of Psalm 95, and connects the conquest of the Promised Land in the time of Joshua with the Sabbath that we still observe here and now and with the promised millennial rest yet to come. Hebrews 4:8-11 reads: “For if Joshua had given them rest, then He would not afterward have spoken of another day.  There remains therefore a rest for the people of God.  For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His. Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience.” This passage tells us that the rest and ease that Israel wanted was contrary to God’s larger plans for the Sabbath and for humanity. Rather than giving us ease and a life without struggle or difficulty, God gave both the promised land and the Sabbath as a foretaste of a much more complete and longer rest yet to come, and because that rest has not come, we still faithfully observe the Sabbath here and now in hope of that better future and in faith that God will fulfill His promises. If God had given Israel that full and promised rest or if He had given us that rest now, we would not have something to look forward to and would not have to exercise faith in its ultimate fulfillment.

We find the second reason in Judges 3:1-6. After spending the first couple of chapters of Judges talking about the progressive failure of the tribes of Israel to complete the conquest, the author of Judges provides another reason why God was not a straightforward ally of Israel in the conquest of the promised land. Judges 3:1-6 reads: “Now these are the nations which the Lord left, that He might test Israel by them, that is, all who had not known any of the wars in Canaan (this was only so that the generations of the children of Israel might be taught to know war, at least those who had not formerly known it), namely, five lords of the Philistines, all the Canaanites, the Sidonians, and the Hivites who dwelt in Mount Lebanon, from Mount Baal Hermon to the entrance of Hamath.  And they were left, that He might test Israel by them, to know whether they would obey the commandments of the Lord, which He had commanded their fathers by the hand of Moses. Thus the children of Israel dwelt among the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.  And they took their daughters to be their wives, and gave their daughters to their sons; and they served their gods.” This passage gives us another aspect of the reason why God did not completely and fully deliver the Canaanites and the people of the land to Israel during their conquest, both so that future generations of Israelites may be taught war and the need to struggle and overcome in this life, and so that they may be tested as to whether they would remain faithful to God and obey His commandments or not. Unsurprisingly, they failed this test.

We find the third reason given in Joshua 24:19-25, at the end of the initial conquest of the land during the time of Joshua. Joshua 24:19-25 reads: “But Joshua said to the people, “You cannot serve the Lord, for He is a holy God. He is a jealous God; He will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins.  If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then He will turn and do you harm and consume you, after He has done you good.” And the people said to Joshua, “No, but we will serve the Lord!” So Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord for yourselves, to serve Him.” And they said, “We are witnesses!” “Now therefore,” he said, “put away the foreign gods which are among you, and incline your heart to the Lord God of Israel.” And the people said to Joshua, “The Lord our God we will serve, and His voice we will obey!” So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made for them a statute and an ordinance in Shechem.” We know, like Joshua did, that Israel did not have the heart to obey God, to serve Him loyally, and to remain faithful to Him. God could not ally Himself with Israel under those circumstances. Ultimately, God can only walk with those who walk with Him.

Let us therefore conclude with an explanation of how God’s refusal to be on the side of ancient Israel relates to us here and now. First, God has a far larger plan in mind than our own current existence, and refrains from fulfilling our hopes for a total peace through a total victory against our enemies because He has something larger in mind to fulfill in the future according to His own plans and purposes. Included in those plans and purposes is often a desire to test us to see whether we will walk in obedience to Him and grow in overcoming the struggles and difficulties we all face here and now. In addition to this, God refuses to walk with those who do not walk with Him. He is not on our side because He expects us to serve Him and to be on His side. Let us therefore learn from the example of the disobedient people of ancient Israel and walk in faithful obedience to Him so that His will and His plans may be fulfilled in our lives and that we may enjoy the rest that remains for His people.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Biblical History, Christianity, Church of God, History, Sermonettes and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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