Our understanding of God and His character is a never ending journey. You need to know that I am still processing the implications of a demonstration of truth discovered this morning.
I was reading in the book of Joshua this morning and tripped across a scene that I had read multiple times but somehow skimmed over a significant truth. The Bible is repleat with passages declaring God’s love for the world and for us while we were yet sinners. John 3:16 and Romans 5:8 are notable among those texts. Yet, there is a scene in the book of Joshua chapter 5 verses 13 – 15 that caught my attention today in an extraordinary way. While I urge the reader to look up this text and give it some study and reflection, I’ll include the passage here for the sake of simplicity:
“Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”
“Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” 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.”
That’s it! That is all that is shared of this scene … no more, no less.
Here’s the deal … God had just led the children of Israel out of Egypt, protected and provided for them on a 40 year journey in the wilderness, made a big deal about his servant, Moses not entering the land of promise and choosing Joshua to lead his people. One more time he dried up some serious water (this time a flooded Jordan River) so the Israelites could cross over. He had committed that he would give this land to his people. In the latest round, he had all the Israelite men circumcised before they could begin their conquest of the land of Canaan. The people get through that and have just celebrated the Passover to remember the deliverance out of Egypt by the hand of God.
Now Joshua sees this guy in the field near Jericho and asks him on whose side he is. The man says he is the commander of the Lord’s army and then says NEITHER!?!
I must confess that I was incredulous when I read this piece this morning. Neither? Has God forgotten what he is about to do for the Israelites in the land of Canaan? What is up with that? Since he chose to share that brief incident with us in the scriptures, we must assume he wants to say something(s) to us. Where do we go with this?
First, I would say, Joshua’s question was focused on him and his people. My first takeaway is that God wants us to be on his side rather than him being on our side.
Secondly, we must conclude that this is a demonstration of God’s love for all mankind. He doesn’t take sides in the ways we think of or as we would like him to do.
God is righteous, just, holy, jealous and a host of other attributes that can be ascribed to him. Yet in this piece I see God’s love, love for a people who shortly would be destroyed because of their sin, love that is demonstrated in a refusal to take one side over the other … remember that we’re all sinners. In this I see God’s love for the sinner. Aside from the cross, where can you get a stronger demonstration of God’s love for ALL mankind.
All too often we disassociate ourselves from those who don’t have a personal relationship with God. We avoid those with certain sins in their lives. Yet what are we to expect from people who don’t know God? We effectively block ourselves from delivering God’s love to those around us. In our world we are quick to choose sides between nations at odds with each other. We pray that God would have one side or the other prevail. Yet what God wants is for the sin of not loving our neighbors as ourselves to stop. What God wants is that we would get past the “sides” issue and see the people involved as eternal beings who will spend eternity somewhere … either heaven or hell. To get to the point of the second great commandment … to love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves.
Let’s be careful before engaging in ‘holy wars’ or idealogical crusades to make sure that our hearts are aligned with the heart of God. I think we need to call sin for what it is. But, lets guard our hearts regarding treatment of the sinner(s)… the people, our brothers and sisters. One thing is clear … God LOVES the sinner … after all, he loved you and me and died for you and me while we were still sinners.
A significant wake up call for me today. There are probably lots of words could clarify my thoughts, and I would welcome them. As I said on facebook, I’m blown away by the way that God loves the WHOLE world. In the context of scripture, this is an outlandish display of that love.