We need to realise that we’re living in an epic, but we’re not the hero. However, it’s the greatest epic that’s ever been told, has the greatest Hero ever known, and He’s commissioned us into His service. That’s what God’s reminding Joshua of here. We need reminding. If we play our role the end has already been written and it’s heavenly. This is a glorious and encouraging truth.
Several hundred years earlier God had said to Joshua’s ancestor Abraham that his descendants would become ‘“a great nation”’(Genesis 12:2), and be given the ‘“land”’(Genesis 12:7) of Canaan. The plan was that from this base all branches of humanity would ‘“be blessed”’(Genesis 12:3).
Abraham’s descendants had expanded in Egypt, then been brought out by Moses on God’s initiative at the Exodus: ‘“I will send you to Pharaoh, that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt”’(Exodus 3:10). Now God had appointed Joshua as Moses successor: ‘“Take Joshua the son on Nun, a man in whom is the Spirit”’(Numbers 27:18). So here stood Joshua, poised to lead Israel into their Promised Land. Suddenly a mysterious figure appeared, ‘with his sword drawn in his hand. Joshua went to him, and said to him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” He said, “No; but I have come now as commander of Yahweh’s army.”’(Joshua 5:13-14)
This confronted Joshua with two startling realities. Firstly, it’s totally inappropriate to ask whether God is on our side. God is not on anyone’s side in that sense, as if He joins in our plans; no, we are caught up in the purposes of God. Secondly, we are in the purposes of God, Who is with us – Epic!
Joshua wasn’t slow to realise that this was a manifestation of God Himself, in human form. He ‘fell on his face to the earth, and worshipped, and said to him, “What does my lord say to his servant?”’(Joshua 5:14). The figure’s response confirmed Joshua’s understanding of the situation, echoing God’s words to Moses from the burning ‘bush’(Exodus 3:4), and accepting his worship, unlike an ‘angel’(Revelation 22:8) under similar circumstances elsewhere. When we realise that we’ve been invited into God’s purposes, which is true for all believers, our response should be the same, worship and enquiry as to our role: ‘“What does my lord say to his servant?”’
The answer to that question is partly a general one that applies to us all, such as, ‘“Go, and make disciples of all nations… even to the end of the age”’(Matthew 28:19-20) and ‘He has shown you, O man, what is good. What does Yahweh require of you, but to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?’(Micah 6:8) – a general epic overview and code of conduct. However, we must also enquire and discern regarding our individual personal roles in this story, always accompanied by the prayer, ‘“‘your will be done’”’(Matthew 6:10) – not our will be done!
The answer might seem like an odd path, even going round in circles, as with Joshua’s next task. It might be dictated by circumstance, as with Esther. It might be revealed by specific promptings, as with Paul’s team in Acts 16:6-10.
Whatever our role, once discerned, as with all of the examples above, courageous determination is then required, even in the face of ‘adversaries’(Luke 13:17). This is greatly helped by knowing that God has set us to pursue the course that we’re following, as Joshua was being reminded of here, and as he’d been reminded of earlier, ‘“Be strong and courageous; for you shall cause this people to inherit the land which I swore to their fathers to give them… Haven’t I commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Don’t be afraid, neither be dismayed: for Yahweh your God is with you”’(Joshua 1:6-9).
Unlike Joshua, in our New Testament Age, ‘though we walk in the flesh, we don’t wage war according to the flesh; for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but mighty before God to the throwing down of strongholds, throwing down imaginations and every high thing that is exalted against the knowledge of God’(2 Corinthians 10:3-5). In this we’re to deploy ‘the whole armor of God’(Ephesians 6:11&13), especially, ‘the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God’(Ephesians 6:17), which ‘is living, and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing’(Hebrews 4:12), ‘the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes’(Romans 1:16).
Then when battle is done, we’ll enter the ultimate fulfilment of the Promised Land, ‘a better country, that is, a heavenly one.’(Hebrews 11:16)