This Sunday’s sermon at the church I visited was on Joshua 5:13-15:

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.

The point basically was that we have to be sure that we are on God’s side before we can even legitimately ask, much less be sure, whether or not he is on our side. It was an excellent sermon, and one that brings into sharp relief how often Christians do what they will themselves and then attribute it to God.

If anyone had a claim on God, it would have been Israel, his chosen nation. This passage seems to me, among other things, to be a pretty strong indictment of any form of nationalism that baptizes a political agenda as God’s will. It brings to mind Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address, in which he noted that both the North and South “read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other.” He later observes, “The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes.”

It is helpful to note, I think, that once Joshua, representing Israel, had put himself on God’s side, in this case by obeying the command to “take off your sandals,” the commander of the army of the Lord goes on to give him some rather specific battle instructions. And when Joshua was faithful to God and followed these instructions, God was faithful to Joshua. So in the end, “the LORD was with Joshua, and his fame spread throughout the land.” Only when we are sure that we are on God’s side can we be sure that he is on our side.

See also: Matthew 6:33, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Matthew 12:30, “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters.” Mark 9:40, “for whoever is not against us is for us.”