The Sword and The Staff

Battles in our lives take different shapes and sizes. James encouraged us to consider the vast spectrum of fights throughout this life in light of God's joy. Over the course of this year, I've been in the middle of incredible family tensions, wrestled with financial crises, prayed for friends in the hospital, watched faith filled individuals believe for healing without the results they wanted, and the list goes on. Jesus promised trouble. He also promised His presence. We take heart, not because it's a feel good saying, but because a walk with God is far from a neutral stroll.

In Exodus 17, God had recently rescued His people through his servant Moses. God said to Moses, “I’ve seen the misery of My people and heard their cries in Egypt, so now I’ve come down to deliver them.” God says He’s coming down, but He sends a human being. When God says He’s going to do something, His heart is to do that something through those He created.

Without us, He won’t. Without Him, we can’t.

The Israelites, two million strong leave Egypt led by Moses and they're running to the Red Sea, where God says Be still, the Lord will fight your battle. They don’t have any weapons, they don’t have the training, they’re not an organized people, and they’re currently united by fear. They don’t trust their leader and they don't trust God. Still, God in His mercy steps in. That’s in essence a picture of our story. They cross the Red Sea after God splits the body of water, drowns their enemies, and perhaps this is speculation, but provides them with weapons and equipment for the future as the dead Egyptian soldiers wash up on the shore. When God moves in ours lives, when there was absolutely nothing we could’ve done to win on our own, it’s to reveal who He is, and to equip us, so we transition from being a spectator to a partner in our next battles.

"Look what God did," can become, "Look what God did through us!"

Exodus 17:1 At the Lord’s command, the whole community of Israel left the wilderness of Sin and moved from place to place. Eventually they camped at Rephidim, but there was no water there for the people to drink. 

God led His people to a dry place. The thirst and need for provision, provided the space for God to display His power and grace. It's on the heels of the miraculous, the breakthrough, the moment where God steps in, that an enemy steps in. This narrative shows this enemy arriving after Israel. So enemies are always the last to show up if God's leading.

8 While the people of Israel were still at Rephidim the warriors of Amalek attacked them.  

If we're not looking for a fight, a fight is looking for us, so expect opposition. 

Deuteronomy 25:17–19 describes the enemy saying: “Remember what the Amalekites did to you along the way when you came out of Egypt. When you were weary and worn out, they met you on your journey and attacked all who were lagging behind [typically women and children]: they had no fear of God.

These Amalekites, distant cousins of Israel, are much like our fights. They seem to come out of nowhere and they couldn’t come at a worse time. They're often deeply personal and seem custom tailored to wound us where it really hurts. Also, it’s one thing for a challenge to come against us personally, but when they damage our deepest relationships; a spouse, children, family, those we love, it’s then we need to realize, our battles are much bigger than ourselves because their purpose is to dismantle our families, our legacy, our future, and they may be bigger than us, but they’re not bigger than God's purpose for us.

9 Moses commanded Joshua, “Choose some men to go out and fight the army of Amalek for us. Tomorrow, I will stand at the top of the hill, holding the staff of God in my hand.”

I love this. One of the marks of a follower of Jesus is decisiveness. Someone who knows when to take immediate action. Moses doesn't call everyone together for their opinions. He doesn't start passing out ballots for voting on what should be done. There's no time for that. Moses has a relationship with God that's so tight, he immediately knows, "If you touch our wives and children, the first response is intervention. He commands Joshua to rally up men to respond. Moses takes up his staff. Joshua takes up his sword. 

Moses doesn't make the false division of whether it's time to seek God's help or whether it's time to go into battle. It's both.

 

10 So Joshua did what Moses had commanded and fought the army of Amalek. Meanwhile, Moses, Aaron, and Hur climbed to the top of a nearby hill. 11 As long as Moses held up the staff in his hand, the Israelites had the advantage. But whenever he dropped his hand, the Amalekites gained the advantage.

1. Maintain the posture of dependency on God. 

Jesus communicates true dependency on God in gardening terms, teaching that the branches need to stay connected to their source. He says, "apart from me, you can do nothing." For Moses, the posture of dependency is holding his hands up with his shepherd’s staff. For us, it looks like praying - talking to God and hearing from His voice. It looks like searching His word for the trusted pathways wisdom. It looks like fasting - pushing away the plate and hungering for righteousness. Dependency has a pattern. When Moses' hands go up, the Israelites are winning. Down, Amalek is winning. 

Now I'm no expert in war, but if the enemy is winning that means we're losing, and losing means dying. God's people in battle are at risk of dying based on Moses' hands staying raised. We don't live in a bubble that is disconnected from each other. God wired the family of God to be intertwined and co-dependent on one another.

When we abandon the posture of dependency, people under us die. 

 

I understand that God is ultimately in control, but I am not disillusioned, and I am convinced that if I don't partner with God, the people who should've heard the good news about Jesus, who should've received healing, who should've been encouraged, who should've been raised back to life, who should have won the battle that they were in, will lose. And I think one day, God in His grace is going to show us all the people we could've loved, and could've prayed for, and could've been part of their breakthrough, and I don’t want to live in the space of "we could’ve, should’ve, or would’ve." We've got to be a people who emphasize dependency on God and join those who,“by faith overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions, quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight.”  Moses, the mediator between God and the people is a picture of Jesus our mediator. He's also a picture of us when we partner with God by standing in the gap, lifting our hands. But Moses is still a man. Like him, we are still finite and even the strongest hands get tired. 

12 Moses’ arms soon became so tired he could no longer hold them up. So Aaron and Hur found a stone for him to sit on. Then they stood on each side of Moses, holding up his hands. So his hands held steady until sunset. 

Moses is not weak. Moses will die at 120 and not because of health issues. Moses is climbing mountains when he is in his 80s and fasts without food and water for 40 days and nights. Moses is far from undisciplined, but even Moses' hands get tired. God doesn’t paint His leaders as robots, as if they don't get tired or worn out. Moses could no longer hold them up and it wasn’t even a matter of choice. 

Sometimes your exhaustion has nothing to do with your relationship with God. 

Granted, some are just lazy and pretend they’re doing so much to keep people impressed with them, but we can't pretend forever when we’re walking in real relationships with covenant brothers and sisters. Here God gives us a picture of His heartbeat, the church as family. You don’t need to surround ourselves with negative people who complain a lot, are always critical, and always have advice but never actually stand with you. You need two brothers or two sisters born for adversity to show up to the battle with you, who like Aaron and Hur make the effort to go up the hill. When you're exhausted, you don't need someone standing on the sidelines, staring at you pushing for breakthrough by yourself.  Rather surround yourselves with those who will say "you know what, we're in this with you, and you are exhausted, so you don't have to stand on your own, you can sit down, and we're going to hold your hands up and see this battle through to the end until God gives us the victory." 

I thank God for giving me brothers like Aaron and Hur. We're are always holding each other's arms up, seeing victories in our lives over addictions, over perversions, over alcoholism, over loveless relationships that lead to cheap sex and empty intimacies, and more. We keep seeings bonds built and bridges constructed to people who need to know that God is the establisher of our identity in Christ and the most powerful place we can find ourselves is in absolute dependency on God. 

13 As a result, Joshua overwhelmed the army of Amalek in battle with the sword.

2. God can do the impossible by Himself. But He wants to do the impossible through us.

Steven Furtick says, “See what God can do through you.” Let’s zoom in on Joshua, the man with the sword in hand. The man who will replace Moses and take God's people to a place Moses will not. The first record we have of him is obeying his orders and submitting to authority.

Joshua did what Moses ordered in order to fight Amalek. And Moses, Aaron, and Hur went to the top of the hill. 

You've got to love Joshua because you never hear, "you want me go to go down into battle, while you go up to the top of the hill where there's no enemies? You want me to get cut and possibly lose my life while you take your brothers to go to where it's safe? No. How about you grab the sword and fight with us?" Not a hint of that. 

Joshua simply obeys. Joshua doesn't know that he was going to be the future Commander-in-chief of this army. He doesn't know the future, he doesn’t know that Moses' anger issues would eventually cause Moses to not enter into God’s best on this side of eternity. He doesn't realize that God is using these battles on the ground to mold him into a leader who was both as close to presence of God as Moses, but could relate to the people as someone who saw the bloody mess and pain on the battlefield. 

The staff without the sword is not enough. The power of God without the proactivity of His people is only half the picture. There's a reason why Moses commands Joshua to accomplish an incredible task of leadership and administration. It's because they really knew God! They really understood that God wasn’t just a matter of mystical principles and vague spiritualities, that God wasn’t so caught up in the sky with galactic energies, but that God was right in the thick of the battle with them. Anyone who fought next to Joshua understood his name meant "Salvation", and that the God who saves was with them. They understood, “We can go up here and pray, but if there's not a Joshua, a leader with warriors on the ground with swords in their hand, we're going to be praying until our faces are red while our people are dying." 

Without the staff, without God's power we cannot. But without the sword, without the actual work, we're not going to see anything happen. God can and does miracles, but what I see Moses doing is so key in life. He knows that they need the power of God to ever enter in to all that God has for them, but he also knows they need an army with a leader on the ground. It's both and, not either or. 

I love Real Life NYC and trust God knew what he was doing when he put our team together. None of us are pastors or got professional training for this thing. No one on this team went to a bible college and I've got nothing against that. But, I think this way so that those who come in could never say, "well they're pastors. They preach for a living. They get paid to be spiritual. I'm not called to anything deep like that." He's ripping up the disconnect between those of us who serve in ministry and those of us who live real life. We pray, we fast, we give and we work hard. So God continues to lead us and do above all we could ever ask or imagine. That's living in the fullness of wielding both staff and sword.

We trust and apply God’s word for every battle we face, because we will be fighting again and past victories do not guarantee future victories. Past and present experiences help build our trust, but our hope isn’t in experiences, it’s in the eternal word. As we follow God, we wield both the staff and sword, His word has the final say.

14 After the victory, the Lord instructed Moses, “Write this down on a scroll as a permanent reminder, and read it aloud to Joshua: I will erase the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” 15 Moses built an altar there and named it Yahweh-Nissi (which means “the Lord is my banner”). 16 He said, “They have raised their fist against the Lord’s throne, so now[c] the Lord will be at war with Amalek generation after generation.”

The Amalekites don’t just disappear.

Some wars are won in increments over a period of generations, so we’re fighting for much more than our own lifetime.

Amalek shows up later in Numbers 14:45 and joined with the Canaanites, they crush the men for Israel who did not trust God and rejected His word. In Judges, they team up with Moabites and the Midianites, destroying Israel’s provisions. In 1 Samuel, King Saul is rejected because He didn’t apply the word with regard to Amalek. Again they're wreaking havoc in 1 Chronicles and attempt to commit genocide against Israel in the book of Esther.

Like God's people, we have our battles and enemies to face. They may not be titled Amalek, but they're ruthless the same. Still, God gave a word, “I will erase Amalek, and Lord will be at war with Amalek generation after generation.” So whatever the fight, pick up your staff. Depend on God. Trust His word. Pick up your sword. Fight. Develop a strategy. Follow through. Watch God move and move through you.

 

Walking with Victory

Revelation 2:12 Write this to Pergamum, to the Angel of the church. The One with the sharp-biting sword draws from the sheath of his mouth—out come the sword words: 

The primary motivation behind what people see at Real Life NYC has little to do with a team of directors being nice people or wanting to give back to our community. I'm all for that, and that's one of the byproducts of what's happening. But it's much deeper than gifted leaders organizing events for an after school program. Rather it's because our ears have been opened to One whose words are compared to a sword. His sword words are alive and active, cutting down to matters of the heart, dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow, judging motives, thoughts, and attitudes. They’ll cut through a person's sin, self-centeredness, self-righteousness, through the complacency that sits back while 32 billion dollars a year are profited off of 30 million human trafficked individuals, of which 4.5 million are sold for sex. However, I've seen through our partnerships, approximately 37,500 documented women and children impacted by the love of Jesus.

Who has the time to listen to worthless opinions when His words bring this kind of freedom?

Deep down, I don't want to follow a God whose end goal is to hand out hugs to the world. This Jesus speaks and men and women are cut to the heart to go after the things that really matter in life. John the author of Revelation knew Jesus personally as the greatest lover, but now saw Him revealed as the reigning warrior. So while the words to Pergamum are sharp, they are to a church, a bride united to God by marriage, to Jesus who shed blood for her. Therefore He speaks, not as some harsh dictator but as a sacrificial husband. So while His words pierce, they are in love. While His words seem harsh, they heal. Though His eyes are ablaze, they're filled with compassion. Forever crowned in majesty, He's the same savior who had a crown of thorns pushed into His skull. 

"I see where you live, right under the shadow of Satan’s throne." This is the language of a God involved. Going beyond the exterior in relationships, we may discover the tension where people are physically visible by parents, classmates, social media followers, but no one truly sees them. No one completely comprehends where they are, understands the intricacies, and the intensities of their storms. On the other side of the spectrum, many default to the idea that if there is God who sees, He's very far away, doesn't care, and isn't capable of actually doing anything. If He does want to do something, it's probably sadistic with the goal of ruining all things fun. After all, He's often represented by people hiding behind a keyboard, where God is a matter of bullet points to be agreed upon and not a person to be known.

Nothing could be further from what Jesus is saying. "I see you! I've always seen you. I know where you live. I, the Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. You saw who and how God was with your own eyes, like Father, like Son, generous inside and out, full of grace and truth. I’m not oblivious to your physical or spiritual geography, I know your circumstances aren't ideal. I know there seems to be a dark cloud above. I know you can't make sense of the evil around you. I know you look at what's happening on the news, and there's fear on the inside, pressure from the outside.

Although you may be under a shadow, no matter what you’re under, I’ve already risen above it.

"You continue boldly in my Name; you never once denied my Name, even when the pressure was worst, when they martyred Antipas, my witness who stayed faithful to me on Satan’s turf."

Character isn't tethered to circumstance.

Antipas stayed faithful, yet he lost his physical life. These scriptures are far from formulas on how to better ourselves or achieve our American dreams. And I’m not against dreams. In fact, God dreams are much better than good dreams. God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us. It's why I'm asking and imagining for a heart like Antipas'. What kind of a heart beats in an person that gets them to stay planted in a location even to the point of being murdered for their faith? What could possibility motivate someone to forsake comfort and convenience for calling, even when answering the call meant being slow roasted alive in a copper oven. That’s how he died. He like others refused to do was culturally acceptable, declaring the Emperor as God. It sounds ridiculous in 2017, except we make gods out of much less, especially if it means safety, financial security, acceptance, and fitting in. However the real church were a problem, because they were a culture themselves, and would not bow. 

People who won’t bow cannot be bought. We cannot be bought if we’ve already been purchased by the blood of Christ on the cross.

Jesus said Antipas was faithful, trustworthy, and true to the end. He wasn't some random faith fanatic. He belonged to God. So whether it was three Israeli friends being thrown into the fiery furnace for refusing to bow to the king of Iraq, or Job who refused crown his emotions king, even after losing it all, or one of the members of the body of Christ who's killed every 6 minutes overseas, perhaps our greatest reward isn’t getting out the other side without any scars. It’s knowing when we have scars, Jesus has scars, and even unto death, He never left us, abandoned us and we always belonged to Him.

We get to hear every day in our spirits, and it's the loudest during the hardest circumstances, “Anyone who believes in me, will live, even though he dies.” We carry a victor’s mentality, "absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us." We're not afraid of disease and we're not afraid of death. We don’t live motivated by fear, for His perfect love expels fear. Death is no longer an escape from life, it's an escort to Him who is life.

Death can only stare because death has lost its sting.

Jesus, do you know what you're doing? You're using the example of your follower Antipas’ dying mercilessly as a means to encourage. Don’t bring that up if you want people to stick with you. Except, no one has experienced pain like Jesus Himself. Therefore by experience, He’s the only God who can identify with and can give dignity to our suffering. We're not idiotically optimistic about pain, but it’s real and we need a God who is real. He doesn’t look at our pain as something to be embarrassed about, brushed aside, and locked in a closet where it eventually becomes a skeleton. He also doesn’t treat it as some puzzle that needs to be explained and figured out by some religious know-it-all who offers cookie cutter responses that minimize what we're going through. Instead, pain, death, agony, persecution, injustice is all set openly and passionately before God.

Suffering isn’t secretive in God’s eyes.

This is so counter-cultural because it seems like everyone’s goal is to be perpetually healthy and constantly happy. And if you don’t live up to those standards, you’re a problem to be solved, an enigma to be figured out, and you live a myth that denies your real experience. Meanwhile, Jesus, His gospel, His message is a redemption of what we go through. The sword words of the Commander cut through the clutter and declare, “I am full of unfailing love for you. I am a redeemer, I make a difference, I’m not indifferent, rejecting or cruel, I am for you, and you may be given over to terrible things in this life, but out of those crucibles of pains come a canvas of paint."

It’s those crushing seasons that stir God’s creativity where He rearranges what was meant for your harm, but in His passion for you, works all things together for your good if you love and belong to Him.

God has a conversation about a man with this same Satan mentioned in Revelation and says, "Look at my servant Job. There's no one like him." The accuser says, “You’ve blessed Him. He’s got it good. Take his prosperity away, take his family away, take his health. Skin for skin. And Job who actually loves God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength is in so much pain, he’s the first documented self-cutter, going through so much, that he’s self-inflicting pain to relieve pain. That's so today. God who absolutely loves Job and brags about him in the heavens, hands Job over to the enemy. What have we been handed over to, that has us confusing God's approval for us with His displeasure? Job like us, misunderstands God's silence for absence. He didn't have an explanation so he assumed God was either punishing him or like so many dads today, just wasn’t around. But God is always beside those whom he has a true relationship with.

God wasn't speaking because God was writing.

God was there, by his Spirit recording every single moment, every cry of agony, every added insult to severe injury, writing down the accusations of Satan, the harsh words from Job's wife, the insults of friends whose theology sounded more like karma than in compassion. How many people stuck under Satan's shadow, walking through the valley of the shadow of death have held on to the account of Job, declaring "I will not go down fearing evil, for you my God are with me, and you comfort me. You’ve written every detail of my experience down to every tear in your book. No wonder you're called the Author of our faith. God is looking for Jobs who don't know they are going to make it out alive, yet have confidence in their Redeemer. He wants faithful ones like Antipas who even aware of the spiritual climate in a city, won't opt out saying, “I’m just going to move to where it’s safer, where there’s less stress, where there’s less trouble, and where there’s less opposition." No we are more than victorious, more than conquerors in Christ Jesus, and how will we know we are conquerors if there’s never something in front of us to conquer. Although it seemed liked they "took" Antipas’ life, less than a century before that, it seemed like they took Jesus’ life.

But no one can take a believer's life from them, because we don’t even own the deeds to our lives, God does.

So if He hands us over for a moment and they bury us in the ground, all they did was bury a mustard seed of faith which when planted grows to become the largest in all the gardens. We cannot lose in Christ. How many people have held on to God because of your story, Antipas? How many people were real with their pain because of your honesty, Job? How many people will believe for victory because of our stories? 

The narrative takes a turn. There's an issue that's brought up against the church after all of the affirmation and commendation. Like all real lovers who won't stay silent when the object of their affection is headed down a dangerous path, the Lord asks a question He already knows the answer to in order to compel them to come face to face with a dangerous reality. "But why do you indulge that Balaam crowd? Don’t you remember that Balaam was an enemy agent, seducing Balak and sabotaging Israel’s holy pilgrimage by throwing unholy parties?  And why do you put up with the Nicolaitans, who do the same thing?" To us, those names seem irrelevant. But, in the children of Israel’s history during a series of circumstances involving deserts and disobedience, an enemy ruler, an ancient emperor named Balak feels threatened, so he wants to eradicate the people of Israel as God is taking them on this journey. He hires Balaam, a man who hears from God but can be bought. He can be swayed with money, but he had enough sense to know that God will always keep His promises to His people, that He loves them, that He redeemed them, and that whom God blesses, even if bribed by all the money in the world, no one can curse. Balaam offers Balak another solution: If God won't curse them, manipulate their free will to destroy them from the inside.

Balaam knows that they have a sweet tooth for pleasure outside of God, a fixation for whatever can satisfy them in the moment instead of what would truly satisfy their souls. With one invitation, these men trade love for lust, they trade wholeness and real relationship with God for dead intimacy. They exchange the truth of God for a lie by engaging in a graphically perverse party with these women of the opposing army. They’re so blinded by the thought of, "we just want to experience life and have a little bit of fun," not realizing that the women they've slept with were part of a military tactic to destroy them. Twenty-four thousand people die. 

While God will not violate choice and free will, the wages of sin are always death.

Centuries later, God asks His people in Pergamum, and asks us the same question today, "You really falling for the same thing? I have given you so much, I've given you me, I so loved the world that I gave myself over to unimaginable torture by crucifixion and got back up again, I didn’t come to condemn but to save. I’ve come to lead you, I'm not against you, but you constantly mix this eternal life relationship with dead activity, and I’m concerned enough to say something that might hurt your feelings, but save your lives." This is heart of a God who wants good for his children and can’t stomach anything less than good, so in a thunderous declaration through the pen-ship of John writes, “Enough! Don’t give in to them; I’ll be with you soon. I’m fed up and about to cut them to pieces with my sword-sharp words.

"Enough" is a call to repentance. It’s a command to “change your mind”, which is near impossible to do if you’ve ever tried to convince someone they’re wrong, even when they knew they were wrong. So what if repentance, isn't this horrific word mishandled by unloving people with the title Christian, but a beautiful invitation to abandon a current path in order to simply walk with Jesus and each other as a family. Jesus is more than capable of changing our minds as we see who He is and how much better His ways are.

Repentance means walking with Jesus.

In Matthew 4, Jesus began to preach, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” Upon reading this, I'm tempted to filter this through the experience of someone yelling at me in the subway car. They don't ask me my name, have no intention in getting to know me, couldn't really care about what happens to me after they move on to the next car, but they want to speak for God. This has actually happened to me. But it’s as Jesus is preaching repentance that he shows how repentance works. He calls these fisherman and other individuals who are living their normal lives, to walk with Him, eat with Him, and live life with Him. Jesus internalized, “If I can keep them close enough to Me, they’d want the life I live. I wouldn’t need to beat them into submission, I wouldn’t need to turn them into obedient robots, I wouldn’t need to manipulate them, and I wouldn’t need to perform magic tricks to prove I’m real. They would simply see the way, the truth, and the life in Me, as they walk with Me and know God through Me. This walking and knowing God would dramatically affect our thought process in everything, changing our behavior from the inside out.

In Matthew 11 Jesus said: Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” It's not an invitation to more religion. It’s not even forced. It’s a response to His voice. His kindness and goodness lead us into repentance, into a changed heart, mind, and life.

"Are your ears awake? Listen. Listen to the Wind Words, the Spirit blowing through the churches. I’ll give the hidden manna to every conqueror;" Hidden manna is the essence of Jesus Christ Himself. His precious and personal words are sufficient for all our desires. Listen to the language, "I’ll also give," because it’s all gift. It's unearned. We don’t have to deserve it. We just trust. We don't have to be spiritual enough, smart enough, or religious enough. We just have to be simple enough to walk with Him, believing His life in exchange for ours took every wrong, every sin, every failure, every defeat, every lie, every warped mentality and nailed it to the cross. But He didn’t stay on the cross, He didn’t stay buried, and because He’s alive, and has all power and authority, He has the right to say this, "I will give a clear, smooth stone inscribed with your new name, your secret new name.” Christ’s final words to this body of people is:

Your identity isn't attached to anything here. It's attached to me.

Every label we've ever carried created by ourselves or others, will be no more. Only what He calls us will matter. And we can live in that reality of newness right now. Just trust Him. Give Him your life. Walk with Him. Walk with and in victory.

Reflection on Revelation 2:12-17, together with Eugene Peterson's A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.

 

The Commander

Joshua 5:13 When Joshua was near the town of Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with sword in hand. Joshua went up to him and demanded, “Are you friend or foe?” 14 “Neither one,” he replied. “I am the commander of the Lord’s army.” At this, Joshua fell with his face to the ground in reverence. “I am at your command,” Joshua said. “What do you want your servant to do?” 15 The commander of the Lord’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did as he was told.

Maturity is measured by our faithfulness to carry out our God-given responsibilities. And Joshua is taking on the responsibility of a lifetime. He’s been commissioned by God to fill in the shoes of Moses. There’s never been anyone like Moses, but because Joshua was willing to first be an assistant and a servant, God makes him the leader of a nation and promises to be with him. God doesn’t commission Joshua to become greater than Moses, but to lead His people to a place Moses never did. We love to compare ourselves to others, but God compares us to the people He purchased us to be.

He’s trusting God, willing to get down and do the dirty work - it’s really messy.

Joshua has become a very busy man, a man about his Father’s business. He’s sending out spies, filling out reports, and handling serious administrative duties. The pressure is on. This isn’t leading a stagnant ministry or a dying church, but a thriving nation on the edge of the Promised Land. He’s trusting God, willing to get down and do the dirty work - it’s really messy. God commands this ordinary man to make knives, which sounds fun, but then tells him to circumcise every single male in the entire nation. Yeah, I don’t feel like volunteering for that team. Sign me up to be fed at the next banquet. Sign me up to be served. Except if you want to go up in God’s eyes, you have to get your hands messy the way Jesus patterned for us. On top of that, he’s got the conquering of the city of Jericho on his mind. Israel had never conquered anything, let alone a city so fortified, so Joshua decides to leave the camp after celebrating the Passover feast to go do some scouting. Perhaps he can figure out how on earth they will accomplish this task. That’s where we pick up the story.

There’s always an overwhelming problem before getting to your promise.

13 When Joshua was near the town of Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with sword in hand. Joshua went up to Him and demanded, “Are you friend or foe?”

God wants to reveal Himself to you in the proximity of your problem. There’s always an overwhelming problem before getting to your promise. In this case, it’s Jericho’s defense. So while Joshua is out there doing the work, and I stress that, he’s actually out in the field doing the work. This encounter didn’t happen while he was dragging his feet, being lazy, and calling it alone-time with God. Joshua is a man who knows how to both linger in the presence and put in work on the battlefield. Yes, he’s alone, God’s with him, but before Joshua ever gets the strange instructions to walk around a wall to see it come down, he has an encounter that will mark his life forever.

If you avoid confrontation, you’ll miss revelation! Joshua is about to find out that this is no ordinary man. This is Jesus, the One whom while being arrested could’ve called twelve legions of six thousand angels each to come aid Him, the One whose army fills the hills with chariots and tanks of fire. If Joshua runs away, he doesn’t experience this unique revelation of God. When you stop running away and confront Jesus, you can confront everything that stands between you and what God has for your life. His sword is not meant to harm you, but it displays His power and His authority, which makes your enemies’ weapons look pathetic. The man who seemed like a dangerous adversary turned out to be Jesus. What if, instead of always running away from danger, we ran toward it and discovered Jesus waiting to reveal Himself? We are called to a life of risk!

When you stop running and confront Jesus, you can confront everything that stands between you and what God has for your life.

Joshua inquires of this mysterious man, “Whose side are you on? Are you with us, or against us? Are you friend or foe?” May I remind you that Joshua 1:1-9 clearly laid the foundation of his commission that God was with him. So if this is really Jesus, certainly the answer would be, “Yes, I’m a friend,” right? Wrong.

The response is, “Neither one,” He replied. “I am the commander of the Lord’s army.” Wait up mystery man, you don’t get to draw your sword at me, and tell me you’re neutral. Whose side are you on? The response of Jesus is, “Neither and I’m not neutral either. I am the commander of the Lord’s army and I am on a side - My own side. Joshua, you’ve been leading very well. I’ve seen it. You’ve done your part. You’ve been faithful. But, there’s something I need you to understand. I didn’t come to take sides, I came to take over.”

I love the song “God with us,” but it’s not “God with us,” for the sake of attaching His Name to our campaigns, our slogans, our missions, or anything of that nature, even if the mission was birthed out of obedience. We do this to Jesus all the time. We try to boost the probability of success in our jobs, our relationships, our _____ (insert whatever it may be), and declare, “God is with us and we can’t fail!” He absolutely is with us, but only when we attach ourselves to Him. He is the vine, we are the branches. It’s not the other way around. Often what He wants to do will create friction against what we want to do. That is why we pray, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done, in earth as it is in heaven,” because our earthly kingdoms and our inner wills often find themselves in opposition to His. He may have appointed us as leaders, but the leaders never trump the commander.

God did not come to you to take sides, but to take over.

God knows whom He needs to reveal Himself as, for the season that you’re in. According to other scriptures, is God your friend? Absolutely. God revealed Himself to Abraham as a friend, but there will be seasons in your life where God knows that you need to understand Him as the commander, not simply a friend. God is your closest friend and that’s amazing, but that’s not who Joshua needs right now.

Abraham was asked to leave all his friends and family, so God revealed Himself as a Friend - different man, different calling, and different encounter.

Jesus didn’t go up the woman at the well in John 4 and say, “I’ll make you a fisher of men.” Her interactions with men were a major part of the issue. She needed God to be her Husband and her Living Water in order for her to break free from the pain of continually failed relationships.

The thief on the cross was next to the commander of heaven’s armies. But, he needed a suffering Savior who was willing to forsake His right to call down angels.

The prodigal son was one who despised commands and needed a Father to restore him after wasting his life on prostitutes and self-indulgence.

Some men need God to reveal Himself as the commander, so He can teach us how to lead in the home and how to submit to Christ. We might want Him as a “bro”, because our bros have always OK’d the nonsense and sin we’re in. And ultimately, we can respect our bro’s advice, but we don’t have to obey them. Some of the ladies want to call Jesus their husband, which has its place, because who better than Jesus to teach submission and the respecting of godly authority. Sometimes we cannot accurately relate to Him as our bro or our husband because, we’ve become so good at manipulating those kinds of relationships to get what we want. However, we cannot manipulate the commander. We cannot manipulate Jesus.

Before the walls of Jericho come down, we must come down.

There will be seasons in your life where God knows that you need to understand him as the commander, not an ally. If I’m Joshua and I’m facing a pending battle that I have no idea how to go about approaching, thank God that Jesus isn’t willing to just settle for ally status, but establishes that He’s the commander of this army.

14 At this, Joshua fell with his face to the ground in reverence. “I am at your command,” Joshua said. “What do you want your servant to do?”

This response shows why Joshua is used the way he is. His knee-jerk reaction is complete abandonment of pride, titles, and an immediate action of reverence. There’s no rebuttal, no back talking, no negotiating, but instead, “I am at your command.” God made Joshua as effective as Moses, because although the new leader of a nation, Joshua always understood that he was only a servant of the Lord.

15 The commander of the Lord’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did as he was told.

Joshua, in the chaos and busyness of planning a military conquest and leading a nation, doesn’t make excuses by saying, “Lord I’m really slammed today with responsibilities,” which he has a lot of. He, like Moses, takes off his sandals. You can’t really run without those. You can’t move forward into battle without those. Could it be that before God gives orders to march, He orders stillness? Could it be that before He ever tears down the walls that block our promise, He commands us to tear down our pride, which block us from Him? Before the walls of Jericho come down, we must come down. If Joshua at the pinnacle of success in leadership knew to fall down before God, before moving forward in any other activity, what possible reason could we give God to explain why we can’t find ourselves in the servant’s posture? The greatest revelations of God and the most miraculous victories in life are reserved for those willing to go the lowest before Jesus. We must yield every moment and motive to Him, especially when His words to us are commands, not suggestions.