It’s a passage that’s bothered, even troubled me for years.
When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing before him with his drawn sword in his hand. And Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” And he said, “No; but I am the commander of the army of the LORD. Now I have come.” (Joshua 5:13-14)
I would have expected the man — the commander of the LORD’s army — to answer, “Of course I’m on your side!” After all, God had chosen Israel. Joshua was God’s appointed leader, commissioned to lead Israel into the land God promised to give them.
It’s fairly easy to resolve this tension. Perhaps the commander is saying something like, “I’m neither one of your troops, nor am I one of your enemy’s. Instead, I lead a different army altogether: God’s.” Robert Alter’s translation reads, “‘Are you ours or our foes’?’ And he said, ‘No. For I am the commander of the LORD’s army. Now have I come.’”
And that’s profound. Is God on our side? Yes, but that doesn’t say enough. He’s on his side, and when he shows up with his army and his sword drawn to help, we’re in very good shape.
I’ve been thinking about this as it relates to two challenges I know well: obstacles and the weight of leadership.
Difficult people, insufficient resources, impossible assignments. I’ve face these and more regularly, and I know I’m not alone.
I can imagine how Joshua must have felt. He was about to lead Israel into war against Jericho, the first city to be taken in Canaan. If I were him, I would have been terrified.
But then the commander of the LORD’s army showed up, sword drawn. Instantly Joshua knew: this is God’s battle, not his, and God is not worried.
We’re not Joshua, but the same truths apply. We’ve been charged with an impossible task, but we’ve also been promised Jesus’ presence (Matthew 28:18-20). Pastors have been given sheep to shepherd, but they’re Jesus’ sheep, not ours (1 Peter 5:1-4).
God is with us. Enemies and obstacles are nothing when God shows up.
The Weight of Leadership
When Spurgeon preached on this passage, he said:
I feel it no small relief to my own mind to feel that though I have been at your head these fourteen years, leading you on in God’s name to Christian service, yet I am not your captain, but there is a greater one, the presence angel of the Most High, the Lord Jesus—he is in our midst as Commander-in-chief. Though my responsibilities are heavy, yet the leadership is not with me. He is a leader and commander for the people.
It’s no small thing to try to lead God’s people. As Spurgeon said elsewhere, “Who can bear the weight of souls without sometimes sinking to the dust?” But we don’t have to bear the weight of leadership ourselves, because the leadership ultimately belongs to someone else: the leader and commander of his people.
Feeling overwhelmed by obstacles or the weight of leadership? Remember the one who commands his own army and shows up with sword drawn ready to help with the work he’s assigned to us. When you do God’s work, you never do it alone.