“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. Joshua 5:13-15
At Renovada Sion church, my home church in Houston, they are having a congress with the theme “Aligned with God.” Last night Abiu Vazquez preached on this passage, a sermon that I needed to hear.
Joshua is about to lead the armies of Israel around the walls of Jericho. God will intervene miraculously to give them the city. The entire project of the siege of Jericho and the capture of the Promised Land is God’s calling upon the people to drive out the wicked, idolatrous, and immoral Canaanites. What cause could possibly be more clearly God’s cause?
And yet, the passage we read makes it clear that even though the Israelites are acting in obedience to God’s call, God is not on “their” side! If any of us truly believe in God, and if we truly believe in right and wrong, we will naturally try to align ourselves with God, we will want to be on God’s side.
For a few years “moral relativism”, the idea that human moral systems are basically equal, that there are no absolute guiding principles, seemed to be fashionable. That was before the rise of ISIS and its tortures and depredations, before the “Black Lives Matter” movement against the unfairness of police treatment of people of color, before the election of Donald Trump. Today, people seem passionately committed to moral causes—combatting climate change, abortion, human trafficking, government corruption, and racism, sexism, and the unequal treatment of people different from the norm. It seems that for activism to be effective, we must not only be right, but we must believe that destiny, science, public opinion—or in the absence of these—God must be on our side.
But God is not on our side, EVEN if we ARE RIGHT! Why? Because there is nothing so spiritually poisonous to a person or a group as to be right. Being right produces confidence, confidence leads to pride, pride leads to self-righteousness, and self-righteousness leads to the dehumanization of others. Witness the media’s treatment of our president, AND his treatment of them! Not only is God not on our side, but when we are convinced that we are right, even if we are right, by being right we are automatically not on God’s side.
Did you notice that when Joshua asks the angel of the LORD what he, Joshua, should do, the angel of the LORD does not command him to do anything, other than to take off his shoes. At this moment, Joshua was not told to attack, to march, to strike camp, to issue proclamations against the people of Jericho, to offer a bilateral agreement, to lobby, to protest, to finance, to boycott, to cross the aisle, to hold a press conference, or to organize a rally. He was told to take off his shoes. He fell face down before the angel of the LORD. Face down before the LORD with your shoes off . . .