One of the best years of my baseball career was my last year in little league. Not because I never lost my tempter, because that happened often. Not because we won all of our games, because that didn’t happen. And not because we had the best players, because that wasn’t the case either. Instead, at the beginning of that seasons, it should have been the worst season I had ever played in.
There were two teams from our home town in a league that spanned the entire county. And they were ridiculously uneven in their set up. The little league board who decided who went to which teams were all friends who’s sons had played with each other since they were little. So instead of randomly assigning kids to teams, they simply put all of the “good” players on one team, and threw what was left onto the other.
My dad was one of the coaches, so I naturally went on his team, but he was a new coach to the league and so the “good” players went with the veteran coach.
When the teams were finalized, I ended up with a couple of friends that I had played with before, but the majority were kids that had never played before. In fact, one kid had not only never played before, but I think he didn’t even have an athletic bone in his body. And to top it off, his dad looked like he was a tank. It was one of those story tropes come to life, where the dad was an athletic star, while his son was barely a bump on a log.
But through that year, though the cards seemed stacked against us, we had a great time. We won a few games, two of my friends progressed really well, and I got to be on the all-star team, pitching our only win in that tournament. And that kid with no talent, even he had fun, making new friends. Looking back, we were intentionally made to be the weakest team, but I wouldn’t have traded that season for all the wins that I could have had.
And it’s this understanding of victory through weakness that brings us to our text in the book of Joshua chapter 5 verse 1. And as we open up to Joshua 5:1, let’s go back and see how we got here.
All we need to remember from our previous weeks are two things. First, God had parted a flooded water and brought the Israelite nation across it’s river bed on dry ground. Second, God had told the people to make a memorial out of stones so that future generations would remember how God brought them to Canaan through the Jordan River.
These two things are very important, because now the Israelites are in enemy territory and God’s going to have them do some unexpected things. And as we have done in the last couple of weeks, we are going to cover and entire chapter, but this time, we’re going to read the entire thing together, and break it into three parts. So, let’s begin reading in Joshua chapter 5 verse 1.
1 Now when all the Amorite kings west of the Jordan and all the Canaanite kings along the coast heard how the Lord had dried up the Jordan before the Israelites until they had crossed over, their hearts melted in fear and they no longer had the courage to face the Israelites.
2 At that time the Lord said to Joshua, “Make flint knives and circumcise the Israelites again.” 3 So Joshua made flint knives and circumcised the Israelites at Gibeath Haaraloth.
4 Now this is why he did so: All those who came out of Egypt—all the men of military age—died in the wilderness on the way after leaving Egypt. 5 All the people that came out had been circumcised, but all the people born in the wilderness during the journey from Egypt had not. 6 The Israelites had moved about in the wilderness forty years until all the men who were of military age when they left Egypt had died, since they had not obeyed the Lord. For the Lord had sworn to them that they would not see the land he had solemnly promised their ancestors to give us, a land flowing with milk and honey. 7 So he raised up their sons in their place, and these were the ones Joshua circumcised. They were still uncircumcised because they had not been circumcised on the way. 8 And after the whole nation had been circumcised, they remained where they were in camp until they were healed.
9 Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” So the place has been called Gilgal to this day.
The previous generation that were the adults when they came out of Egypt turned against God when he had told them to go into the land of Canaan over 40 years before. Because they didn’t follow God, God told them they would not enter the promise land. God was now working through their children, and as a sign that they were going to be his people, God commanded them to be circumcised.
That’s section 1, so let’s continue reading in verse 10.
10 On the evening of the fourteenth day of the month, while camped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho, the Israelites celebrated the Passover. 11 The day after the Passover, that very day, they ate some of the produce of the land: unleavened bread and roasted grain. 12 The manna stopped the day after they ate this food from the land; there was no longer any manna for the Israelites, but that year they ate the produce of Canaan.
God had commanded the Israelites to celebrate the Passover and make it a yearly festival. This was so that they would remember the night when God told them to put lamb’s blood over their doors, so that when the angel of God went through Egypt, he would passover those who followed God’s instruction, and no harm would come to them. This moment in Israel’s history is a major triumph of God over the nation of Egypt. And now, they were were in the land that God had promised to them, eating this important meal from the very land that God had brought them into.
That’s section 2; let’s finish off the chapter starting in verse 13.
13 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?”
14 “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?”
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 so.
Here, Joshua is confronted by a man with a drawn sword that had no allegiance to the people of Israel, but rather was there to do God’s work. And to the identity of this person, we’ll save for next week.
For now, let’s look at the reality of what God is calling the Israelites to do in this chapter.
God is commanding Joshua, and the whole nation, to make themselves as vulnerable as possible in a hostile land. First, God calls the people to be circumcised, which left the fighting men vulnerability to attack. And you know what, Joshua knew this would leave them vulnerable because of what Moses wrote about in the book of Genesis. In chapter 34 of Genesis, we learn about a story that happened several hundred years before with the sons of Israel. One of their sisters named Dinah, had been taken by a man named Shechem, and he slept with her, which was basically rape. He did this without marrying her, which to Israel and his sons, this was a horrific thing.
When Shechem’s father came to ask for Dinah to be married to Shechem, the sons of Israel came up with a plan. They told Shechem’s father that they would fully integrate into his society on one condition: all the men of Shechem’s country would have to be circumcised. Shechem’s people agreed and were circumcised. Then Genesis 34:25 says this, “25 Three days later, while all of them were still in pain, two of Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took their swords and attacked the unsuspecting city, killing every male.”
The vulnerability of circumcision was used to defeat an enemy, and now God was calling the people of Israel into that same state of vulnerability. Not only that, but in the same land that their ancestors had used the same tactic in.
But not only were they vulnerable physically, they were vulnerable spiritually. God had done great things fro them. He had brought them through a flooded river on dry ground. He had put fear into the people of the land they were now in. And now, they were celebrating one of their holiest festivals in the land of their undefeated enemies. An arrogant attitude could have easily crept it’s way into their spirits. And their downfall would be like the downfall of the French army as it came against King Henry the V’s military at the battle of Agincourt (a-gin-court).
The story goes that the French outnumbered the English three-to-one (https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/8648068/Battle-of-Agincourt-ten-reasons-why-the-French-lost.html). With their numbers, the French were so sure of their victory that they built a special cart to carry King Henry in at the end of the battle. It is reported that the night before the battle, the English were somber, thinking the next morning would be their defeat, while the French were celebrating because they had already won the battle in their minds.
But the next morning, the English overcame the odds, and their victory at Agincourt is considered one of their greatest English victories ever.
This Israelite people could have been just like the French. A people who became overconfident in their ability, and took their eyes off the God who had brought them this far. This is why God has the nation first put up the stones of remembrance, this is why he waits to have them circumcised themselves until they are in the land with the water closing their only escape. God wanted them to focus their trust only on him, and not on themselves.
And then the time of trust comes; a warrior with a drawn sword is seen by Joshua. the man doesn’t approach Joshua, but rather Joshua goes to meet the man. The question Joshua asks is a question of allegiance. “Are you for us or for our enemies?”
But the response is an answer that should make us understand God’s position in all war, and in all dealings between humans and this creation. “Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.”
In the Hebrew, the man simply says, “lo”, which means “No”. So when Joshua asks, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” The man responds with, “No.”
I don’t know how Joshua felt, but for me, my heart would have sank a little. I mean, why would a man have a drawn sword in front of me, if he was not their to either pledge his allegiance to me, or to fight?
But his follow up, gives us an understanding of God’s work in the world, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.”
Allegiance wasn’t given to Joshua, nor to his enemies, instead, allegiance is only to the Lord. In other words, the working out of God’s plans are what’s important, not whether Israel wins or loses.
It is said that one of President Abraham Lincoln’s advisors said to him during the Civil War, “I am grateful that God is on our side.” To which Lincoln replied, “Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.” (https://odb.org/2014/12/03/whose-side-are-you-on/)
And that is truly the crux of the passage. Are we willing to put our trust completely into God’s hands? Are we willing to make ourselves vulnerable in the land of enemies? Are we willing to accept that we cannot win the victory, but the victory is God’s alone? Are we willing to trust that he is always right, and we need to be on his side, rather than trying to co-op him to ours?
This is what God is calling us to. We can so easily fall into the thinking, that if we are strong enough, we win the battles in our lives. Yet the reality is, it is God who wins the battles. And it’s in our weaknesses that he works the greatest miracles. This is why Paul states in 2 Corinthians 12:9-11, “9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
God is calling us to recognize our weakness, and allow him to work through it, not for our glory, but for his. The Israelites were made weak by God, so that their trust would fully rest in him to win their victories.
This weak I want to challenge you to make a list of your weaknesses. I know that sounds strange, because in our society, the strong survive. We usually downplay our weakness, and strengthen our strengths. But biblically, it’s when we recognize our weaknesses and praise God in them, that we begin to fully trust his work in our lives, and we begin to see the work of God unfold in new and amazing ways.
God wants to work in our lives, but to see the fullness of this work, we must not shy away form our weakness, but rather be like Paul, and boast in them, that God works through them.
Let us be a people who boast in our weaknesses, who are glad that we are weak, because in that weakness, God has won the victory, and we get to share in it as conquerers. Even when enemies surrounded us, our weakness is used for God’s glory. Amen.