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…
Joshua 5:13-14a (NIV)
The actor had a bit part in a large musical I was in, but you’d have thought they had been given a starring role. They always had crazy ideas to make their character more noticeable, suggested to the director ways to “improve” the scene (and also give them a bigger moment on stage), and they had to be told ceaselessly to rein in their character.
In theatre, it’s officially called upstaging. In ancient times, stages were “raked” so that the back of the stage was raised and slanted down toward the audience. It was a technique that allowed the audience to better see the characters and action taking place at the rear of the stage. To this day, the back of the stage is referred to as “upstage” and the front of the stage by the audience is called “downstage.” Upstaging was, therefore, when an actor moves to where they are higher and better seen by the audience. They raise themselves to be more important than they really are.
Some mornings when I read a chapter, I find meaning in what is being shared across the episodes rather than within one of them. In today’s chapter, there are three distinct things being shared:
- The fear of the local kings and city-states (vs. 1)
- The renewal of the covenant between God and Israel (vs. 2-12)
- The mysterious appearance of a lone stranger (vs. 13-15)
The first thing to really strike me was in the last episode. This mysterious figure appears with a drawn sword and introduces himself to Joshua as “Commander of the Army of the Lord.” When Joshua asks “are you for us, or for our enemies?” the reply was “Neither.”
Aren’t the Hebrews God’s people? Didn’t they just affirm their covenant with God? Isn’t God leading them to the Promised Land?
Yes, yes, and yes, but that’s the point, I realized. What’s at issue throughout this chapter is the object. It’s easy for me to focus my eyes on God’s people, the same way I focus my eyes on myself and my earthly circumstances. But, the object of this unfolding Great Story is about what God is doing.
The Canaanite kings and peoples were afraid, not because of what the Hebrews had done, but because of what God had done for the Hebrews with His miracles.
The people renewed their covenant with God, and in doing so were reminded that it was God who initiated the covenant with their father, Abraham. It was God who delivered them from Egypt and the hand of Pharaoh. As they ate the produce of the Promised Land, they were reminded that it was God who provided manna for them for forty years to sustain them.
The Commander of the Army of the Lord then reminds Joshua that he and the Israelites are not the objects of his favor or obedience. God alone is whom he serves.
In the quiet this morning, I’m reminded of just how self-centered I can be. I am the object of my own story, and I so often reveal that by my thoughts, words, and actions. My story, however, is ultimately what God has done for me, in me, and through me. My story is a bit part in God’s story.
God, forgive me for all the ways I both consciously and unconsciously try to upstage you.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.