Last week marked the 1-year anniversary since the United States moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. At a celebration event marking this occasion the US Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, made an important, albeit not very unique, statement. He noted that Israel was growing in strength since that move and Israel’s strength was due to two causes. First, better relationships with the US and more significantly, because God is on the side of Israel.
Ambassador Friedman is not the first to assert God’s allegiance to their political and nationalistic cause. President George W. Bush believed God was on his side with the invasion against Iraq, the fight against terrorism and his failed Mideast peace plan. Representative Maxine Waters recently claimed God was on the side of Democrats in their fight against President Trump. Meanwhile, countless supporters of President Trump have claimed alliance with God in their divine mission to move the Democrats out of power.
The claim of being allied with God in a holy cause is so common in modern politics we barely pay attention to it. Politicians on both the left and the right make frequent statements or suggestions that God is on their side. Historically this is also very common. Hitler believed he was acting in accordance with the will of God. So did Ronald Reagan, Theodore Roosevelt, and the list goes on.
In fact, we can trace a line all the way back to the Roman Emperor Constantine who reported seeing a vision from God on the night before a major battle. The vision was that of a cross and God saying, “Under this sign conquer.” According to legend, Constantine was so moved by the heavenly vision he ordered his army to paint crosses on their armor before going into battle and securing a victory.
What the Bible Says About Whose Side God Is On
The question, whose side is God on, is actually answered in scripture.
The setting is following the deliverance of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. God has clearly demonstrated His hand and care for Israel through a series of powerful plagues, parting the Red Sea, and a generation of miracles as He led them in the wilderness. Now, Moses has died and the new leader of Israel, Joshua, is about to lead the nation into a conquest of the Promised Land – a conquest which God Himself has directed. Around the time of the long-awaited invasion, Joshua is found walking on the outskirts of this caravan, possibly pondering the risks and strategies of what he and his people are about to embark upon. Then he looks up and sees someone standing in front of him, sword in hand.
One day, Joshua was near Jericho when he saw a man standing some distance in front of him. The man was holding a sword, so Joshua walked up to him and asked, “Are you on our side or on our enemies’ side?” Joshua 5:13 Contemporary English Bible
In a few verses, we learn this guy is not actually a “guy” at all. He identifies Himself as the Angel of the Lord’s Army. That makes the question which Joshua asks the Angel all the more significant. The leader of the army of the children of God is asking the question to which so many men and women in the history of war and politics since this time have asserted they already knew the answer. Whose side is God on?
That’s kind of important in and of itself. Joshua is not assuming whose side God is on. He does not credit the history and record of the people’s success and even the covenant they have with God as a guarantee for which side God is on in the coming battle. He wants to know for sure. Perhaps to have assumed the answer would have been foolish and arrogant on his part as a leader.
Am I reading more into the question than is actually there? If that is the case, then the Angel’s answer to Joshua is at least more telling and certain. It is the answer to the question, whose side is God on, for all future generations and ages to come.
“Neither,” he answered. “I am here because I am the commander of the LORD’s army.” Joshua 5:14 Contemporary English Bible
Question: Whose side are you on Mr. Leader of the Lord’s army? Are you on our side or on the side of our enemies?
Clearly, the Commander of the Lord’s Army is mistaken. Maybe this angel doesn’t realize who he’s talking to. Maybe he is not aware of the history of God’s dealings, relations, and preferences toward this mass of people that Joshua represents. Maybe he misunderstood the question?
Or maybe all of our presumptions about whose side God is on are misguided and more concerned with our own interests and preferences than a real understanding of who God is and how He operates. The Angel was not there for the Israelites or their enemies. He was there solely to execute the will and purposes of God.
Why Do We Assume We Know Whose Side God Is On?
Alliance with God justifies our politics, our ideologies, and our fights. The divine partnership elevates our motives beyond the mortal realm of human interests and into the realm of divine right, purpose, and morality. If we don’t do this, then hell wins. If we don’t do this, then the purposes of God will lose.
Their means and ends may be different but the assertions of security and alliance in the will of God made by David Friedman or Maxine Waters is the same crazed logic that suicide bombers and terrorists utilize every day. I know my cause is righteous therefore it is also the cause of God. Because it is the cause of God, anything I do to achieve that cause is justified.
The problem is, this is not really the way God works. In fact, it is the opposite of the way God works. This rationale and justification claimed by leaders and statesmen since the time of Constantine assert an alliance with God based upon an earthly reality. It neglects the heavenly design and purpose which might be invisible and unrecognized to those on earth.
That is what made the Angel’s answer to Joshua so interesting. He did not say he was on the side of any power on the earth, even the one who had already demonstrated clear favor and preferences from God. He said he was on the side of God. Consider the following designs and purposes of God that go against the natural order and presumptions we might hold about whose side God is on.
- Scripture tells us that God raised up Pharaoh so that He could demonstrate His own power and preference for Israel by destroying Pharaoh (Romans 9:17). That means that, to at least some measure, it was God’s will for the children of Israel to be oppressed as slaves in Egypt for 400+ years.
- Several times throughout scripture we learn that God raised up Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians and it was even His will that this nation destroys Israel and take them captive (Jeremiah 43:10, Jeremiah 27:6). At one point the Babylonian army is referred to as the Army of the Lord (Joel 2) as they destroy Israel.
- Because we know how the story ends, it is easy to recognize that Pontius Pilate and the Roman Empire was raised up by God and given authority so that the crucifixion of Jesus, along with His resurrection, would take place. This empire also provided a cohesive language and civilizational system through which the gospel could rapidly spread to the non-Jewish world in the first century.
Each of these examples and many more in scripture inform us of a God whose will and design are far more complex than our good guys versus bad guys narratives that inform our nationalism and political beliefs today.
Whose Side Are We On?
Abraham Lincoln, when asked if he thought he was on God’s side during the Civil War, is purported to have responded, “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.” Keep in mind that at the heart of the question being asked to Lincoln was the issue of slavery. Even as high and moral a position as this, we cannot presume that God is on our side. The primary concern, as Lincoln rightly noted, is being on God’s side.
How do we determine which side God is on? The first step is to eliminate the paradigm of good guys and bad guys. God is no more American than He is Iranian, Chinese or North Korean. God is not defined by earthly, nationalist boundaries. Most Christians agree with this sentiment until we go to war and then we are certain that God’s intent is to bless America. Not so fast. It is not that simple and many well-intentioned people in the course of history have been misled by the assumption that God was on their side.
There is nothing wrong with being patriotic but when it comes to identifying the purposes of God, every earth-based loyalty should be subordinated to the designs and priorities of God. These are not based upon earthly borders, ethnicity, race, or history – or our personal judgment toward those.
Identifying God’s will in the affairs of history and the nations of the earth is an ongoing process of discovery. I grew up hearing a lot of so-called prophets talk about how the Soviets were bringing the anti-Christ to power. So much for that theory and also those who put their faith in it. (Hear my podcast on this topic here: Apocalypse – A Historical Account Based Upon A True Story)
We might not always understand God’s ways and purposes in history and politics until we have some years to look back upon it. For example, for more than 400 years the Israelites suffered under bondage in Egypt and even after that a few generations had to pass before this event made sense to them and the will of God was made clear.
The Ethics of God’s Side
While we are waiting on time to pass and God’s purposes in history and the nations to become clear, another decision we can make toward aligning ourselves to His will and design is a commitment to His ethics.
At no point in scripture do we find God opposing a righteous person. We frequently see Him opposed to injustice, oppression, liars, and all sorts of ethical standards that are outside of His will. His ethics are also totally immune to nationalism or political loyalties. But over and over again we those who were committed to a path of blamelessness, righteousness and humility gaining the favor and blessings of God – even if they made mistakes in their politics or other areas of life. The same code of conduct should guide us in this polarized, politicized world today.
For example, Lincoln could not be certain that God was on his side in the Civil War, but he did know God was on the side of freeing the oppressed. The most profitable thing we can do to know God’s will and purposes in the earth today, to know whose side God is on, is improving our familiarity to His ethics that are laid out over and over again in scripture. These are not bound by cultural traditions or patriotic loyalties, and neither should our reading and interpretations of them.
Frankly, this a foundational purpose and objective for this website and podcast. My intent in designing the different posts and episodes here is to separate the arguments and politics from the facts of the matter. Then, upon knowing the facts, I can compare these to a scriptural grid of ethics that help me, and hopefully, you, define right and wrong.
Scripture clearly warns that in the last days people will be unable to tell right from wrong and find it difficult to discern what is of God from what is of themselves (1 Timothy 3). This is not a promise. It is a warning of dark times to come. We can escape the darkness when we seek the light and the truth of God. That is the side God is on.