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, "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?"— Joshua 5:13-14
Have you ever noticed how many individual Christians and incorporated religious institutions assume that God is exclusively on their side? Many seem to think that God is a member-in-good-standing of their denomination. Many seem to assume that God carries the same national passport they do and that he always supports their country in any military altercation. Some even act and talk as if God supports their favorite athletic team and their particular political party.
But if you think about the whole idea of God being polarized and politicized for about three seconds, it really doesn't make any sense, does it? After all the Bible clearly teaches that God loves all mankind equally.
The man who appeared to Joshua could have been an angel of the Lord, or this incident could have been yet another example of a theophany, an appearance of God himself. Whether it was the Lord or an angel of the Lord is really not all that important—what is important is the message given to Joshua and the context of that message.
As the book of Joshua begins, the nation of Israel (after 40 years of wandering in the wilderness) is poised to inherit the land God promised to them. Joshua has taken over for Moses as the national leader. As he is preparing for war against Jericho, the first city-state that he and the nation of Israel will conquer, Joshua has a visitor. In the midst of Joshua's military preparations the Lord (or his angel) appeared with a drawn sword. As the commander-in-chief of Israel's army, Joshua's first question is natural: "Are you for us or against us? Are you a friend or foe?"
The answer is profound. In effect God says to Joshua: "Whether I am on your side is not the real issue. The most important question is whether you are on my side. You follow my directions and decisions—not the other way around."