Today I’m pondering armies. Someone has said that nobody should read Joshua until they are adults, and even then only sparingly. It’s a hard book for us in 21st century America to stomach let alone understand. It’s the story of warfare, of driving people off their land, of armies. Another person asked me once, “What’s the difference between what Joshua and the Israelites did in the book of Joshua and what is happening in the Middle East today?” We decry people groups who would attack another group and drive them out of their land, but our own spiritual ancestors did just that.
How do we deal with our God commanding His people to do such a thing? How do we worship a God of love who would direct armies to do what armies do – war?
Perhaps the bigger question is about faith, about trust. Can we trust God even when we don’t have answers? Can we put our faith in God when we don’t understand? Can we follow a God who rules armies and conquers lands, even lands promised to His people centuries before?
There’s another army in our reading for today, but it’s in the New Testament and it has a very different role. We are so familiar with Christmas pageants and carols that we’ve missed an army walking through the very story we recite, some of us from memory, year after year. It’s because the scriptures don’t call it an army; they call it a host. “The heavenly host” literally means “the heavenly army”, and they never sing a note; they shout a battle cry.
So what is up with an army appearing in the sky above the shepherds and battle-crying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and good will toward all on whom His favor rests”? This army is welcoming it’s commander, the one who will ride before it in the last battle. This army is not there to conquer but to celebrate!
So, God uses armies for lots of reasons, some we understand and some we don’t. The question is whether we will still follow Him, the God whose armies celebrate and conquer, or whether our own lack of answers will drive us away.