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[e] have for his servant?”
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.
Moses who spoke face to face with God as a man speaks to his friend has died. The people of Israel have crossed the Jordan and are now outside the City of Jericho which will be the first major test for them under their new leader, Joshua, as they begin the conquest of the land of Canaan.
Joshua who has been Moses’ assistant for a number of years is now confirmed as leader and has, like Moses, ‘seen’ God, particularly on the occasion in Exodus 24 which was our focus yesterday. Although he is not mentioned by name in v.1 we read in v.13 that ‘Moses rose with his assistant Joshua, and Moses went up into the mountain of God.’
Now with Jericho in sight ‘Joshua lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold a man….’ Joshua saw.
This man is not immediately recognised so Joshua thinking perhaps that this might be spy from Jericho – a city unnerved by the multitude nearing their walls – asks are you for us or for our adversaries? This question elicits this intriguing reply:
‘No; but I am the commander of the army of the LORD. Now I have come.’
Intriguing because he doesn’t actually answer the question.
Who is this man? The following is taken from the website of Ligonier Ministries Ligonier.org
Not every being called the “angel of the Lord” is, in fact, the pre-incarnate Christ, for the term can simply refer to an angel who serves the God of Israel. Also, the pre-incarnate Christ, in the guise of the angel of the Lord, can go by names other than the angel of the Lord. This is the case, for example, in today’s passage. We are clued in to the fact that the one identified as the “commander of the Lord’s army” is not simply an angel because Joshua worships Him and is not rebuked for it (Josh. 5:13–15). Since the Bible is not afraid to condemn people for worshiping creaturely angels (Rev. 22:8–9), this being in Joshua 5 must be none other than God Himself.
So God reveals himself to Joshua in a special way as he takes over the human responsibility for the people of Israel and Joshua sees God.
As you step out into the business of today as a believer, take heart. You are very unlikely to have such a heavenly visitation but you have at your fingertips the Word of God which enables you to see him in his acts and supremely in Jesus. What an encouragement to step out!
But as you do consider these words of Abraham Lincoln which perhaps help us with the rather enigmatic answer given by the Commander to Joshua.
“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.”