Theme: The Army of the Lord
This week’s lessons describe the mysterious encounter Joshua has with a man who identifies himself as the commander of the Lord’s army.
When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing before him with his drawn sword in his hand. And Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” And he said, “No; but I am the commander of the army of the Lord. Now I have come.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped and said to him, “What does my lord say to his servant?” And the commander of the Lord’s army said to Joshua, “Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.
This commander was no doubt the commander of the armies of Israel. And yet that phrase, “the army of the Lord” or “the hosts of the Lord,” in the Old Testament often means something much more than human armies. It has to do with those heavenly armies, the armies of angels which are there to direct, bless, and protect God’s people. So when this commander comes and says, “I am a commander of the army of the Lord,” we need to understand that identification in the fullest measure of the meaning of that phrase. This man is not merely saying, “I am commander of Israel’s troops,” though that, of course, was true. Additionally he is saying, “I am the commander of those heavenly hosts in whom alone you are going to find victory.”
Let me give you one example of that from another story in the Bible. In the story of the ministry of the prophet Elisha, who was Elijah’s successor, the king of Israel was at war with Ben-hadad, the king of Syria. When Ben-hadad set a trap for the king of Israel and his armies, God would tell Elisha, who would then tell the king of Israel. When Ben-hadad’s plans failed, he thought he had a traitor in his high command. So he got all his commanders together and asked why he was not told about it. The commanders responded that there was no traitor, but the Jewish prophet, Elisha, was in Israel’s camp. God would reveal to Elisha what Ben-hadad was planning to do, and then Elisha told the king of Israel. Ben-hadad said, “Well if that’s the situation, we have to first of all capture Elisha. And once we’ve got him, then we can handle the Jewish armies.”
They learned that Elisha was at a city called Dothan. So Ben-hadad moved his armies by night to Dothan and surrounded the city. In the morning, the Syrian king was there with his chariots, his horses, and his foot soldiers. Imagine what a dramatic scene that was! The dawn is rising. The armies are all there. The armor is glittering in the early morning light.
Elisha’s servant is getting up to go out of the city, probably to draw water, among other things he did for his master every morning. But when he looks out he sees something that was not there the night before. He sees the armies all around, all the soldiers and the chariots, and all the horses, spears, and swords. And he is terrified. So he turns and runs back inside, and tells Elisha all he sees around the city. Elisha then answers, “Don’t be afraid because those who are with us are greater than those who are with them” (2 Kings 6:16). And then Elisha prays that the young man’s eyes would be opened. Then we are told that his eyes were opened, and he saw the hills filled with the armies of the Lord, chariots of fire, and angels all around Elisha. That’s the heavenly host, and they had come to bring victory to Israel.
So when the heavenly commander comes to Joshua, it is through Him that victory will be achieved. When they finally surrounded the city of Jericho, and on the seventh day circled it seven times, they shouted, and the walls fell down. It was not the shouts of Joshua’s army or the tramping of their feet that made those thick walls fall. Rather, it was the armies of the Lord commanded by this heavenly commander.
That should be a bit of an encouragement to us because we’re told many places in Scripture that the angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him. And that is true for us today. We go to battle in one form or another. And we go timorously because we only see the human enemy. And then we say, “Well, the enemy is stronger than we are.” Yes, humanly speaking, that’s perfectly true. But Elisha had it right when he said, “Those who are with us are greater than those who are with them” (2 Kings 6:16). You see, one weak, trembling Christian against a human army is stronger than anything else if the armies of the Lord are on his side. And Christians throughout the ages have taken a stand against hosts of evil and have triumphed because of that same principle and power that enabled Joshua to triumph in his day.
From the lesson, what does the expression “the army of the Lord” or “the hosts of the Lord” often mean in the Bible?
At this point in the story, the new generation of Israelites had just been circumcised and the people had celebrated the Passover. Why might God have now appeared to Joshua in this way?
One weak, trembling Christian against a human army is stronger than anything else if the armies of the Lord are on his side. And Christians throughout the ages have taken a stand against hosts of evil and have triumphed because of that same principle and power that enabled Joshua to triumph in his day.
Look up some of the biblical references to the angel of the Lord. What do we learn about him? What are his activities?