Theme: The Divine Leader
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.
At this point, Joshua moves forward quickly and demands to know whether this man is for the host of Israel or for the nation’s enemies. The man replies, “Neither, but as commander of the army of the Lord, I am now come.” We’re told that upon hearing this, Joshua fell down on his face to the ground in reverence. He then asked for orders from this visitor: “What message does my Lord have for his servant?” The commander responds by telling him to take off his sandals, for the place where he’s standing is holy ground—exactly the same words that Joshua’s predecessor, Moses, heard from the burning bush on Mt. Sinai.
We can’t really have any doubt who it is who has confronted Joshua at this point. This is God Himself, perhaps in a preincarnate manifestation of the second person of the Trinity. Even though the story merely describes this individual as a man standing with a drawn sword in his hand, still the story itself suggests that this is no mere mortal. If the man were just a man, he would have repulsed Joshua’s attempts to worship him just as Paul and Barnabas rightly repulsed the citizens of Lystra, when they tried to worship them after they had done a miracle in Acts 14.
Joshua rightly recognized that this was a divine visitation, and he acted correctly both in offering Him worship and also in asking what this commander’s instructions were for Joshua. When he asked for that message, I would think that the heavenly visitor gave him the plans for the battle, the very plans that are carried out in the next chapter.
This heavenly visitor identifies Himself as commander of the army of the Lord. Now, it’s natural to think that if He’s the commander of the army of the Lord, it means that He’s the commander of the Jewish troops. And no doubt He was. When He gave His word to Joshua, it would have to do with how the troops would be marshalled for the battle. When Joshua directed them to circle the city of Jericho once a day for seven days, and on the seventh day to circle it seven times, that wasn’t something Joshua dreamed up out of his own head. That must be something that this divine commander told him to do.
It is not the commander’s appearance that reveals his true identity to Joshua. What happens that tells Joshua who this really is?
The commander’s recorded message to Joshua is not what we would have expected. What connection is it making for Joshua, and why is that significant?
Joshua needed this divine appearance for his encouragement and direction. What do Christians have today for God’s guidance that Joshua did not?