Joshua led the children of Israel towards the Promised Land, circumcised the second generation and kept Pesach. The Lord rolled away the reproach from Egypt and Jericho was approaching. Though Joshua was leading the army of Israel he encountered the true Commander of the army of the Lord who mysteriously appeared, didn’t answer Joshua’s question directly and as Joshua worshipped, He commanded him to remove his sandal reminiscent of Moses burning bush experience. The question is, who exactly was the Commander of the army of the Lord?
Rashi believed the Captain of the Lord’s hosts to be Michael referring to where it is said “Michael your prince[i] (Daniel 10:21; 12:1). Maimonides considered Jacob’s wrestling match (Genesis 32:25-33), this event and similar narratives to be within the realm of prophetic dreams or visions and cites Numbers 12:6 in support.[ii] John Gill’s commentary expounds the views of various Jewish commentators including Rashi and notes Ben Gersom and Arbarbanel considered this to have been a vision of prophecy.[iii]
There were of course no chapter divisions in the original. The immediate context has already been briefly summarised though in Chapter 6, Joshua continues his conversation and he is in fact talking with the Lord (Joshua 6:2). This type of interaction where a biblical character encounters a mysterious and powerful guest and where the term ‘The angel of the Lord’ and ‘the Lord’/’God’ are used interchangeably is evident in Genesis 16:7-15; Exodus 3:1-22; Judges 6:11-27 and Judges 13:1-25.
There is a striking resemblance when this narrative is compared with Moses meeting the Angel of the Lord at the burning bush. In both accounts Moses and Joshua meet someone who seems to suddenly appear and are asked to respectively remove their sandals/sandal since the ground they were standing on was holy (Exodus. 3:5; Joshua 5:15). Remember the Lord had promised to Joshua that He would be with him in the same way that He was with Moses (Joshua 1:5).
Joshua fell on his face and worshipped. For those who would advocate finite angel theory or that this was Michael the prince we should remember that the Lord will not share His glory with another (Isaiah 42:8). In addition in the book of revelation and on two occasions, John tries to worship an angel who flatly and promptly refuses worship and instantly impresses on him to worship God (Revelation 19:10; 22:8-9).
The ‘captain/commander of the army of the Lord’ is an interesting title for two reasons. Firstly, this was arguably Joshua’s title, though He meets the true Commander, pays obeisance to Him and is prepared and instructed for a successful military advance. Secondly the term ‘the Lord of hosts’ is used more than 270 times in the Tanakh (Old Testament). In Exodus 15:13 ‘The Lord is a Man of war’ and in Numbers 22:31, Balaam is confronted by the Angel of the Lord with His sword drawn. Isaiah was understandably fearful for having seen the King, the Lord of hosts (Isaiah 6:5). In Revelation 19:11-16, Yeshua is described as King of Kings and Lord of Lords and out of His mouth proceeds a sharp sword.
Concerning the opinion that Joshua’s encounter was merely a vision or dream, both in Moses and Joshua’s cases the removal of the sandal would have been a tangible reminder of the event that took place before their eyes. Similarly when Jacob wrestled with God, he retained his limp. The implication was obvious. This was a real event, not just a vision or a dream.
Have you ever faced a Jericho situation where today could be your last day? Would you have responded like Joshua trying to ascertain the identity of the Man? Are you for us or against us? The question itself isn’t ‘wrong’ but is an earthly pragmatic response. God cannot be encapsulated into our categories, strategies, classifications or causes. He is above politics and our pet subjects.
Do you ever rush into doing a task for God without worshipping Him first and seeking His blessing? Probably all of us have if we’re honest. We should never be so busy that we either reduce, side-line or omit prayer. Prayer isn’t part of our service; it is our godly service and something we should do at all times and in all situations. Joshua had to remove his sandal since the ground was holy. Today we so easily forget that at our peril. God is holy and we must approach a righteous and perfect God with due reverence and awe.
Joshua saw the Man, but He hadn’t initially understood who He was. It was like the apostle Paul who met Messiah and the scales were removed from his eyes and he saw Yeshua (Jesus), (Acts 9:1-22). He heard a voice though still had to ask the question, who are you Lord? Only the Lord can enable us to see spiritually, though if we draw near to Him, He will draw near to us.
The commander Joshua met the Commander of the army of the Lord. Who is your Commander or Chief in Command? Many people trust in princes or leaders though it is better to trust in the Lord (Psalm 118:9) Others trust in themselves . William Ernest Henley wrote the poem ‘Invictus’ and the last verse epitomises that defective approach:
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.
Jeremiah and the Psalmist counselled that it is a cursed thing to trust in ourselves, and better to trust in the Lord (Jeremiah 17:9; Psalm 118:8). The Stone that the builders rejected (Yeshua), Has become the chief cornerstone (Psalm 118:22). Yeshua is the Prince of glory, the author of life and the way, the truth and the life.
It can seem
daunting when Jericho approaches. Our Lord may not remove Jericho but if you
follow Him, He’ll meet you and guide you through to the Promised Land. Blessed
are those who look to Yeshua, pray to Him, worship Him, obey Him and trust Him.
[ii] Lenn Goodman The Holy One of Israel (Oxford University Press, New York; 2019)p106