Joshua 5

joshua and commanderTucked at the end of Joshua 5 sits a strange passage.

When Joshua was near the town of Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with sword in hand. Joshua went up to him and demanded, “Are you friend or foe?”

 “Neither one,” he replied. “I am the commander of the Lord’s army.”

At this, Joshua fell with his face to the ground in reverence. “I am at your command,” Joshua said. “What do you want your servant to do?”

The commander of the Lord’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did as he was told. – Joshua 5:13-15.

The context of this passage is:  Moses is dead. Joshua heads up the company of millions of homeless Israelites. They continue marching onward, conquering cities along the way on the east of the Jordan River. Earlier this chapter, God commands all the males in the party to be circumcised.  I guess nobody got circumcised during the wandering period. Now, as an act of renewing the covenant, it’s time. More about what I’ve gleaned here.

What I find interesting is that the angel of the Lord never appeared to Moses as a commander of an army.  In fact, He never appeared to Moses in any sort of form. He burned in the bush.  He covered the mountain with a cloud. He inhabited the pillar of fire.  But to my recollection, Yahweh didn’t appear to Moses in any sort of familiar form, animal or human.

Joshua got to see a fighting man.  Probably an angel, though the scripture remains vague on this point.


Joshua was the leader his people needed right then:  a commander of an army.  Over 40 years of eating manna and  traveling any time of the day or night, they’d learned a measure of obedience. They had finished a sort of boot camp.  When they started out, they needed a leader like Moses who could bring their hearts back to God.  Now, the job entailed someone who could instill courage to attack.  Joshua followed hard after God; no question there.  But Joshua had a different anointing and filled a different job description.

What of Joshua himself?  Did He desire to see God in a cloud or burning something?  No.  Spending time assisting Moses while Moses heard directly from God gave him an idea of God’s omnipotence. Joshua needed to see that God would show Himself as what Joshua needed. Perhaps Josh needed a reminder that God controlled the armies, ultimately, not him. Despite every incredible victory, the glory belonged to God alone.

We don’t have to be anyone else to but who we are to hear Him. I’m so glad God meets us where we are, with what we need, when we need it.