In any conflict, there are typically two sides, and both sides think they are right. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be a conflict, would there? Today, I want to briefly go over Joshua’s encounter with the commander of the Lord’s army at the end of Joshua 5 and share my thoughts about this enigmatic incident.

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?”

Joshua 5:13 (NIV)

This is an interesting encounter for many reasons. The first I notice here is that this man didn’t look any different from any other man. Joshua certainly didn’t recognize anything different about him. The second point of interest here is the drawn sword. Just like you don’t aim a gun at something you’re not planning to shoot, you don’t draw a sword unless you’re ready for battle. The identity of this man isn’t hidden from us because it’s revealed in the next verse. However, Joshua didn’t know who he was. Hence, his question regarding the man’s allegiance. If I were Joshua and I saw a man with a drawn sword that could be friend or foe, I’d not just walk up to him without having my own weapon drawn. While there’s no indication here that Joshua had a weapon or even had it ready, I can’t imagine him without one. Thus, this incident is charged with the potential for battle.

“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 have for his servant?”

Joshua 5:14 (NIV)

Just as Joshua was quick to challenge the man, as anyone would in wartime, he quickly falls straight to the ground in worship when he finds out who he is. The commander’s answer; that he is neither with Joshua nor his enemies is noteworthy. It reminds us that there are only two sides to any conflict. Indeed, only two “sides” in creation. God’s side and not God’s side. The appearance of the Lord’s commander here tells Joshua (and us) that the war going on is the Lord’s. It’s not the Israelites, but it’s the Lord using the Israelites as an instrument of his punishment against the people of Canaan for their sin.

Remember, way back in Genesis, God promised Abraham that his descendants would inherit the Promised Land, but they had to wait.

“In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”

Genesis 15:16 (NIV)

The Amorites were a leading tribe in Canaan, which is why their name was used. However, the Lord is referring to the sin of all the people in this land.

Therefore the commander of the Lord’s army is on God’s side. He fights for the Lord and all that he stands for. There’s nothing inherently wrong with Joshua’s way of thinking, we would be wise to not fall into that sort of thinking ourselves, however. It’s easy to say God is on our side, he’s for us, who can be against us, etc, but the truth is we are on his side, or we’re not. As soon as we stop thinking that we’re on God’s side and instead, he’s on our side, we run into the danger of thinking he advocates our every decision. This is why there are so many atrocities committed in God’s name.

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.

Joshua 5:15 (NIV)

Does this remind you of anything?

“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”

Exodus 3:5 (NIV)

That’s right. When God appeared to Moses in the burning bush, he told Moses to take off his sandals because he was standing on holy ground. These two incidents, the burning bush, and the man with the drawn sword, are strikingly similar. Moses saw the bush burning in the distance and walked up to investigate (cf. Exodus 3:3). Joshua sees a man with a drawn sword and walks up to investigate it (cf. Joshua 5:13). Both Moses and Joshua are told to remove their sandals because they are standing on holy ground. I don’t recall any other place in the Bible, except for Stephen’s account of Moses and the burning bush, where people are told to take off their sandals because they’re on holy ground or standing in a holy place. Although we know it wasn’t really the ground that was holy. It is the being who was talking to Moses and to Joshua. This tells me the commander wasn’t just any angel, but the divine presence of God in the flesh.

I’ve always thought this passage at the end of Joshua 5 was out of place because it seems like there’s nothing more to it after this point. However, I wonder about the passage in Joshua 6:2-5 where the Lord gives Joshua the battle plan for Jericho. You can read the details here, but I want to focus on the second verse.

Then the Lord said to Joshua, “See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men.

Joshua 6:2 (NIV)

It occurs to me that these instructions might have come from the commander at the end of Joshua 5. After all, Joshua asked him, “‘What message does my Lord have for his servant?'” (Joshua 5:14 NIV). It makes sense that Joshua received his instructions regarding Jericho from the commander because Moses received all of his instructions from the burning bush before setting off for Egypt. When the text was originally written, it wasn’t divided up by chapters like this, so I think that’s how we’re supposed to read Joshua 5:13-15. When we read Joshua 5:13-15 as a bridge between Joshua encountering the Lord and these instructions at the beginning of Joshua 6, the incident with the commander makes more sense.

I appreciate having some illumination regarding this incident with the commander of the Lord’s army and hope you found something of note as well. Thanks for stopping by.

Do you know God? God knows you, and he loves you. He sees you as significant because you are. No one is insignificant to Him. He’s with you today, and he wants you to know him. Jesus died for your sins and mine so we could be free of guilt, be freed from death, and live eternally with him. Eternal salvation is just a prayer away.

Pray this prayer with me to accept the gift of salvation today:

Lord Jesus, forgive me for all my sins. I repent from my ways. Wash me in your blood and cleanse me from all unrighteousness. I believe that you died on the cross, were buried, and on the third day, God the Father raised you from the dead. Right now, Lord Jesus, I open the door to my heart, and I receive you into my heart as my Lord and personal Savior. Amen.

If you prayed that prayer, then congratulations! You are on the first step of a brand new life. Allow me to be the first to welcome you to my family, the family of God. There are abundant resources available online for new Christians. You can visit here for more information on what to do next. You can also leave me a comment, and I’ll do my best to help you on the next step of this incredible journey.