“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 Joshua 5 passage above describes one of many critical moments for the Israelites who had just entered into the promised land. It outlines a meeting just outside Jericho between their leader, Joshua, and a mysterious stranger. There is no doubt that Joshua was a natural and godly leader. After Moses’ death, he led the Israelites. He brought them to the edge of the rain-swollen Jordan River, and with a mixture of courage and trust ordered the people to move forward. God dried up that flooded river and they crossed over on the dry ground.
Unquestionably Joshua was a leader. The people knew it. Joshua knew it. But Joshua was about to learn a powerful lesson about who the real commander of the army was. He’d gone out alone to scout out the challenge of conquering the great walled city of Jericho. I have to wonder if Joshua was thinking, at least to himself, “how can our army overcome these massive defenses?” At that moment Joshua rounds a bend, and right in front of him is a fierce warrior with his sword already drawn. Joshua could instantly have drawn his own sword, but he asks the warrior “Are you friend or foe?” In other words, whose side is he on.
The answer was one Joshua could never have expected. “Neither one,” he replied, “I am the commander of the Lord’s army.” (v. 14). Who was this? Was this God? Or Christ? Or an angel? Scholars have suggested all of these. Certainly, Joshua knew God was speaking to him. He was in God’s presence, and the commander of God’s army was before him. For Joshua, there was only one thing to do – he fell face down on the ground in reverence.
God stood right before Joshua. He was there – right there. This was not a voice from the clouds. He was standing with sword drawn. This was God the warrior, ready to fight. That encounter told Joshua the battle ahead was God’s, and would be won in God’s way and God’s strength.
Joshua could never have won against Jericho on his own – it would have been disaster if he’d tried – but he surrendered to the commander of the Lord’s army, and what followed was an amazing victory.
There are battles none of us can win, and our greatest need is to bow humbly before God, surrender our will to His, and accept Him as our Commander. To let go control and trust Him is never easy. But it’s also the most important thing we may ever do.
- What do you think it was like to be in God’s presence?
- What can we do this week to make God the Commander of our lives?