“Now it came about when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing opposite him with his sword drawn in his hand, and Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us or for our adversaries?” And he said, “No, rather I indeed come now as captain of the host of the LORD.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and bowed down, and said to him, “What has my lord to say to his servant?” And the captain of the LORD’s host said to Joshua, “Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.” Joshua 5:13-15
We are spending the month of January looking at the reality that Jesus is the Captain of angel armies, leading his people, leading us to live out his abundant victory on earth as it is in heaven. We believe that the same God who led his people into the promise land through Joshua is the same God leading his people in South County, Rhode Island.
We need to just simply but supernatural call on our Captain and humble ourselves in worship before our God and King.
The sermon series is called Angels in the County and we believe this series will encourage and empower us to live out God’s abundant victory in 2018.
Here’s some background and perspective of what was happening with Joshua as God was about to advance his kingdom and glory again through Joshua.
Feed Your Soul!
With everything apparently prepared for the conquest of the land, this scene opens with Joshua, God’s appointed commander of Israel, not in the camp of Israel at Gilgal, but out by the city of Jericho. What do you suppose he was doing there? He was surely about the Lord’s work gathering information about the city and its fortifications in preparation to launch his attack. Joshua was naturally concerned about several things. First of all, he needed a plan of action. Just how would they go about attacking Jericho, probably the best fortified city in Canaan. They had little or no experience for besieging a city like Jericho. Further, they undoubtedly lacked equipment such as battering rams, catapults, scaling ladders or moving towers. All they had were swords, arrows, slings, and spears which naturally would seem totally inadequate for the task before them. So how would Joshua prepare his army and how should they go about taking the city? He must have felt like the weight of the world was pressing down on his shoulders.
Can we fault Joshua for being at Jericho and surveying the situation? Absolutely not. In fact, another great leader, Nehemiah, did the same when faced with the condition of the walls of Jerusalem. Nevertheless, Joshua needed an encounter with the God whom he served that he might grasp afresh an important truth, one that was equally vital as part of his preparation for victory by the power of God. As all of God’s saints tend to get their eyes on the enormous task facing them at times, something was missing in Joshua’s perspective as he looked over the city of Jericho. Perhaps he simply needed to be reminded of some very important truth for both clarification and encouragement.
THE MAN’S POSITION
With Joshua’s mind engrossed in his concerns about the task before him and feeling the weight of the responsibility on his shoulders, he looks up and there stands a man with sword drawn. What kind of picture does this bring to mind and what does it mean? Standing with any weapon drawn is a military position of one who either stands guard defensively or stands ready to go against a foe offensively. Standing with sword drawn suggested he was there to fight either for or against Israel.
THE MAN’S IDENTITY
Verse 14 tells us this man came as the “captain of the hosts of the Lord,” the commander of the Lord’s army. Joshua’s response in verse 14 and the statement of the captain in verse 15 shows this was a theophany, or better, based on the truth of John 1:1-18, it was a Christophany, a manifestation of the preincarnate Christ, who, as the Logos, is the one who reveals God. If this was only a man or an angel, he would certainly have repelled Joshua’s worshipful response (vs. 14). Compare the response of Paul in Acts 14:8-20 to those who wanted to make them into gods and the response of the angel to John in Revelation 19:10.
Here then, the preincarnate Christ appears to Joshua to teach and reinforce certain vital truths for God’s people, especially for those in positions of leadership, which really includes all believers to some degree.
… and Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us or for our adversaries?” (vs. 13b).
This was a natural response to a man with his sword drawn and expressed Joshua’s concern as well as his courage. No one from the army of Israel should have been there for evidently no orders had been given for anyone to leave the camp. So who was this stranger who suddenly appeared out of nowhere? Surely, Joshua thought, “Since he is not one of us, could he be the enemy or perhaps someone who has come to help us?”
But in view of the answer given to Joshua, Joshua’s question reveals a typical mindset that poses a threat and a hindrance to our effectiveness in the service of the Savior. What then is that mindset? We tend to see the battles we face as our battles and the forces we face as forces marshaled against us and our individual causes, concerns, agendas, and even our theological beliefs or positions on doctrine. And in a sense, that is true, if we are truly standing in the cause of Christ. But there is another sense in which that is simply not true, and that is the issue here.
THE ANSWER GIVEN TO JOSHUA
And he said, “No, rather I indeed come now as captain of the host of the LORD” (vs. 14a).
The answer comes in two parts. The first part of the answer is seen in a flat negation of either one of Joshua’s options. The first answer is simply a flat “neither.” Why didn’t he reply, “I am here for you and for Israel”? Instead, the man with his sword drawn said, “Neither; I am not here to take sides, yours or that of anyone else.”
The second part of the answer gives the reason. “And he said, ‘No, rather I indeed come now as captain of the host of the LORD.’” In other words, “I am here, not to take sides, but to take over as Commander of the Lord’s Army.” This is vitally important and lays down two principles that are foundational for all of life and our warfare against the forces of the world and Satan. There is no question that the Lord was there with the armies of heaven to secure Jericho so God’s people could possess their inheritance (the Promised Land) and yet a certain perspective was vital for true success.
The first principle: It was not for Joshua to claim God’s allegiance for his cause no matter how right and holy it might be. Rather, the need was for Joshua to acknowledge God’s claim over him for God’s purposes. We tend to approach our battles and causes backwards; we turn things around and try to marshal God to support us rather than to submit and follow Him. Certainly, the battle was a joint venture, God and the people of Israel under Joshua’s leadership as appointed by the Lord (1:1-9), but Joshua, as with all of us in the army of the King, must be following the Lord, submitting to His authority, taking our orders from Him, and resting the battle in His hands because we realize it is really His battle as the Supreme Commander. There seems to be no question that Joshua understood this as evidenced by his question, “What has my Lord to say to his servant?” Here he was asking the Lord for orders and it was surely then that he received the directions for taking Jericho.
The second principle: As the One who had come to take charge, the Lord was also reminding Joshua (and us) of both God’s personal presence and His powerful provision, the provision of His vast hosts. The promise of God’s personal presence always carries with it the assurance of God’s personal care. Likewise, the promise of His powerful provision always carries with it the promise of His infinite supply and power no matter how impossible the problem may appear to us. So there was more, infinitely more, than Joshua’s army. There was Joshua and his army, but there was also the myriads of God’s angelic forces who always stand ready to do God’s bidding and to serve the people of God.
Three other passages can serve as helpful examples that we might grasp the issue here and its significance to our daily walk.
First, compare 2 Kings 6:8-17. When Elisha was at Dothan with his young servant, he found himself surrounded by the army of Ben-Hadad, who, during the night had marched out and surrounded the city of Dothan. The next morning, when Elisha’s servant went out to draw water, he saw the vast army surrounding the city. Being fearful and greatly distressed, he cried out to Elisha, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” Elisha responded, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Elisha then prayed a very interesting prayer. He said, “O Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.” We then read that “the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.” They were not alone. With them to fight for them was a host of God’s angelic forces who soon struck the armies of the king of Syria with blindness.
A second example is found for us in Matthew 26:53. With the disciples still reluctant and perplexed over the fact Christ must go to the cross, Peter drew his sword and struck the slave of the high priest cutting off his ear. Jesus replied, “Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword. Or do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels?”
A final example of God’s angelic army and their ministry to God’s people is seen in Hebrews 1:14, “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation?” In this, we see the second reason for the commander’s description of himself as “the Captain of the Lord’s hosts.” He was assuring Joshua of God’s provision through His mighty angelic army.
… And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and bowed down, and said to him, “What has my lord to say to his servant?” (vs. 14b).
How we each need this response—the response of worship and submission. He quickly got the picture. Joshua had been thinking of a conflict between the Israelite and the Canaanite armies. Perhaps he had been thinking of this as his battle. Certainly he felt the weight of responsibility on his shoulders. But after being confronted by the divine Commander, he was reminded of a truth he heard Moses declare many years earlier when they stood on the banks of the Red Sea. There Moses said, “The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still” (Ex. 14:14). Joshua learned afresh the truth that David would learn and declare when facing Goliath, “the battle is the Lord’s” (cf. 1 Sam. 17:47).
But that’s not all. As an outworking of his worship and submission, we see Joshua’s inquiry, the inquiry of a servant looking to his Commander for direction, “What has my lord to say to his servant?” Do you remember Paul’s response on the Damascus road, when he came to realize it was the glorified Lord who was speaking to him? He quickly answered, “What shall I do, Lord?” (Acts. 22:10).
What a comfort and how encouraging to know that we never have to bear our burdens or face our enemies alone. Joshua was to know that the battles ahead and the entire conquest of Canaan was really God’s conflict. What is our part? We are soldiers in His army, His servants for whom He abundantly supplies the armor of God (Eph. 6:10-18)
Surely, these verses drive home the truth of Christ’s preeminence and lordship. He is the head of the church, indeed, the King of kings and Lord of lords.
The passage also reminds us that God is not present to fight our battles or help in our causes or jump to our rescue when we get in trouble as though He were a genie in a bottle. Instead, it reminds us that the battle is His and that our role is that of soldier-servants: we are here to serve Him, to do His will, to follow Him and depend on Him completely.
THE COMMANDER’S FINAL REVELATION
And the captain of the LORD’s host said to Joshua, “Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so (vs. 15).
In these last words of the Captain, there is a command, “Remove your sandals,” along with an explanation, “for the place where you are standing is holy.” Removing the sandals was a sign of a servant and a sign of respect and submission. The declaration of this place of encounter and revelation as “holy ground” calls attention to the special import of what Joshua had just learned and experienced. God is not only the Holy One in our redemption through the provision of the Suffering Savior, but He is the Holy One in our warfare through the Victorious Savior. We can only enter into the battle so that we experience God’s deliverance when we remove our sandals and submit to His authority and His presence and power.
Here we see that the warfare of the Christian is a holy calling, but also a divine undertaking accomplished in those who humble themselves under the mighty hand of God. “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety upon Him, because He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6-7).
Joshua had an encounter with the living Logos, the very revelation of God. It was an encounter that lifted a great burden from Joshua’s shoulders. May we see how much we each need to be in the Word with a listening ear so God can teach us the things we need to hear.
Joshua standing and perhaps walking about the city of Jericho studying what lay before him, weighed down with the burden of his responsibility is so very much like us today! We see the things we believe God has called us to do, but we are so prone to activity and running ahead more than we are to worship and praying for divine guidance. Our need is a lifestyle that sends us out into battle mindful of the Lord and who He is to our every move and mindful of those principles of His Word that must guide our every thought and step and fortify hearts with the comfort of God.
May we, then, as we look over the battles or tasks that lie before us, look up and see the Commander of the Lord of Hosts and remove our sandals.
*Some of this post was adapted from J. Hampton Keathley, Studies in the life of Joshua
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