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 NLT) The challenges ahead are increasing. You are approaching Jericho. God knows that you need encouragement and strength.
As we begin this passage, we see Joshua the leader. Joshua had just led the people in the renewal of their covenant with the LORD through circumcision – and through the solemn observance of the Passover. He had been attentive to each of the tasks that the Lord had placed before him. How often do i expect God to reveal Himself to me in greater ways when i have disregarded Him in what He has already given me to do? But that was not the case with Joshua.
This morning i woke up at 4:30. It was one of those mornings that i knew the Lord had awoken me. i knew that i needed to get up and spend time with Him. i wonder if it was that kind of morning for Joshua. Obviously there was much on his mind with Jericho looming ahead. Did he walk out of the camp to the outskirts of Jericho to pray and meditate on God’s promises? Or did he go to once again survey the defenses of Jericho in order to identify the best approach to the city? Or was it both? Was he at a loss as to the next steps he should take in leading the people? Had he gone seeking wisdom? Had he gone seeking God? Had he gone seeking both? Ever been there? Have you ever been at the place where everyone is looking to you for direction… and you do not have a clue? And you know that if God doesn’t come through, you’re sunk! It was just that kind of morning for Joshua.
Then he looked up and “saw a man”. Was he startled? Or did he expect to see someone? If he went seeking God or His wisdom, did he expect to receive it? Did he expect to encounter God? If so, he wouldn’t be startled. If so, he would have expected to look up and see Him. What about you? Are you expecting to look up and see the Lord? Or will you be startled if He graciously shows up?
As we continue, we see Joshua the soldier. Then Joshua approached him and says, “Are you friend or foe – are you for us or against us?” Stop and think about what it took for Joshua to approach that “man” standing in front of him with a sword in hand. If it was the angel of the Lord, only an intimate relationship with the Lord Himself would permit him the boldness to do such a thing. Even the apostle John, as he records in the book of Revelation, says that when he saw the Lord of hosts, he fell to his knees in worship (Revelation 22:8). But Joshua, having received his charge from the Lord, and walking in that place of intimacy with the Lord, draws closer – reverently and respectfully seeking His face. And if the man before him was truly a foe, think of the God-given courage and boldness that Joshua displayed by approaching him and making his demand. Whether it was intimacy or courage – or both – it was God-given.
The One who stood before Joshua was none other than the Son of God (Joshua 6:2) – the pre-incarnate Christ. And He stood before Joshua as a “man of war” with His sword drawn. Years earlier He had stood before Abraham (Genesis 18) as a traveler. Our Lord stands ready to stand before His servants in whatever way He has need in order to accomplish His purpose. The Lord’s reply to Joshua’s question was that He was neither friend nor foe. He was not simply their friend. He was their Commander. By standing as a man of war, He affirmed to Joshua that He was there to review the troops, to call them to battle, and to give the necessary orders for the besieging of Jericho. In short, He would go before His people to lead them in victory. And He encouraged Joshua that they must follow Him with all diligence.
As we saw last week, God no longer needed to provide the people with manna because He was now meeting that need through another source of supply. But He knew the propensity of the people – and He knew that they might interpret this removal of manna as an indication that God was no longer with them. Nothing could be further from the truth, and His presence before Joshua was intended to give that strong assurance of His continuing presence, protection and direction. How many times have we falsely interpreted a change in God’s activity as an indication of His absence instead of rightly viewing it as indication of His fresh new work? This was an important assurance for His people then. It is an important assurance for us now!
His presence also served as a reminder that their upcoming victory would not be accomplished by human might or power, but by the Lord of hosts! They would have victory over all their adversaries; as long as they walked in total dependence on Him alone. He knew their (our) propensity to pride and selfish ambition, and a proclivity to attributing any victory to our good work or expertise. As they entered into this first battle, of what would prove to be many battles, in the Promised Land, He wanted them to be rightly oriented on the Source and the Reason for their victory.
As we conclude this passage, we see Joshua the worshiper. When Joshua understood who stood before him, he did the only two things any of us should ever do.
First, he fell with his face to the ground with reverence! Joshua was the leader and commander of the forces of Israel, and yet he knew that the One who stood before Him was worthy of all honor and worship. He didn’t allow his preoccupation with the battle ahead to keep him from the worship at hand. How often do we rush through our worship of God in a misguided attempt to speedily get to the victory of God? Though we would be loath to admit to it, we do so far too frequently. If we truly desire to experience His victory, we must primarily desire to extend the worship that is due Him in far greater proportion.
Second, he asked what the Lord would have His servant do. The Lord had already given Joshua his charge, as we saw in Joshua 1. It would have been easy for Joshua to think that he already knew what it was that God wanted him to do. It would have been easy for Joshua to conclude that he already knew the goal and the plan, so all he needed was God’s blessing. But Joshua rightly knew that his only plan – His only goal – was to worship and serve – the almighty God. And any specific assignments or instructions that God might choose to give were – ARE – subject to change according to His time and purpose. Joshua knew not to elevate the plan over the Planner. He knew not to give priority to the command over the Commander. He knew that the question must always be – LORD, what do You want Your servant to do?
It’s appropriate that this particular passage concludes with the same admonition given to Moses on that hillside in Exodus 3:5 -- “Take off your sandals, for you are standing on holy ground.” That’s the ultimate answer to the question – are you for us or against us? Because it really depends upon where we are standing, far more than where He is standing. Are we His servants, or are we acting as if He is our servant? Are we His soldiers, or do we pray as if He is under our command? Are we His people, or is it all about our kingdoms? Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.
(Excerpt from “Lessons Learned In The Wilderness — Possessing The Promise”. For more information about the book see http://www.wildernesslessons.com/Possessing_The_Promise.html.)