Joshua 5:13-15: Encountering the Presence of God
Read: Joshua 5:13-15
Joshua’s encounter with the “commander of the Lord’s army” is a rather interesting interjection at the end of chapter five. Not all scholars agree about the placement this appearance. Some see the last three verses of chapter 5 as part of chapter 6. Some see these verses as a separate episode to chapter six altogether. But even so, the question still remains: who exactly is this person that appears to Joshua? Some observations can be made about this:
- Joshua is out looking at Jericho, the city that God captures on Israel’s behalf in chapter 6. Some commentators have suggested that Joshua is scouting a plan here, but someone obviously sent by God comes to him while he is out. The commentators think that this appearance by the man was to draw Joshua’s attention away from trying to capture Jericho by plans conceived by man, and focus Joshua on God who would give him a plan.
- When Joshua asks if the man is for or against Israel, the commander answers “לאכי” (pronounced “loh kee”) which is rendered “neither” or “no but” in many modern translation to indicate that the man represented something entirely else than what Joshua presumed he did – namely the Lord’s army.
- The man identifies himself as “שׂר” (pronounced “sar”)which is a general term indicating any number of possible positions of rank such as commander, prince, captain, leader, head, chief, or a ruler of some kind. The man had rank among the army of God.
- Joshua bows down to him. The man does not disdain Joshua’s reverence as Peter did in Acts 10:26 and the angel who delivered revelations to John (Revelation 19:10).
- Joshua calls the man “אדני” (pronounced “adonai”), a name that is spoken in reference to God and is substituted for the unspoken name of God – יהוה – when the scriptures were being read aloud which means “Lord”.
- The man tells Joshua to remove his sandals because the place he was holy ground. This is reminiscent of Exodus 3:5 when Moses is at the burning bush and God speaks to Moses through the bush. The burning bush was made holy by the presence of God.
What is certain is that whoever the man is, he commanded reverence from Joshua because of who he represented, namely God himself. That and where this man went, the presence of God went also. It is possible that the man was an incarnation of God himself for several reasons: The man receives worship, Joshua calls him “Lord”, and the place his made holy in the presence of the man. What is certain is Joshua realizes that he is in the presence of God and responds appropriately by submitting to the man in reverence and awe. This is the same thing that Isaiah did when he encountered God (Isaiah 6:1-8) and what the disciples did after Peter walked on water (Matthew 14:33).
Witnessing the works and the very presence of God should do the very sort of thing to Christians too: drive them to reverence and awe. Christians should never be puffed up because of what God does on their behalf, but recognize that it is God working and be grateful for it. What is interesting here is that the man does not identify himself as siding with Israel or the Canaanites, rather siding with God. God is the god of those who will have faith in him and obey him no matter what nationality they may be from. God redeemed Rahab the prostitute even though she was a sinner and not of the Israelites and he still does the same for so many others in the world today too. When sinners encounter the majesty and holiness of God, they should be amazed, being filled with awe and wonder. And this drives people to reverence and awe!
Lord, you are amazing! I submit myself to you!