The Commander of the Conquest – 5:13-15

The previous entry can be found here.

For the last couple of days, I have been heartily enjoying the new Star Wars Battlefront II game. And here’s why: Star Wars is great and shooter video games are fun (even though I typically suck), so when the two can be combined, it is the perfect situation. In every match there are instructions and objectives. These instructions and objectives come down from the commander (in this case the game’s programming); in order to win the match the instructions must be heeded. In our passage today, we will see a similar concept when it comes to how to be successful as believers in God, and specifically how the Israelites could be successful in their conquest of the Promised Land.

Our historian writes (bolded text is today’s focus), “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 approached Him and asked, ‘Are You for us or for our enemies?’ ‘Neither,’ He replied. ‘I have now come as commander of the LORD’s army.’ Then Joshua bowed with his face to the ground in worship and asked Him, ‘What does my Lord want to say to His servant?’ The commander of the LORD’s army said to Joshua, ‘Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.’ And Joshua did so. Now Jericho was strongly fortified because of the Israelites—no one leaving or entering. The LORD said to Joshua, ‘Look, I have handed Jericho, its king, and its fighting men over to you. March around the city with all the men of war, circling the city one time. Do this for six days. Have seven priests carry seven ram’s-horn trumpets in front of the ark. But on the seventh day, march around the city seven times, while the priests blow the trumpets. When there is a prolonged blast of the horn and you hear its sound, have all the people give a mighty shout. Then the city wall will collapse, and the people will advance, each man straight ahead.’ So Joshua son of Nun summoned the priests and said to them, ‘Take up the ark of the covenant and have seven priests carry seven trumpets in front of the ark of the LORD.’ He said to the people, ‘Move forward, march around the city, and have the armed troops go ahead of the ark of the LORD.’ After Joshua had spoken to the people, seven priests carrying seven trumpets before the LORD moved forward and blew the trumpets; the ark of the LORD’s covenant followed them. While the trumpets were blowing, the armed troops went in front of the priests who blew the trumpets, and the rear guard went behind the ark. But Joshua had commanded the people: ‘Do not shout or let your voice be heard. Don’t let one word come out of your mouth until the time I say, “Shout!” Then you are to shout.’ So the ark of the LORD was carried around the city, circling it once. They returned to the camp and spent the night there. Joshua got up early the next morning. The priests took the ark of the LORD, and the seven priests carrying seven trumpets marched in front of the ark of the LORD. While the trumpets were blowing, the armed troops went in front of them, and the rear guard went behind the ark of the LORD. On the second day they marched around the city once and returned to the camp. They did this for six days. Early on the seventh day, they started at dawn and marched around the city seven times in the same way. That was the only day they marched around the city seven times. After the seventh time, the priests blew the trumpets, and Joshua said to the people, ‘Shout! For the LORD has given you the city. But the city and everything in it are set apart to the LORD for destruction. Only Rahab the prostitute and everyone with her in the house will live, because she hid the men we sent. But keep yourselves from the things set apart, or you will be set apart for destruction. If you take any of those things, you will set apart the camp of Israel for destruction and bring disaster on it. For all the silver and gold, and the articles of bronze and iron, are dedicated to the LORD and must go into the LORD’s treasury.’ So the people shouted, and the trumpets sounded. When they heard the blast of the trumpet, the people gave a great shout, and the wall collapsed. The people advanced into the city, each man straight ahead, and they captured the city. They completely destroyed everything in the city with the sword—every man and woman, both young and old, and every ox, sheep, and donkey. Joshua said to the two men who had scouted the land, ‘Go to the prostitute’s house and bring the woman out of there, and all who are with her, just as you promised her.’ So the young men who had scouted went in and brought out Rahab and her father, mother, brothers, and all who belonged to her. They brought out her whole family and settled them outside the camp of Israel. They burned up the city and everything in it, but they put the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron into the treasury of the LORD’s house. However, Joshua spared Rahab the prostitute, her father’s household, and all who belonged to her, because she hid the men Joshua had sent to spy on Jericho, and she lives in Israel to this day. At that time Joshua imposed this curse: The man who undertakes the rebuilding of this city, Jericho, is cursed before the LORD. He will lay its foundation ⌊at the cost of⌋ his firstborn; he will set up its gates ⌊at the cost of⌋ his youngest. And the LORD was with Joshua, and his fame spread throughout the land. The Israelites, however, were unfaithful regarding the things set apart for destruction. Achan son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of what was set apart, and the LORD’s anger burned against the Israelites. Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is near Beth-aven, east of Bethel, and told them, ‘Go up and scout the land.’ So the men went up and scouted Ai. After returning to Joshua they reported to him, ‘Don’t send all the people, but send about 2,000 or 3,000 men to attack Ai. Since the people of Ai are so few, don’t wear out all our people there.’ So about 3,000 men went up there, but they fled from the men of Ai. The men of Ai struck down about 36 of them and chased them from outside the gate to the quarries, striking them down on the descent. As a result, the people’s hearts melted and became like water. Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell before the ark of the LORD with his face to the ground until evening, as did the elders of Israel; they all put dust on their heads. ‘Oh, Lord GOD,’ Joshua said, ‘why did You ever bring these people across the Jordan to hand us over to the Amorites for our destruction? If only we had been content to remain on the other side of the Jordan! What can I say, Lord, now that Israel has turned its back ⌊and run⌋ from its enemies? When the Canaanites and all who live in the land hear about this, they will surround us and wipe out our name from the earth. Then what will You do about Your great name?’ The LORD then said to Joshua, ‘Stand up! Why are you on the ground? Israel has sinned. They have violated My covenant that I appointed for them. They have taken some of what was set apart. They have stolen, deceived, and put ⌊the things⌋ with their own belongings. This is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies. They will turn their backs ⌊and run⌋ from their enemies, because they have been set apart for destruction. I will no longer be with you unless you remove from you what is set apart. Go and consecrate the people. Tell them to consecrate themselves for tomorrow, for this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: There are things that are set apart among you, Israel. You will not be able to stand against your enemies until you remove what is set apart. In the morning you must present yourselves tribe by tribe. The tribe the LORD selects is to come forward clan by clan. The clan the LORD selects is to come forward family by family. The family the LORD selects is to come forward man by man. The one who is caught with the things set apart must be burned, along with everything he has, because he has violated the LORD’s covenant and committed an outrage in Israel.’ Joshua got up early the next morning. He had Israel come forward tribe by tribe, and the tribe of Judah was selected. He had the clans of Judah come forward, and the Zerahite clan was selected. He had the Zerahite clan come forward by heads of families, and Zabdi was selected. He then had Zabdi’s family come forward man by man, and Achan son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, was selected. So Joshua said to Achan, ‘My son, give glory to the LORD, the God of Israel, and make a confession to Him. I urge you, tell me what you have done. Don’t hide anything from me.’ Achan replied to Joshua, ‘It is true. I have sinned against the LORD, the God of Israel. This is what I did: When I saw among the spoils a beautiful cloak from Babylon, 200 silver shekels, and a bar of gold weighing 50 shekels, I coveted them and took them. You can see for yourself. They are concealed in the ground inside my tent, with the money under the cloak.’ So Joshua sent messengers who ran to the tent, and there was the cloak, concealed in his tent, with the money underneath. They took the things from inside the tent, brought them to Joshua and all the Israelites, and spread them out in the LORD’s presence. Then Joshua and all Israel with him took Achan son of Zerah, the silver, the cloak, and the bar of gold, his sons and daughters, his ox, donkey, and sheep, his tent, and all that he had, and brought them up to the Valley of Achor. Joshua said, ‘Why have you troubled us? Today the LORD will trouble you!’ So all Israel stoned them to death. They burned their bodies, threw stones on them, and raised over him a large pile of rocks that remains to this day. Then the LORD turned from His burning anger. Therefore that place is called the Valley of Achor to this day.”

So far in our study of this book we have seen God promise to be with His people. He has shown Himself faithful to keep that promise. He has majestically and mightily dried up the Jordan River; He has given Israel food in their new homeland and cut off the miraculous wilderness provisions that He had provided for 40 years. God has shown the people that Joshua is His chosen leader to take the place of Moses, and He has told Joshua, “I will be with you, as I was with Moses” (Joshua 1:5, 3:7). What our historian wants us to see today is that God calls those who would lead His people to be humble and obedient followers of Him so that they can be assured of His presence with them.

First, we see the attitude of God’s chosen leaders. In the first part of verse 13 we read, “When Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in His hand.” The text tells us that Joshua was near Jericho. One commentator explains that this forms a bridge between the “plains of Jericho” in 5:10 and the city to be conquered in 6:1.[1] If we want to nail down a mental timeline for these events, the text doesn’t give us anything to go off, except that it is in-between crossing the Jordan and conquering Jericho. Nothing more can be nailed down with certainty, though there may be something to the idea, “It is also possible that the seven days of the feast [of unleavened bread] coincided with the seven days of marching around Jericho,”[2] which would mean that this meeting occurred the morning of the fifteenth (cf. 5:10), the day after Passover.

The text tells us that Joshua was out by Jericho and he lifted his eyes. Calvin writes, “It is probable that Joshua was then alone, whether he had withdrawn from public view to engage in prayer, or for the purpose of reconnoitering the city. I am rather inclined to think it was the latter, and that he had gone aside to examine where the city ought to be attacked.”[3] I love Calvin’s work, but I think he doesn’t go far enough here. Joshua “lifted his eyes.” Why would someone need to lift their eyes if they are walking around inspecting a city’s defenses? I believe Joshua was investigating the city, but I also think in his investigation he had stopped to pray, bowing down.

Do we—whether leaders or not—take everything in our lives to God? Prayer should be second-nature to us. Joshua’s attitude, and what should be the attitude of all godly leaders, was a prayerful attitude. Is ours?

When Joshua lifted his eyes, he saw a man with a sword drawn. This is important. He’s investigating the city; he’s currently in a position of vulnerability; a man is standing in front of him threateningly. Joshua jumps to his feet as quickly as possible.

Next, we see the humility of God’s chosen leaders. In verses 13b-14 we read, “Joshua approached Him and asked, ‘Are You for us or for our enemies?’ ‘Neither,’ He replied. ‘I have now come as commander of the LORD’s army.’ Then Joshua bowed with his face to the ground in worship and asked Him, ‘What does my Lord want to say to His servant?’

After Joshua sees the man, he approaches Him, and asks whose side He is on. The man literally says, “No.” He continues, “Rather, I have come now as commander of Yahweh’s army.” We would expect this answer to put Joshua’s heart at ease; Oh good, he’s not going to kill me; but Joshua doesn’t do that. Instead he acts out of extreme humility. He bows in worship, and he asks, “What does my Lord want to say to His servant?”

This is the necessary response to meeting the commander of Israel’s army. Humility and a heart set on obedience. Joshua wanted to know if He fought for them or for their enemies, and He says, “NO.” The No is because God already told Israel that He would turn against them if they were unfaithful to Him, and He repeats the same again in 6:17-18, which is why I included 5:13-7:26 at the start of today’s study. We see in this large chunk of text that God fights both for and against Israel. The way for God to stay for them was for them to act the way their leader does here: in humility and worship and obedience. Do we live in this way, or are our lives the kind that challenge God and rebel against Him?

Joshua referred to himself as “His servant.” Let’s pause here for a moment. Do we see ourselves as servants? Paul used an equivalent word in each and every one of his letters to describe his status in this world. He was bought and paid for by Jesus, and as such he would do what Jesus asked of him without question. This is why we pray; and read our Bibles; and fellowship at church, hearing the word preached; it’s even why we read blogs like this one. We want to know what God has to say to His servants. The only question is: do we obey what He tells us? If we’re asking Him to speak by us practicing these sorts of spiritual disciplines, do we humbly obey what He shows us?

Finally we see the obedience expected of God’s chosen leaders. In verse 15 we read, “The commander of the LORD’s army said to Joshua, ‘Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.’ And Joshua did so.” Here’s where the commander of Yahweh’s army answers Joshua’s question. He tells Joshua to take off his sandals because he is standing on holy ground.

Two things to point out about this. First, the only thing that can make ground holy is for a holy being to be present on that ground. The only truly holy being is God. Therefore, when Joshua bowed down and worshipped in the previous verse, he was not worshipping something that was not God; God was very presently before him, in the form of a man. (It is not my intention, nor was it the text’s intention, to parse out whether this was a pre-incarnate Christ or God Himself taking physical form, though if I had to guess, I’d lean toward Jesus—a Christophany.) As God is standing before Joshua, any obedience Joshua carries out in this scene is obedience to God. Are we quick to obey God?

Second, the whole scene makes some huge parallels with Exodus 3. There we read,

Then the Angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire within a bush. As Moses looked, he saw that the bush was on fire but was not consumed.  So Moses thought: I must go over and look at this remarkable sight. Why isn’t the bush burning up?  When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called out to him from the bush, “Moses, Moses!” “Here I am,” he answered.  “Do not come closer,” He said. “Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”  Then He continued, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Moses hid his face because he was afraid to look at God. (Exodus 3:2-6)

Here the Angel of Yahweh appears in a bush, and because of His presence the ground is holy, and Moses is commanded to remove his sandals. In addition, the Angel of Yahweh identifies Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

When God tells Joshua to remove his sandals, Joshua obeys without question or hesitation. And then, after a brief parenthesis about Jericho in 6:1, we read in 6:2-5 about what God told Joshua about how to attack the city—but more on that next time.

Joshua showed total obedience to Yahweh in our text today. If you’re called to be a leader in God’s church, and you expect people to follow you, make sure that you are accurately following the One who called you to follow Him. As Lecrae once said, “If you can’t follow, you can’t ever lead.”[4] You can’t expect others to do what you yourself—as a leader—are unwilling to do. This is the example that Joshua gives to the people he was called to lead, and to us today.

If you call yourself a leader, how quick are you to lean on God in prayer and obey Him by your actions? Even if you don’t call yourself a leader, most of us are leaders in some capacity. Men, you are the leaders of your home. Women, you are one of the primary leaders of your children—not to negate other, more visible types of leadership you might have though. As believers we are all called to be leaders to a certain extent—some much more than others—and how we carry out the leadership role entrusted to us will determine if we are given more in the future. We must all lean on God and obey Him to be successful leaders. How well are you leading in the area God has called you to?

Here’s the thing: you aren’t a perfect leader; I’m not a perfect leader either. Joshua himself wasn’t even a perfect leader. And perhaps you’re reading this, and you aren’t even a Christian: you don’t really know the first thing about successful leadership, because all real leaders must be dependent on the One who gave them their area of leadership, and that was God.

The only perfect leader was Jesus. He was the One who came to earth as a baby 2000 years ago; He was the One who died on the cross 30 years later; He was the One who rose from the dead 3 days later; and He is the One who is seated on a white horse waiting to crack the sky and return again in judgment.

However, the ultimate reason why the Commander of Yahweh’s army said “No,” when asked whose side He was on, was because as believers in Christ, enemies shouldn’t be in our vocabulary. Charles Spurgeon is claimed to have said the following[5]: “The preaching of the Gospel is not mere man’s talk; it is Christ riding on His white horse, going forth conquering and to conquer.” Christians aren’t to take swords and guns and mow down the unbelievers. Christians are to preach the gospel and see enemies changed into brothers and sisters. Every time the Gospel is preached, and a sinner repents and believes, Christ has conquered another sinner. This is our mission as Christians.

However, let me add a warning: if you don’t repent and believe, eventually the time will run out. Rahab believed when there was still time left to believe (Joshua 2), but once we get to next week’s text (Joshua 6) Jericho’s time is up. In the same way, Jesus will appear on a white horse one day, and He will conquer His enemies with a sword. Please don’t be on the receiving end of that! Turn to Him in faith and love and worshipful obedience today! You don’t know when your time will be up!

Let us all be people who heed the marching orders of our Commander by humble obedience in loving Him, our brothers/sisters, and our enemies; and let us all be people who seek out the marching orders from our Commander by humbling practicing the spiritual disciplines He has put before us.

Solus Christus

Soli Deo Gloria

The next entry can be found here.

[1] Trent C. Butler, Joshua, WBC (Waco, TX: Word, 1983), 61.

[2] David M. Howard, New American Commentary – Volume 5: Joshua, (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 1998), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 152.

[3] John Calvin, Commentary on Joshua.

[4] Lecrae, “Authority,” on Man Up by 116 Clique (Reach Records, 2011), MP3.

[5] Though honestly I don’t know where this quote comes from, but it’s at the top of all of my sermon manuscripts.

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