The Commander of the LORD’s Army

The people of Israel have just entered Canaan and have celebrated their first Passover there.  The manna from heaven has just ceased to come down.  God has just decreed to Joshua that “Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you” and “No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life” Joshua 1:3,5.

Joshua is about to undergo the first military conflict in the promised land (now this is where our modern atheist and agnostic moral relativists interject to accuse God of sanctioning war crimes and atrocities against the ancient Canaanites… more on this later).

As Joshua is getting ready to besiege Jericho, the crown jewel of Canaan, a mysterious yet awesome Person appears to Joshua:

Joshua 5:13 “When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing before him with his drawn sword in his hand. And Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?”

This marks the beginning of a great mystery.  Joshua does not know who he is.  He is clearly a warrior of great stature as Joshua looks up to see him with his sword drawn.  Previously commanded by God to “be strong and courageous” Joshua now inquires if he is one of “us” or one of “our adversaries.”

Surprisingly the mysterious Person answers “No” to the two possibilities presented by Joshua (one of us or one of them):

14And he said, “No; but I am the commander of the army of the LORD. Now I have come.”

Many commentaries (but not all) ascribe the title of “commander of the army of the LORD” to Christ in this passage. Lets look at the textual evidence pointing towards this Person being the Christ.

  •  This Person receives worship and He does not stop Joshua from worshiping him.

14b “And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped and said to him, “What does my lord say to his servant?””  People are strictly prohibited from worshiping other idols, humans (Acts 10:25,26 Cornelius is prevented from worshiping Peter), or even angels (Rev 22:8 John is prevented from worshiping an angel).

  • An objection can be noted here.  Joshua calls him lord (adon) and not Lord (Adonai) or LORD (YHWH).  The word lord (adon) can be used for both divine and non-divine according to Strong’s.  Some think the Commander of the army of the Lord is a superior angel like Michael for this reason.  However, in an almost corrective manner the Commander clarifies:

15 “And the commander of the LORD’s army said to Joshua, “Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.”

  • The Commander uses the same terminology as the great “I AM” in Exodus 3:5 when He commands Moses before the burning bush to remove his sandals because Moses is on holy ground in the presence of God. This supplies overwhelming evidence that the Commander is a divine Person.

In light of Revelation 19 where Jesus, “The Word of God” commands the heavenly armies we interpret that the divine Person appearing to Joshua is none other than the pre-incarnate Christ.

It is a crucial moment where Joshua receives not only approval from God, but the impetus to boldly engage in a war against Canaanites which is to include genocide and infanticide upon their tribes.

Why would God command Joshua to commit such atrocities against women and children in ancient Canaan?


to be continued…

5 comments on “The Commander of the LORD’s Army

  1. The bible does not give us the whole story, only the parts God chose as relevant for us to know Him throughout history. I believe that God’s judgement on the people of Canaan was not one made overnight. He who knows the future & the hearts of men, must have seen no good. After all, if God was willing to save Sodom & Gomorrah had He found at least a handful of holy people..or Niniveh where He reversed His judgement of annihilation..God is slow to anger so the Canaanites must have had what was coming to them for quite some time.

    • Correct! Here is what God says about the wickedness of the Amorites (a Canaanite clan)…

      Gen 15:16 “In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”

      It took a loooong time… for their depravity to reach its full measure

  2. “Why would God command Joshua to commit such atrocities against women and children in ancient Canaan?” Because that wasn’t God! It was the devil. Jesus said, “if you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the father,” and “the devil is a liar and murderer.” God did not sanction violence–see Treaty of Beersheva and Ten commandments.

  3. in every case, the Jews murdered the Canaanites, but were eventually defeated and expelled from the land. Psalm 37–‘the meek shall inherit the land.’

  4. Many thanks for this enlightening commentary. I was just reading Joshua 5 this morning and was puzzled by the identity of this ‘commander of the Lord’s army’? God heard my query of course and led me here. It was the comparison with John falling down at the feet of the angel and being rebuked that did it for me. Once again, thankyou!
    ‘Your Word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path.’
    God bless you.

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