A young woman once went to a party with her fiancé and was having a good time talking with some friends until she saw him talking to a pretty girl across the room. Quickly, but not too conspicuously, she made her way over to him in order to join the conversation. Taking his arm she listened to the words being spoken, and contributed some of her own from time to time. Yet she could not enjoy herself, because all the while she was trying to determine if the other lady was a threat to her relationship.
Consciously or not, all of us evaluate the people we meet in order to determine if they are potential friends or foes. Male or female, we all learn early in life that not everyone can be trusted and that competition is an ever-present reality. If we are to “win,” we know that we have to understand what we are up against.
Shortly before the siege of Jericho, we read of Joshua’s attempt to size up a potentially powerful friend or deadly enemy. Having been made the leader of Israel after the death of Moses (Josh. 1:1–9), he and the nation were encamped just outside the city where Joshua meets a man standing before him, sword drawn (5:13).
Though Joshua asks this figure an either/or question regarding whether He is on Israel’s side, the man does not choose any of Joshua’s proffered options. Instead, He declares that He is the commander of the army of the Lord, and He does not rebuke Joshua when the Israelite general worships Him (5:14). This reveals that the encounter here is with one who is far greater than any angel.
Today’s passage depicts a Christophany — a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ. In this face-to-face meeting, the Lord does not say that He is on Joshua’s side, though such is implied in Joshua 1:1–9. Instead, He declares Himself to Joshua as if to say, “I am the Captain of the heavenly host, are you on my side?” (see also 24:14–15).
All of us must likewise decide with which army we will align ourselves. Will we submit to the one who alone can lead us into the land of promise (Heb. 3:7–4:13), or will we enlist in the army of darkness? May we respond like Joshua and follow the leader of God’s forces.
Joshua, who bears the same name in Hebrew as our Lord does, met Jesus as the commander of God’s army, but is also himself a type of savior. As leader of the Israelites in victory over Canaan, Joshua typifies the one who defeated sin and death on the cross. Are you confident in the victory of Christ? Do you rejoice knowing that He has conquered and has seen fit to use you in the battle? Look to Jesus to give you courage and follow Him wherever He leads.