Joshua and the Commander of the LORD’s Army
4th and Goal with two seconds left. Election Day and the polls have closed. Tomorrow they will announce if you have earned that promotion or won that scholarship—or if they’re giving it to someone else. Two pairs of hands are folded. Two voices call out to God: “Give us the victory, O Lord! You’re on our side, aren’t You?”
It would be nice, Joshua thought, if the Man standing on the road to Jericho opposite him was not opposed to him—especially since His sword was drawn! “Are You for us or for our adversaries?’” Joshua asked (5:13b NKJV).
Joshua received a curious reply to his “either-or” question. The Man said, “No, but as Commander of the army of the LORD I have now come” (v. 14a). Joshua could see that much, but where had the Man come from? And to do what? Who was He, anyway?
The capital letters are a clue, if our Bible translation uses them; but if not, there’s still plenty of evidence to solve the mystery.
“Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped, and said to Him, ‘What does my Lord say to His servant’” (v. 14b)? The Commander did not rebuke Joshua for his words or actions (compare Revelation 19:10, 22:8-9). He said, “‘Take your sandal off your foot, for the place where you stand is holy.’ And Joshua did so” (v. 15). The Commander spoke to Joshua just as the Lord spoke to Moses from the burning bush (Exodus 3:1-6); the same Lord who had spoken to Joshua after Moses’ death and promised, “Just as I was with Moses, so will I be with you” (Joshua 1:5).
Now that His identity was clear, the Commander made His mission clear, too. He pointed to Jericho, which “was securely shut up because of the children of Israel; none went out, and none came in. And the LORD said to Joshua: ‘See! I have given Jericho into your hand, its king, and the mighty men of valor’” (6:1-2). At that moment, the walls of Jericho were still standing, but the battle was already won. The Commander had come from heaven to achieve a great victory on earth and to give that victory to people who could never have won it for themselves.
Pontius Pilate looked up and saw a Man from Nazareth standing before him. Was He really the King of the Jews and therefore an enemy of Rome? Whose side was He on?
Jesus stood before Pilate as Commander of the Lord’s Army—an army He had ordered to stand down when He was arrested (Matthew 26:52-54)—and as Ruler over a kingdom not of this world. “If my kingdom were of this world,” Jesus said, “my servants would have been fighting” (John 18:36, ESV). When Pilate said, “So, that’s a ‘yes,’ then? You are a king?” Jesus replied, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me” (v. 37,NIV).
Jesus stood, risen and victorious, before His disciples on the Mount of Olives. They asked Him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6)? You’re on our side, aren’t You?” In reply, Jesus sent them out to bear witness to the truth: the truth of who He is and what He has done for sinners.
“Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57). The Commander of the Lord’s Army is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, our Risen and Ascended Savior. He stands before us today in Word and Sacrament, and through those means of grace, He shares the blessings of His victory with sinners like you and me. That doesn’t mean we win every contest against those opposed to us. But by His life and death, Jesus has vanquished our true enemies: sin, death, and the devil. He calls us to faith so that His victory might become our victory. He calls us to serve and obey Him, to bear witness to His truth and declare His praises to the world.
“Ask ye, Who is this? Jesus Christ it is, of Sabaoth Lord, and there’s none other God; He holds the field forever” (ELH 250:2).
Rev. Christian Eisenbeis