How many of you like a good mystery? Several years back, my wife Marika and I used to watch a lot of mystery shows. We watched all of the Perot series, and most of the show Psyche. Growing up I watched Murder She Wrote, Perry Mason, and of course, anything about Sherlock Holmes.
In fact, I loved Sherlock Holmes so much as a kid, that I got a Holmes hat, and then I would ask my Dad to create a mystery for me by hiding things around the house and leaving clues for me to follow. That didn’t last long, because it was a lot of work for my Dad.
But one of the things that I eventually started doing when I watched movies was wait until all of the characters had been introduced, and then make a prediction of who the bad guy was. I got to be pretty actuate for the most part.
Now, I try to not only figure out the bad guy, but the reason behind the whole thing as well. In fact a couple of weeks ago my family was watching the movie Lego Movie 2. Since I already knew who the bad guy was, I tried to predict what caused the conflict, and I would say I was about 50% right. But afterward, Marika said that we should watch a little bit of a movie, and then pause it, write down our predictions, and then watch the rest of the movie, and see how we did.
So maybe for future movies we’ll start doing that, that way I can prove just how much like Sherlock Holmes I am.
This desire to figure out mysteries is what brings us back to Joshua chapter 5, verse 13. But before we dive into the last three verses of Joshua chapter 5, let’s recap how we got to this spot.
So far we have seen three parts to Joshua and the nation of Israel’s story. The first part was God installing Joshua as leader over the Israelite nation. As Joshua’s first few acts of leadership, he brings together the people, prepares them for crossing into the land of Canaan, and finally he seeks to get intel on the land they’re about to enter.
The second part is God providing a miracle for the people. This miracle is similar to a miracle that he provided for their parents. God pushes the flow of the Jordan river back, providing a pathway for the people to cross over on dry ground.
Finally, God had the people not only set up a memorial to remember the events that had already transpired, but also brought them to a place where they had to put their full trust in him. He did this by having them circumcised and then holding a festival of remembering what he had already done for them back in Egypt.
So far the theme that comes from all of this, is not that Israel is about to conquer the land that God has brought them to, but rather, God is doing everything necessary for them to have future victory. In other words, the focus of these chapters are not on the people of Israel, nor on Joshua himself, but rather on God who is the preparer and provider of Israel’s victories.
So now that we have that at the forefront of our minds, we need to answer one simple question, who shows up to talk with Joshua? Let’s return to Joshua chapter 5, that we covered last week, and read the three verses that introduce us to this mysterious person.
13 Now 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 went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”
14 “Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?”
15 The commander of the Lord’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.
Last week we talked a little about this man that appears before Joshua with his sword drawn. And we talked about how when Joshua asked where the man’s allegiance was, the nation of Israel or the people of Canaan, the man simple said “No.” Implying that Joshua’s question was incorrect. That God is not on the side of anyone, but rather God has his own plans, and he will carry out those plans as he sees fit.
But the chapter ends without any more information. We simple end with Joshua taking off his shoes, and we go straight into a focus on the city of Jericho. In movies, this is called a jump cut. You jump from one scene to another, without a sense of resolve, and that unresolved tension is to make us wonder what is going on. Here we that same feeling of a situation being unresolved, and we’re left wondering, what was that all about? Who is this mysterious person?
So here we go, we’re going to put on our Sherlock Holmes hats, and dig into the mystery of the Man with the Drawn Sword.
First let’s analyze the passage, the scene of the crime as it were. There are just two people, Joshua and the man with the drawn sword. We know that the man is of God, because he addresses himself as the commander of the army of the Lord.
Now, to get a better idea of how this would sound to a Jewish audience, I want to read from the Complete Jewish Bible, it is translated in a way, that non-christian Jewish people would accept as a good translation of the text. The Complete Jewish Bible reads this passage like this, “13 One day, when Y'hoshua was there by Yericho, he raised his eyes and looked; and in front of him stood a man with his drawn sword in his hand. Y'hoshua went over to him and asked him, ‘Are you on our side or on the side of our enemies?’ 14 ‘No,’ he replied, ‘but I am the commander of ADONAI's army; I have come just now.’ Y'hoshua fell down with his face to the ground and worshipped him, then asked, ‘What does my lord have to say to his servant?’ 15 The commander of Adonai’s army answers Y’hoshua, ‘Take your sandals off your feet, because the place where you are standing is holy.’ And Y’hoshua did so.”
So there is a Jewish translation of the same Scripture we read before. Sounds pretty similar, right?
Let’s now take what we see in the Scripture and begin to analyze it. This man has a drawn sword (v.13) and appears out of nowhere (v.14). Where else in Scripture do we see someone from God with a drawn sword who is also from God? Well, in Genesis 3 we see this situation: Adam and Eve rebel against God by eating the forbidden fruit, so God kicks them out of the garden of Eden. Then it says in verse 24, “After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.”
So we see that God sent cherubim to guard the entrance to the garden of Eden with a flaming sword. Okay, so could this man be an cherub, or what we commonly refer to as an angel?
Well, it doesn’t say either cherubim or angel in the passage. In fact in the whole book of Joshua those two terms are nowhere to be found. Instead it calls the person a man. And sure enough in Genesis chapters 18 and 19 we get connection between the use of man and the use of angel. In Genesis 18:22, we are told that two men turned to go to Sodom, and then later in chapter 19 verse 1, we are told these two men are actually angels.
So we have a possible connection between the term man that can also refer to an angel.
But we run into a problem. As we saw in verse 14, as the Complete Jewish Bible translates it, it says, “Y'hoshua fell down with his face to the ground and worshipped him…”
It seems pretty clear that Joshua is directing his worship towards the man and the man never seems to reject this worship. So the question is, “If this is an angel, do angels accept worship?”
Well, we actually get two instances of another man bowing down to worship in front of an angel in the book of Revelation. One is in chapter 19 verse 10 where it says, “At this I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, “Don’t do that! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers and sisters who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For it is the Spirit of prophecy who bears testimony to Jesus.” The other instance of angel worship is in chapter 22, verses 8 and 9 of the book of Revelation. It says, “8 I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I had heard and seen them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who had been showing them to me. 9 But he said to me, ‘Don’t do that! I am a fellow servant with you and with your fellow prophets and with all who keep the words of this scroll. Worship God!’”
In both instances, the angel rejects the worship that is given to him, and directs the worship to God.
So because the word angel or cherubim does not appear in the book of Joshua, and because angels reject worship, I think we can safely say that this person is not an angel. But if he is not an angel who is he?
The plot thickens. Well, one thing we know is that this man accepted worship, so does that mean this man is God himself? Let’s follow this rabbit for a while and see if there is a link between the term man and God.
And there is. Going back to that same passage where man and angel were linked, we also see a link between the terms man and God. In Genesis 18, verses 1-2, 10, 13-14, 22 talk about three men showing up to meet with Abraham. Abraham is very hospitable, and as the four men now eat together, only one of the three ever speak. Then in verse 22, the two other men depart, but the one that had been speaking to Abraham stays. Now listen to what it says in verses 22 and 23. “The men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the Lord. 23 Then Abraham approached him and said…”
The two men left and all that was left was the third one, which is identified as the Lord. Here’s that connection between the terms man and God.
But wait a second, let’s put a pause on this theory before we get too deep down the rabbit hole. In the Gospel of John chapter 6 verse 46, Jesus says, “No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father.” Doesn’t that mean, that this couldn’t be God, because no one has seen him?
Well, we have a problem here, because in Genesis chapter 16 we get this interesting interaction between the slave girl Hagar, who was made to sleep with Abraham and then got pregnant. And once she was pregnant she was treated so horribly that she ran away. While she was escaping she encountered someone. Listen to they’re interaction.
7 The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. 8 And he said, “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?”
“I’m running away from my mistress Sarai,” she answered.
9 Then the angel of the Lord told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.” 10 The angel added, “I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.”
Now, you might be thinking, “Wait a second, we obviously know who is speaking to Hagar because it says, angle of the Lord, twice.” So Jesus is right, no one has seen God.
But there’s a few problems that pop up in this passage. First, the Hebrew term for angel is malak (mal-awk) which simply means messenger. It doesn’t imply an angelic being such as a cherubim. Next, the angel or messenger says that, “I will increase your descendants…” That’s a pretty bold claim for an angelic being to say, when it is only God who can do that.
But what is really telling is Hagar’s response to all of this is. In verse 13 it says, “She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: ‘You are the God who sees me,’ for she said, ‘I have now seen the One who sees me.’” Hagar recognizes that this messenger of God is God himself seeing and speaking with her.
At this point you might be thinking, “Okay Jeremiah I think you’re Sherlock Holmes hat is on too tight and it’s making you look ridiculous. If this is really God, and Hagar saw him, then Jesus’ words in John 6:46 are wrong.” To which I saw, I look perfectly fine in my hat, and we’ll get to that in a moment.
The question isn’t is this God or not in Hagar’s story, but rather, is there another situation that we can point to where God and the angel of the Lord are linked together? Just like we connected the term man and God together?
And wouldn’t you know, there is. I’m going to read Exodus chapter 3, verse 1-8, and listen to where the angel of the Lord is, and where God is.
1 Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. 3 So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”
4 When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”
And Moses said, “Here I am.”
5 “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” 6 Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.
There things happen: The angel of the Lord was in the burning bush (v.2), the Lord saw Moses as he made his way to the burning bush, and finally God called out to Moses from the burning bush. So who was it in the bush? God or the angel of the Lord? Well, in verse 6 the one in the bush refers to himself as the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob.
But there is one little detail that I think we need to recognize in this passage because it happened in Joshua’s situation as well.
In Exodus 3 verse 5 God says, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”
In Joshua 5:15 the commander of the Lord’s army says, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.”
Now think about this God, has said over and over and over again (Joshua 1:5,17; 3;7), that as he was with Moses, he would also be with Joshua. This is Joshua’s burning bush moment. He is encountering the God he serves, right in front of his face.
But wait, what about Jesus’ words in John 6:46, “No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father.”
Well, about that, Jesus says no one has seen the Father. Jesus never says, no one has seen the Son. And if Jesus’ claims about him being God are true, then this commander of the Lord’s armies, this angel of the Lord, this one that Hagar saw, Abraham ate with, and Moses talked with in the burning bush, is Jesus himself as the eternal Son, before he came to earth. This is what theologians call a theophany of Jesus. Meaning, it’s the enteral Son who we would come to know as Jesus, being revealed in the pages of Scripture, before he was revealed in human flesh to die for our sins.
This would mean that Jesus didn’t just show up in the Gospel writings, but rather has been there throughout the entirety of the Old Testament. And when Jesus says in John chapter 8 verse 58,“Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” He really means he was there before all of it happened, and he was working as it happened.
I think the nail in the coffin of this mystery is this, do you know how many times this title of commander of the Lord’s armies is used in the Scripture? And I’m talking this title, throughout the entirety of the Old and New Testaments?
The answer is, three times. The two times we see in Joshua 5:13-15 and just one other time. And that time comes from Daniel chapter 8 verse 11 where it says, “It set itself up to be as great as the commander of the army of the Lord; it took away the daily sacrifice from the Lord, and his sanctuary was thrown down.”
Something or someone tries to take the place of the commander of the Lord’s army. It tries to usurp the role of the commander in rebellion against God. And isn’t this what we try to do?
The whole understanding of sin in the Scriptures, is that it rebels, it usurps and it battles against the rightful place of God in our lives. Here in Daniel, someone is trying to do just that. To take the role of God as the head of God’s armies.
But God will have none of that. It is Jesus who is the commander of the Lord’s armies. It is God who is deserving of our worship, and at who’s feet we should bow.
Joshua is at a point where he is about to go into battle, and God shows up to remind him that he is the ruler of the people, Joshua is merely their leader. And this lesson of keeping God as our focus for our lives, that we bow at his feet recognizing that he wins the victory, is what we need to keep as our focus as well.
We need to remember that God’s rightful place is leading us, and our rightful place is following. Until we learn this lesson, our lives will be in consist unneeded conflict. We will be trying to command God and his armies, when in reality we need to get to our rightful place and follow his command.
So this week, my challenge for you is simple, in what areas of your life are you trying to fight the battle on your own? What areas of life are you usurping God’s command? Are you trying to control the outcomes of work, or relationships, rather than trusting God to lead you and change you?
We need to get to a place where we recognize God as our commander, that he is the one who we follow, and we leave our will behind for his. Amen.