While scouting Jericho, Joshua was probably also reflecting on his last visit to the Promised Land (see Numbers 13–14). Forty years before, he had been commissioned as a spy by Moses, on the verge, as he thought, of seeing God’s promises fulfilled. Israel’s faithlessness, however, had delayed that day until only he and Caleb remained from that generation. Now he was older and the leader of Israel. At last the time had come. It was the eve of his first major battle, a formidable one against the fortified city of Jericho.
As these thoughts flooded Joshua’s heart and mind, a man appeared before him. The “commander of the Lord’s army” was likely an angelic being, though some interpreters think it might have been the preincarnate Christ. This man told Joshua to remove his sandals because the ground they stood on was now holy (5:14–15). Joshua had initially questioned whose side this man was on—was he a friend or enemy? Once he identified his divine commission, Joshua “fell facedown to the ground in reverence.”
God gave Joshua a detailed plan for defeating Jericho. Was it a brilliant piece of military strategy? No. Humanly speaking, it didn’t make any sense. The people, led by the ark symbolizing God’s presence, would march around the city for a week, then blow their trumpets, and that would do it. This was a plan that required complete faith and obedience. This was a plan in which God would get all the glory for the city’s conquest.
As we know from the rest of chapter 6, Joshua and the people rose to the challenge. They staked everything on God’s instructions, and the Lord won the day. “With God we will gain the victory, and he will trample down our enemies” (Ps. 60:12).
Apply the Word
When Joshua asked the man, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”, he answered, “Neither” (v. 14). Neither? Wasn’t God on Israel’s side? The truth is that God doesn’t take sides. He rules. He has a sovereign plan that is far above our petty loyalties and conflicts. The point is not to pray that He’ll be on our side, but that we’ll be on His side!