Bible Readings for July 4th
At the end of Joshua 5, Joshua meets a mysterious man with a drawn sword. The fact that Joshua meets him near Jericho (Josh. 5:13) both suggests that Joshua had been spying on the city and also explains why Joshua would tensely ask the man to identify whether he was for Israel or for Israel’s adversaries. The mysterious man flatly denies the idea that he is a mere soldier fighting for one side or the other. Instead, he explains that his role is far greater than that: “No; but I am the commander of the army of the LORD. Now I have come” (Josh. 5:14).
Who might this be? We know that Joshua is speaking to God himself because Joshua falls down in worship (Josh. 5:14) and because the commander demands that Joshua remove his sandals, just as Yahweh had demanded of Moses when he appeared in the burning bush (Ex. 3:5). Yet, this figure (who is himself Yahweh) calls himself the commander of the army of Yahweh, rather than simply stating that he is Yahweh.
The text doesn’t tell us explicitly who this is, but there is little doubt that Joshua is talking to a pre-incarnate manifestation of Jesus—in theological vocabulary, a “theophany.” Many centuries before Jesus would be born to Mary in a stable in Bethlehem, he is here, leading the armies of Yahweh into battle on behalf of Joshua and all Israel.
The battle plan that Yahweh gives in Joshua 6:1–5 is quite strange. Jesus commands Israel to march around the city of Jericho for six days in silence, and then to march around the city seven times on the seventh day, with the priests blowing the trumpets and the people shouting until the walls fall down. Or, perhaps a better word than “strange” to describe this battle plan would be “passive.” Israel does nothing other than trust Yahweh to fight for them.
In fact, Yahweh does exactly that. The priests carry the ark of Yahweh to march around the city for six days, and on the seventh day, Yahweh gives the city to Israel, saving only Rahab and her family with her (Josh. 6:16–17). This is the battle plan that Yahweh gave Israel as he led them out of Egypt, as they marched through enemy territory in the wilderness, and as they enter the Promised Land to claim their inheritance. Israel’s specific tactics will change, but it is Yahweh who will win the battle.
And still today, this is the battle plan that God gives for us, but with one small twist. We know that Yahweh eventually did become human, in order to fight for us. We have only to be silent, believing in Jesus’ victory over sin, death, and the devil, and moving forward to claim the inheritance that we have in Christ (Eph. 1:11–14).
Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.