Joshua 5. 13-15: General Jesus

October 31, 2010 Speaker: Christopher Rich Series: Joshua: Lord's Army

Topic: Old Testament Passage: Joshua 5:13–5:15

Joshua 5.13-15: General Jesus from Damascus Road Church on Vimeo.

The Lord’s Army – Joshua 5: 13- 15- Joshua meets General Jesus


Good Morning! Today we’re continuing our series The Lord’s Army looking at the book of Joshua, specifically Josh 5:13-15. These verses do not stand alone, they are part of a greater narrative of God redeeming his people from slavery to a promised land. To get caught up in the story, God uses a man named Moses to miraculously lead His people out of Egypt where they lived as mistreated slaves including parting the Red Sea so they could escape a pursuing army. After being saved by the Creator God from certain death Israel responded by worshiping golden calf they created themselves. As a consequence Israel will spend the next 40 years wandering the desert before being allowed into the Promised Land. The book of Joshua starts after Moses, and the faithless generation had died off. God commissions Joshua to lead Israel from the wilderness to the Promised Land. Joshua sends in some spies to scout out Jericho who end up taking refuge in a brothel and are saved by a hooker with a heart of gold. God rolls back the swelled Jordan River so Israel crosses on dry ground in the same manner a generation before had crossed the Red Sea. Under God’s instruction Joshua Israel set up memorials to remember all that God has done and to teach the next generation His faithfulness. The men of Israel renew their covenant with God through circumcision and the nation celebrates the Passover meal reminding them of God’s work in Egypt.

God’s people have been delivered from Slavery, brought out of the wilderness, reflected on what God has done and recommitted to continue on the path that God has laid out before them. The time has come for God’s people to move beyond recalling what God has saved them from to living out the mission God has called them too. As Joshua makes final preparations for the siege of Jericho, the battle that will decide the fate of the nation God has entrusted to him, he is met by a curious visitor.

Joshua 5:13-15

Before we can unpack this episode verse by verse we have to know who the visitor is.

It’s easy to think this was an Angel sent by God. While angels were common messengers through out the Bible, the “commander of the army of the LORD” is not a mere angel. He instructs Joshua to give him the same honor that Moses gave the burning bush in Exodus 3. Joshua calls Him Lord and worships him. A created angel in the service of God would not have accepted this. This is GOD! It is what theologians call a theophany – literally an “appearance of God” in which he takes on a visible form to show himself to a people or a person. It’s when infinite, omnipresent, Creator of the Universe shows himself in a way his finite creation can relate and interact with. Leading up to this point God has appeared at several key points through out scripture in various forms depending on the needs, situation, and nature of the relationship between God and His people:

  • Gen 3:8 God regularly took walks with Adam and Eve in Garden during the cool of the day, showing the peace and intimacy of a perfect, unbroken relationship between God and Man. After man’s disobedience they were ashamed to be in God’s presence and they are expelled from the garden as a consequence of sin.
  • Gen 18 God appears to Abraham, a tent dwelling nomad to tell him Sara, his barren 90 year old wife, will have a son. He comes as a traveler, I believe, showing that the path of redemption will be a long journey until we’re home. 
  • Gen 32 God shows up as ultimate fighter that spends all night in the octagon wrestling with Jacob graciously limiting his power before finally getting Jacob to tap out by gently touching his hip causing it to come out of its socket.
  • Ex 3 God speaks to Moses as a burning bush showing the intensity and passion he has for the plight of His people suffering in slavery.
  • Ex 14 As He parts the Red Sea, God appears as a pillar of smoke to show he is powerful to both protect and deliver His people from the world’s most powerful military, and later appears as a pillar of light to guide His people.
  • Later, God appears in Glory to deliver the Law to Moses, while Joshua waited on the side of a mountain alone between a Holy God and His rebellious people.
  • Now, as Israel, and Joshua prepares for the first battle in the conquest of the Promised Land God shows up as a sword wielding general. General Jesus.

General Jesus

When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing before him with his drawn sword in his hand. 

When studying the Old Testament we can often think of Jesus as someone that just shows up at Christmas makes a brief 33 year cameo appearance in history before coming back at the end time, rather than seeing him as the central figure of all of scripture. There is not one powerful warrior God in the OT, and a different hippy carpenter Jesus in the NT. There is one consistent, yet complex, God through out the Bible named Jesus. Col 1:15 He is the image of the invisible God. When you see God appearing visibly as a man at any point in scripture you’re looking at Jesus.

Jesus as a general is hard for us to wrap our heads around because we focus so much on the Galilean peasant who suffered and died on the cross in humility, we forget Jesus in his Glory. Here Jesus self-identifies as “Commander of the army of the Lord”, the Hebrew word means not only, military officer but also and prince, nobility, leader of a clan or family. In Rev 19, John sees Jesus as a general riding a white horse with a tattoo that says “King of Kings and Lord of Lords.” Jesus in glory is the rule, with humility the exception, not the other way around. This shouldn’t diminish our view of Jesus coming in humility. It should deepen our appreciation of Christ humbling himself when we better understand the glory he came down from. The distance carpenter to cross doesn’t seem as great as it is from General/Prince to cross.  The time for Christ as sacrifice will come, but with the battle of Jericho looming Israel’s immediate need isn’t sacrifice it’s salvation and General Jesus is ready.

Christ has his sword drawn, which both encourages Joshua and shows he is ready for both the defense and salvation of his people.  – Matthew Henry                                To Abraham in his tent he appeared as a traveller; to Joshua in the field as a man of war. Christ will be to his people what their faith expects and desires. 

I respectfully disagree with Henry’s last sentence and instead say Christ will be to His people what he knows they truly need and it’s often not what we expect or desire.

We get it to trouble when we approach God with our own expectations and desires.

And Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?

When we encounter God we come with a man-centric and self-centered point of view rather than a God centered one. Because we start from the perspective of ourselves as the center of all things we draw distinctions that suit our own needs and desires different from those God does. This causes us to have wrong assumptions that lead us to ask the wrong questions of God. Are you on our/my side or are you against us? We have our own agenda that we submit to God, or anyone else, that they will either agree with or conform to. We have no problem drawing lines in the sand and we dare God and others to be on the “wrong” side which is always the opposite of the side we’re on. We always know what we’re for or against, and we know where other’s stand, but we rarely try to understand what God is “for”.  We’re like cable news political pundits that try to trap their guest with “Why do you hate Freedom and America?” or “Why won’t you admit you’re a racist?” type questions. The guests struggle to answer because in doing so they have to submit to a false premise the host has created. In the same way, we try to put God in a box that puts Him in a position to submit to our agenda.   

What are the wrong questions you ask God? What box are you trying to put God in? 

Joshua, and us, can’t put God in a box, He defines his own terms in his reply.

And he said, “No; but I am the commander of the army of the Lord. Now I have come.”

God is NOT on Your Side

This is difficult and terrifying thought for us to consider. How could God not be on my side? God is not on man’s side, He’s on HIS side. This is an important distinction. When we have been walking with Christ for an extended period of time it can be easy to be comfortable with the idea that God is on our side, or there is something good about us, because he freed us from the slavery of sin, and sustained and delivered us from various wildernesses in our lives. We take verses like Rom 8:31 that say, If God is for us, who can be against us?, to assume that whatever path we choose take God is our co-pilot who will both follow and bless us. We forget the “IF” part of the verse. God is “for us/with us” as much as our lives are conformed to His will. He is the commander of the Lord’s army, not our private mercenary that saves us when we want to be rescued and serves us when we want to conquer. When God has done amazing things in our lives we begin to act like we have blank check of His grace to continue to use for blessing and favor without regard for if we are seeking His will or our own. We forget we are in his debt, he is not in ours.

If anyone had cause to assume God is on their side it’s Joshua and Israel. They who had visible and tangible evidence/experiences to point to that God unquestionably on “their” side and yet God doesn’t say “Joshua, I am on the side of Israel because of her great righteousness and I oppose Jericho because of her wickedness. Let me charge in to battle with you to ensure your victory and then you can live however you see fit.” In Jesus response he is making it clear that He is not there to follow Joshua or guarantee victory for Israel.  If Joshua and Israel wants to join and remain on the victorious side they will need to enlist in the Lord’s Army and submit to the orders of General Jesus.

And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped and said to him, “What does my lord say to his servant?”

Joshua is the military, civil, and spiritual leader of a nation. It would have been be proud of his position and his past. He could have given Jesus his extensive resume while explaining why he should lead the Lord’s army into battle. However, when he is confronted with the truth of who Jesus he responses correctly in worship. He doesn’t vigorously hold on to his faulty assumptions or worldview, he quickly cast them aside to rightly understand the relationship between him and God is one of servant and lord. He doesn’t try to give Jesus orders as his superior or even try hash out a plan of attack as if they are peers. He humbles himself before God and eagerly seeks instruction ready to carry out whatever he commands. When was the last time you let Jesus/God/Scripture change your world view? When was the last time you sought God’s instruction with a willingness to carry whatever ever God’s response is?

15 And the commander of the Lord’s Army said to Joshua, “Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.”

Jesus affirms there is a difference and a separation between himself and Joshua. While He can relate to Joshua as a man, He is still God and his Holiness is to be taken seriously. Jesus is also reassuring Joshua he’s is the same unchanging God that spoke to the great patriarchs and commanded Moses lead to Israel out of Egypt.

Exodus 3:5 Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place you’re standing is holy ground.” 6 And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”  Joshua is now in Moses place, commissioned by General Jesus to lead Israel into the Promised Land. Joshua won’t have to carry the mission out alone because Jesus is there in glory and in power.  And like Moses, he will lead by first following.

And Joshua did so.

This passage ends with Joshua submitting in obedience. This would be an easy place to wrap up with Joshua as our example. That he was obedient to God, to the point of attacking a fortified city with a marching band and the cast of Glee and God gave him victory so we should simply obey God with equal confidence and sustained zeal. Surely Israel will be able to follow Joshua’s example and continue in obedience. But, instead of remaining faithful, they are one generation away from the book Judges

Judges 2:10-12 (p338)

If the story ended there it would only be cold religion, obey and God is happy and will bless you, fail and incur God’s wrath and anger. Be like Joshua and don’t forget God. Religion is NOT the Gospel. It’s not good news because we see Religion and striving for obedience didn’t work for Israel and it doesn’t work for us. The Bible is not about people being obedient to God and meriting His favor. It’s about a God who is faithful to his people despite their faithlessness.  Rom 5:8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 

Jesus willingly lays down his life for his people despite their continued disobedience, idolatry, and rebellion. Jesus is a General who fights in our place. He takes our defeat on the cross so we can share in his victory at the resurrection. We experience victory in our lives not through our obedience but because Christ victorious on our behalf. The Sunday school song in wrong, Joshua didn’t make the walls of Jericho fall, Jesus did! With ourselves there is no hope that we can remain faithful to God and live out the lives he has called us to. Alone, we will falter be defeated every time. Thankfully Joshua wasn’t left alone and neither are we. 

Matt 28:18-20 And Jesus came to them and said to them, “All authority in Heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always to the end of the age.”

The general with his sword drawn is STILL with us! We follow the same leader with the same power that Joshua did. Joshua enlisted in the Lord’s Army and was commissioned by General Jesus to participate in the conquest of Jericho with the promise that Jesus would be with him in battle. If you’re a Christian you have enlisted in the Lord’s Army and have been commissioned to make disciples and we can go about our mission with confidence knowing we are not alone but Jesus is with us with all power and authority. If you’re not a Christian you are fighting all you battles alone and while you may experience temporary victories or not even believe your in a conflict in the end you will loose the war because you are not serving the Commander of the Army of the Lord and only he will be victorious. Humble yourself before General Jesus, take off you sandals and lay them at the foot of the cross recognizing your need of grace from a holy God, submit to Jesus, seek his instruction, then get up and fight!  

Benediction Philippians 2:5-10

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