We have hitherto found God often speaking to Joshua, but we read not till now of any appearance of God’s glory to him; now that his difficulties increased his encouragements were increased in proportion. Observe,
I. The time when he was favoured with this vision. It was immediately after he had performed the great solemnities of circumcision and the passover; then God made himself known to him. Note, We may then expect the discoveries of the divine grace when we are found in the way of our duty and are diligent and sincere in our attendance on holy ordinances.
II. The place where he had this vision. It was by Jericho; in Jericho, so the word is; in it by faith and hope, though as yet he had not begun to lay siege to it; in it in thought and expectation; or in the fields of Jericho, hard by the city. There, it should seem, he was all alone, fearless of danger, because sure of the divine protection. There he was (some think) meditating and praying; and to those who are so employed God often graciously manifests himself. Or perhaps there he was to take a view of the city, to observe its fortifications, and contrive how to attack it; and perhaps he was at a loss within himself how to make his approaches, when God came and directed him. Note, God will help those that help themselves. Vigilantibus non dormientibus succurrit lex—The law succours those who watch, not those who sleep. Joshua was in his post as a general, when God came and made himself known as Generalissimo.
III. The appearance itself. Joshua, as is usual with those that are full of thought and care, was looking downwards, his eyes fixed on the ground, when of a sudden he was surprised with the appearance of a man who stood before him at some little distance, which obliged him to lift up his eyes, and gave a diversion to his musings, Josh. 5:13. He appeared to him as a man, but a considerable man, and one fit to be taken notice of. Now, 1. We have reason to think that this man was the Son of God, the eternal Word, who, before he assumed the human nature for a perpetuity, frequently appeared in a human shape. So bishop Patrick thinks, consonant to the judgment of the fathers. Joshua gave him divine honours, and he received them, which a created angel would not have done, and he is called Jehovah, Josh. 6:2. 2. He here appeared as a soldier, with his sword drawn in his hand. 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. Christ had his sword drawn, which served, (1.) To justify the war Joshua was engaging in, and to show him that it was of God, who gave him commission to kill and slay. If the sovereign draw the sword, this proclaims war, and authorizes the subject to do so too. The sword is then well drawn when Christ draws it, and gives the banner to those that fear him, to be displayed because of the truth, Ps. 60:4. (2.) To encourage him to carry it on with vigour; for Christ’s sword drawn in his hand denotes how ready he is for the defence and salvation of his people, who through him shall do valiantly. His sword turns every way.
IV. The bold question with which Joshua accosted him; he did not send a servant, but stepped up to him himself, and asked, Art thou for us or for our adversaries? which intimates his readiness to entertain him if he were for them, and to fight him if he were against them. This shows, 1. His great courage and resolution. He was not ruffled by the suddenness of the appearance, nor daunted with the majesty and bravery which no doubt appeared in the countenance of the person he saw; but, with a presence of mind that became so great a general, put this fair question to him. God had bidden Joshua be courageous, and by this it appears that he was so; for what God by his word requires of his people he does by his grace work in them. 2. His great concern for the people and their cause; so heartily has he embarked in the interests of Israel that none shall stand by him with the face of a man but he will know whether he be a friend or a foe. It should seem, he suspected him for an enemy, a Goliath that had come to defy the armies of the living God, and to give him a challenge. Thus apt are we to look upon that as against us which is most for us. The question plainly implies that the cause between the Israelites and the Canaanites, between Christ and Beelzebub, will not admit of a neutrality. He that is not with us is against us.
V. The account he gave of himself, Josh. 5:14. “Nay, not for your adversaries, you may be sure, but as captain of the host of the Lord have I now come, not only for you as a friend, but over you as commander in chief.” Here were now, as of old (Gen. 32:2), Mahanaim, two hosts, a host of Israelites ready to engage the Canaanites and a host of angels to protect them therein, and he, as captain of both, conducts the host of Israel and commands the host of angels to their assistance. Perhaps in allusion to this Christ is called the captain of our salvation (Heb. 2:10), and a leader and commander to the people, Isa. 55:4. Those cannot but be victorious that have such a captain. He now came as captain to review the troops, to animate them, and to give the necessary orders for the besieging of Jericho.
VI. The great respect Joshua paid him when he understood who he was; it is probable that he perceived, not only by what he said but by some other sensible indications, that he was a divine person, and not a man. 1. Joshua paid homage to him: He fell on his face to the earth and did worship. Joshua was himself general of the forces of Israel, and yet he was far from looking with jealousy upon this stranger, who produced a commission as captain of the Lord’s host above him; he did not offer to dispute his claims, but cheerfully submitted to him as his commander. It will become the greatest of men to be humble and reverent in their addresses to God. 2. He begged to receive commands and directions from him: What saith my Lord unto his servant? His former question was not more bold and soldier-like than this was pious and saint-like; nor was it any disparagement to the greatness of Joshua’s spirit thus to humble himself when he had to do with God: even crowned heads cannot bow to low before the throne of the Lord Jesus, who is King of kings, Ps. 2:10, 11; 72:10, 11; Rev. 19:16. Observe, (1.) The relation he owns between himself and Christ, that Christ was his Lord and himself his servant and under his command, Christ his Captain and himself a soldier under him, to do as he is bidden, Matt. 8:9. Note, The foundation of all acceptable obedience is laid in a sincere dedication of ourselves, as servants to Jesus Christ as our Lord, Ps. 16:2. (2.) The enquiry he makes pursuant to this relation: What saith my Lord? which implies an earnest desire to know the will of Christ, and a cheerful readiness and resolution to do it. Joshua owns himself an inferior officer, and stands to receive orders. This temper of mind shows him fit for the post he was in; for those know best how to command that know how to obey.
VII. The further expressions of reverence which this divine captain required from Joshua (Josh. 5:15): Loose thy shoe from off thy foot, in token of reverence and respect (which with us are signified by uncovering the head), and as an acknowledgment of a divine presence, which, while it continued there, did in a manner sanctify the place and dignify it. We are accustomed to say of a person for whom we have a great affection that we love the very ground he treads upon; thus Joshua must show his reverence for this divine person, he must not tread the ground he stood on with his dirty shoes, Eccl. 5:1. Outward expressions of inward reverence, and a religious awe of God, well become us, and are required of us, whenever we approach to him in solemn ordinances. Bishop Patrick well observes here that the very same orders that God gave to Moses at the bush, when he was sending him to bring Israel out of Egypt (Exod. 3:5), he here gives to Joshua, for the confirming of his faith in the promise he had lately given him, that as he had been with Moses so he would be with him, Josh. 1:5. Had Moses such a presence of God with him as, when it became sensible, sanctified the ground? So had Joshua.
And (lastly) Hereby he prepares him to receive the instructions he was about to give him concerning the siege of Jericho, which this captain of the Lord’s host had now come to give Israel possession of.