As Joshua is preparing to take the people of Israel into the land God has promised them, shortly after they cross the Jordan river (on its own an awesome display of God's power), we encounter this text:
13 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. And Joshua went to him and said to him, "Are you for us, or for our adversaries?"
14 And he said, "No; but I am the commander of the army of the LORD. Now I have come." And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped and said to him, "What does my lord say to his servant?"
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." And Joshua did so.
- Joshua 5:13-15 (ESV, emphasis mine)
This is significant for two reasons:
- It was promised the angel of God would come to lead them into the land in Exodus 23:23. Moreover it is noted in verses prior that this angel was the one protecting and guiding them up to this point (v20-22). Note that this would have also been the same angel, at least by description, that Baalam encounters with his donkey on his way to curse the nation of Israel in Numbers 22.
- This meeting did not occur prior to Israel's ill-fated first attempt to enter the promised land in Numbers 14:42-43. The angel waited (or perhaps more accurately was not sent) until the proper time that God had set. His statement "Now I have come" has such a sense of purpose, of anticipation to it. "Now, this time, I have come as promised."
I find the imagery of these two leaders, about to command forces into battle, meeting for the first time incredible. I would think Joshua would find immense comfort in meeting the being leading God's army into battle before him. I think his reaction to the angel's declaration of identity, to worship and ask for direction, shows this as well as his humble and obedient heart.
The statement by the angel that he is not here in service (or opposition) to Joshua and Israel, but rather in service of God Most High is also very telling. It indicates that God himself has now determined that the time for Israel to receive the promises of the conquering of Canaan is now at hand and that, once again, this history being revealed is not about the nation of Israel, but about God. This commander is here, not to serve Israel or her enemies, but to fulfill the promise and purpose of God: To establish a nation for himself in order that he might show his glory among the nations.