10 While the people of Israel were encamped at Gilgal, they kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the month in the evening on the plains of Jericho. 11 And the day after the Passover, on that very day, they ate of the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. 12 And the manna ceased the day after they ate of the produce of the land. And there was no longer manna for the people of Israel, but they ate of the fruit of the land of Canaan that year.
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 5:10-15 ESV
Not long after Joshua had instructed the men of Israel to undergo the rite of circumcision, the time came for the nation to keep the Passover celebration God had instituted in Egypt. Those outside of the covenant community of Israel were prohibited by the Mosaic law from taking part in the Passover, so the timing of the circumcision of the Hebrew males was critical. Circumcision was a sign of their covenant relationship with God and made them legally approved to participate in the Passover. So much of what we see in this passage points toward God’s divine time table as He prepares His people for an important transition in their covenant relationship with Him. He is leading a new generation of Israelites because the older, rebellious generation had died off. They have a new commander, in the form of Joshua, because Moses had died in the wilderness. They are in a new place, the land of promise, having miraculously crossed over the Jordan and entered into Canaan. And for the first time in over 40 years, they are celebrating Passover in the land God had promised to give them. He had delivered them from captivity in Egypt, led them across the wilderness, and had now delivered them into the land. It was a new day.
And almost as a sign of that new day, the manna that had sustained them during their 40-plus years of wilderness wandering, went away. It was there one day and gone the next, because it was no longer necessary. God had led them into a land that was filled with everything they would need to feed and sustain themselves. His miraculous provision of daily bread would not be needed. And it’s interesting to recall the circumstances under which God had first given them the manna. It had been early on in the days after their exodus from Egypt and it had occurred in the wilderness at a place called Sin. It had been just two months since they had walked out of Egypt as a free people, having been delivered by the hand of God. Now, they found themselves in Sin, without food and running out of patience with Moses.
2 And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, 3 and the people of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” – Exodus 16:2-3 ESV
God heard their grumbling and complaining. But rather than punish them, He promised to provide for them.
“I have heard the grumbling of the people of Israel. Say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread. Then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’” – Exodus 16:12 ESV
Each evening, God provided His people with quail. And each morning, the people woke up to find manna covering the ground. He met their needs. He sustained them all the years they were in the wilderness. But now that they were in the land of promise, there was no longer a need for quail and manna. The land God had given them would now sustain them. And this was in keeping with the promise that God had made to Moses when He called him to be the emancipator of the people of Israel.
“I promise that I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, a land flowing with milk and honey.” – Exodus 3:17 ESV
The land would meet their needs, but they would be required to conquer the nations that occupied the land. They were going to have to transform themselves from wanderers to warriors. Under Joshua’s leadership, they were going to have to take over the land that God had given them. And the very first place they were going to conquer was Jericho, which lay just a few miles from Gilgal, where they were camped. As Joshua went to reconnoiter the situation at Jericho, he had an unexpected encounter. He ran across a man who was carrying a sword in his hand. He was obviously a warrior, but Joshua did not recognize him. So, Joshua naturally asked him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” And the man responded, “No; but I am the commander of the army of the Lord. Now I have come” (Joshua 5:14 ESV).
This is a pivotal moment in the story. The manna was gone, but the Messiah had come. This encounter was between Joshua, the leader of the people of Israel and Jesus, the Son of God and the commander of the Lord’s armies. This was a theophany, a pre-incarnate appearance by Jesus Himself. And we can tell from the reaction of Joshua, that he understood the significance of the moment and the holiness of the one to whom he was talking. The passage tells us that Joshua “fell on his face to the earth and worshiped.” He recognized that this was no ordinary man, but a vision of God Himself. And the captain or Prince of the Lord’s armies commanded Joshua: “Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy” (Joshua 5:14 ESV). These are the same words Moses heard emanating from the burning bush when he had encountered God in the wilderness of Horeb (Exodus 3). Joshua, like Moses, found himself standing in the presence of deity. And the appearance of the Son of God in the form of a warrior was meant to be a reminder that God was going to be with them. They were not alone. Even as they faced the formidable and foreboding task of attempting to take the fortified city of Jericho, God was letting them know that He would be right there with them.
“I have come.” Those were the words that Joshua heard him say, and those words were meant to provide Joshua with assurance. As the captain of the host stood with sword in hand, Joshua was being given a visual and verbal reminder that the battle was not theirs, but God’s. He would be fighting for them. This was a new day. Their entrance into Canaan was going to bring with it new challenges. Joshua led a people who lacked formal training as soldiers. They had no siege engines or chariots. Their weapons consisted of spears, slings, and bows. They lacked armor. But they had God on their side. And as we will see in the very next chapter, the most fortified city they would face would prove to be no match for the commander of the army of the Lord.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.