The Book of Joshua

17. The Captain of the Host of the Lord.

"And it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and, behold, there stood a man over against him with his sword drawn in his hand: and Joshua went unto him, and said unto him, Art thou for us, or for our adversaries? And he said, Nay; but as captain of the host of the Lord am I now come. And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and did worship, and said unto him, What saith my lord unto his servant? And the captain of the Lord's host, said unto Joshua, Loose thy shoe from off thy foot; for the place whereon thou standest is holy. And Joshua did so." — Joshua 5:1-5.

"Now Jericho was straitly shut up because of the children of Israel: none went out, and none came in. And the Lord said unto Joshua, See, I have given into thine hand Jericho, and the king thereof, and the mighty men of valour. And ye shall compass the city, all ye men of war, and go round about the city once. Thus shalt thou do six days. And seven priests shall bear before the ark seven trumpets of rams' horns: and the seventh day ye shall compass the city seven times, and the priests shall blow with the trumpets. And it shall come to pass, that when they make a long blast with the ram's horn, and when ye hear the sound of the trumpet, all the people shall shout with a great shout; and the wall of the city shall fall down flat, and the people shall ascend up every man straight before him." — Joshua 6:1-5.

"Out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword." — Rev. 1:16.

We cannot regard Joshua, since he was not always free from mistakes, as in every detail a type of the Lord Jesus. We look at him, in the portion before us, as a man of faith in whom the Spirit of Christ is, and we see him the spring and energy of Israel.

Joshua was by Jericho, surveying its walls rising up to heaven and its brazen gates; and as Israel had no offensive weapons of war wherewith to throw down these defences, how should this stronghold be won? Reason might suggest a thousand difficulties; God presents us with a sight of the man of faith alone with Himself, obtaining His mind as to victory. The forces of the world are to us what the defences of Jericho were to the nomad tribes of Israel. In ourselves we are impotent before them. With divine power all things are possible.

As Joshua lifted his eyes, he saw before him a man with a drawn sword in his hand. Here was the divine revelation to him, and thither he turned his eyes, not on the defences of Jericho. In the energy of his soul, Joshua challenged the Stranger, who declared Himself to be the Captain, or Prince, of the host of Jehovah, whereon Joshua immediately fell on his face before Him, and sought His bidding.

God's resources are infinite, and He makes them known to us in Christ, according to His own glory and our need. To Moses He discovered Himself in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush, for His people were in the furnace of affliction, and of Him they were not consumed; "in all their affliction He was afflicted, and the angel of His presence saved them" (Isaiah 63:9); and on the holy ground of Jehovah's presence, with unshod feet, Moses received his mission of deliverance for Israel from Egypt's bondage. To Joshua, Jehovah revealed Himself in Christ, as the prince of all power, as the Captain of the host of heaven, on behalf of Israel, His army; and with unshod feet, on the holy ground of the presence of the Lord, Joshua learned the way Jericho was to be overthrown, and gained the knowledge that Jehovah had given over to Israel, the city, its king, and all its men of war. And worshipping at the feet of the Son of Man risen from the dead, the soldier of Christ learns the end of the powers of evil and of this world.

As the supreme authority, the absolute power, of Christ our Lord engages the heart, faith increases, and we give heed to the exhortation, "Be ye strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might" (Eph. 6:10). To the Lord Jesus Christ, as Man, all power is given in heaven and in earth (Matt. 28:18). God has put all things under His feet (Eph. 1:22). He, in heaven, "is the head of all principality and power" (Col. 2:10). True Christian conflict is for His glory and for His alone; hence so far as the Christian is truly warring for Christ, the array of Satan's powers is against him. "We wrestle not," says the Scripture, "against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in heavenly places" (Eph. 6:12). In the presence of these mighty forces, as we recognize, by faith, the Captain of the Lord's host, and as we are strong in Him and in the power of His might, so we overcome.

The drawn sword had now taken the place of the outstretched rod. The rod was the emblem of divine guidance and deliverance out of Egypt, but the sword was that of divine guidance and victory in Canaan. No longer were Israel led as a flock; they were henceforth the army sent by God to overthrow the iniquity of Canaan. We greatly mistake Scripture if we confine our testimony to comfort and peace, for therein also are words of judgment and of woe. In the most emphatic way, at this time, out of the mouth of the Lord goes a sharp two-edged sword (Rev. 1:16); and decided and unmitigated judgment against evil is pronounced from heaven against iniquity. In the hastening day of the Kingdom, when the heavens shall be opened, the Lord, the Faithful and the True, shall smite the nations with the sharp sword which goeth out of His mouth. (Rev. 19:15, 21.) The exceeding terribleness of God's wrath against sin, and the testimony to the judgment Christ will, by His word, execute against sinners, form part of Christian offensive warfare against this world. To render such testimony, we must have our hearts occupied with the revelation of Himself with the drawn sword, and this revelation is received at His feet. (Read Rev. 1.)

The whole of the solemn passage we are considering should be read as the verses are given in the heading of this chapter. In it this parenthesis occurs: "Now Jericho did shut up and was shut up (margin) because of the children of Israel: none went out, and none came in." The whole passage gives us God's mind about the sword, the end of Jericho, and His way of bringing about its overthrow. The parenthesis states what was Jericho's condition, and occurring, as it does, between the statement of Joshua's worshipping on the holy ground of the Divine Presence and the revelation concerning Jericho's end, it is most suggestive. We learn God's mind in the sanctuary of His presence, and according as we are in His presence, so does He reveal His truth to us. He who became dead, lives to die no more; we bow at the feet of the Son of Man in glory. Where Joshua fell down, and where John fell down, let us fall down and worship. At His feet are revealed the reality of His sword and the judgment of the world. The history of evil, dark and dreadful as it is, is but a brief parenthesis in the purposes of God. A rebellious life, or the life of a rebellious world that goes on its course in resolute opposition to God, is a thing of a moment, viewed in the light of eternal ages. Indeed the world's history is but the parenthesis of the creature's will, occurring in the midst of the divine purpose! How soon will all be over! Boast as the world does, or as a worldly man may do, in shutting God out, sudden destruction must come, and there will be no escape.

Observing the parenthetic verse, it is seen that the Captain of the Lord's host is Jehovah-Jesus, who gave Joshua directions as to the manner of Israel's warfare, and before a step was taken, laid out their mysterious career on the number of the days of a week. The number seven governed their proceedings; for priests, trumpets, days, and times, all were sevenfold. God has marked out His dealings with the earth into periods of sevens; from Genesis to Revelation, His ways with the earth in reference to the Kingdom are thus divided, and each week we live proclaims to every man the history of time, and in the last moments of that history our lot is cast.

The array of Israel is also suggestive. The ark that had brought them into Canaan was the centre of the armed host (ver. 9), and so is Christ the centre of the army of God's people, while before the ark went praise — the seven priests; and true it is, that in Christian warfare, praise sevenfold is in the front. The character of the praise, too, is significant, for each priest had the trump of gladness, the cornet of jubilee (not a ram's horn), the notes of which proclaimed freedom — liberty — the acceptable year of the Lord. These joyful sounds were to fall continually upon the ears of the men of Jericho, as the armed men encircled the city.

Such was the array of Israel, day by day, until the end. Let such be ours, Christ first, praise next, then work: — a foolish spectacle to the world, it is true, but "the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds." (2 Cor. 10:4.)