4.5 Joshua -- Commander of the Lord's Army
Prior to the attack on Jericho, Joshua had heard the voice of the Lord for himself (Josh 1). Now he actually saw Him, or His representative.
Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” "Neither," he replied, "but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come." Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, "What message does my Lord have for his servant?"
The commander of the Lord’s army replied, "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy." And Joshua did so (Josh 5:13-15).
There are two components of this revelation:
a. manifestation. Whereas Moses saw a burning bush and had to remove his sandals (Num 3), Joshua saw the Angel or the Presence of the Lord. The impact on both of them was the same -- fear and great reverence. In these events, God was setting them apart as instruments of His purpose, revealing Himself to them in a way they could not forget.
b. message. God's message was very direct to Joshua: He had not come to fulfill Israel's agenda, nor that of any man. To Joshua's challenge, "Whose side are you on?", He replied, "Neither!" Then He turned the tables on Joshua and revealed the true situation: the army of the Lord had gathered to fulfill His own purposes. This invisible army was going to war against the principalities of false gods that ruled Canaan, just as He had attacked the gods of Egypt that held Israel in slavery. This same army reappeared in Elisha's day, invisible to all but the prophet (2 Kings 6:17). God was preparing a divine invasion of the land, and a disinheritance and expulsion of the entrenched pagan gods.
This revelation to Joshua is central to the Biblical doctrine of race. Its meaning reaches far beyond Joshua's time and the struggles of Israel with her enemies. It applies to both inter-racial and international conflict. Its message is that God is not on one side or the other, He has His own agenda. Even Joshua, the anointed of God, who was on a divine mission, dared not say "God is on my side." Rather, he had to submit himself to the majesty of God and of His purpose. Only then did God empower him to attack Jericho.
What we learn from this is that in every modern class conflict among social groups -- white vs black, yellow vs brown, men vs women, rich vs poor, first world vs third world, and so on ad infinitum -- God does not endorse one side against another. The claim that He does so is almost universal, especially among religious people. And it is true that justice may favor one side more than the other. Nevertheless, to claim that one ideology, one political agenda, one set of leaders, is God's will for our time, is a lie and a misapplication of the Scriptures. God does not "loan Himself out" to human causes and political parties. Any national or racial group that claims He does is guilty of presumption. Instead, He demands our allegiance, the subjection of our values and methods to His. These He has communicated in the Scriptures and through His Spirit. It is only in humility before Him that we can act with righteousness and power towards men.