“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” (Josh. 5:15).
Examining Scripture reveals that God employs angels often in the unfolding of His plan of redemption. From the angel who guarded the way to the Tree of Life in Genesis 3:24 to the angel Jesus sent to give the final vision of God’s Word in Revelation 22:16, angels are used to give physical help to the people of God, deliver messages, and even execute judgment upon the impenitent. This week, our study of how old covenant themes are fulfilled in the New Testament will focus on angels and the various roles they have played in the history of redemption.
Importantly, the term we translate as “angel” in English can also mean “messenger,” so it is not necessarily the case that every person called an angel in Scripture is the same as what we consider to be a heavenly being from God’s holy court. This may be the case with the angel of the Lord, who appears in many places throughout the Old Testament. Some theologians have identified this angel with the pre-incarnate Christ; thus, the angel of the Lord may be a “christophany” — an appearance of God’s Son before He assumed a human nature and “was made man” (Nicene Creed).
Not every being called the “angel of the Lord” is, in fact, the pre-incarnate Christ, for the term can simply refer to an angel who serves the God of Israel. Also, the preincarnate Christ, in the guise of the angel of the Lord, can go by names other than the angel of the Lord. This is the case, for example, in today’s passage. We are clued in to the fact that the one identified as the “commander of the Lord’s army” is not simply an angel because Joshua worships Him and is not rebuked for it (Josh. 5:13–15). Since the Bible is not afraid to condemn people for worshiping creaturely angels (Rev. 22:8–9), this being in Joshua 5 must be none other than God Himself.
Notably, this commander does not give an affirmative answer when Joshua asks if He is for the Israelites, even though the Israelites were fulfilling the will of God in the invasion of Canaan. Neither does the commander claim to be on the side of the Canaanites. This teaches us a vital truth: even though we may profess to serve the Lord, we cannot take it for granted that we are always on the right side. Only as we possess the faith we profess and seek to do the will of God can we count on Him to fight for us (Deut. 1:19–46).
Coram DeoLiving before the face of God
Even believers can presume that God is on their side on a particular issue without due consideration. Though he was not an evangelical, Abraham Lincoln’s famous words can serve us well here: “My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.” Unless our goals and positions are grounded in Scripture, we cannot reasonably expect the Lord to fight for us.