(Josh. 5:13-15) Who is the captain of the Lord’s host?

CLAIM: We should not worship angels (Col. 2:18; Rev. 19:10; 22:8-9) or men (Acts 10:26; Mt. 4:10). However, Joshua falls down and worships the captain of the Lord’s host. Who or what was he?

RESPONSE: The captain of the Lord’s host uses the same language that Yahweh uses in Exodus 3:5 (“Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy” Josh. 5:15). Throughout the OT, God appears in the form of a man (Gen. 12:7; 17:1; 18:1) or an angel (Gen. 16:7-13; 48:15-16; Ex. 3:2-6). In one instance, the angel of the Lord is said to forgive sins (Ex. 23:21), and yet, we know that only God can forgive sins (Mk. 2:7). Therefore, the angel of the Lord must be a manifestation of Yahweh himself. Some theologians speculate that this is a pre-incarnate Jesus Christ. Of course, this does not mean that God is an angel, any more than God is a man, just because he came in the form of one (Phil. 2:7). Since the word “angel” just means “messenger,” we should differentiate the actions of an angel from the nature of one.

(5:13) Where did this mysterious man come from? He seems to be appearing in the middle of their camp without warning.

“Sword drawn in his hand.” This expression only occurs twice in the OT, and it only refers to angelic warriors (Num. 22:23; 1 Chron. 21:16).[1]

(5:14) Joshua asked him if he was a friend or foe, and the man responds, “Wrong question!” This shows that God was in charge—not Joshua. This “man” doesn’t reappear throughout the rest of the book. Many commentators believe that this is “the Angel of the Lord.”[2] After all, he is the commander of the Lord’s “host,” which was an angelic host. Joshua’s use of the word “Lord” (ʿaḏônî) doesn’t imply that this person was necessarily God, because human persons were called “lord.” But the use of the term is certainly consistent with him being God, because this title is used of God as well.

(5:15) This scene really confirms that this figure is God. The language is identical to Moses meeting Yahweh in the burning bush (Ex. 3:1-6). Richard Hess holds that this is some form of God in human form writing that “there can be no doubt who this is.”[3]

[1] Hess, R. S. (1996). Joshua: An Introduction and Commentary (Vol. 6, p. 139). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[2] Madvig, D. H. (1992). Joshua. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 & 2 Samuel (Vol. 3, p. 276). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[3] Hess, R. S. (1996). Joshua: An Introduction and Commentary (Vol. 6, p. 140). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.