By the end of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible covering the Creation Era, the Patriarchs Era, and the Exodus Era), Israel has been brought into the blessing of covenant relationship with the Lord and has become a great people, but they remain outside the Land of Promise, on the plains of Moab. Now, after so many years of wandering, Joshua, the “new leader of God’s people,” is ordained to lead God’s people into the land, take it, and divide it among them as their inheritance from the Lord.
In chapters 1-5, we see Joshua take the lead position and give a charge to the people to obey God in all things—to study His Word and to follow His guidance. The Lord said to Joshua this in His charge:
Joshua 1:7-8 “… be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.”
We, too, can hear these words and remember the vital importance to study and know God’s word, so we have guidance in our lives for all that God has for us.
Next, God uses a faithful outsider, a prostitute named Rahab, to help His people escape the enemy. Then He guides them to the Jordan and makes way for them to cross on dry land by parting the waters like He did at the Red Sea. The Lord our God is truly our great guide. My prayer is for you to look to Him and His loving word, the Bible, and the counsel of the Holy Spirit for guidance in all you do in your life.
The book of Joshua closes with the Israelites settling in and finally enjoying rest. The people are, more now, faithful to God in their service to Him, which is the center point of Joshua’s farewell to the leaders of God’s people. In this, Joshua urges the Israelites to continue to follow the Lord and worship Him alone. "So be very careful to love the Lord your God" (Joshua 23:11), and "choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve ... But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord" (Joshua 24:15). The people had seen God deliver them from many enemies and miraculously provide for all their needs, but they were prone to wandering from the Lord.
This is a great reminder to us today. Even though we may have experienced God at work in our lives, we, too, must continually renew our commitment to obey Him above all other authority and to worship Him alone.
Now, I want to take a closer look at one passage found in Joshua 5 verses 13-15. Let’s look at it together:
Joshua 5:13-15 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?” 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?” 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.
The holy Lord: Who God is and why it matters
Joshua is out by himself, and he looks up. What is he doing? Forty years before, the Israelites are out of slavery and headed back to their ancestral land, and their ancestral land is now occupied by another people. This means if they are going to get it back, there is going to be a fight. So, just like we still do today, before marching in, they sent in spies or scouts to survey the enemy to see what they are up against.
All but two of the scouts said, “We will never overcome those huge fortified cities. We are going to die in there.” The only two who had confidence they could do it were Joshua and Caleb. Because the people rebelled against God and showed Him no confidence, God sent them back out into the wilderness for 40 years, until a new generation was ready to follow a now older Joshua, who had been put in charge after Moses’s passing, into battle to claim the Promised Land.
Now, he is standing outside the huge fortified walls of Jericho on the eve of their attack, and it is clear that the other scouts were right about one thing: The Israelite people did not have any amount of needed resources to take that city by human effort. Only with God’s mighty divine provision and power would they be able to conquer the fortified walls of Jericho. He is out there, most likely, seeking God for his battle plan, because Joshua knows his own plan is already defeated.
He looks up to find that he is not alone but lingering in the shadow is an unknown man with a drawn sword! Now, when a man is in your space with a drawn sword, it’s probably not to offer you shade. So, Joshua draws an immediate line and asks, “Are you for us or against us?” Meaning, “If you are for our people, you will bow before me as your leader, or if you are for the enemy and you have your sword drawn, it’s about to go down.”
The stranger’s response is unique. He says, “NO!” in verse 14. What he means is “neither.” What he is saying is, “You are asking the wrong question. I am the commander of the army of the Lord. (YHWH). The question isn’t am I for or against you; the real question is, ‘Are you for or against me?’”
Realizing who this is, Joshua falls to the ground in worship: “And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped and said to him, ‘What does my lord say to his servant?’” (Joshua 3:14). Israelites did not worship other men, nor did they worship the created angels. They only worshiped God! Joshua knows whose presence he is in.
Joshua 3:15 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.
What is cool about this is that it is a very similar interaction that God had when He called Moses at the burning bush. Just like the burning bush, this mighty warrior is both breathtaking and scary all at the same time. This is a picture of God’s holiness.
My question for you today is do you get the holiness of God?
The holiness of God is His unmatchable majestic, perfection, and purity.
If you do, then you will fall face down before Him. Why?
Because you have nothing to offer that comes close to matching Him.
Because you are so stained with impurity in your sin in the brightness of His perfection.
When Isaiah sees God high and lifted up and the seraphim cry out to God in song shouting “HOLY, HOLY, HOLY is the LORD God almighty,” Isaiah’s response is, “Woe is me, I am a man of unclean lips.” What is so profound about this is that for Isaiah, he was a prophet and preacher, and his lips were what he was most proud of. But in the presence of God, he admits his best attribute is garbage compared to GOD.
We need to get the holiness of God. We need to come face to face with how unmatchable He is, how perfect He is, how pure He is, how mighty He is! Why? Because only in light of this will you and I see who we really are in His shadow. Only then do you and I really begin to see our sin. Because if you just look to your fellow man to see how you stack up, you will look hard enough to find people that make you feel good about yourself compared to them. This is why man’s love affair with the old adage, “I am a good person,” is so damning! Because compared to man, maybe that is true, but compared to the holiness of God, it is a laughable lie.
We need to see the holiness of God so we can see the fullness of our sin.
We need to see the depth of our depravity so we can feel bad about ourselves.
Many tragically miss this clarity of our sin in light of God’s holiness and in doing so they miss the good news! We need to see the depth of our depravity in light of the holiness of God, so we see our need for one thing: the cross of Jesus Christ!
2. The holy servant Lord: What Christ did and why it matters
The only thing big enough to mend the enormous gap that rightly separates me in my sin from God in His glory is the cross.
Praise God for the cross of Jesus Christ!
Only when God reveals Himself to you and shows you His unmatchable majestic perfection and purity—His holiness thereby revealing your utter wickedness and weakness in sin—only then will you fall face down before Him and lay your deadly doing down and worship Him. Only then will you realize that by no effort of man will you ever conquer the fortified walls of your life that keep you from the Promised Land.
The mercy of God on His elect is the source of all our praise. Why? Because He should have righteously taken out His sword of justice and cut off our guilty heads. But He didn’t! God’s people needed delivering, so God became human! In this encounter between Joshua and the man holding up his sword, who is the man holding the sword—this commander of the Lord’s?
Alec Matier says that only the angel of the Lord God can come among people safely. The angel appears as a merciful accommodation whereby the Lord can be present among a sinful people. But, if He were to go among them Himself, His presence would consume them.
So, the angel of the Lord is that mode of divinity whereby God can keep company among sinful people. Does that remind you of anybody? There is only one other in the Bible who is both identical with and also distinct from God. One who, without abandoning the full essence and prerogatives or diminishing the divine holiness of deity, is able to accommodate Himself to the company with sinners. One who, while affirming the wrath of God, is yet a supreme display of His out-reaching mercy. The angel of the Lord in the Old Testament can be appreciated only if we understand him as a preincarnate appearance of Jesus Christ Himself.
This is the grace of God, who sends His Son to take the sword for His people so that we can have His holiness and therefore watch the walls of sin crumble at our feet, so we can march into the Promised Land and forever feast with the King! This is the good news of the holy Lord!
Genesis 3:24 He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.
The sword of eternal justice: The only way back to God is to pay the ultimate price. The only way back to God is to go under the sword. To be “at one” with God, we needed atonement. The spotless Jesus was crucified! He was the one who was able to take on the sword for His people.
In John 17:19, Jesus says, “I give myself as a holy sacrifice for them so they can be made holy by your truth.”
God shows up, and Joshua is rightly scared and full of reverence before God, and what does he get up and do? He leads his people in great courage up to the wall. And what do they do? They don’t lean on the power of man, on their best laid plans, or great tools of war. No. Joshua walks them around while blowing trumpets, so when the walls fall down, the One who receives all the praise is only God Himself. Joshua is the Christ-like servant leader that faithfully surrenders to His God and obediently serves his King. Like Joshua, we can faithfully surrender to our God and obediently serve our King in the battle in which He has put us.
3. His holy servants: Who we can be in Christ and why it matters
To be exclusively, undividedly, unconditionally obedient to God
To be different than the world
To be exclusively, undividedly, unconditionally obedient to God
Why does Joshua need to take off the sandals? In Leviticus, there was holy use and common use. The difference was things that were used exclusively for God were holy, and things used for man were common.
“I will serve you if …”
Do you realize anytime you give God this ultimatum, you are highlighting the fact that it is not really God you are serving or living for, but it is the things you want Him to give you? The “if” is the rival against God for your greatest affections. But God will have no rivals. His first commandment is “Have no other gods before me.” If you have “ifs” that you put between you and God, you are placing conditions on Him.
The life of a holy servant means you are wholly devoted to Him—not partially devoted. “Partially devoted” is an oxymoron.
To be different than the world
When understanding the word “holy” in the Bible, it often means separate. It is separate than other things used for common things. It is set apart. This means holy people will be different than the world. Why was the early church so revolutionary in the Roman dominant culture in which they lived? Why was the gospel so transforming in that day? Because their faith was truly radical!
Four big areas we can see how they lived very different than the world around them:
Integrity: In a lie-to-advance-yourself culture, they were honest to a fault.
Sympathy: In a quick-to-shame-the-guilty culture, they were for forgiveness.
Chastity: In a live-loose-and-hedonistic culture, they were faithful to sex only within marriage.
Generosity: In an acquire-wealth-and-success culture, they were recklessly open-handed in sharing what they had.
May we be people of holiness. May we hold high the worthiness of God, not just in our praise of Him, but in the way we live our lives for Him.