Elon, North Carolina
Today we come to a short chapter. It is only fifteen verses. This chapter is not quite as famous as some of the other chapters of Joshua. Everyone knows the story of the battle of Jericho in chapter 6 and the story of the sin of Achan in chapter 7. Not everyone knows the story about the hill of foreskins.
It is a chapter for men. It mentions some knives (Joshua 5:2) and a sword (Joshua 5:13). It mentions high ranking generals. It mentions soldiers and it mentions circumcision, which is surgery for men, but there are also some things in here that apply to everyone.
The chapter begins with FEAR and it ends with WORSHIP. It ends with Joshua face down on the ground. Two incredible things happen in this chapter. Amazing things happen to the nation and an amazing thing happened to Joshua himself.
Israel gets a REVIVAL and Joshua gets a REVELATION. God shows up in this chapter. He shows up in the form of the second person of the Trinity. Joshua meets Jesus. Both the nation and leader Joshua are completely transformed. We are going to look at these two things today.
Last week, we looked at the crossing of the Jordan and we saw that the Jews had, not one but two crossings, one when they left Egypt and one when they entered Canaan. The first generation of Jews crossed the Red Sea miraculously. Forty years later, the next generation they crossed the Jordan river miraculously. When this happened, the word spread. The Canaanites heard about it.
Now when all the Amorite kings west of the Jordan and all the Canaanite kings along the coast heard how the Lord had dried up the Jordan before the Israelites until they had crossed over, their hearts melted in fear and they no longer had the courage to face the Israelites. (Joshua 5:1-2 NIV)
They were afraid before this happened. We know that from Joshua 2:9-11. Now, they are absolutely terrified. They are demoralized. They knew they were in big trouble. They knew the clock was ticking and judgment was coming.
When we get to Joshua 5, the Jews are on the other side of the Jordan. They are now in the Promise Land. They are now in Israel. That was good but it also caused a problem. Once they crossed the Jordan, the river became flooded again. They could not go back. They had to go forward. They had a flooded river behind them and no manna falling from the sky. They were at a point where they had to trust God completely.
The manna stopped the day after they ate this food from the land; there was no longer any manna for the Israelites, but that year they ate the produce of Canaan. (Joshua 5:12 NIV)
Entering Canaan meant a new beginning. It also meant a new diet. God provided food for two million people in the desert. He provided for them supernaturally. It kept them all alive but He did not give them a lot of variety. How would you like to eat the same thing every day for forty years?
With the new land came a new diet. They got a little more variety in their diet. They were now living in a land of milk and honey. God still provided for their needs but He no longer feed two million people by manna supernaturally. Happy meals were not falling from the sky. God gave them corn in the place of manna. They had to go out and get their food now.
They were now in the Promise Land and they were headed to Jericho. God worked a miracle to get them there. The other side is afraid. It seemed like the perfect time to strike. Time is of the essence. They are now in enemy territory. They have the momentum. Now is the time to act but instead, they sit down and have a religious service. That is a little strange. God is in no hurry. They actually do not conquer Jericho for ten days.
Why was there a delay? What was the purpose? Israel as a nation had been backslidden for forty years. They had been wandering around in the wilderness for forty years in rebellion to God. They weren’t ready to conquer Jericho. They couldn’t do this until they got right with God.
They need a revival first. Some might say, “We do not have time for this. We didn’t have time to worship. We have a job to do. We are on a mission.”
God says that the Jews couldn’t conquer Jericho until they were spiritually prepared. CONSECRATION must precede CONQUEST. All of the WARRIORS have to become WORSHIPERS first. Once they crossed the Jordan, God says, “It is time to worship.” First things first.
What form did this worship take? They didn’t get together, and all sing some worship songs and start dancing in the Spirit. Their worship involved a Jewish ritual and a Jewish festival. It involved these two things. The men got circumcised (Joshua 5:2-9). Only a circumcised Israel could conquer Canaan. It also involved sitting around, eating a meal and celebrating Passover (Joshua 5:10-11).
The two go together. The OT said that you cannot even celebrate Passover unless you are circumcised (Exodus 12:48). The Jews celebrated Passover right as they were leaving Egypt and now they celebrate Passover right as they are entering Canaan.
This revival involved three things. It involved REPENTANCE. It involved OBEDIENCE. It involved RE-DEDICATION. Every revival in the church has these three things. People have to repent of their sins in order for there to be a revival. If there is no repentance, there is no revival.
That is the problem today. No one has much of a sense of sin, even in the church. Unmarried people can be living together and do not think there is anything wrong with it. There has to be an acknowledgement of sin, a confession of sin and repentance.
2 At that time the Lord said to Joshua, “Make flint knives and circumcise the Israelites again.” That doesn’t mean that they get circumcised a second time. You can only get circumcised once. This is not a second time for an individual but for the nation and it was a different group of the nation getting circumcised, the next generation.
3 So Joshua made flint knives and circumcised the Israelites at Gibeath Haaraloth. 4 Now this is why he did so: All those who came out of Egypt—all the men of military age—died in the wilderness on the way after leaving Egypt. 5 All the people that came out had been circumcised, but all the people born in the wilderness during the journey from Egypt had not.
The Israelites had moved about in the wilderness forty years until all the men who were of military age when they left Egypt had died, since they had not obeyed the Lord. For the Lord had sworn to them that they would not see the land he had solemnly promised their ancestors to give us, a land flowing with milk and honey. (Joshua 5:2-6 NIV)
Why are they doing this? Because people had not been doing it. For the last thirty-eight years, no one had been circumcised. God required it but people were not doing it. They were supposed to do it at eight days old. Now some of them were thirty-eight years old and they still were not circumcised but that all changed at Gilgal.
They probably wished they got circumcised earlier. The parents were at fault for not doing it but the adult children still had to obey, even if the parents didn’t.
If we could make an application today, it would be with water baptism. There are some differences between baptism and circumcision but there are also some similarities. Both were religious rites or rituals. Circumcision was an OT rite. Baptism is a NT rite. Both were commands. Baptism is a command for Christians, just like circumcision was a command for Jews. Both are symbolic.
Just as some people put off circumcision in the OT, some believers today put off being baptized. Baptism is supposed to happen immediately after one believes in Jesus. Some Christians have never been baptized. Some have gone forty or fifty years and still never have been baptized.
Revival takes places when people repent of their sins. It takes place when they confess them before God and turn from them and do what God says in obedience to his infallible Word. It also involves people rededicating themselves to God. That is very much needed today.
It is something that Christians need to do. Much of the church today is lukewarm. Christians are not on fire for Christ. They are not passionate about their faith. They do not live holy lives. They are worldly and materialistic. Why is circumcision part of re-dedication for the Jews?
Then God said to Abraham, “As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. 10 This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: EVERY MALE among you shall be circumcised. 11 You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. 12 For the generations to come EVERY MALE among you who is eight days old MUST be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner—those who are not your offspring. 13 Whether born in your household or bought with your money, they MUST be circumcised. My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant. 14 Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.” (Genesis 17:10-14 NIV)
God promised Abraham that He would give his descendants the Promise Land. The sign of that covenant was circumcision. They are now entering the land and circumcision is required. It is not a big deal to us today but it was a big deal to God for the Jews. God almost killed Moses because he did not circumcise his son.
It was part of rededication to the Abrahamic Covenant. We should do whatever it takes to get right with God, even if God asks us to do something that is painful, like circumcision. These Jews were circumcised with sharp rocks without any anesthetic, like we have today.
It seems a little strange to do this right before battle. That just incapacitated every soldier in the army. It made them weaker. It made them more vulnerable to attack. That does not seem like a good military move to do when you are sitting in enemy territory. As Warren Wiersbe said, “Joshua was getting his orders from the Lord, not from the military experts.” These Jews had to be in total dependence on the Lord. They had to trust Him, not the experts, not even their military plans.
In the end of the chapter, something amazing happens. God shows up. Before Joshua engages in his first battle for conquest of the land, God shows up. Before Joshua begins the most important job of his life, he has a fresh view of God. Before we face our problems, we have to face God. If we look at our problems first, we will not have the strength to deal with our problems.
What is a Theophany?
Joshua has what theologians call a theophany. What exactly is a theophany? The Bible teaches that God is invisible. Jesus is called the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15). Paul said that no one has seen God or can see God (I Timothy 6:16). Jesus said that God is a spirit (John 4:24). He is immaterial. He does not have a physical body.
John 1:18 says that “No one has ever seen God” (cf. I John 4:12) but many people in the OT saw God (Isaiah, Ezekiel). How is that possible? God is invisible but He appeared to people in the OT in a physical way and those appearances are called theophanies. They are visible, physical manifestations of an invisible God.
Theophanies take many different forms. God appeared in some strange ways in the OT.
God appeared in a THUNDERSTORM. That is the way He appeared on Mount Sinai. There was lightning and thunder.
God appeared in a WINDSTORM. He spoke to Job out of a whirlwind (Job 38:1). This was a strong wind, like a tornado or hurricane.
God appeared in a FIRE. He appeared to Moses in a burning bush. He manifested Himself through a pillar of fire in the OT to the nation. The Holy Spirit appeared as tongues of fire.
God appeared in a CLOUD. He appeared in the Shekinah Glory cloud. He manifested Himself in a pillar of cloud.
Other people in the OT had a theophany but never saw a cloud or a storm or fire. Isaiah saw a man seated on a throne high and lifted up. He saw a man.
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. (Isiaah 6:1 NIV)
In the same year that the human king died, Isaiah saw an exalted, divine, heavenly King. Isaiah says, “Mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts” (Isaiah 6:5).
God appeared to Abraham as A TRAVELER. Three men show up traveling. They look tired, weary and hungry. Two were angels (Genesis 19:1) but one is God in human form (Genesis 18:22).
They arrived right before the destruction of Sodom. How would you like to have God show up at the door of your house? It would be strange enough to have to angels show up at your door. Abraham had two angels and god show up at his door.
God appeared to Jacob as A WRESTLER. Jacob is by himself outside in the woods and someone attacks him in the dark. He fights for his life for hours. That encounter changed Jacob’s life. He said that he saw God face to face (Genesis 32:30). He did not strive with men but with God (Genesis 32:28).
God appeared to Joshua as A GENERAL. Joshua meets the Commander in Chief of the Lord’s Army (Joshua 5:14). He meets the one in charge. The human commander meets the divine commander. One preacher entitled this section, “Oh Captain, My Captain!” 
A Mysterious Man
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?”
14 “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?”
15 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. (Joshua 5:13-15 NIV).
This is fascinating. Joshua was head of the country. He thought he was the commander of the army. He meets this man and realizes that there is another commander of the Lord’s army and he is inferior to him and bows down. Joshua realizes that he is second in command. He stood before a man of greater rank than he was.
How do we know that Joshua sees God? The text just says that it was a man. There are several reasons why we know this man was God. In Joshua 6, Joshua is still talking to him and He is called God (Joshua 6:2).
This man told Joshua to take his shoes off because he was standing on holy ground. Moses was given the same command when he saw God. When God appeared to Moses, He said the same thing to him that He said to Joshua: Take your shoes off because the ground is holy (Exodus 3:5).
Taking shoes off was a sign of respect in that culture like taking a hat off is today. When God shows up, even if you are in an idolatrous country, the ground is holy, because God is there.
We also know this is God because of Joshua’s response. He fell down and worshiped. Jews in the Bible don’t worship creatures. They do not even worship angels and angels do not even accept worship.
Most scholars believe that Joshua did not just see God, he saw Jesus. This was not just a theophany, it is a christophany. It is an appearance of Jesus. It is a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ. Jesus did not begin his ministry when he was born. He had a ministry before he was born. He appeared in the form of a man. Joshua meets Jesus here. This the personal appearance of Jesus to Joshua over a thousand years before He was born.
Many think Jesus was a pacifist. He went around and just told everyone to turn the other cheek. Here we see Jesus with a sword in his hand. If that surprises you, it shouldn’t. When He returns, He will have a sword coming out of His mouth and it is a sharp sword (Revelation 19:15). Let’s look at this section.
Joshua leaves the camp and wants to spend some time alone. He has a big responsibility. He has a lot on his mind. He has a big battle ahead of him that he is thinking about, the Battle of Jericho. While he is by himself, he encounters a stranger he has never seen before. He does not recognize him, and this mysterious man is armed. He not only has a sword, it is drawn and ready to strike.
Joshua does not know who this man is with the raised sword but he does not try to attack him, he just asks him one question. Joshua is a good general. He only wants to know one thing. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” (Joshua 3:13 NIV).
That is the only thing that matters. Joshua saw everything in absolutes. Everything is either true or false, good or evil, black or white. People are either for us or against us. Everyone is either a friend or foe, enemy or ally.
What is his answer to Joshua’s question? He says something completely shocking. “Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” (Joshua 5:14 NIV). Joshua asks if he was for or against him and he said NEITHER.
That is very strange. Notice what Jesus does NOT say here. He does NOT say what all of the preachers say. All of the preachers say that God is for you. There is a sense in which that is true but notice that this man does NOT say that He was for Joshua and against his enemies. He does NOT say, “I am on your side.”
If you have seen the movie 42 (2013) about Jackie Robinson, you may remember a quote from Branch Rickey. Rickey was the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1940s. He was the man who brought Jackie Robinson to major league baseball. Ricky said, “Jackie is a Methodist. I am a Methodist. God is a Methodist.” Everyone thinks that God is on their side.
The Baptists think that God is a Baptist. The Pentecostals think He is a Pentecostal. He couldn’t be a Baptist because Jesus’ first miracle was to turn water into wine. He could’t be a Pentecostal because He never spoke in tongues
The Calvinist think that He is a Calvinist. The Arminians think that He is an Arminian. The Democrats think that God is a Democrat. The Republicans think that God is a Republican. The Nazis thought God was on their side. The Muslim terrorists think that God is on their side.
We tend to forget that we are not God and God doesn’t think like we do. He thinks completely differently.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,”declares the Lord. 9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9 NIV)
We cannot put God in any of our little boxes. He doesn’t think like us. Non-charismatics put God in a box and say that He can’t work miracles today like He did in the early church. He stopped doing them. That is limiting God. God can do whatever He wants to do. He is not bound by what one narrow church or denomination teaches.
Some charismatics also put God in a box. They say that you are not saved if you are not out casting out demons, raising the dead and speaking in tongues. That also limits God.
Abraham Lincoln said over a hundred and fifty years ago, “Our concern should not be whether God is on our side but whether we are on his side.”
Notice Joshua’s response to this man. Joshua worships the man with the drawn sword. He doesn’t fight him or argue with him. He bows down before him. He responds in total surrender, total worship and total obedience.
It is the exact opposite of Moses’ response when God appeared to him for the first time. He complained and argued with God. If God appeared to you, which response would you have? Would you be like Moses or would you be like Joshua?
 Wiersbe, Warren W. Be Strong (Joshua): Putting God’s Power to Work in Your Life (The BE Series Commentary) (p. 71). David C Cook. Kindle Edition.