Joshua 5:13 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?” 14 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?” ESV
The Bible doesn’t describe the man who Joshua saw, but we may assume that his appearance was one of strength and vibrancy. I’m sure that he was the most powerful looking soldier Joshua had ever seen. Why do I say that? Scripture teaches us that this warrior Joshua saw was the Captain of Heaven’s Angelic Army.
The question many have asked is – “Did Joshua see ‘an angel’ of the Lord, or did he see ‘the Angel’ of the Lord?” What is the difference between the two?
‘An Angel of the LORD’
Let’s suppose for a moment that it was ‘an’ angel of the LORD. Scripture teaches us that that angels are very impressive beings. In 1 Kings 19 we read of how God used just one single angel to slaughter an army of nearly 200,000. Most of the time, whenever someone in the Bible saw an angel, the first thing the angel had to say to them was – ‘Fear not.’ Angels are awesome!
If this angel was ‘an’ angel of the LORD and the captain of the LORD’s host, then most likely it was the archangel Michael. Scripture teaches us that Michael is a chief-angel (meaning of arch-angel) who often leads the angelic army of heaven. (see Rev 12:7; Dan 10:13) In order to lead such a powerful army of angels, Michael must be a very powerful angel himself.
‘The Angel of the LORD’
Several times in the Old Testament we find people had an encounter not only with ‘an’ angel, but with ‘the’ Angel of the LORD. Whenever this happened, there is usually a reference to that individual stating that they had seen God. How can this be? Many Bible scholars believe that those who saw ‘the’ Angel of the LORD actually saw a pre-Bethlehem appearance of Jesus. The technical term that is used in the commentaries is – ‘Theophany.’ (God appearing to men.)
Did Joshua see ‘an’ angel of the LORD, or ‘the’ Angel of the LORD? I believe that he saw Jesus. I believe that he saw God.
Joshua 5:14 … And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped and said to him, “What does my lord say to his servant?” 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. ESV