Chapter five concludes the preparations necessary before the Israelites could begin their conquest of Canaan. In Joshua 5:2-9 a bit of history was necessary. The physical sign of God’s covenant that set Abraham apart from the nations around him was the circumcision of his sons (Genesis 17:9-14). The Israelites had done this for 600 years, until the Exodus, when God codified it into his Law. However, they did not continue to circumcise the sons born during the desert wandering, so when the second generation was ready to take the land, God told Joshua that they all needed to be circumcised first (approximately 602,000 men; Numbers 26:51).
In Genesis 34:25, when an entire village was circumcised, the men (understandably) were still in pain after three days. The nation had entered the land “on the tenth day of the first month” (Joshua 4:19) and celebrated their first Passover in the new land four days later, while they were still healing. Joshua recalled that they ate from the spring produce the next day, at which point the miraculous manna stopped appearing, and they never saw it again (Joshua 5:10-12; see Exodus 16:35).
God knew that Joshua needed one more assurance before beginning his conquest, so he gave him a special message. As Joshua (who had already been circumcised as a baby) stood surveying Jericho, he saw a man standing near him, holding a sword (Joshua 5:13-15). With his army still recuperating, he certainly had cause to be concerned of a possible sneak attack, so he challenged the man as to whose side he was on. His answer was both humbling and thrilling: “I am the commander of the LORD’s army. Now I have arrived!” Joshua must have recognized him and his voice at this point; he had stood by Moses countless times as Moses talked with Jehovah over the previous decades. This was not just a voice from heaven or a dream; the pre-incarnate Son was standing there, ready to lead all of Heaven’s army ahead of Joshua. Joshua asked what God wanted. The reply was simple: submission to Jehovah and worship. “The place where you stand is holy.”