After Joshua and the people of Israel crossed over the Jordan and before they assaulted Jericho, Joshua had this strange encounter:

Once, when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing before him, drawn sword in hand. Joshua went up to him and asked him, “Are you one of us or of our enemies?” He replied, “No, I am captain of the Lord’s host. Now I have come!” Joshua threw himself face down to the ground and, prostrating himself, said to him, “What does my lord command his servant?” The captain of the Lord’s host answered Joshua, “Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy.” And Joshua did so.—Joshua 5:13-15 (NJPS)

On the one hand, Joshua's reaction and the command to remove the sandals reminds me of the burning-bush theophany in Exodus 3.

But on the other, the text twice identifies the figure as "the captain of the Lord’s host", not the Lord Himself. The title itself seems strong evidence that someone other than the Lord is indicated.

So who is "the captain of the Lord’s host"? As far as I can tell, this small section in Joshua is the only place he appears in the Tanakh.

  • 2
    The word 'sar' and 'shor' are the same when vowels are dropped. Shor means umbilical cord. It is suggestive of the relationship between the Lord and his captain such that the captain is the 'son of God'. This is figurative and as such only implies the figurative meaning, not addressing the issue of theophany.
    – Bob Jones
    Jan 21, 2012 at 16:54
  • 1
    traditionally Michael- the arch angel-the captain of the hosts,..
    – Hello
    Dec 22, 2014 at 12:37
  • 1
    Although... the Exodus 3 theophany begins not with YHWH himself but with “the angel of YHWH”. (Comment prompted by another question I was writing). (I have a hard copy of NJPS that does distinguish the Tetragram using “LORD" similar to Christian translations. I’m not sure if that website might have just missed this -- it’s confusing.)
    – Susan
    Dec 9, 2015 at 5:31
  • @Ruminator... it's not silly to rabbis who say that the meaning of words are derived from the combined meaning of the metaphor of the letters.
    – Bob Jones
    Nov 24, 2017 at 23:52

7 Answers 7


I just came across your question and am surprised that no one has attempted to answer it yet. I am by no means a scholar of the Hebrew scriptures, but I would like to offer some thoughts.

First, your astute observations underscore an intriguing theme that appears often in the historical books of the Tanakh: the appearance of a figure who is described with the titles or characteristics of God, but also with those of an angel (e.g. Jg 13:3f, esp 13:22 ) or with those of a man (e.g. Gen 18:1-2, Gen 32:24,30 ). Many other examples can be found by doing a search on the "Angel of the Lord". In fact, quite often when these figures appear, they are referred to as the Lord and his angel interchangeably (e.g., "the Angel of God said....'I am the God of Bethel'." [Gen 31:11,13]). This pattern is somewhat peculiar and disarming to the reader, particularly when one first encounters it; but it is certainly not uncommon.

There are a plethora of interpretations of this motif, which I won't go into here (though it certainly deserves a question of its own in this forum). Personally I believe it highlights the fact that whenever the infinite God appears to a man, there is necessarily a mediatorial aspect -- one can never see Him "as He is", but only as He reveals Himself (as a burning bush, or as an angel, or as a man, etc). This reminds us of His ineffable glory and unfathomable majesty. At the same time, it also foreshadows and prepares us for the ultimate incarnation of God in the person of Jesus.

That your passage is another example of this motif is more clearly seen when we read past the chapter boundary (which wasn't in the original), noting that the first verse of the next chapter is probably just parenthetical. So then the passage reads:

The captain of the Lord’s host answered Joshua, “Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy.” And Joshua did so. (Now Jericho was shut up tight because of the Israelites; no one could leave or enter.) The Lord said to Joshua, “See, I will deliver Jericho and her king [and her] warriors into your hands." —Joshua 5:15-6:2 (NJPS)

So, while I agree that this is a somewhat peculiar way for Him to refer to Himself, I think the context (as well as the theophanic allusions that you noted) makes it clear that Joshua's visitor was none other than the Lord God Himself.

  • 1
    Are any difficulties created if we suppose that the captain is not YHWH himself, but his messenger? Might not his high office and mission require marks of respect for the diety? Does "YHWH said" require his physical prescence or that of his messenger?
    – David42
    Dec 23, 2014 at 19:21
  • @DavidC: Great questions. While I would reiterate my lack of scholarly credentials to speak authoritatively on the subject, I would suggest that it seems highly problematic for an angel to virtually quote the words of YHWH from the burning bush. (Of course, it was "the Angel of the Lord" in that case as well, but it was also clearly YHWH God; cf. (Ex 3:2,6).) The deference that angels typically display in response to human worship (e.g. Rv 19:10) would make such an utterance highly unlikely, in my mind.
    – kmote
    Dec 29, 2014 at 16:23
  • 1
    @DavidC: ...To reply to your second question, I am not familiar with any occasions in Scripture where the words of an angel are quoted with an attribution of "the Lord said" (except when it was "the Angel of the Lord").
    – kmote
    Dec 29, 2014 at 16:27

The captain of the Lord's host or captain of the host of the Lord is none other than the pre-incarnate Christ. The pre-incarnate Christ also appears in the old testament as one called the "Angel of the Lord." In either case inwhich he is referred, he has the divine authority to receive worship: "...but as captain of the host of the Lord am I now come. And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and did worship, and said unto him, What saith 'my lord' unto his servant?" (Joshua 5:14). Compare this with Balaam's encounter with the Angel of the Lord. "Then the Lord opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the Angel of the Lord standing in the way, and his sword drawn in his hand: and he bowed down his head, and fell flat on his face (Num 22:31). Also, in both instances( Joshua 5:13 and Numbers 22:31), the presence of the one who receives the worship(Captain of the host of the Lord and the Angel of the Lord) has a sword drawn in hand. In Luke, the title "Captain" is interchangeable with "Angel of the Lord.(AOTL) . It is the AOTL who at first appears alone and then is "suddenly" in the company of a multitude of the heavenly "host," (Luke 2:9-13) of which he is not only the Captain, but he is also the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Just as the Angel of the Lord asked Moses to remove his shoes because he was standing on holy ground, the Captain of the Lord's host asked Joshua to do the same.(Joshua 5:15)(Exodus 3:5) Perhaps this verse will give a clearer picture of Jesus as Captain of the Lord's host: " When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory.(Mat.25:31).

  • In Luke 2 there is no definite article before "angel of the Lord" so how would we know it was "the" same angel Joshua saw? Could it not have been Gabriel for example? Also, I think your posts will reach more people if you use some paragraph breaks and formatting rather than a stream of details. Thanks.
    – Ruminator
    Nov 8, 2017 at 12:31

We have not previously been introduced to the captain of YHVH's army however, later we are. In this passage the captain of the Lord's angelic army appears be unambiguously said to be Michael who is elsewhere identified as "the archangel":

NIV Jude 1:9 But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not himself dare to condemn him for slander but said, "The Lord rebuke you!"

As an angel Michael is able to "channel" the LORD, so to speak. He speaks for God in the first person, etc. as we see angels of the LORD doing elsewhere. As the LORD's representative he even insists that Joshua get barefoot.

  • This is the only place I was able to locate where the question of the identity of the Army is addressed.: "the captain of the Lord's angelic army". It isn't the people marching around Jericho. It is the angelic "HOST" and why isn't this discussed rather than igmored? Feb 1 at 1:37

In the Hebrew Bible, this person represents the "hornet" that is identified in Joshua 24:11-12, which correlates back to Deuteronomy 7:20. (The Hebrew noun is צִרְעָה, and is a collective noun with no plural form -- so while "hornet" or "hornets" appear in the various English translations, the word is a singular noun which includes the collective meaning in Hebrew. For example, in English, the words luggage and poultry have no plural forms, but are collective in meaning although they can be still used to refer to individual items.) It was this "hornet" in the Hebrew Bible that had first driven out the two Amorite kings (Sihon and Og) according to Joshua 24:12, which is confirmed by Deuteronomy 31:4 and Joshua 2:10. So this Captain of the host of the Lord represents the hornet collective.

As the "Captain" of the host of the Lord, he is the "chief hornet," who is also identified as YHWH (Joshua 6:2). This Captain led the "host of the Lord" that preceded the Israelites into the Promised Land to defeat the enemies of Israel according to Exodus 23:27-28. This host threw the inhabitants of the land into confusion at the very moment when they engaged the Israelites in battle (please compare Exodus 23:27 with Joshua 10:10-11 for one example). If we compare Joshua 10:10-11 with Psalm 18:12-15 and Psalm 144:5-6 (where the same Hebrew verb for "confusion" appears), then we see that this psychological warfare against the enemies of Israel included the extraordinary but deadly effects of weather as well (hail, thunder, and rain). Thus the hornet way-laid (or struck down) the enemies of Israel, which is the literal meaning of צָרַע ("be struck"), which is the cognate verb from which the Hebrew noun צִרְעָה ("hornet") is derived.

Thus the "hornets" were led by YHWH himself, who is the "Captain of the host of the Lord" in this passage of Joshua 5:13-15.

  • Interesting take...the hornet aspect. :)
    – user862
    Oct 11, 2013 at 23:43
  • Pet peeve: usage of the archaic word "host" rather than the modern word "army". Eschew obfuscation.
    – Ruminator
    Nov 8, 2017 at 12:36
  • So would you say that Michael is actually YHVH in Revelation 12:7?
    – Ruminator
    Nov 8, 2017 at 12:37

Before Jesus came into world, no man had seen God at anytime "No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him" John 1:18.

What I'm simply saying is that "the captain of the Lord's host" was an angel, God was to go in before Israel and make them to possess the land. Also in the "burning bush" it wasn't the Lord God who was talking out of the fire, but an angel (Acts 7:30), now angels came in the name of the Lord in the Old Testament and hence most of the writers call them "the Lord". Angels have the ability to appear in any form fit for the occasion; for example, Genesis 18 & 19 they appear as men, also in Exodus, an angel led Israel as a pillar of cloud by day n fire by night. They can also appear in glorious form, as per Luke 24:4 "behold, two men stood by them in shining garments".

In 2 Kings 6:15-18 an army of chariots was seen by Elisha and his servant after he had prayed for him to see with spiritual eyes. So then this can suggest that an unseen army of angels was with Israel as they went in to dispossess the inhabitants of Canaan and "the captain of the Lord's host" was leading those unseen angels as we see in 2 Kings 6.

  • 2
    Hi Raphael. Could you take a moment or two to edit your answer for spelling, grammar, and punctuation? As it is, I'm having a tough time reading your answer. While you are at it, could you read through what we are looking for in answers? It seems like you are skipping some steps in your exegesis. Nov 1, 2013 at 22:26

From Da 10:21 Rashi suggests that since Israel is the Lord's host, Michael is the prince/captain:

Da 10:21 But I will shew thee that which is noted in the scripture of truth: and [there is] none that holdeth with me in these things, but Michael your prince.

But no matter who it was literally, he was certainly a type or shadow of Christ if not a theophany.

Da 12:1 ¶ And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation [even] to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book.


My conclusion (more of a strong inclination, I've learned how to be more considerate of other interpretations) is as follows:

  1. Like all other angels, the captain can act as a messenger of Yahweh. When he and other angels function in this way, they can speak as God, act as God, receive homage as God, etc., because they would have God’s authority, while remaining distinct.
  2. Unlike all other angels, the captain is always acting as a messenger of Yahweh (Exodus 23:20-22); he is always speaking as God, acting as God, receiving homage as God, etc., while being distinct from God, similar to how Joseph governed with the authority of pharaoh while pharaoh was a distinct and living person.

This phrase, "with a drawn sword in his hand" (Josh 5:13) rarely occurs:

In Numbers 22, the angel of Yahweh (whether he is Yahweh is also debated) is described twice "with his drawn sword in his hand" (Num 22:23, 31). Like Joshua, Balaam bows to the ground upon identifying the mystery man. In 1 Chronicles 21 (cross-reference 2 Samuel 24), when David and Israel are punished with a plague, David sees "the angel of the Lord standing between heaven and earth, with a drawn sword in his hand directed against Jerusalem" (1 Chr 21:16). Like Balaam and Joshua, David and the elders of Israel bow to the ground when they see the angel. More like Balaam, they do so to prevent further punishment.

With this evidence, I think we may be able to conclude the captain of Yahweh’s army is also the angel of Yahweh who appears to Balaam, David, and many others. Yahweh himself says about this specific angel, "my name is in him" (Exodus 23:21) and "the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, manifested Himself" (Exodus 3:18).

I think the captain’s arrival was significant to Joshua because it was the fulfillment of God’s promise, that Israel would receive leadership from a particularly powerful angel, one who possesses the full authority and identity of Yahweh, to defeat the residents of Canaan (Exodus 23:23-24). When rescuing Israel from Egypt, the angel worked alone, not as a military leader (Exodus 14:19-20). But when the time came for the Israelites to begin their campaign in Canaan, the angel took his place as captain of Yahweh’s army to “drive out the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites”, as God promised (Exodus 33:2), so he appears to Joshua “with a drawn sword in his hand”.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.