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After being questioned by Joshua the angel gives a negative answer to Joshua's question.

Joshua 5:13-14 ESV:

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?”

The angel goes on to give instructions to Joshua on how to subdue Jericho

What puzzles me is why the angel gave a negative response when answering in the above dialogue

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    As a good application, we should not ask is God on our side but should ask are we on God's side. If this was the case for Israel, how can we do otherwise?
    – Perry Webb
    Commented May 12 at 17:39
  • another great question from you Collen. Commented May 13 at 13:54

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The confusion is mainly due to a clunky translation into English. The negative response is much clearer in the Hebrew:

וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ הֲלָנוּ אַתָּה אִם־לְצָרֵינוּ׃ וַיֹּאמֶר  לֹא כִּי אֲנִי שַׂר־צְבָא־יְהֹוָה

Joshua asks the commander “are you of us, or of our enemies?” (My translation). The commander’s response is clearer then, since they belong to neither the Israelite host, nor the other army. The NSRV translates the question much better:

and said to him, “Are you one of us, or one of our adversaries?”

Likewise the JPS renders it like so:

asked him, “Are you one of us or of our enemies?”

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Several translations render "no" as "neither," and this makes good sense in context. But the real issue was not whether God was for Joshua's side or his enemies' side, but whether Joshua stood before God in submission. So the angel immediately commanded Joshua to humble himself. The scene is a parallel to the appearance of the the angel of the Lord to Moses in Exodus 3:

The angel of the Lord appeared to him as fire flaming out of a bush...4 When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to look, God called out to him from the bush: Moses! Moses! He answered, “Here I am.” 5 God said: Do not come near! Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground

In Joshua's case, it is not the Lord who speaks first. Instead, Joshua takes the initiative and demands to know the "man's" allegiance. "Are you for us, or for our adversaries?"

14 He replied, “Neither. I am the commander of the army of the Lord: now I have come.” Then Joshua fell down to the ground in worship, and said to him, “What has my lord to say to his servant?” 15 The commander of the army of the Lord replied to Joshua, “Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so. (NABRE)

Conclusion: Joshua failed to recognize the person who appeared and as a result did not adopt the proper attitude at first. He saw a military commander and demanded to know which side the "man" supported. In fact, he saw the angel of the Lord. The proper attitude for Joshua was submission to God, not to demand a statement of allegiance to one side or the other. So the angel answered "no" or "neither." Once Joshua humbled himself and took off his sandals, God did fight for Israel.

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