As promised, I’d like to start at the end of chapter five, which I will quote here for your convenience.

 
יג וַיְהִי, בִּהְיוֹת יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בִּירִיחוֹ, וַיִּשָּׂא עֵינָיו וַיַּרְא, וְהִנֵּה-אִישׁ עֹמֵד לְנֶגְדּוֹ וְחַרְבּוֹ שְׁלוּפָה בְּיָדוֹ; וַיֵּלֶךְ יְהוֹשֻׁעַ אֵלָיו וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ, הֲלָנוּ אַתָּה אִם-לְצָרֵינוּ. 13 And it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and, behold, there stood a man over against him with his sword drawn in his hand; and Joshua went unto him, and said unto him: ‘Art thou for us, or for our adversaries?’
יד וַיֹּאמֶר לֹא, כִּי אֲנִי שַׂר-צְבָא-יְהוָה–עַתָּה בָאתִי; וַיִּפֹּל יְהוֹשֻׁעַ אֶל-פָּנָיו אַרְצָה, וַיִּשְׁתָּחוּ, וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ, מָה אֲדֹנִי מְדַבֵּר אֶל-עַבְדּוֹ. 14 And he said: ‘Nay, but I am captain of the host of the LORD; I am now come.’ And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and bowed down, and said unto him: ‘What saith my lord unto his servant?’
טו וַיֹּאמֶר שַׂר-צְבָא יְהוָה אֶל-יְהוֹשֻׁעַ, שַׁל-נַעַלְךָ מֵעַל רַגְלֶךָ, כִּי הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה עֹמֵד עָלָיו, קֹדֶשׁ הוּא; וַיַּעַשׂ יְהוֹשֻׁעַ, כֵּן. 15 And the captain of the LORD’S host said unto Joshua: ‘Put off thy shoe from off thy foot; for the place whereon thou standest is holy.’ And Joshua did so.

I’m immediately reminded of quite a few similar stories, including Jacob wrestling the mysterious figure whom the Midrash identifies as Esav’s protecting angel, Moshe’s encounter at the burning bush, and even the Haggadah, which mentions an angel with a drawn sword.

The episode in the Haggadah is actually rather illuminating. In Maggid, we interpret the verse:

 
ח וַיּוֹצִאֵנוּ יְהוָה, מִמִּצְרַיִם, בְּיָד חֲזָקָה וּבִזְרֹעַ נְטוּיָה, וּבְמֹרָא גָּדֹל–וּבְאֹתוֹת, וּבְמֹפְתִים. 8 And the LORD brought us forth out of Egypt with a mighty hand, and with an outstretched arm, and with great terribleness, and with signs, and with wonders.

(Deut. 26:8)

The Haggadah goes phrase by phrase, and when it reaches the part about an outstretched arm, it explains:

וּבִזְרֹעַ נְטוּיָה – זוֹ הַחֶרֶב, כְּמָה שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: וְחַרְבּוֹ שְׁלוּפָה בְּיָדוֹ, נְטוּיָה עַל יְרוּשָלַיִם.

With an outstretched hand – This is the sword, as it is written: “having a drawn sword in his hand stretched out over Jerusalem” (1Chron. 21:16)

What’s the Haggadah talking about? Though on the simplest level, the Haggadah is interpreting the word “outstretched” in Deuteronomy by finding a word elsewhere that interprets it, there’s more to it – the verse is trying to give us the identity of the destructive force here unleashed. The verse in Divrei Hayamim (Chronicles) is from a story about David taking a census of the people improperly, leading to a plague sent by God. As the story goes, David is presented with a choice of three penalties for his sin: either there would be a famine for three years, or his enemies would have dominion over him for three months, or God would strike the land with His sword and pestilence for three days. David famously replies to the prophet bringing this dire message something which we recite in the Tachanun prayer:

 
יג וַיֹּאמֶר דָּוִיד אֶל-גָּד, צַר-לִי מְאֹד; אֶפְּלָה-נָּא בְיַד-יְהוָה, כִּי-רַבִּים רַחֲמָיו מְאֹד, וּבְיַד-אָדָם, אַל-אֶפֹּל. 13 And David said unto Gad: ‘I am in a great strait; let me fall now into the hand of the LORD, for very great are His mercies; and let me not fall into the hand of man.’

David thus selects plague, and it is his vision of the angel with the sword that we quote in the Haggadah:

 
ז וַיִּשָּׂא דָוִיד אֶת-עֵינָיו, וַיַּרְא אֶת-מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה עֹמֵד בֵּין הָאָרֶץ וּבֵין הַשָּׁמַיִם, וְחַרְבּוֹ שְׁלוּפָה בְּיָדוֹ, נְטוּיָה עַל-יְרוּשָׁלִָם; וַיִּפֹּל דָּוִיד וְהַזְּקֵנִים מְכֻסִּים בַּשַּׂקִּים, עַל-פְּנֵיהֶם. 16 And David lifted up his eyes, and saw the angel of the LORD standing between the earth and the heaven, having a drawn sword in his hand stretched out over Jerusalem. Then David and the elders, clothed in sackcloth, fell upon their faces.

This terrifying moment is actually a bit of dramatic irony. Though David is unaware of it, in the previous verse, God chose to spare the city of Jerusalem:

 
טו וַיִּשְׁלַח הָאֱלֹהִים מַלְאָךְ לִירוּשָׁלִַם, לְהַשְׁחִיתָהּ, וּכְהַשְׁחִית רָאָה יְהוָה וַיִּנָּחֶם עַל-הָרָעָה, וַיֹּאמֶר לַמַּלְאָךְ הַמַּשְׁחִית רַב עַתָּה הֶרֶף יָדֶךָ; וּמַלְאַךְ יְהוָה עֹמֵד, עִם-גֹּרֶן אָרְנָן הַיְבוּסִי. {ס} 15 And God sent an angel unto Jerusalem to destroy it; and as he was about to destroy, the LORD beheld, and He repented Him of the evil, and said to the destroying angel: ‘It is enough; now stay thy hand.’ And the angel of the LORD was standing by the threshing-floor of Ornan the Jebusite. {S}

David remains so afraid of this destructive angel, this angel of the LORD that at the end of the chapter in 1 Chronicles, we learn that even though David had done all in his power to repent of his sin, including consecrating a new altar at lavish expense, he would not bring himself to the Tabernacle in Gibeon:

 
ל וְלֹא-יָכֹל דָּוִיד לָלֶכֶת לְפָנָיו, לִדְרֹשׁ אֱלֹהִים: כִּי נִבְעַת–מִפְּנֵי, חֶרֶב מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה. {ס} 30 But David could not go before it to inquire of God; for he was terrified because of the sword of the angel of the LORD. {S}

Joshua’s angel is not this same destructive angel, the angel of the LORD. Rather, he is the captain of the LORD’s hosts. When Joshua first sees this angel with a drawn sword, he is afraid, because he has seen an angel with a drawn sword destroy the Egyptians. However, as soon as he learns the identity of the angel, he realizes that this angel has been sent to help him. The episode ends with a Hollywood style fadeout – the angel tells Joshua to remove his shoues, just as Moshe did, and presumably, as the screen fades to black, Joshua and the angel begin to discuss how to begin the conquest of the land.

Of course, since chapter divisions were not the work of the Jews, we can read smoothly on and realize that the first five verses of the next chapter are the contents of this communication.

I’m not sure I intended to write this much about each chapter, as I’ve far out-read where I’m holding in this blog, but so be it. Maybe I’ll put up a broader post on the early section of Joshua, chapters 1-5, next.

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