Back

Vol IV April, 1998

 

"I am Prince of the Host of the Lord"

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

Moses was not allowed to set foot in the promised land: "Because you have not believed me, to sanctify me before the children of Israel, you shall not bring these people into the land, which I will give them" (Num 20,12). Therefore, when Moses came to the end of his days he named Joshua as his successor and the new guide of Israel. He said "to all Israel: '... The Lord thy God then will pass over before thee ... and this Josue shall go over before thee, as the Lord hath spoken". Moses said to Joshua in the presence of all Israel, "Take courage, and be valiant: for thou shalt bring this people into the land ... And the Lord who is your leader, he himself will be with thee: he will not leave thee, nor forsake thee: fear not, neither be dismayed." (Dt 31.1-3.7-8).

1. Joshua, from his early years onward (cf. Ex 33,11), was the servant of Moses. He was always with him, even when "Moses went up the mountain of God" (Ex 24,13; cf. 32,17; 33.11). When Israel started its journey through the desert, he was chosen to fight against Amalek (cf. Ex 17.9-16), and he won the battle thanks to the prayer of Moses. He was among those who were sent to explore the promised land, and upon returning, he and Caleb encouraged the people to trust in God, in direct opposition to the others who had been sent ... He said to all the people: "If Yahweh is pleased with us, He will lead us into this land and give it to us ... Do not rebel against Yahweh. And do not be afraid of the people of this land ... - The entire community was talking of stoning them" (Num l4,8-9).

In spite of the experience of such an opposition, the Lord spoke to Josue the son of Nun, the minister of Moses, and said to him: "Moses my servant is dead: arise, and pass over this Jordan, thou and thy people with thee ... as I have been with Moses, so will I be with thee: I will not leave thee, nor forsake thee ... Fear not and be not dismayed: because the Lord thy God is with thee in all things whatsoever thou shalt go to" (Josh 1,2.5.9). Joshua immediately started to prepare for the passage through the Jordan. Then followed the confrontation with "all the kings of the Amorites in the country west of Jordan and all the kings of the Canaanites in the coastal region" (Josh 5,1).

"When Josue was in the field of the city of Jericho, he lifted up his eyes, and saw a man standing over against him, holding a drawn sword, and he went to him, and said: 'Art thou one of ours, or of our adversaries?' And he answered: 'No: but I am prince of the host of the Lord, and now I am come.' Josue fell on his face to the ground. And worshipping, said: 'What saith my lord to his servant?' 'Loose', saith he, 'thy shoes from off thy feet: for the place whereon thou standest is holy.' And Josue did as was commanded him" (Josh 5,13-15). What then follows is the successful conquest of Jericho and all the rest of the promised land.

2. Although the intervention of the Angel is mentioned only twice during the life of Joshua (Josh 5, 13-l5; Judg 2,1-4), let us recall that God calls the holy Angels to collaborate with His governing of the whole world, such that the entire visible world is entrusted to the power and administration of the Angels (cf. e.g. St. Augustine. Retractationes I,11.4 and De 83 quaestionibus 79,1). Therefore, to those who are familiar with the ways of God, it might not be necessary that the activity of the holy Angels be expressly mentioned in every case. To do so would be practically impossible.

The reference here to the holy Angels teaches us two points: The holy Angels assist God's ministers in the war for His glory! And secondly, they are mighty servants of God themselves. The "prince of the host of the Lord" appears to Joshua, and the text seemingly does not narrate the whole event. However, the Holy Spirit revealed enough so that Joshua could trust in the angelic help. While Moses led the people through years of desolation, Joshua had to lead them during years of hard confrontation with other nations. War was not always avoidable, therefore, the holy Angels were with him as powerful soldiers and fought with and for the Chosen People.

This hope is confirmed elsewhere in history too. In some cases we see it in an indirect way, in others in a direct way. One example of the former is when the Roman Emperor Constantine implored God to show him Who He is. At around noon he saw above the sun, high up in the sky, the victorious sign of the Cross. It was formed by light with the following words: "In this sign gain victory!" On the following night, Christ appeared to him with the Cross and ordered him to use it as a sign and protective banner in the battles against his enemies. Eusebius testifies to this in his "Life of Constantine" saying that the Emperor himself confided it to him (1,28 ff.). Although the Angels are not expressly mentioned, the question as to how the "Lord of Hosts" assisted the Emperor remains open ... perhaps by sending His angelic hosts as He did in the case of the Maccabbes (cf. I Mac 7,41).

The Angels, interested only in serving God, want to call attention to God alone, and therefore prefer to remain hidden. When they do appear, for example after the Resurrection of Our Lord, they quickly withdraw after having accomplished their mission (cf. e.g. Lk 24,5-8).

We have another historical account of the assistance of the holy Angels, this time in a direct way. The first King of Portugal received the confirmation of St. Michael's assistance as he waged battle against the Muslims. The King and his soldiers cried out: "Holy Mary and Saint Michael, with your army come to our aid!" Then, in the middle of the decisive battle, they saw in the sky above them an arm with a brilliant sword which caused terrible losses among the Muslims. Those who were captured said that they too had seen the angelic arm fighting together with the Christians. Out of gratitude King Afonso Henriques founded a Confraternity of St. Michael, with the result that even today, in nearly all parishes of Portugal an image of St. Michael can be found (cf. Oliveiros de Jesus Reis, O Grande, O Humilde S. Miguel Porto 1988,35-38).

We may then conclude: the "prince of the host of the Lord" accompanied Joshua all of his life as he also did the people of Israel and does the Church, as a warrior, defender and helper.

3. Our text shows the Angels to be mighty servants of God. It is important to see this revelation of the true character, might and power of the Angels. Romano Guardini wrote in his book, The Angel in 'The Divine Comedy' of Dante, a beautiful passage that deals with the idea which man has today about the Angels:

Modern sentiment and imagination has turned the Angels, to a large extent, into effeminate, rather equivocal beings. Whoever desires to see what they really are and how they stand in the Christian existence, must forget most of the art the last five to six centuries has produced, not to mention the devotional industry, and must return to the revealed word of God in Scripture, beginning with the Old Testament. He will, for example, become engrossed in the words, the event and the atmosphere of the account of Jacob's struggle (Gen 32, 22-31). The one who attacks Jacob waiting alone in the night, is "a man"; frightening, powerful, mighty in blessing and veiled in mystery. He is "the Angel of the Lord", whose nature cannot be grasped; a finite creature and still, as can be seen from verse 30 already, somehow identified with God himself.

Consequently, one must not regard him merely as "an Angel" in abstraction from God, for it is most frequent in Scripture that what appears to man is God's formidable glory shining in and through them. They do not come privately, on their own; rather it is God who comes and acts in them. The Angels are "messengers"; in that tremendous sense that they somehow bring the One who sends them Himself. When they come, the Holy-Formidable and Awesome-Glorious One Himself comes and is present. "Three men" enter into Abraham's tent; one of them is the Lord (Gen 18). The Angel of the Lord casts the pestilence upon the people and the city (of Jerusalem); but it is God who is at work there (2 Sam 24,15-16). An Angel stands with a drawn sword before Joshua and commands him to take off his shoes because of the holiness of the place (Josh 5,13-15 - holy, of course, because of the presence of God). In the great vision of Isaiah, Angels surround the throne of God: the Seraphim, in union unceasingly call to another, saying "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts!" so that the very foundations of the sanctuary shake at the tremendous voices of those who called (Is 6, 1-4). 1

Now, when we read the story of Joshua in the fuller light of the New Testament and in the fact that the promised land is the kingdom of heaven, which is not of this world, then the incident in Josh 5,14 becomes a clear indication of God's offer to help men through the Angels, especially regarding the defense of faith in order that they may lead us to heaven.

4. The holy Angels, once more, are shown as interested helpers in the welfare of the people of God. We are again exhorted to join them in the guidance and protection of the flock entrusted to us and that of mankind, the universal flock. If mankind is again threatened by the flagellation of war, should we not implore the Heavenly Army of God and its prince? If the spiritual war caused by the growing seduction of men by sects is increasing all over the world, would it not be a part of our responsibility, as "spiritual fathers" of souls, to ask the powerful help of the Angelic Army to enter in this battle for the glory of God and the salvation of souls?

Would it be so difficult for us to again teach the people the traditional prayer to St. Michael and even to find a fitting moment in the liturgical life of the parish in order to pray it as "two or three gathered in the Lord's name"?

May you all experience the powerful intervention of "the prince of the host of the Lord" and grow in the trust Joshua showed before the people of Israel!

Fr. Titus Kieninger, ORC


1 Paraphrased.