Before Joshua begins the battle at Jericho, he encounters “a man” with a sword who identifies himself as “the captain of the host of Yahweh” (Joshua 5:13-15). It’s a familiar scene, echoing the moment when Abraham encountered three men at his tent (Genesis 18:2).
Abraham “lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men” (Heb. wayyishsha’ ‘eiyniyw wayyare’ wehinneh shelosha ‘anashiym). Joshua too “lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man” (Heb. wayyishsha’ ‘eynayw wayyare’ wehinneh-‘iysh). The three men stand opposite Abraham (Heb. nitztzaviym ‘alayw), and the captain of Yahweh’s hosts stands opposite Joshua (the Heb. is different: ‘omed lenegdo). Abraham bows to the earth, and so does Joshua.
The differences are evident. Abraham invites the three men to share a meal; the man who meets Joshua is armed for battle. But the differences don’t undo the similarity. Abraham’s sojourn in the land is a preview of the conquest. Everywhere Abraham sets up an altar, Joshua later conquers. Worshiping Yahweh in the land is a proleptic conquest, a preview of the goal of the conquest, which is to strip the land of idolatry and set up the Lord’s house.
The parallels also highlight the similarities of Sodom and Jericho. The three come to Abraham to warn him about the coming destruction of Sodom, and the captain is about to attack Jericho. Lot and his household escape from Sodom, as Rahab and her house are spared when Jericho falls. And this parallel runs right through to the end of the Bible, where a city called “Sodom” (Revelation 11) comes crashing down after trumpets are blown (Revelation 8-11).