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Enjoying God Blog


Perhaps you should start by reading the story in Joshua 10:12-14.

At that time Joshua spoke to the LORD in the day when the LORD gave the Amorites over to the sons of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel, “Sun, stand still at Gibeon, and moon, in the Valley of Aijalon.” And the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, until the nation took vengeance on their enemies. Is this not written in the Book of Jashar? The sun stopped in the midst of heaven and did not hurry to set for about a whole day. There has been no day like it before or since, when the LORD heeded the voice of a man, for the LORD fought for Israel.

Without getting bogged down in too much detail, let me set before you the three most likely interpretations.

(1) A number of evangelical scholars believe this is all figurative language. They point to the poetic structure of the passage and argue that there wasn’t a literal or physical alteration of the light of sun and moon. Rather, this was figurative language found often in the OT that portrays the totality of God’s victory over the Canaanites and the awesome appearance that God made that day in fighting on his people’s behalf. Thus the words directed to the sun and moon describe in poetic terms Israel’s victory in battle but say nothing about any miraculous repositioning or change of movement of the sun and moon themselves.

Those who take this view don’t deny that God can perform great miracles. They simply see here an example of what we also find in Habakkuk 3:11 where the sun and the moon are personified and described as if they were people, standing still in the heavens, in awe and amazement at the power of God. See also Psalm 96:12, 98:8, and Isaiah 55:12.

Although this view has some merit to it, I’m not convinced. There are better options, in my opinion.

(2) A second, and perhaps the most popular, option is that God miraculously extended the light of day in order to give Joshua and Israel more time to bring the defeat of the Canaanites to consummation. In other words, the battle had raged long throughout the day and Joshua didn’t want the onset of nighttime to give his enemies a chance to regroup and recover. So, he prayed that the sun would not set in the west but would “stop” and its light enable Israel to finish off the Canaanites.

It’s important to remember that the author of the book of Joshua is not arguing in any shape or form that the sun literally moves or rotates around the earth. Biblical authors simply did in their day what we do in ours: they employed what is called phenomenological language. This means that they described events as they appeared and not necessarily as they actually are. We do this all the time. Tonight on TV your local weatherman will say something like, “The sun set at 8:13 this evening and the sunrise will occur at 6:42 tomorrow morning.” We all know that the sun neither sets nor rises, but it appears to do so.

Thus, for Joshua to say that the sun “stood still” and the moon “stopped” is not an error. We would be compelled to acknowledge an error only if the Bible explicitly taught that things appeared one way when in fact they did not, or if the Bible explicitly taught that things were one way when in actual fact they were altogether other. But when the Bible says that an event appears in a particular way, that is to say, it seems to the naked eye and from the vantage point of human observation to be a particular way, when in fact it actually is another way, is not an error.

If this second view is correct, how did God do it?

Many contend that God miraculously stopped or slowed down the rotation of the earth. If you are wondering whether or not he could actually do it, may I remind you of what Paul says in Colossians 1:16-17! The God who called into existence out of nothing every particle of physical matter and who continually upholds and sustains it in being, would have no problem pulling off a miracle of this magnitude. I’m a big God-er and this poses no problem for me. St. Augustine, Martin Luther, and John Calvin all embraced this view. Having said that, I’m not persuaded that’s what happened. Here are two reasons why.

First, it seems unlikely that God would have performed a global miracle involving the entire earth merely to extend the light for a brief period of time in the area of Gibeon.

Second, this isn’t the only occurrence of a miracle of this sort. In 2 Kings 20:1-11 Hezekiah falls sick and is told he will die. He prays to the Lord to extend his life who says, “Yes, I’ll give you an additional 15 years.” Hezekiah asks for a sign that God will truly heal him. The prophet says, “O.K., the shadow will go backwards ten steps.” He’s referring to something like a sundial, which consisted of a series of steps across which the shadow cast by the sun would move. The sign was that the shadow would reverse itself ten steps, the equivalent of about 5 hours. The point being that the sun appeared to move eastward instead of westward across the sky. If this was a global miracle it means that God not only stopped the rotation of the earth but actually reversed it! But we are told in 2 Chronicles 32:24-31 that ambassadors from Babylon traveled to Palestine to gain information about “the sign that had been done in the land.”

By the way, the many stories you’ve likely heard that scientists at NASA, in their space-flight calculations, have identified a missing day in astronomical history that can be accounted for by what happened to Joshua and Hezekiah are part of urban legend. I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but there is no confirmation of this from any reputable astronomist.

(3) The most likely explanation of what happened isn’t that Joshua prayed that sunlight be extended at the end of the day but that he prayed that darkness be extended at the beginning of the day, that is to say, early in the morning hours. Several things are worth noting.

First, the Hebrew verb translated “stand still” in v. 12 literally means “to be dumb” or “to be silent” and “still.” This could easily refer to the sun and moon ceasing to shine their light rather than to any cessation of apparent movement. The same is true again in v. 13 where the word translated “stopped” could mean that the radiance or light from sun and moon ceased to shine.

Second, according to v. 9 Joshua and his armies had been marching “all night,” which implies he attacked while it was still dark. Thus the battle may have occurred in the late hours of the a.m. or just before dawn and what Joshua prays for is that God would somehow block the light of the rising sun as well as that of the moon in order to prolong the darkness and thus aid the surprise attack Joshua was about to launch.

Third, look again at v. 12. “Sun, stand still at Gibeon, and moon, in the Valley of Aijalon.” Aijalon was about 10 miles west of Gibeon. This suggests that the sun was to the east over Gibeon and the moon to the west over Aijalon, which would require that the time be early morning. If this is true, it argues against the idea that what happened was a prolonging of sunlight at the end of the day and argues for the idea that it was a prolonging of darkness at the beginning of the day.

Fourth, what about v. 13b where it says that the sun “did not hurry to set for about a whole day”? Scholars point out that this could as easily be rendered, “as on an ordinary day.” Thus, if the sun was not visible because God somehow miraculously blocked its light this text would simply be describing the situation in terms of how it appeared to those on earth. Since the sun was blacked out one could not see it run its course across the sky “as they typically watched it on any ordinary day.”

I’m inclined to think this is the best explanation. But if this all refers to God somehow preventing the sun to normally shine as it does at the beginning of each day, how did he do it? Some argue that God did this by means of a cloud cover resulting from the hailstorm or perhaps by a solar eclipse. But it’s hard to see an eclipse here in that the sun and moon are described in opposition to each other, not in conjunction. Another major problem with the solar eclipse interpretation is that astronomers know precisely when solar eclipses occurred in central Palestine between 1500 and 1000 b.c. and none of the dates fits the time when we know Joshua lived. Perhaps this miracle was like the one in Egypt at the time of the Exodus. We read about the ninth plague in Exodus 10:21-23,

“Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness to be felt.’ So Moses stretched out his hand toward heaven, and there was pitch darkness in all the land of Egypt three days. They did not see one another, nor did anyone rise from his place for three days, but all the people of Israel had light where they lived (Exodus 10:21-23).



Joshua commanding God for the Sun to stand still is explained at
Dear Dr Pastor Sam,
I‘m not sure how I can help you remember me but I was in your systematic and historical theology classes at Wheaton. Great classes, really got me into theology, a living (spiritual) theology. Years later, I guess you could say I became a theologian. I‘d be glad to share more if you write to me (I believe this gives you my email address). But l‘m sure you‘ll be proud to see I published a book last year on Dallas Willard, The Kingdom among Us. Can’t find your email but reach out and we‘ll have chat! Mike

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