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Today's Study

Joshua 10:12-14: The Sun Stood Still?

Among the many miracles recorded in the Bible, this one is perhaps the most notable. Did the Lord actually halt the earth's rotation for a period of approximately twenty-four hours so that the sun stood still in the sky and the moon failed to come up at its appointed time? And if God did halt the earth's normal rotation for a full day, would this not have led to an inconceivable catastrophe for the entire planet and everything that is held on its surface by the force of gravity? The implications of some of these questions are, indeed, cosmic.

Or is there some other meaning to the natural force of the words used in this account? For example, can the words in verse 13 (literally rendered, "The sun did not hasten to go down for about a whole day") point to a retardation of the earth's movement, so that it took forty-eight hours rather than twenty-four hours for the earth to make its circuit around the sun? Or could the Hebrew word dom, "stand still" (much like our onomatopoeic word "be dumb") signify that the sun was to remain hidden--hence "silent"--during the violent thunderstorm that accompanied the troops as they fled before the Israelites down the Valley of Aijalon? These are some of the reasons this passage is listed among the hard sayings.

Of course, the God who made the universe can momentarily stop it without the catastrophes that most of us would envisage according to the laws known to us at this time. Surely he is capable of holding in abeyance those physical laws that might have countermanded his actions with regard to the sun and the moon. But the question is, Would he have done so? This is like saying that God is omnipotent, yet God will not do contradictory things like making ropes with only one end or squares in the form of circles; and he will never sin. There are some things that he will not do because they are contradictory to his very nature. The question then is, Would stopping the planet be such a contradiction? Most would say that it is.

Alleged stories about a long day in Egyptian, Chinese and Hindu sources are difficult to validate. Similarly, the reports that some astronomers, and more recently some space scientists, have uncovered evidence for a missing day are difficult to vouch for. The claim by Edward Charles Pickering of the Harvard Observatory and Professor Totten of Yale that they had discovered a day missing from the annals of the heavens has never been substantiated, since no records exist to support it. It has been said in defense of this omission that the university officials preferred not to keep records of that sort in their archives. But that has not been demonstrated either. Some other explanation is needed.

What happened on that day when Joshua was pursuing the Amorites after a long night's forced march from Gilgal, a city near Jericho? That day the army covered more than thirty miles over some pretty rough terrain. The enemy fled westward to Beth Horon and then turned south into the Valley of Aijalon ("Deerfield"). At that point, the men, having made an all-night uphill climb from Gilgal, were exhausted. The heat of the July day was sapping what little energy they had left. But to their great relief, God sent a hailstorm that kept pace with the forward ranks of the fleeing Amorites. More were dying that day from the Lord's hailstones than from the Israelites' arrows and spears. The Lord had heard the prayer of his leader Joshua and answered in a most dramatic way.

Given the presence of a hailstorm (Josh 10:11), it is difficult to see how the sun could have been seen as stopped in the sky. There was light under the cloud cover, of course, but there would have been no actual view of the sun during a hailstorm so violent that it was killing the Amorites by the scores.

We can conclude that dom in verse 13 should be translated "was dumb" or "silent." The sun did not "stop" in the middle of the sky, but its burning heat was "silenced." The presence of the hailstorm lends more than a little credence to this view. In a sense, then, this is not "Joshua's long day" but rather "Joshua's long night," for the coolness brought by the storm relieved the men and permitted them to go on fighting and marching for a total of more than eighteen hours. This seems to be the preferable interpretation.

Some have suggested that there was a prolongation of the day merely in the sense that the men did in one day what should have taken them two. But this suggestion fails to account for some of the special vocabulary used in this text.

Others have argued that God produced an optical prolongation of the sunshine, continuing its effect far beyond the normal time of sunset. Perhaps there was an unusual refraction of the sun's rays, or perhaps a comet or meteorite appeared in the heavens just about this time. Both of these ideas, however, do not account for enough time, for usually these types of astronomical events are of short duration.

The best solution is this. Joshua prayed early in the morning, while the moon was in the western sky and the sun was in the east, that God would intervene on their behalf. God answered Joshua and sent a hailstorm. This had the effect of prolonging the darkness and shielding the men from the searing rays of the summer sun. The sun, therefore, was "silenced" in the middle of the sky, and the moon "did not hasten" to come.

What a day to remember, for on it God went out and personally fought for Israel--and more died from the hailstones than from the weapons of the army of Israel!