Category: Devotional

The Sun Stood Still… Really?

One of the most contested passages in the entire canon of Scripture. It reads:

Then Joshua speaks to YHWH in the day of YHWH’s giving up the Amorites before the sons of Israel, and he says before the eyes of Israel, “Sun—stand still in Gibeon; and moon—in the Valley of Ajalon”; and the sun stands still, and the moon has stood—until the nation takes vengeance [on] its enemies; is it not written on the Scroll of the Upright, “and the sun stands in the midst of the heavens, and has not hurried to go in—as a perfect day?” And there has not been like that day before it or after it, for YHWH’s listening to the voice of a man; for YHWH is fighting for Israel.

Joshua 10:12-14, Literal Standard Version

I chose the most literal English translations I could find to talk about this passage. Theories to explain this phenomenon abound but I will briefly touch on the five most common ones, why I think rigid literalism is dangerous, and which one I find the most compelling.

Theory 1: The Earth LITERALLY Stopped Rotating

Is this possible? Yes. Of course it is. Any Christian who thinks this is not possible grossly underestimate God. He created the universe, including all the laws of physics that would send a suddenly-stopped earth into chaos the likes of which humanity has never seen before. He could certainly pause all of that as well. Yes this is unequivocally possible! BUT the sheer number of Christians I have seen who say that if you believe anything OTHER than a literal interpretation, you are denying the existence of miracles and therefore the resurrection of Christ and therefore Christianity itself… is staggering to me! If that’s you, please just take a beat and think about this for a moment. My thoughts about any one thing are not equally applied to all things of that type. If I think a patent-leather dress show looks great with a tux, that does not mean I feel the same way about Crocs. Every shoe is no more the same than every miracle is the same.

Again, this is certainly possible for God, but I think it is unnecessary in scope to explain the evidence.

Theory 2: Appearance of Extended Sunlight Only

This theory essentially says that time proceeded as normal, and the miracle that happened was the appearance of extended sunlight to those fighting the battle. Of course if we factor in that verse 9 tells us Joshua attacked in the morning… why would Joshua be asking the Lord for more daylight in the morning? Did he already know that the battle would go on for longer than the typical daylight hours?

This is also possible, but I don’t find this theory especially compelling.

Theory 3: A Solar Eclipse

This is pretty far-fetched to me. Joshua asks the sun to stand in Gibeon and the moon in the valley of Ajalon. Gibeon is to the east and Ajalon is to the west. These are on opposite ends of the sky. This is about as far away from a solar eclipse as we can get, yet we are told that “God listened” to Joshua. By giving him the opposite of what he asked for? This is highly doubtful to me.

Theory 4: Figurative Language

This theory basically holds that the language of Joshua is poetic and symbolic rather than literal. There are times when we see things attributed directly God which are more likely indirectly attributable to God. Perhaps this is another one of those times. Recognizing that things went well in that battle and rightly thanking God for His provision and leadership. This would turn the events into a glorious abstract attribution to God of the victory over their foes. And if I’m honest, I can see why this is so appealing. It neatly sidesteps actually dealing with the problem presented by the text. We no longer need to do the work of sorting out what has happened, and we can instead just say, “God was with Israel” and move on.

But that easy way out is the very reason I also find this theory un-compelling.

Theory 5: A Bad Omen

This theory takes the reader from a 21st century AD world of cosmology and physics into a 14th century BC world of symbols and omens. Joshua, not given to omens but knowing his opponent is, looks into the sky and sees the sun over Gibeon and the full moon over Ajalon. This would have been a fantastic sign to Israel’s enemies that they would be successful in battle… if this were the 14th day of the month. Any other day of the month and this would be a terrible sign. Joshua knew that and also knew that the sun and the full moon would only be visible in the sky together for about 4 minutes. His prayer was that God would hold those things in place long enough for Israel’s enemies to see them and become demoralized by them. If you are interested in additional reading about this theory, a more robust treatment can be found here.

This is my preferred theory. I think it makes the most sense of all the data…. and I love the idea of Joshua and the Lord using the omens and signs and superstitions of their enemies against them. Something very poetic about that in my mind.

In conclusion, feel free to adopt whichever theory you believe makes the best sense of the Biblical data. This is very much a secondary issue. One on which believers can disagree in good faith. Be blessed today my friends!

Joshua 10:1-12:6 | 084/365