Joshua Demands That The Sun and Moon Stand Still
Posted by foryourfaith on January 5, 2010
One of the great Bible miracles is the stopping of the sun and moon during the battle between Joshua and the five kings who attacked Gibeon. The event is the more extraordinary because the Lord stopped the sun at Joshua’s request. Even narrators of the Book of Joshua look back across the centuries with wonder at the story: “The sun stayed in the midst of heaven, and did not hasten to go down for about a whole day. There has been no day like it before or since, when the Lord hearkened to the voice of man; for the Lord fought for Israel” (Joshua 10:13-14).
All manner of explanations have been offered for this miracle, such as an eclipse, a hailstorm, the presence of the sun and moon in the sky together at dawn, and the clouding of the sky. It was the contention of Immanuel Velikovsky, author of Worlds in Collision, that the sun stood still because a near-collision between the earth and a comet caused a temporary halt in the earth’s rotation. The biblical scholar Robert Houston Smith felt that readers of the Bible have often attributed to it “far more significance than the original storyteller probably intended.” The episode, he says, may reflect nothing more complicated than Joshua’s wish to defeat the enemy before nightfall.
Such explanations, however, are outside the realm of the Bible itself. Accepting the accuracy of the narrative without question, scholars, both Jewish and Christian, have combed the Scriptures for parallels in order to explain its deeper meaning. Rabbinical scholars have offered numerous interpretations for Joshua’s request that god make the sun and moon stand still.
One interpretation suggests that Joshua wished to finish the battle before the Sabbath and so wanted to stop the sun in an effort to gain time. The battle was fought on a Friday before sundown. And although waging war on the Sabbath was permitted for the conquest of the Promised Land, the Israelites would not be allowed to do so in this campaign because it was being fought in defense of the Gibeonites, rather than for the conquest of land. Other interpreters see this episode as a flashback to the dream in Genesis 37:9, in which Joseph saw 11 stars and the sun and moon bow down to him. This dream was considered a prophecy that the sun and moon would stop at the request of Joseph’s descendant Joshua.
It is significant that the words of Joshua to the sun and moon are words of poetry. The poetry is derived from the Book of Jashar, an ancient anthology of poems that celebrated the exploits of the heroes of Israel. (The book is quoted at greater length in 2 Samuel 1:17-27.) Numerous interpreters have argued that the “standing still” is poetic imagery, which the authors read as a literal and remarkable miracle. However that may be, it is certainly true that the narrative in Joshua 10:13 describes a literal stopping of the sun in its course.
For the narrators, there was no ambiguity. The meaning of the miracle was quite clear. The Lord who was fighting the battles of Israel was also the creator of the universe, who could use every element of that creation as an implement of war to give his people victory. As the narrator concludes, “The Lord fought for Israel.”