In Deed and In Truth

thoughts from a Christian

Sun Stand Still

For all you theologians and Bible scholars, I thought I would share with you the message I gave during the EL-Theological Seminary Chapel session on Tuesday, regarding the controversial story of Joshua, the Amorites, and the Sun.  Caution: For Edification Purposes Only.

SUN STAND STILL

Intro:

1.       Science and religion have always been at ends ever since the dawning of the age of reason.  It is then that the sources of epistemology have been credited, not to the God of this universe, or to His inspired revelation, the Word of God, but rather through rational thought construed from empirical evidence.

2.       The post-modernistic, existentialist thought has festered and developed through the medium that is science.  It is through this that naturalists have established themselves and their core belief system.  One can even argue that relativism and humanism have somewhat originated from various scientific findings.  But to argue that would contradict the whole nature of relativism, humanism, and idealism alike.

3.       Nonetheless, it is clear that many people believe that science and religion are naturally antithetical of one another: that to prove one would contradict the other.  As pastors, preachers, and ultimately, Christians in general, we can use logical thought, coupled with empirical evidence, governed by the faith instilled in us by the Holy Spirit to defend our metaphysical reality that is founded on our theological epistemology.

I. The Miracle of Metaphysics

Joshua 10:12-14- “The spake Joshua to the Lord in the day when the Lord delivered up the Amorites before the children of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel, Sun stand thou still upon Gideon and thou, Moon in the valley of Aijalon.  And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies.  Is not this written in the book of Jasher?  So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven and hasted not to go down about a whole day.  And there was no day like that before it or after it that the Lord hearkened unto the voice of man: for the Lord fought for Israel.”

A. Historical Background

1.       The 5 Amorite kings of Jerusalem, Hebron, Jarmuth, Eglon, and Lachish feared Joshua because of his military conquests over Jericho and Ai and had heard that Gibeon, who was mightier than Ai, had made peace with the Israelites (v.1-3).  Out of this fear, they sought to attack Gibeon, the newest ally of the Israelites.  Upon hearing word that these 5 kings were gathering together to attack Gibeon, Joshua travelled to Gibeon and met the Amorites where they were slaughtered and retreated.  During their retreat, the Lord rained down large hailstones, killing more than those who were killed by the sword.

2.       It is then, during the finality of the battle, that Joshua sent his request to God for the “sun to stand still.”

Various Interpretations And Related Refutations

1.       Understandably so, there are varying explanations for this passage.  Each explanation is relative to each person’s respective epistemology, either literally, figuratively, scientifically, idealistically, theologically, naturally, or supernaturally.

2.       First, some assume that this passage cannot be taken literally, but rather poetically, due to the change in narrative style from prose to poetical, found in verses 12 and 13.  Consider this reasoning from the Pulpit Commentary:

”The poetic form of this passage is clear to anyone who has the smallest acquaintance with the laws of Hebrew poetry . . . These words belong rather to the domain of poetry than history, and this language is that of hyperbole rather than the exact narration of facts”[1]

This rather concise and condescending insight is a simple answer to a convoluted passage.  It is obvious that the narration style has changed from prose to poetry, however to imply that the implication and significance is simply reconciled through this explicit change in narration is both dangerous and wrong.

If one simply considers the phrase “stayed” in v. 13 in reference to the moon, it is the Hebrew word amad.  It is a qal preterite.  The preterite in Hebrew meaning past tense, also serves as a particular narrative function.  Its purpose is to advance the plot of that particular narration.  Therefore, verses 12 and 13, even though are poetical in form, the use of the preterite for the word amad indicates that they are advancing the plot of the story, which is a literal, not figurative account.

3.       Secondly, some argue that it was not the sun that stopped but rather that the earth stopped rotating on its axis, therefore making it seem as if the sun had stood still.  Those who argue this view from a scientific standpoint are also doomed by it because it is also based on their own findings that any deviance from the current rotation of the earth, or a slowing down of it for that matter, would lead to large, natural catastrophic events.  Though the thought could occur that the sovereignty of God did stop or slow the rotation of the earth and also prevent the occurrence of a natural catastrophe of seismic proportions.  This argument has its weakness in the lack of Biblical exegesis, placing more emphasis on idealistic ideology rather than objective, Biblical exegesis.

4.       The third most dynamic explanation for this account is that the interpretation of the “sun standing still” is not to identify the sun as not moving, but rather, not shining.  Consider this explanation from theologian Don Stewart:  “Another view is that the prayer of Joshua was not for the prolongation of the day, but rather that the sun would cease pouring down its heat on him and his troops. The prayer was actually for the cessation of light, not its prolongation. God answered by sending a hailstorm that allowed Joshua’s weary troops to win the battle. Thus stand still means to keep from shining.”

Included in this explanation is also held another smaller explanation, arguing that the sun standing still was in actuality a solar eclipse.  This does nothing to explain for the lengthening of the day or stoppage of time which is the true controversy.

B. Exegetical Explanation

1.       There are many ideas as to how and why this could have transpired however there is only one correct answer.  In order to arrive at the correct conclusion, the only process is through an exegetical study that is founded on systematic theology.

2.       Let’s consider the two main verbs found in v. 13, when  the sun “stood still” and the moon “stayed.”  The Hebrew word for “stand still” is damam which means, “to wait, to be still, depicting the state of being motionless.  In verse 12, it is an imperative, indicating the sense of urgency from Joshua for the sun to stand still.  In v. 13, it is in the Qal imperfect.  The presence of the waw conversive renders the follow verb amad in the imperfect tense as well.

3.       There are three issues to be resolved to understand comprehensively this miracle: 1. What time of the day did this occur?  2. What was the purpose behind Joshua’s request for the sun standing still?  3. How did the miracle actually occur?

4.       First regarding the time, consider the insight from Dr. Isidro annotation: “Does this mean there was no sunset for almost a day or no sunrise?  The KJV translation is not so accurate.  For the Hebrew translated “go down” is bo which could either mean go down or go up as in Gen 6:13 when the animals will “come” or go into the ark.  Going into the ark means going up into the ark.  So the sun did not rise and the moon did not set.  So this miracle occurred at dawn for the moon was still shining and the battle occurred at dawn.  This means that God prolonged the rising of the sun to enable the Israelites to complete the defeat of the Amorites at dawn, but the moon to continue to shine to give some light to the Israelites to also fight against the Amorite soldiers.”[2] This is supported by the time frame given in v.9 –“Joshua therefore came unto them suddenly and went up from Gilgal all night.  An interesting side note regarding the Hebrew word for “night”.  Layelah is a masculine noun that comes from the root word luwl meaning “to fold back”[3] or a twisting away of light, i.e. night.  In other words, when the light “holds back,” darkness sets in.  In the case of Joshua’s battle with the Amorites, God Himself held the light back, so that the moon can stay for the benefit of the Israelites.

5.       Therefore, the sun was not commanded to stand still for prolonging the day and sustenance of light for the purpose of doing battle.  Instead, it was commanded so that the sun would not rise and therefore lengthen the time of night.  This finding helps to explain the second point, the purpose behind of Joshua’s request to God for the sun to stand still.  What was his reason for this?  E.W. Maunder sheds light on this:

It is not possible that, engaged as he was in a desperate battle, he was even so much as thinking of the suns motion at all. But its shining, its scorching heat, must have been most seriously felt by him. At noon, in high summer, southern Palestine is one of the hottest countries in the world. It is impossible to suppose Joshua wished for the sun to be fixed overhead, where it must have been distressing his men who had already been seventeen hours on foot. A very arduous pursuit lay before them and the enemy must have been fresher than the Israelites. The suns heat therefore must have been a serious hindrance, and Joshua must have desired it to be tempered.

Here can be the explanation of reason why Joshua asked God to keep the sun from rising.  Being a great military commander, he knew the dynamics of war and the end of the battle was in sight.  He held to the promise of God that “not a man of them shall stand before thee” (v.8).  The time of day and the nature of his request, one can deduce that it is so that his army will not have to endure the difficulty of the scorching heat.  They no longer had to fight under the duress of extreme heat.  The moon and the hail storm provided enough light for them to finish their task of defeating the Amorites in the brisk and coolness of a prolonged evening.

6.       Lastly, the imperfect tense of both verbs, damam and amad, signifies a process for the sun standing still and the moon staying.  In explaining how this miracle happened, this implication would lean toward the idea that the rotation of the earth was not stopped but slowed down so that it took longer for the sun to rise on that day.  The slowing down of the rotation of the earth’s axis would keep the sun from rising earlier than God had intended.

Conclusion:

1.       Even though this miracle may be difficult to grasp and explain, the underlying message is regarding the faithfulness and sovereignty of God.  In the midst of battle, God’s chosen servant, Joshua was encouraged not to fear, and that no man would stand before Him.  God kept His promise.  Additionally, this is a great and wonderful account of a day when the Lord hearkened unto the voice of man (v. 14).  He hears us and never abandons us during our time of need.

2.       There have been many scientific stories claiming the discovery of a historical account that the world is missing one 24 hour period.  Coming from sources such as NASA, their explanation comes from this story in Joshua, arguing that it was a total of 23 hours and 20 min that is unaccounted for.  The other 40 min can be attributed to when the Lord prolonged the life of King Hezekiah with the sign of turning back the sun dial 10 degrees.  Though these may be unfounded and pure speculation from a scientific point of view it cannot be doubted that these miracles occurred.  We serve a great and mighty God that works in mysterious ways.

3.       It takes a miracle for the sun to stand still and the moon to stay.  As large a miracle as it is, it’s an even greater miracle to reconcile sinful man to a righteous and Holy God.  This is the miracle that supersedes all others: the miracle of Jesus Christ and that through simple faith and belief in Him, we may have eternal life.

(Picture taken from http://web.ukonline.co.uk/silabob/jpegs/big-orange-sun-4.jpg)


[2] IAOT Joshua 10:12-14

[3] Zodhiates Key Word Study Bible 1625, Hebrew Caldee ref. 59

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December 7, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment