by Al Maxey
Issue #869 -- July 9, 2023
History is the human record of divine
manifestations imperfectly understood
Leopold von Ranke [1795-1886]
Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), an Italian genius who was ahead of his time in a number of fields, noted, "The sun does not move." Well, yes and no. Everything in the universe is moving, but with respect to man's perception that the sun "travels across the sky," rising in the east and setting in the west, da Vinci is correct: it is not the sun "moving," but rather the fact of the rotation of the planet upon which we live, thereby giving the appearance (to us upon Earth's surface) that the sun moves. Those who first suggested this truth were, of course, regarded with varying degrees of skepticism and disfavor. Some were even regarded as "godless heretics." After all, doesn't the Bible speak of the sun "rising" and "setting" over the earth, "hastening across the sky" to its appointed place, then appearing again (Ecclesiastes 1:5)? Only a fool (or an unbeliever) would dare to suggest the sun didn't move, right?! Such was the view of much of humanity thousands (and even hundreds) of years ago. The sun moved across the sky, by divine design, and man was powerless to alter that movement.
Well, not so fast! In light of the above, what are we to do with the story we find in Joshua 10, where the text informs us that "the sun stood still ... and the sun stopped in the middle of the sky, and did not hasten to go down for about a whole day" (vs. 13)? Are the so-called "laws of nature" flexible? Are there possible exceptions? Herbert Spencer (1820-1903), the English scientist and philosopher who originated the phrase "survival of the fittest," declared, "Nature's rules have no exceptions." The English mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947), however, countered, "People make the mistake of talking about 'natural laws.' There are no natural laws. There are only temporary habits of nature." A couple of centuries earlier, the French physicist and philosopher Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) wrote, "Nature often deceives us and does not subject herself to her own rules." What many scientists and philosophers too often forget, as they consider the wonders of the world around them, is that this marvelous creation had, and still has, a mighty Creator, one who is still very much in complete control over it. I love the comment made by the Anglican poet and hymnist William Cowper (1731-1800), "Nature is but a name for an effect, Whose cause is God." Is God Almighty capable of stepping actively into "time, space, and history" and altering the course of events and effects? If we believe that He is, we then face the question: "Has He?" And if He has, then when, where, and why?
Many believers and biblical scholars are convinced that one such occurrence of the Creator doing this very thing is found in Joshua 10. Did the Creator suspend the "laws of nature" and "stop the sun" (and moon) for a day? Are there other explanations as to what might have happened on that occasion described in Joshua 10? Was this a divine miracle, or just a human misconception? Are we reading and understanding the text correctly? Or, is it possible we're reading more into the biblical account than was ever actually intended by the original writer of the account? These are legitimate questions and concerns of sincere, godly men and women; thus, they deserve to be given serious consideration and a respectful, rational response. We shall attempt to do just that in this issue of my Reflections.
The forty years of wandering in the wilderness has ended. Moses is dead. Joshua is now the leader of God's people, and God has called Joshua to bring His people into the land of promise, conquering all those peoples who stand in opposition to this divine purpose. We find that charge to Joshua in the first chapter of the book that bears his name. In the dozen chapters that follow, one will find a record of these many battles and conquests as the people of Israel move into the land of their inheritance. Within these chapters are some fascinating stories. We read of Rahab and the spies. The conquest of Jericho. The story of the sin of Achan and the ultimate conquest of Ai. As Joshua and the people moved deeper into the land, and as their victories mounted, the inhabitants of the land, who saw them coming, became increasingly concerned and banded together to fight against Joshua and his army. The people of Gibeon, however, sought to make peace with Joshua (chapter 9), which infuriated the kings of the other nations in the land (chapter 10), and the latter five kings sought to destroy Gibeon. "Then the men of Gibeon sent word to Joshua to the camp at Gilgal, saying, 'Do not abandon your servants; come up to us quickly and save us and help us, for all the kings of the Amorites that live in the hill country have assembled against us'" (Joshua 10:6). The Lord God told Joshua that he was not to fear this coming battle, for these kings were to be given into his hands by the Lord (vs. 8). Therefore, Joshua and his army "marched all night from Gilgal" (vs. 9), taking them by surprise early the next morning, with a great slaughter taking place (vs. 10). Joshua's forces then pursued those who fled, and the Lord sent giant hailstones upon these enemy forces, "and more died from the hailstones than those whom the sons of Israel killed with the sword" (vs. 11).
It is at this point that we come to Joshua 10:12-13, in which we find the text that has so confused so many people down through the ages - "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 Jasher? The sun stopped in the midst of heaven and did not hurry to set for about a whole day" (English Standard Version). As one can imagine, this passage has gotten the attention of scholars and skeptics alike, and speculation has abounded over how best to understand this text. A good many see this as an example (not uncommon in more ancient historical accounts) of mingling myth with history, thereby enhancing or embellishing the account into something more than it actually was. "We are in the realm of legend with the battle at Gibeon (Joshua 10:1-15) ... etiological traditions which have no bearing on the history of the Conquest" [The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, vol. 2, p. 993]. Others see this event as a powerful miracle: the Lord God literally suspended the laws of nature, stopping the rotation of the earth on its axis for about a day. What are we to make of this passage? Is it myth or miracle? Are we to take it literally or figuratively?
Miracle - Literal
There are some who strongly believe this account is literal; that God performed a miracle, literally "stopping the sun and moon" (actually, stopping the rotation of the earth), and "fixing" any consequences that would naturally occur if the earth should cease its rotation on its axis (which would be enormous and catastrophic). Adam Clarke wrote, "I take it for granted that a miracle was wrought as nearly as circumstances could admit, in the manner in which it is here recorded. I shall not, therefore, seek for any allegorical or metaphorical interpretations; the miracle is recorded as a fact, and as a fact I take it up" [Clarke's Commentary, vol. 2, p. 45]. "The living, almighty God wrought a great miracle, for the religious destiny of all the world was here at stake. All the efforts of Bible scholars and critics to explain away this fact avail them nothing; the text is too clear and too powerful" [Dr. Paul E. Kretzmann, Popular Commentary on the Bible - The OT, vol. 1, p. 379]. "This miracle is often called 'Joshua's Long Day.' It is the third and last great miracle in the book and the most bewildering. No final word can be said about the exact nature of the miracles when scholars disagree on the meaning of verses 12-13. ... The problems for geophysics are so great that some other solution has been eagerly sought by scholars both liberal and conservative" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 3, p. 302-303]. "Reverence for God's Word should encourage us to suspend judgment until more evidence is available. In the meantime, no single explanation can be made a test of orthodoxy" [ibid, p. 304].
The easiest explanation is that it was a miracle. God did it; that settles it. End of discussion. Could God have done this, and kept any negative consequences of that "stopped sun and moon" from occurring? Of course He could have! He is God; He is Sovereign! He can do as He pleases! Would He do it? Did He do it? Those are very different questions! Another question of equal importance (if not moreso in this situation) is this: Are we reading the text correctly? Was it intended to be taken literally or figuratively? Have we really grasped what the passage was meant to convey, or are we reading something into it that was never there? We most certainly do NOT question God's ability to suspend the laws of nature that He Himself created. But is it possible His action that day on behalf of His people was miraculous in a different way? The sending of a deadly hailstorm, for example, certainly could be seen as "miraculous" (as they were not common that time of year in that place), yet such an act of God did not throw the universe "out of whack." It worked within nature and its laws, not outside of them.
"Many commentators have explained the miracle as merely optical" [Dr. Albert Barnes, Notes on the Bible, e-Sword]. God, for example, may have "wrought a miracle of refraction of light" in such a manner that light itself was prolonged, but not by literally stopping the planet from rotating on its axis [Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 2, p. 1635]. The OT scholars Drs. Keil and Delitzsch suggest that the "miracle" of God was performed in the minds of His people: "The day was merely subjectively lengthened - that is to say, in the religious conviction of the Israelites. ... The truthfulness of such utterances is to be sought for in the subjective sphere of religious intuition, and not in a literal interpretation of the words" [Commentary on the Old Testament, vol. 2, p. 111]. Alexander MacLaren (1826-1910), a Scottish Baptist pastor, agreed that the sun and moon "only seemed to stand still; that the day only seemed longer, but life was passing all the same" as before [Expositions of Holy Scripture, e-Sword]. "God may have produced an optical prolongation of the sunshine, continuing its visibility after the normal setting time by means of a special refraction of the rays" [Dr. Gleason L. Archer, Jr., A Survey of OT Introduction, p. 273].
An interesting twist on the "miracle" theme is proposed by Pastor David Guzik in his Enduring Word Commentary, where he suggests that the extra day of light "could have been simply the presence of God manifested in light" [e-Sword]. In other words, there was no need to "stop the sun and moon" (or stop the rotation of the earth on its axis); rather, God Himself SHINED upon the scene during that period of time needed for Joshua to defeat the enemy! If the prayer of Joshua was for an extension of daylight so that he might finish off the enemy before they could slip away under cover of darkness, then any of these miraculous means and methods would have sufficed, and each of them would clearly indicate the truth that God had fought for Israel and brought about their victory. "And there was no day like that before it or after it, that the Lord hearkened unto the voice of a man: for the Lord fought for Israel" (Joshua 10:14, KJV).
When considering this account in light of the miraculous, one must also take a look at what exactly it was Joshua was asking God for. The traditional view is that he asked God to "stop" the sun and moon in the sky. In other words, to freeze it in position, to make it "stand still," so that it did not go down. Complicating the matter, however, is the fact that the word used in this request may mean something entirely different. "The verb 'stand still' (Hebrew: damam) means 'to be silent, dumb,' suggesting that Joshua prayed for the 'voice' of the sun's shining to be silenced" [Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 2, p. 1635]. Psalm 19:2-6 refers to the "voice" and "speech" of the sun, and that its "speech" heats things up. "There is nothing hidden from its heat" (vs. 6). Joshua had marched his army all night long, and his troops were now engaged in an extended battle during the heat of the day. Rather than asking for the sun not to quit shining down on them, it is possible he was asking for the effects of the sun to be stopped (or its voice silenced), so that the extreme heat would not fight against his army as they fought the enemy. Some have seen the unseasonal hailstorm as a part of that response from God. Thus, it is exegetically possible that God's "silencing/stopping" of the sun may have been the ceasing of its burning heat upon Joshua and the army.
"The word translated 'stand still' is often translated 'be silent.' Joshua may have been requesting that the sun not shine with its normal brightness and heat. Cloud cover could have been a by-product of the hailstorm. Joshua desired favorable conditions so as to be able to make the most of the victory. After an all-night march, the sun's heat would have sapped the strength of the weary Israelites; and relief from that heat would have helped just as much as extended daylight" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 3, p. 303]. This same word is used in Habakkuk 2:20, "The Lord is in His holy temple, let all the earth be silent before Him." Quite a few biblical scholars "have suggested that instead of asking for a lengthened day, Joshua prayed that the sun and moon would, literally, be dumb or keep silent -- i.e., cease their normal 'speech' of shining" so that his troops might be spared from the effects of "the hot sunlight" [The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, vol. 3, p. 707-708]. "The literal rendering is 'be dumb' ...'be silent' ... The word must not therefore be pressed to mean that the sun's course was completely arrested in the heavens" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 3 - Joshua, p. 166]. "The verb usually signifies be silent," ... thus, "it does not seem to be absolutely necessary (on the basis of the Hebrew text itself) to hold that the planet was suddenly halted in its rotation" [Dr. Gleason L. Archer, Jr., A Survey of OT Introduction, p. 272]. Some scientists, noting that this "ceasing of the sun's shining" might have been a solar eclipse, did some calculating and determined that the "long day" of Joshua occurred on October 30, 1207 BCE [from a paper published in the Royal Astronomical Society Journal of Astronomy and Geophysics]. More recent scientists have debunked this, however.
Myth - Metaphorical or Figurative
Although one runs the risk of being labeled and libeled a "heretic" and "apostate" for suggesting such, it is also very possible that the section of the passage in Joshua 10 in which we find the "stop the sun" narrative is not literal at all, but purely metaphorical or even mythological in nature. In other words, it never happened; it is fictitious (or figurative, at best). In fact, this seems to be indicated right in the passage itself, which tells us that the narrative is found in the Book of Jasher (also known as the Book of the Righteous). Although this book is referred to in 2 Samuel 1:18 and 1 Kings 8:53 (in the Septuagint; not in the Hebrew text or in most translations), it no longer exists. "This bit of ancient Hebrew literature has been lost. Perhaps it was a collection of heroic songs. All of Joshua 10:12-15 may have been quoted from that source" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 3, p. 302]. If so, as seems to be the case from the text itself, the account should be "taken as poetic hyperbole" [ibid]. Those who seek to understand the passage must not fail to take into account "the poetical character of the verses before us" [Drs. Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary on the OT, vol. 2, p. 110]. Keil & Delitzsch acknowledge that Joshua 10:12-15 "contain a quotation from the Book of Jasher" [ibid, p. 106], and that it was a "war-song" written to celebrate the victory of the Israelites that day in which their God fought for them. "This is one of only two passages of poetry in Joshua, ... and is likely figurative" ["Stopping the Sun," The Archaeological Study Bible, p. 319]. The Book of Jasher was "a collection of odes in praise of certain heroes of the theocracy, with historical notices of their achievements interwoven" [Keil & Delitzsch, p. 107]. "That the passage quoted from this work is extracted from a song is evident enough, both from the poetical form of the composition and also from the parallelism of the sentences" [ibid].
In other words, the "stop the sun" story was included in the text NOT as historic fact, but rather as poetic enrichment, enhancement, and encouragement for the people of Israel. It was no more meant to be seen as literal, than was the statement, "The stars fought from heaven, from their courses they fought against Sisera" (Judges 5:20). This is poetic license (defined as: "the freedom to depart from the facts of a matter when speaking or writing in order to create an effect"), and the Hebrews were quite fond of it. "The inspired author here breaks off the thread of his history of this miraculous victory to introduce a quotation from an ancient poem, in which the mighty acts of that day were commemorated. The passage, which is parenthetical, contains a poetical description of the victory which was miraculously gained by the help of God, and forms an extract from the Book of Jasher. The language of a poem is not to be literally interpreted" [Drs. Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown, Commentary Practical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, p. 176]. As most scholars agree, the text "belongs to the domain of poetry rather than history, and the language is that of hyperbole rather than of exact narration of facts. Consequently, we are not entitled to build conclusions upon them, or draw arguments from them" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 3 - Joshua, p. 167].
To me, this is the view that makes the most sense. It in no way discounts the fact that the victory that day came from God, nor does it deny His ability to use the forces of nature, which He created, to accomplish His will (the sending of the hailstorm upon the enemy forces, for example). It also recognizes, though, the place of language and literature (and even legend) in the recounting of great events in the history of a people and nation. The Scriptures were never intended to be a book of science or even law; it is filled with figurative language, and parables, fables, and apocalyptic symbolism. Not to allow for such poetic, metaphorical, figurative, and even mythological material in these sacred writings is to deprive them of the richness of their message to mankind. I will close with a couple of quotes that I believe share this conviction quite well. Dr. Albert Barnes wrote, "Similarly (to our text), Judges 5:20 and Psalm 18:9-15 are passages which no one construes as describing actual occurrences: they set forth only internal, although most sincere and, in a spiritual sense, real and true convictions. This explanation is now adopted by theologians whose orthodoxy upon the plenary inspiration and authority of holy Scripture is well-known and undoubted" [Barnes' Notes on the Bible, e-Sword]. "God's mighty works should be perpetuated in song. They should be chronicled, not only in language which can inform the mind, but in words adapted to move the heart. They should be written down in the natural language of joy and praise. Poetry is the smile of the fair face of literature, while logic, in its sterner procedure and heavier forms, more nearly resembles the frown. God's gladdening works of deliverance are not so much things to be argued about, as mercies to be sung!" [The Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary, e-Sword].
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From a Reader in Texas:
Al, I just read your last article - "Surviving the Fall of a Nation: Personal Devotion During National Decline" (Reflections #868). Brilliantly stated! I don't recall who made the following observation, but we need to remember that "suffering is not the same as punishment." When our nation is brought to its knees, although only God truly knoweth if or when, there will surely be some of God's own people who will suffer during that time. Dear God, give us faith to glorify You when we suffer as Christians! Peace to you, Al, and "Welcome Home!" Keep remembering Heaven!!
From a Reader/Author in Mississippi:
Thank you, brother, for your article "Surviving the Fall of a Nation." This issue of your Reflections was really timely for me. I have recently felt called to share a similar message on my podcast. While we are officially on hiatus at the moment, I nevertheless feel like God wants me to do a special episode just for this very topic. I have been struggling with it, though, as it's not our typical type of message. We aim to provide comfort and encouragement, and I fear the coming times will be neither comforting nor encouraging. Frankly, I think we may be past the crossroads, and that only dark times lie ahead for this country. I love the passage from Habakkuk you used, though. It is one of my personal favorites. Like you, I may use that passage to let people know that there is still hope. Even if God brings down upon us a strong judgment, there is still hope He may restore us as well. Al, would you mind if I mentioned you and referenced this Reflections article in my podcast? Thank you, Al.
From a Reader in Barbados, Caribbean Islands:
Brother Al, Thank You for sharing with us this study on "Surviving the Fall of a Nation: Personal Devotion During National Decline."
From a Reader in Texas:
Dear Al, thank you so much for this very timely message! I have certainly been concerned about the path we are on and the future for this country. You nailed the concerns that speak for so many Christians today! More importantly, we must keep the prayers going up for the well-being of our children and grandchildren who will NOT be living in a Christian nation if the present trends continue! Al, may you never be deterred by the naysayers, who so often are vile in their messages. You, Al, are always the voice of reason in a time of insanity!
From a Reader in Kansas:
Al, thank you for your Reflections on "Surviving the Fall of a Nation." Some of my brothers and I here have been having frequent discussions about the question: "When do you defend your country, your wife, and yourself with the use of violence or deadly force, and when do you just accept what comes as persecution?" That is a nagging question for me. I'm not expecting you to drop everything and answer that for me right now, but I also wouldn't ignore any response you might make, either!! Thank you!
I would imagine that many of us have, at one time or another, pondered this very matter, for it is not inconceivable, especially in our very troubled times, that we may face just such a moment that can alter the course of our lives (and that of others around us). I have reflected on this very seriously, and I am at peace with my own choice as to what I would do. I can very well understand how others are still struggling with it, however. These questions become even more complex when we bring our Christian Faith to bear on them, especially if the focus of the question is: are we willing to die for, or to kill for, our country. Some might do so for a loved one, but is it wrong to do so for a nation? May Christians bear arms (understanding that they may be called to use them)? May Christians serve in the military (specifically: in combat)? May a Christian be a police officer? On and on the questions go. I have written a number of Reflections articles over the years on this matter, and I'll share the links to them below. I pray they will provide a bit of food for thought to those who read them. -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Colorado:
Thank you, Al, for your article "Surviving the Fall of a Nation." I'm looking forward to reading this later today. In our Community Bible Study class this past year, we have been studying Daniel and Revelation. Our preacher is now doing an extensive study of Ecclesiastes. I can't get enough of these reminders that we serve a sovereign God who truly is in control when things look otherwise! Fear Not!! Thank you for your work, Al.
I too have always loved the book of Ecclesiastes, and even taught a 15-week reflective study of that book a few years back. I focused on how this book helps us develop a meaningful and healthy worldview in the midst of the surrounding chaos of various godless and self-centered worldviews. A huge part of a healthy worldview, as I pointed out in that study, is when we truly perceive HIS sovereignty and ultimate control in all things. That class was recorded (MP3 format), and a copy of it may be obtained by those interested: "Developing a Meaningful Worldview: A Reflective Study of Ecclesiastes as it Applies to Our Present World." -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in North Carolina:
Al, I've been waiting for you to write such an article as this ("Surviving the Fall of a Nation") ... or, rather, I was kind of dreading it. Based on what I've read of your history, I know you are a conservative Republican, a Vietnam combat veteran, and a former legalist within the Church of Christ denomination. Your article, while focusing on the book of Habakkuk, is nothing but a mirror image of what you believe to be happening in the United States. You have finally revealed what I suspected all along: you believe that only Republicans can run this country the way it should be run (at least, that's the view according to most Republicans I know) -- i.e., that it should be run in a God-fearing, Christian manner: much like the insurrection on January 6, or the Proud Boys threatening and intimidating voters to make sure the "right" person is elected this time. You probably think Trump actually won the election! I could go on, but I don't need to. And maybe I'm wrong. Maybe you don't believe those things at all. But I doubt it. Do you blame Obama and Biden, and the rest of the Democrats in office, for the state of our nation? Do you applaud Texas and Florida for their stance on abortion and for their anti-gay rhetoric? Do you believe we should build a wall a little higher at the border and keep children in cages? Al, I don't serve a political God. I don't pray to a political God. I won't be judged by a Democratic or Republican God. I have been encouraged by your articles in the past; relieved to find common ground with you in how I was feeling about the Church of Christ denomination. I've never regretted leaving that denomination, and much of that is because of your articles which led me into a deeper understanding of the Scriptures. But this article -- it reads like you wrote it out of anger and frustration. Much like how I'm feeling as I type this email.
As the above email reflects, a few readers had concerns about my previous article. Some expressed those concerns kindly; some were a bit less tactful. We live in troubled times, and our concerns are often reflected in our emotions. This is understandable. I have strong feelings about what is happening in my beloved country. I believe the nation is in rapid decline spiritually and morally, and I don't believe God's people should sit by silently as evil runs rampant all about us. We should address these societal ills rather than ignore them. On the other hand, we should not become distracted by them (which is easy to do). The purpose of my article was not to attack any one political party (frankly, I'm not real happy with any of them), but rather to encourage God's people to prepare themselves for what lies ahead. If our nation does not repent, God will pour out judgment upon it in some fashion, and that judgment will impact the righteous as well as the unrighteous. How do we, His people, get through that time?! How do we survive it?! That was the primary focus of Habakkuk, and it was what I sought to emphasize in my article. In view of what is coming, "what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God?" (2 Peter 3:11-12). Both Habakkuk and Peter sought to shift the focus of God's people during times of judgment to what sort of people they ought to be. I simply sought to do the same. Nations will rise and fall; may His people remain faithful during both, and may they never fear to speak out against the darkness and let their light of godly living shine brightly! -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Alaska:
Dear Al, That our nation continues to move away from anything close to biblical morality seems inevitable, especially when anyone who disagrees with one version of political correctness is labeled a bigot or worse. But, among believers, the bigger problem is not the nation's decline, but rather the decline of the church (those who claim Jesus as Lord and Master). The NT speaks to believers to do their best to behave (think, speak, and act accordingly) in the context of the Greatest Commandments (loving God and loving others). By almost any standard, groups that claim that Name must admit that they fall short of full responsiveness to HIs commands, and it is this that should be our focus. Being distracted by politics, or anything else which competes for our attention, means that much less time, energy, and effort can be devoted to God. Jesus largely ignored His political climate and context as irrelevant to eternity, which should be a lesson to us, no matter how tempting it is to devote more time to the political arena which trashes biblical morality. One aspect of 1 Corinthians 5:12 and its context makes clear that our focus needs to be on those who claim to follow Jesus, not those "outside" whom God will judge. Blessings, brother.
From a Reader in Arkansas:
Al, I want to order the special thumbdrive containing your recorded class, with handouts, on "The Minor Prophets: Major Messages for Our Troubled World Today." My check is enclosed. Thanks for all you do, brother! Blessings to you!
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