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Doctrinal Matters

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Did the Sun Stand Still?

by  Brad Bromling, D.Min.

Q.

How can I believe the Bible is reliable when it says that the Sun “stood still” at the request of Joshua?

A.

This question relates to the history narrated in Joshua 10. After the defeat of Ai, five kings of Canaan joined forces to attack the city of Gibeon for making an alliance with Israel. Upon hearing of this move, Joshua and his men marched through the night from Gilgal to Gibeon where, with the Lord's help, Israel waged war. In the midst of battle, Joshua prayed to God that the Sun would stand still until Israel could vanquish her enemy. This request was granted, as the record states: “So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and did not hasten to go down for about a whole day. And there has been no day like that, before it or after it, that the Lord heeded the voice of man, for the Lord fought for Israel” (Joshua 10:13-14).

Critics insist that such an event is impossible, and thereby impugn the veracity of the Scriptures. Various solutions to this alleged problem have been proposed. This article will consider four of them. First, some suggest that the text should be understood in a figurative sense and that the event did not involve a miracle. Hence, it is suggested that the Lord helped Israel win the battle in such an incredibly short time that she felt as though the day had been lengthened, when in fact it was not (Keil, 1980, 2:110). Second, some scholars take the language figuratively and attach a purely naturalistic explanation to the event. Donald Patten and his colleagues believe that the planet Mars passed by Earth in an unusually close orbit that caused the Earth to tilt on its axis (1973, pp. 172-198). Viewed from the right geographical location, the Sun actually would hang in the sky longer than normal. Third, others suggest that a local miracle took place. Hence, the Sun’s rays may have been refracted miraculously so that they gave every appearance of daylight-illumination in Palestine, when in reality the Sun had slipped below the horizon (Davis, 1980, p. 69). Fourth, still others take the language literally and accept that the Sun was indeed halted miraculously. Henry Morris explains that even more may have been involved: “Since the account says that the moon also stood still (Joshua 10:13), it may be that the entire solar system stopped in its tracks for a day, with all relative positions and motions simply suspended” (1971, p. 73).

Each of these solutions has met with criticism. Against the first it has been contended that a cardinal rule of interpretation is that a passage is to be considered literal until proven figurative. Joshua 10 reads like simple, historical narration. The Lord could have made the day “seem” long, but the text says that “the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, till the people had revenge upon their enemies” (Joshua 10:13). The second has been challenged for lack of evidence. The notion that the Earth shifted on its axis in response to a fly-by of Mars is purely hypothetical. The third option is rejected out-of-hand by anyone who refuses to accept the possibility of miraculous occurrences. Against the literal reading, it is argued that since the Earth orbits the Sun, it would have been the Earth that ceased to rotate, rather than the Sun stopping, that lengthened the day. Also, if the Earth stopped it would experience incalculable global catastrophes.

If each solution has difficulties, what is one to make of the event? Primarily this: it was a miracle. Joshua prayed for divine assistance, and he received it. An omnipotent God could have helped in any way He chose. Before anyone can dismiss the Bible because it reports miracles as though they really happened, he must do two things. First, he must prove that there is no God Who has the ability to accomplish such tasks. Now, if there is a God Who is capable of speaking the entire Universe into existence (Psalm 33:9), then it must be admitted that He has the power to do with it whatever He wishes. Who is measly man to say that the God of the Universe does not have the power to stop the Earth, Moon, and Sun, and still maintain every other semblance of order? By definition, God is beyond the scope of such criticism.

Second, the critic must be able to prove that the Bible is of purely human origin. However, the Bible itself is one the best-known examples of a miracle. When all of the facts are considered, it is evident that without God, the Bible cannot be explained. The burden of proof rests with the skeptic; until he can prove there is no God, and that the Bible is merely a human production, he has no basis upon which to deny the biblical record of a miracle. To dismiss the Bible because it contains accounts of “impossible” events is inane. With God nothing is impossible except, of course, those things which are at odds with His nature (e.g., He cannot lie—Titus 1:2). As with all miracles, no explanation is given as to how the feat in Joshua 10 was performed. How did the axe head float (2 Kings 6)? How did five loaves and two fish feed over five thousand (Matthew 14)? How did Jesus give sight to the blind (John 9)? That these things happened is sufficient for the man who accepts the omnipotence of God.

Accordingly, two of the above solutions seem to fit the data. First, God may have caused the solar rays to linger over Palestine for the specified time. If God thus made the Sun to appear—from Joshua's perspective—to hang in the sky above Gibeon, it would be correct to report the event in such terms. Or second, it may be that the Sun (and indeed the entire solar system) was suspended miraculously for a day. Whether the miracle was local or universal is not specifically stated in the text. Either way, “there has been no day like that, before it or after it” (Joshua 10:14)!

A final thought on this subject needs to be addressed. The story occasionally circulates that “NASA scientists were checking the position of the sun, moon, and planets 100 years from now and 1,000 years from now in order to plot space craft trajectories. As they ran their computers up and down the centuries, their machines came to a grinding halt because they showed a day missing about the time Joshua lived.” This story is purely fictional. Computers do not have the ability to make such a discovery, and every effort to contact the scientists allegedly involved has resulted in either failure or denial. The July 1989 Bible-Science Newsletter carries an excellent article that debunks this farce (Bartz, 1989, p. 12).

REFERENCES

Bartz, Paul A. (1989), “Questions and Answers,” Bible-Science Newsletter, 27[7]:12, July.

Davis, J.J., and J.C. Whitcomb (1980), A History of Israel (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House).

Keil C.F., and Franz Delitzsch (1980), Biblical Commentaries on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, reprint).

Morris, Henry M. (1971), The Bible Has the Answer (Nutley, NJ: Craig Press).

Patten D.W., R.R. Hatch, and L.C. Steinhauer (1973), The Long Day of Joshua and Six Other Catastrophes (Seattle, WA: Pacific Meridian).




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