The Day the Sun Stood Still
Topic: Default Passage: Joshua 10:12–10:15
This morning we continue our walk through the book of Joshua and wade into one of the more controversial passages in the Bible where ‘the sun and moon stood still.’ If you are jumping into this series, let me set the context a bit.
The Israelites have been moving into the land of Canaan from the east at what one commentator called Canaan’s Dixie line. That is, it’s mid-section that divides the North from the South. They have taken Jericho, they have taken Ai, and they have made peace with the Gibeonites. So, if you can imagine this Dixie line and then see it as a plateau that falls off to the north and south, but only gets higher as you go west.
Imagine a putt-putt hole where there is one straight path to the hole, but this path is an elevated path that drops off sharply on both sides. Then, imagine that path itself to be uphill. That’s the kind of geography we are dealing with. This is a hugely strategic strip of land to possess. Once the Israelites have it, there is little hope of a collaborative Canaanite victory.
So, five Canaanite kings on the south side of this strip joined forces and went after Gibeon. This makes sense to me. The Israelites are the larger more intimidating army so let’s go after Gibeon, still a formidable army larger than that of Ai, and try and regain some of this militarily strategic land. Let’s also test this new alliance between the Gibeonites and the Israelites.
So, the Gibeonites send word to the Israelites, “Remember that covenant we made?” I can only imagine the collective eye role toward Joshua back in the Israelite camp. This could have actually been the perfect opportunity to scrub out the embarrassing mishap last chapter. But, Joshua is a man of his word so they go to defend the Gibeonites. They march all night and surprise the five kings.
Then comes the work of God. God stirs all the armies into a panic, they start to flee down the plateau, but then God sends hail to slow them down. And, finally, Joshua, having won the battle, sees an opportunity to win the war and he asks God to still the sun and the moon and it happened.
This isn’t the easiest pill to swallow. Maybe the Jordan dried up. Maybe the Nile turned red. Maybe Jesus somehow turned water into wine. But the sun and moon stopping.
Every law of physics I am aware of would be overturned. I was with a new friend a couple of weeks ago who is not a Christian and I asked him what the main hurdle is between him and believing and he said, “The miracles.” And he specifically named this one.
I’m on a Facebook group where Christians and atheists interact, albeit not always that charitably, and I posted and asked the atheists what they would want me to address as I teach this passage. Here are some of the answers that I can repeat. Why didn’t all cultures record this happening? Why don’t you just call it what it is, a fairy tale. Who are you kidding? You are teaching magic. What about those pesky laws of physics? Why doesn’t the Bible even know that it wasn’t the sun that stopped, but the earth? Why don’t you just teach it for what it is, fiction. And then my favorite. Just be sure to begin your sermon with ‘once upon a time.’
As our scientific knowledge began to develop in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, there was a lot of concern about the future of Christianity. What does this new knowledge mean for what we read in the Bible? Some denominations began to remove or explain away the miracles in the Bible.
But, the problem is that once the miracles are taken out of Christianity, there is no more
Christianity. It’s no different than a Masonic Order or Elk Lodge. This passage is about God miraculously intervening to save Israel. So, I want to look at the miracles in this passage, I want to look at what they teach us, and then, finally, I want to step back and look at the importance of miracles to our faith.
- The miracles in our passage
There are actually three miracles in this story. Three ways God intervenes. First, He stirs up the enemy troops into mass confusion. Second, He has hail fall on them as they retreat. And then, third, the biggie: the sun and moon.
The first two miracles tend to not be as hard for people to embrace. Even the most skeptical can say, “Well, sure it was morning and they were surprised, so of course there was confusion. No God needed for that.” They can look at the second miracle and say, “It was a timely storm just like there was a timely drying up of the Jordan River due to a timely earthquake.” But the sun and the moon standing still, that’s just too far.
So, what is the Bible actually saying happened here. There are a few options given the way it is written. And let me be clear, my goal is not to figure out what God can and can’t do. God can do whatever God wants to do. My goal is to figure out what the text is saying. First option, some say that it is poetic in nature. The Book of Jasher that also records this incident was poetic in nature. And to be fair, we do have places like judges five that poetically say that the stars fought from heaven. Poetry is being used there to emphasize the event. I think this is a hard theory to support, though, because the author says what happened was so significant that there has never been another day like it before or since. So, it appears to be making a bolder claim that can’t be supported by poetry or metaphor.
Another option is that the sun and moon stood still. The strength of this view is that it is the easiest interpretation of events in the English reading of them. Opponents of this view would want to know why we did not all come crashing down if there was a violent stop. Imagine driving in a car at 220 miles an hour and coming to an immediate stop. That would not go well. Or, why did the oceans not overflow their boundaries? Or, why did the planets not spin off out of orbit? All logical ramifications of the planets stopping. Again, if we hold this view we have to own the fact that all laws of physics are broken.
Now, to be fair, most Christians who hold this view would simply say that God countered all those affects. The universe exists by His word so that wouldn’t have been a big deal. It’s not like we believe it is any harder for God to break all the laws of physics rather than only one or two. Opponents also wonder why there is not more data to support this theory. Why don’t we have record from other civilizations about this event? Where is the astrological data? Again, reasonable questions to ask. I did grow up hearing that NASA scientists discovered a ‘lost day’ somehow in the astrological data and that supported the biblical account. I did a lot of research this week and I can’t find any support to that story. It seems like an urban legend.
Another view is called the ‘darkness theory.’ They would say that it wasn’t the day that was extended, it was the night. They would say that the sun and moon ceased to do something, but instead of ceasing to move, they say it ceased to shine. This view teaches that Joshua wanted the darkness of the early morning to continue and God granted it in some way. There are some very conservative scholars like Dale Ralph Davis who hold this view. It’s hard for me to understand the strategic value of darkness in battle, but I’m no soldier either.
There is so much debate on this passage that I decided to reach out to my old RTS Old Testament professors, Dr. Futato and Richard Pratt. It made me feel a little bit better to hear them both say they don’t know 100% what is being communicated here. They agree something miraculous happened, they just can’t say for certain in the Hebrew what that thing was.
What we are reading is a phenomenological account, not a scientific account. That is, the author is recording what he sees happening, not what is actually happening. We have these kinds of accounts all over the Bible and even in our language today when we say the sun rises and sets. We are describing what we see, not what is scientifically happening. We know that the sun isn’t rising and setting, we are simply spinning.
Here is the best I can do. I think God did something to extend either light or dark (I lean toward light) to ensure a victory for Israel. I don’t think the Hebrew text gives us enough data to say how that happened. It could have been light refraction in the sky that made the sun seem to shine from the same location, it could have stopped altogether. I don’t know.
The text doesn’t demand a full stop of the sun, planets, and moon, but it does demand that we believe God is intervening in this physical world and even bypassing the laws of physics to accomplish some very specific things. So, what are those things? Second point, what the miracle in this passage teaches us.
- What the miracle in this passage teaches us
I think the miracles in this passage teach us three things. First, God does fight for His people. Whatever it is that He is doing, He is in no uncertain terms fighting for Israel. Too often we have this meek passive picture of God, but that isn’t the picture of the God of the Bible. God isn’t just a good force who sets things up and hopes for the best. He isn’t simply a baby in a manger, or this kind, tender, pale skinned, long haired picture of Jesus who looks like he belongs in a skin or hair product commercial. Sadly, the God in our mind looks more like Glenda the Good Witch from the East than the God of the Bible.
We serve a God of justice and that means that He will fight. He will fight for His Glory, He will fight for His people, and He will see every injustice in this whole world made right! We see God fighting for us from Genesis to Revelation. He fights for Joseph when he is sold into slavery, He fights for David going up against Saul, He fights for Israel over and over, He fights for Paul when entire cities and religions are against him preaching the gospel, and He fights for us.
So, how does God fight for us? He fights for us primarily on three fronts. First, He fights our enemy. Yes, there is a spiritual enemy who lurks to take us down and God fights this enemy. Yes, our enemy is stronger than we are, but we don’t have to worry because God fights for us.
God also fights for us in this world. There is a kingdom of darkness and a kingdom of light. God is fighting for His kingdom of light to overtake the enemy’s kingdom of darkness and He is doing this for His glory. The whole reason we exist is to glorify God by working to extend His kingdom of light. This is an absolutely impossible task for us to accomplish alone, but God is fighting for us.
And then, God fights for us against our sin. Our sin causes us to actively oppose God. All of our desires are messed up. We naturally want to fight the God who wants to fight for us. Talk about shooting ourselves in the foot! But this is exactly why He sent Jesus. To take on the penalty of our sin and to send us His Spirit to renew us at the heart level and bring us back under His authority and His rule where He fights for us. He fights for us in our doubt, He fights for us in our addictions, He fights for us in our ailments and afflictions, and He will continue to fight until victory is won. “He who began a good work in you is faithful to bring it to completion.”
It’s interesting to me that the main miracle in the eyes of the author isn’t the sun and moon, but the fact that the Lord fought for men. Look at verse 14: There has been no day like it before or since, when the Lord heeded the voice of a man, for the Lord fought for Israel. - Joshua 10:14
And every time in Scripture when someone realizes that God is fighting on their side, they begin to work harder. A big God fighting on our side shouldn’t squelch our action, it should encourage it.
Here is the picture I have in my head of God fighting for us. My inlaws upgraded their couches recently so we got their old ones. The task at hand was to move a couch from point A to point B in my house. And these were heavy couches. So, Robert Jackson was on one end of the couch and I was on the other and my four year old, James came up and said, “I want to help!” And he jumped up on the couch and rode it from point A to point B. That was his ‘help.’
But do you see what happened? He had confidence that we had this under control and he wanted to be a part of it. He didn’t have any illusion that he was moving that couch.
He knew we had it and that motivated him to action and he got a fun ride out of it.
God has this. God fights for us. But there is something else in that verse. The Lord heeded the voice of a man. This is the second thing we see from the miracles, we can ask God for help. Very specific help. Joshua asks God to intervene in nature so the Israelites can continue to do the thing God has told them to do and He does it!
My second sermon I ever gave was on this text. It was really bad, but I do remember being awed by the fact that Joshua could talk to God like this and then realizing that I can too. Often we don’t find ourselves praying prayers that are this bold, this specific, and this public. Why is that? I think one of the main reasons we don’t make bold, specific requests of God is because we don’t want to have to deal with the potential of it not happening.
In the book The Praying Life, Paul Miller tells a story where he was camping with his daughter and she was panicked because she dropped her contact lens in the dirt and couldn’t find it. He told her, “before we do anything, let’s pray.” His daughter burst out in tears saying, “I have been praying for Katie to speak for years He hasn’t answered that prayer. Why should I trust Him for this?” Katie was her sister who was very much on the autism spectrum and wasn’t able to talk. Her faith, and even his to a degree was on the line here. What if they asked specifically to find her contact lens and it didn’t happen?
What are you afraid to ask God for? Are you afraid to ask God to get you out of debt? Are you afraid to pray specifically for your child’s heart to change? For your marriage to be healthy? For your boss to be nice. For a specific person to give their life to Jesus?
If you were with us in our series in the Sermon on the Mount, you remember that Jesus said, “For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him? - Matthew 7:8-11
We ask because we know who it is that we are asking. Many of you have children who aren’t afraid to ask you for anything because they know you love them. But, that doesn’t mean that you say yes to all their requests. Paul Miller and his daughter prayed, looked down, and immediately found the contact lens. But, sometimes the answer is no. Sometimes the answer is not yet. But, as Christians we can never think that our problem is lack of access to the Father.
Jesus has opened that door. He is our go between to the throne. And there is this misconception that Jesus is cool with us, but God the Father, He’s always angry and that is why we need Jesus to go talk to Him for us. That isn’t at all what is going on. Jesus, having paid the price for our sin, turns God’s throne of judgement into a throne of grace and acceptance. That’s why the author of Hebrews says, Let us then draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. - Hebrews 4:14-16
So, God fights for us, He heeds our voices, and thirdly, we see from the miracles in this passage that He will give us victory. God intervened and gave Israel victory. And after it was all done, they brought out the five kings who they had trapped in a cave, put the kings heads on the ground and the Israeli men of war put their foot on each neck of the five kings. That might sound odd or even mean to you, but it was a common thing in that culture for a victorious king to put his foot on the neck of a defeated king. And then Joshua told his men to be strong and courageous. We’ve heard this before. This is a major theme of the book.
What they are doing is a type of sacrament. This act and these accompanying words are intended to remind them of a past victory that ensures a future one. Is this not exactly what we do when we celebrate communion? We hold the bread and the juice and remind ourselves of Christ’s past victory that ensures our future victory. And I can’t read this and not think about the promise in the Garden of Eden to the serpent that one day there will come a man from the line of Eve whose foot will crush his head.
This victory in Canaan is showing us a picture of Christ’s ultimate victory over our enemy, over our world, over our flesh. It’s so easy in the pain, the losses, and the weariness of this life to wonder where the victory is. Victory is coming, must never lose hope.
And if we have eyes to see it, we can. As many of you know, the elders of our church attended the Acts 29 Global Gathering last week and it was so encouraging to see brothers and sisters from all over the world coming together to worship, pray, and celebrate all God is doing across the globe. I know I have said this before, but half of the Christians who have ever lived are alive today. The gospel is exploding around the globe and it is such a privilege to be alive today to see it. Victory is coming, but only if you believe in miracles. Last point.
III. The importance of miracles in Christianity.
At the beginning of this message, I mentioned the efforts over the past few centuries to remove or explain away the miracles from our Bibles. Do you know what has happened to those churches? They have either disappeared or are dying a slow death as decades old endowments keep the lights on and support their gospel-less activities.
People read these studies today and think that the church is dying in America, but it’s not our kind of church that is dying, it’s these churches. And do you know why they are dying? Because a Christianity without miracles has no power. How can you expect a God who can do no miracles in the physical world to do any kind of miracles in your heart?
We can disagree on exactly what happened to the sun and moon, but we must agree that God did something to intervene. And we must agree on THE most important way that God has ever intervened on this earth: the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus. Pauls says, “If the resurrection isn’t true, we are to be pitied above all men.”
If you’re here today and you struggle to understand or grasp the miracles in the Bible, I would encourage you to just focus on the most important one. By God grace, it is also the clearest and the most well documented. Don’t worry about what is unclear, worry about what is clear. And my hunch is that as the resurrection becomes clearer and clearer, so will everything else.
If we believe in a God of miracles, we should be trusting Him for miracles today. We should trust Him for freedom from the bondage of our sin and for His gospel to go forward in this city in extravagant ways. Let’s pray that God would put opportunities in front of us and because we know He’s doing the fighting, let’s walk through those doors. Let’s pray that people would regularly come to faith in our midst and that it would happen on such a scale that no one is going to credit you, me, or anything else except the miraculous work of our miraculous God.