Joshua 10 describes the fantastic defeat of five armies from five cities. Israel battled and God threw hailstones from heaven and the armies ran. To annihilate them, Joshua requested of God, “Sun, stand still at Gibeon, and moon, in the Valley of Aijalon,” and the “sun stopped in the midst of heaven and did not hurry to set for about a whole day” (Joshua 10:12-13).
Did it really? Did the sun actually stay in the sky, giving Joshua and his army a longer day so they could bring the war to completion? First of all, the sun didn’t stop, because the sun doesn’t rise either. This is phenomenal language, the language of appearance. The sun does not orbit, rather the earth rotates, so, if anything, the earth stopped. One Old Testament scholar suggests that the word for “stand still” may be translated “stand silent.” Joshua, in this case, was praying for extended darkness rather than light, which was provided by the clouds. Clouds would be consistent with the large hailstones God threw down from heaven at the enemy (Joshua 10:11). Another argues that the words are merely symbolic. It has also been suggested that the earth’s rotation slowed for a time, resulting in a longer day. And a rather lengthy argument finds parallel language in the omens of Mesopotamia, referring to celestial signs when the moon and sun occupy the sky together.
You may have been told a tale about NASA mapping out the movement of the sun, moon, and planets, and running into an error of exactly 24 hours for which they could not account. So the story goes, one scientist recalled two lessons from Sunday School. The first was Isaiah asking God to back the sun up 40 minutes as a sign to King Hezekiah. The other, our passage, which they calculated at 23 hours, 20 minutes. Added together, one complete day, and the computers reconciled the discrepancy. Voila!
Except this never happened. A Mr. Harold Hill fabricated the story when giving lectures on Science and the Bible, and it was published in a newspaper, printed in a book, and passed from pulpit to pulpit. Science argued the miracle was not possible (what miracle is?), yet this is God’s Word, so Mr. Hill thought to bring Science and Scripture together. (Isn’t the con man in the musical Music Man also named Harold Hill?)
Where does the idea that God needs rescuing come from? We pit Scripture against Science, as if God and Science are at war. When Science and Scripture conflict, the issue is as likely to be my interpretation of Scripture as the scientist’s interpretation of nature. God is not anti-science, and good science is not anti-God. Rather, “the heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1), and God’s eternal power and divine nature have been clearly perceived ever since the creation of the world in the things that have been made (Romans 1:20).
My answer regarding the sun standing still in Joshua 10? Frankly, I don’t know the answer. I favor some explanations over others, but when all is said and done, I don’t know, and that’s okay.
Mighty God, the heavens declare Your glory, and the sky above proclaims Your handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.
I rise to a new day, made by You, and I shall delight in it. I shall stop often and listen to Your voice in the world around me, worship You as I ponder Your creation, stand in wonder at the wisdom of beauty in Your handiwork. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.