Bible Question:

How can the event of the sun standing still for a day in Joshua 10:12-14 be explained scientifically/theologically?

Bible Answer:

In Joshua 10:12-14 we are told that during a battle the sun stood still midday or about 12:00 p.m. in order to help the nation of Israel completely defeat the armies of five Amorite kings (Joshua 10:5-11). The battle is described in verses 7-10. In verse 11 we discover that the invading armies fled. It must have been in the winter since verse 11 says that God rained hailstones down from heaven on the invading army. As a result, many died. Then in verses 12-13 we are told that Joshua spoke to God first and then to the nation of Israel. God stopped the sun when Joshua publicly commanded that the sun stop.

Hailstones collected by Vivian resident Les Scott

Miracle of Hailstones

There are two obvious miracles here. The first is the hailstorm that killed many soldiers in the invading armies. While most hailstorms contain small frozen globs of water, these  hailstones must have been very large. A miracle occurred that afternoon when the hailstones fell from the sky. But the miracle was not the size of the hailstones that killed many in the armies since very large hailstones are common. In recent years, fist size hailstones have destroyed homes, cars, windows, and have killed people.[1] The Telegraph documented probably the most significant hailstorm when it reported that 200 people in the Himalayas were killed by giant hailstones.[2]  The miracle that occurred for Joshua was that God commanded the hailstones to drop unexpectedly. This event also suggests that the sky contained clouds.

Miracle of Stationary Sun and Moon

The second miracle occurred when the sun stood still. The passage states that Joshua commanded the sun to stop. Here is the passage,

Then Joshua spoke to the Lord in the day when the Lord delivered up the Amorites before the sons of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel,

“O sun, stand still at Gibeon,
And O moon in the valley of Aijalon.”

So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped,
Until the nation avenged themselves of their enemies.

Is it not written in the book of Jashar? And the sun stopped in the middle of the sky and did not hasten to go down for about a whole day.  There was no day like that before it or after it, when the Lord listened to the voice of a man; for the Lord fought for Israel.  Joshua 10:12-14  (NASB)

What happened? As one would expect, there are a number of views that have been proposed to explain how this event occurred.

Sun Stood Still and Moon Stopped

View #1 – Figurative Language Was Used

One view about what occurred claims that Joshua 10:12-14 is figurative language and describes only what Joshua and the Israelites imagined. Supposedly, Joshua was too tired. The day seemed long and in excitement, he wrote poetically. It only seemed like the sun stood still because the day was long. [3]

This view is rejected for two reasons. First, there is a better explanation which will be presented later. The second reason this view is rejected is that such a view has a low view of the Bible, which God wrote by His Holy Spirit. It is a low view of what was actually recorded because God does not lie. Since He wrote the Bible, the words are true.

. . . God is not a man, that He should lie . . . Numbers 23:19 (NASB)

. . . God, who cannot lie . . .  Titus 1:2 (NASB)

The conclusion is: this is not figurative language.

View #2 – An Eclipse Occurred

Another view is that Joshua was describing an eclipse. This view was held by Robert Dick Wilson (1856-1930). He based his view on the fact that the Hebrew text that is translated as “stood still” can mean “silent.” It is important to note that the Hebrew word can also mean “rest, wait, relax, quieted and motionless. But it is not the common translation. The Hebrew word is translated in the New American Standard Bible as “silent” less than one-third of the time. However, this word does not provide strong support for the concept of a solar eclipse.[4]

Wilson is not alone in his belief that Joshua’s long day was an eclipse of the sun.  Boling promotes the eclipse of September 30, 1131 B.C. as the very eclipse.  Unfortunately, that is more than 200 years too late, given the biblical chronology.  Eugene Faulstich is of a different opinion.  He prefers the eclipse of April 19, 1421 B.C.

Although an eclipse seems to make sense if Joshua wanted to frighten his enemies and to diminish the heat of the day, there are severe problems with this interpretation.  Insofar as the heat of the day is concerned, any relief granted the Israelites would also be granted Israel’s enemies.  More importantly, an eclipse is of a short duration, lasting at most eight minutes.[5]

A natural occurring solar eclipse is not a good explanation for three reasons. First, astronomy cannot provide any supporting occurrence of a solar eclipse in the time period of the event recorded in Joshua 10:13. The second reason a solar eclipse did not occur was that the Hebrew text does not support a solar eclipse.  The sun and mmon would not be aligned in order to create a solar eclipse. Marten H. Woudstra has made this comment,

The respective locations of the sun and moon at the time that Joshua addressed them at Gibeon and at the valley of Aijalon. This means that as Joshua looked in the direction of the sun, he saw it standing in the sky over Gibeon. Likewise the moon could be seen standing over the valley of Aijalon which was west of Beth-horon.[6]

The third reason that a solar eclipse will not explain Joshua 10:13 is that the verse implies the sun was visible.

View #3 – Hailstorm Continued One Day

Another view claims that Joshua actually prayed for the sun to not shine. That is, he prayed for darkness and the darkness was caused by the hailstorm which lasted for one day. This is the view of Claude Mariottini. He states,

It is true that God could stop the sun and still maintain the solar system in place. But the laws of physics bring serious doubts to the traditional interpretation of the text. The stopping in place of the sun and the moon would affect the whole solar system. In addition, there are other problems with this interpretation. [7]

Claude Mariottini claims that the laws of physics would have been violated if the sun stood still. He finds a solution by assuming that the sun was “silent” too! That is, the sun did not shine. Rather than the event occurring in the middle of the day, he proposes that the hailstorm or the “darkness” continued killing armies of the Amorites (Joshua 10:5, 13). Therefore, Joshua prayed for darkness or the hailstorm to continue. He claims,

This view also allows for a better understanding of the text without forcing upon it an interpretation that would require the reversal of the laws of physics.[8]

But this view must be rejected also for two reasons. The first reason is that a literal and plain reading of Joshua 10:11-12 suggests that the hailstorm stopped in verse 11 since we are given a summary that more Amorite soldiers died from the hailstorm than from the Israelites. The summary statement could not have been given in verse 11 if the storm had continued into verse 12-13. That means the storm did not continue after the “sun stood still.” That is, the darkness did not continue.

The second reason that this view must be rejected is that there is no solid textual evidence to support the idea that the sun and moon were “silent” or dark. Archer and Waltke state,

In I Sam 14:9 the concept of “waiting” or “standing still” appears. This seems to be the meaning when Joshua asks the Lord to make the sun “stand still” and the moon “stop” so he could pursue the Amorites (Josh 10:12–13). Those interpreters who explain this miracle in terms of the silencing of the sun’s heat have a more difficult time, especially in view of the parallelism with the moon.[9]

Gleason Archer concurs by stating that the moon was in the west and the sun was in the east.[10]

The final reason that this view must be rejected is that the author claims the law of physics would have been violated if the sun stood still. But such reasoning displays a low view of the Bible and our God. If God cannot lie and God is all powerful, God can accomplish whatever He wants.

View #4 – The Sun Stood Still and Moon Stopped

The final view that we will consider is a literal view that says the sun “stood still” and the moon “stopped.” That is, the message of Joshua 10:13,

So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped,
Until the nation avenged themselves of their enemies. Joshua 10:13 (NASB)

This view believes that the Bible is the very words of God and that is why 2 Timothy 2:15 calls the Bible the Word of Truth. The message is that the book of Joshua is truth and records what God did.

Genesis 1:1 clearly explains how the universe came into existence along with the laws of physics.

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. Genesis 1:1  (NASB)

Since He created everything in the beginning, we can be confident that He knows to change or freeze the laws of physics and perform a miracle without destroying the universe or creating havoc. God can do whatever He wants to His creation. Revelation 19:6 reminds us that He is all powerful.

Then I heard something like the voice of a great multitude and like the sound of many waters and like the  sound of mighty peals of thunder, saying, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns.  Revelation 19:6 (NASB)

Job 38-39 reveals that God knows the details of His creation. He put the laws of physics in place. Colossians 1:17 states that He continues to hold the universe together. He continues to maintain the subatomic particles and the laws of the universe. He is the glue of the universe! We can be confident that God knows how to change the laws of the universe any time He desires without causing a disaster. He can do anything.

Conclusion

Since God is all-powerful, we conclude that He can stop the sun and moon, freeze the laws of physics and still maintain the universe. Any other view is a very low, illogical and dishonoring view of an all-powerful, omniscient, self-existing God. He does not need our help to explain away a divine miracle with a humanistic and rationalistic explanation.

Joshua 10:12-14 describes a miracle performed by the God of miracles.

 

References:

1. “Mamma mia! Naples hammered with fist-sized hailstones.” RT.com; “8 Deadliest Hail Storms in History.” NewsMax.
2. “Giant hail killed more than 200 in Himalayas.” The Telegraph (telegraph.co.uk).
3. J Carl Laney. Answers to Tough Questions. Kregel. 1997. pp. 60-61.
4. “JOSHUA’S LONG DAY.” Enoch Calendars (enochcalendars.webs.com).
5. Marten H. Woudstra. The Book of Joshua. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 1981. 175-176.
6. “Rereading Joshua 10:12-13: The Long Day of Joshua.” Claude Mariottini (claudemariottini.com).
7. Ibid.
8. Harris, R. L., Archer, G. L., Jr., and Waltke, B. K. (Eds.). (1999). Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (electronic ed., p. 193). Chicago: Moody Press.
9. Gleason Archer. Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties. Zondervan. 1982. P. 162.

Reference Links:

Can We Trust the Bible, part 1?
Can We Trust the Bible, part 2?
Is The Bible Complete and Inerrant?
Can you explain the apparent contradiction of Deut. 28:63 and Ezek. 18:23?