I’ve been reading in the book of Joshua recently and have gotten bogged down in one of the greatest mysteries in the Bible: the time that Joshua prayed and God made the sun and moon stand still for nearly 24 hours.
I don’t know about you, but I find this fascinating, but perplexing, all at the same time.
In Joshua 10, as Joshua is following the Lord’s command to continue the conquest of the promised land, the Bible describes a very unusual event. The Israelites were contending with the Amorites and the Lord had caused great confusion among the Amorites, and also had slain many of them by causing a great hail storm to fall, killing many. Given that the Amorites were being killed in great numbers, it’s curious that Joshua then prays to God to stop the sun and the moon in place [verses 10:12-13]. Joshua’s stated purpose for this request is so that the army of Israel could complete the conquest of the enemy. In doing so, they would be obedient to God’s command.
The Bible uses very clear wording here: “So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped [verse 13a].” Further, this stoppage wasn’t momentary, as verse 13 continues: “And the sun stopped in the middle of the sky, and did not hasten to go down for about a whole day.” A somewhat similar event, where the path of the sun was altered, is recorded in Isaiah 38:8. Here the Lord says to King Hezekiah that, as a sign to the king, He would cause the sun to backtrack and move its shadow back 10 steps on the stairway at Ahaz.
Some science here is useful. The sun (nor moon) doesn’t actually move across the sky; that movement is due to the rotation of the earth. For the sun to stop “moving’ means that the earth had to stop rotating for most of a day. Now, from the minimal research I did, the rotation of the earth is critical in some important ways. The rotation affects things like the motion of the tides. It also helps control the temperature on the earth – if the sun stays stationary in the sky, that part of the exposed earth would become unbearably hot while the opposite side of the planet would begin to freeze deeply. Both are conditions anathema to human life. There’s also a factor of gravity: without centrifugal force, which comes from the earth’s rotation, the force of gravity on us might be crushing.
Various explanations have been given for this event: maybe it was an eclipse, or maybe it was a “local miracle” where God caused light to remain only in the Gibeon area. The former doesn’t make sense to me because an eclipse only lasts for minutes not hours, and it takes away the sunlight rather than sustains it. And the latter argument doesn’t seem to hold up given the Bible’s clear language that the sun in the sky “stood still.”
I like the suggestion of one commentator who posits that maybe we should just take the biblical language at face value and agree that God stopped the earth and, therefore, the sun in the sky. He says, “There are objections to this explanation, based on the physics of motion, but the God who created the world and established natural laws is perfectly capable of compensating for any collateral complications.”
I guess I would have to agree with that commentator. God is the same one who put the sun and moon in the sky in the first place. If He chose to stop earthly motion I’m quite sure He 1) has the power to do so, and 2) could mitigate any damage from earthly temperature change and the tidal motion. After all, this is the same God who, through Jesus, brought dead people back to life. That, to me, is every bit as astonishing as seeing the sun halt in the sky!
In sum, I would have to say that I have no idea exactly how He did it, but I believe everything in His Word, and I fully believe He could, and did, halt the sun. For me, believing His Word is a big part of living out my faith. I trust what He says—I hope you do, too.