This passage has created some of the most heated debate, and has provided some of the best fuel for the skeptic’s attack against the reliability of the Bible. It would benefit us to spend today looking closely at this passage.
Let’s look at this passage in three ways. First, we must look at the physical issues of the Sun standing still in light of our current understanding of physics. Second, we need to look at the theological message of the passage. Third, we need to look at the practical issues of what we can learn from this passage:
How powerful is God? Can God do anything? Can God make a boulder so big that He can’t lift it? These kinds of brain teasers have entertained and perplexed theologians for centuries.
In this passage we must ask if God can physically stop the sun. On this side of Copernicus, we know that stopping the sun isn’t even the issue. If the sun stood still in the sky that would mean the earth stopped rotating. Imagine the catastrophic planetary impact that would have.
Could God do it? Sure. Would God do it? We can’t know. It seems like a pretty huge bending of physical laws for a battle that took place on a tiny plot of land with a few hundred men.
Is there another possible explanation?
One alternative explanation makes sense. Remember, this was a hot day in July. It must have been exhausting to chase your enemy across the Palestinian countryside, let alone fight them. God sent a hailstorm to defeat the enemy. Have you ever been in a hailstorm? It is dark and nasty. You can’t see the sun. If it stormed all day and the storm wiped out the enemy, then it would have seemed like the sun never shined at all. The Hebrew term translated stood still can also mean hidden.
Perhaps the “longest day” that saved Joshua was actually a prolongated night. It was a storm that both cooled off the army—a break from the summer heat—and rained soldier-crunching hailstones on the enemy. For an underdog army, that was a double benefit.
Any time we read the Bible we must always place ourselves into the perspective of the people to whom the book was written. In our world, when we say “Sun” we think of a big ball of burning gas, called a star, that is one of trillions in the universe, around which our little spherical rock/planet revolves. When we say “moon” we think of a little spherical rock that revolves around our planet and, through gravitational forces, influences the tides of the sea. We think of these as neutral, objective objects in space that have no intrinsic meaning, they simply exist. Not so in the ancient world. For the ancients, the sun and the moon were gods. The sun was the master of the universe, he controlled life and death. He was overseer of all things. The moon, depending upon the individual culture, was sometimes seen as the wife of the sun, that woman who passed through her monthly cycles and gave birth anew each month. The sun and moon were destiny setters, answerable to no man.
Here, as Joshua, the great leader of Yahweh’s army, was leading a day-break assault against the pagan Canaanites, we see a battle of the gods. In the same way that Moses was a conduit of Yahweh’s power over the Egyptian Gods in the plagues of Egypt, so too does Moses demonstrate Yahweh’s power over the Sun and the Moon. At Joshua’s request, the Sun and the Moon are altered and used in favor of Yahweh’s army. This display of power must have completely drained all courage from the hearts of the Canaanites. If their gods were at the beck and call of Joshua’s Yahweh, then what possible chance did they stand of survival?
As we have been tracking with the story of the Exodus and the invasion of Canaan we have drawn the analogy to our own hearts. Once again, we can see how God is at work in our battle against the enemy of the sin that has taken residence within us. From this story we can be reminded of one simple truth: God is greater than any “god” that you fear. You may be held captive today by one form of addiction or another. Perhaps you are addicted to alcohol or to sex. Maybe you are addicted to negativity or pessimism. Perhaps you have been chained to bitterness and resentment for so long that you can’t remember what freedom feels like. You have been bowing to this Sun and Moon for too long. Today, as Joshua did, ask God to make the Sun and the Moon serve you. They have no power. God can, and will dethrone them in your life if you will ask Him to do so. He wants to set you free.