9 Joshua therefore came unto them suddenly, and went up from Gilgal all night.
10 And the Lord discomfited them before Israel, and slew them with a great slaughter at Gibeon, and chased them along the way that goeth up to Bethhoron, and smote them to Azekah, and unto Makkedah.
11 And it came to pass, as they fled from before Israel, and were in the going down to Bethhoron, that the Lord cast down great stones from heaven upon them unto Azekah, and they died: they were more which died with hailstones than they whom the children of Israel slew with the sword.
12 Then spake Joshua to the Lord in the day when the Lord delivered up the Amorites before the children of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel, Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon; and thou, Moon, in the valley of Ajalon.
13 And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. Is not this written in the book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day.
14 And there was no day like that before it or after it, that the Lord hearkened unto the voice of a man: for the Lord fought for Israel. Joshua 10:9-14 (KJV)
There are two kinds of explanation of what happened at the conclusion of this battle that I don’t find satisfying: (1) claims that the miracle involved the sun ceasing to move across the sky, and (2) claims that the avenging process could have occurred naturally. I am looking for a miraculous explanation that is relevant to what Joshua likely wanted to accomplish.
When people today say the sun moves across the sky they mean the earth rotates. The sun only appears to move from the perspective of our activity on earth. Because the sun appears to move at a regular rate, we can use it as a clock to estimate how long something took.
Bernard Ramm described various explanations for the sun appearing to stand still in The Christian View of Science and Scripture, 1954, pp 156-161. He found three that he was willing to accept preferring the third.
- Poetic: “The cry of Joshua was then a cry for help and strength. His cry was answered with renewed vigor in his soldiers who then fought so valiantly and were so refreshed that they did a day’s work in half a day, and it seemed to them that the day had actually been lengthened.” (page 157)
- Mirage: An unusual atmospheric refraction made it seem as if there were an extended amount of light.
- Overcast Sky: Believing that what Joshua really asked for was darkness not a longer day, the hailstorm, mentioned in Joshua 10:11, that had already killed many Amorites while they fled from Beth-horon to Azekah continued to cool off the Israelites from the day’s heat helping them fight more effectively.
John Walton approached the problem as a misunderstanding of an ancient text. His view is that Joshua’s intent was merely that the Amorites be psychologically disadvantaged in seeing the positions of the sun and moon as a bad omen. Although I am suspicious of this theory, it does make a good point: Whatever Joshua asked for he likely wanted it to benefit the Israelites and harm the Amorites.
One doesn’t get such selective treatment that favors only the Israelites by asking for a change in the environment. Environmental changes such as a mirage of light to lengthen the day or clouds to shelter one from the heat would also aid the Amorites. They, too, would cool off. They would have more time to escape to walled cities. So these environmental explanations should be put aside including views that the earth or even the sun actually stopped moving.
If that’s correct about Joshua’s intent, and we choose to take a traditional reading of the text rather than Walton’s, then only Ramm’s poetic option remains. However, this explanation, as Ramm expressed it, suggests that Joshua somehow motivated his men to overtake the Amorites before they reached safety. While that might help, it would not give us a day such that “there was no day like that before it or after it, that the Lord hearkened unto the voice of a man: for the Lord fought for Israel” (Joshua 10:14).
The good thing about the poetic explanation is that it shows a way for the sun to appear to stand still. If we felt the Lord overwhelm us to the extent that we moved faster than we knew we could have moved on our own, we might be inclined to think that the sun stood still while all that happened. The sun would be a confirmation that something miraculous had happened within us.
For this to be satisfying as an explanation, I need to clarify what such a miraculous overwhelming by the Lord might look like.
Before I describe what I think happened, especially since I could be wrong, we should keep in mind the advice from the Got Questions site: “While we may not fully understand how this “long day” occurred, a miracle does not have to be scientifically proven—just accepted.”
The Holy Spirit Explanation
After the Amorites fled and suffered losses from hailstones all the way to Azekah the sun appeared to stand still only for the Israelites. They alone were overwhelmed by the Holy Spirit. This gave them the power to avenge Israel against the Amorites. For a brief period of time as measured by the sun, but a whole day as measured by the normal bodily movement of the Israelites, the Lord as Holy Spirit filled them allowing them to rapidly overtake and avenge themselves on the fleeing Amorites.
Do we see the Holy Spirit overwhelming people today in ways that suggest He could have acted as I suspect He did at the conclusion of that particular battle? I think we do.
The following video of a meeting in Accra, Ghana, with Rodney Howard-Browne shows how the Holy Spirit can overwhelm and act through someone. I started the video at 53:30 with Howard-Browne’s wife giving her testimony. She spoke of joy and the fire of God until about 1:08:00. After that for about four minutes she could barely speak without breaking into laughter. Based on the audience response and in spite of being incoherent that was when she communicated most effectively of all. We all could feel her joy.
Admittedly, Joshua’s men needed a different manifestation of the Holy Spirit than Howard-Browne’s wife exhibited. What they received that day was unique. She likely experiences His power often. That the Holy Spirit could have overwhelmed them causing them to successfully pursue the Amorites in a short period of time is all I want to suggest in calling attention to how He overwhelmed her.
Although this explanation satisfies me, those who do not accept what happened to Howard-Browne’s wife as being an authentic overwhelming by the Holy Spirit would not find my explanation of what happened to Joshua’s men satisfying. If that’s the case, then they would need to look for something else. However, if they come up with an environmental explanation, then the argument that such would also benefit the Amorites needs to be addressed. If they come up with a naturalistic explanation, then the argument that what happened that day was unique and would not be repeated needs to be addressed.
We have come a long way thanks to the blood of Jesus. Today we yearn to be filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit. In Old Testament times they would recall accounts of the battle when the sun appeared to stand still and the Lord fought for Israel.