Joshua Commanding The Sun To Stand Still

Joshua Commanding The Sun To Stand Still

Joshua Commanding the Sun to Stand Still upon Gibeon, 1816
Joshua Commanding the Sun to Stand Still upon Gibeon, 1816

One of the greatest difficulties in the Bible to many a student is found in the story contained in Joshua 10:12–14:

“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. 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. 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.”

Bishop Colenso wrote: “The miracle of Joshua is the most striking incident of Scripture and science being at variance.” It is said by destructive critics and infidels that this story cannot possibly be true; that if the sun were to stand still in the way here recorded it would upset the whole course of nature.

Whether that statement is true or not no one can tell. It is simply a supposition. But certainly, the God who made the earth and the sun and the whole universe could maintain it even if the sun stood still, or (to speak more accurately) if the earth stood still on its axis and the sun appeared to stand still. But by a careful study of the Hebrew of the passage we find that the sun is not said to have stood still.

The command of Joshua in verse 12 rendered in the Authorized and Revised versions thus: “Stand thou still,” literally translated means “Be silent” (see also RV marg.). And the words rendered “stood still” in verse 13 literally translated mean “was silent.” Nine times in the Bible is it translated “keep silence”; five times at least, “be still”; in another passage, “held his peace’; in another, “quiet one’s self”; in another, “tarry”; in another, “wait”; and in another, “rest.”

These renderings occur some thirty times, but it is never rendered “stand still” except in this one passage. Indeed, in the very passage in which it is rendered “tarry” (1 Samuel 14:9), the words “stand still” do occur, but as the translation of an entirely different Hebrew word. The word translated “stayed” in verse 13 is sometimes translated “stand still.”

It means literally “to stand” or “stand up,” but it is used of “tarrying” or remaining in any place, state or condition, as, for example, in 2 Kings 15:20; Genesis 45:1. So then, what the sun and moon are said to have done in the passage is to have tarried, tarried from disappearing, not that they stood absolutely still, but that their apparent motion (or their disappearance) was slowed up or delayed.

Furthermore, the Hebrew words translated “in the midst of heaven” mean literally “in the half of heaven.” The word translated “midst” in considerably more than one hundred cases is translated “half.” In only five or six cases is it rendered “midst,” and in one of these cases (Daniel 9:27) the revisers have changed “midst” to “half.”

In the remaining cases, it would be better translated “half” (e.g., Psalm 102:24). What Joshua then bade the sun to do was to linger in the half of the heavens, and that is what the sun is recorded as doing. There are two halves to the heavens, the half that is visible to us and the other half visible on the other side of the globe.

The Hebrew preposition rendered “about” means primarily “as” or “so.”

So put these facts together, and what the Story tells us is that the sun continued or tarried above the visible horizon “as a whole day.” Apparently this means that an event occurred on this day near Gibeon, in the Valley of Ajalon, that occurs many days every year at the North Pole, namely, that the sun remained visible for the entire twenty-four hours.

We are not told the method by which this was accomplished. It might have been a slight dip of the pole, or possibly by a refraction of the rays of light, or in other ways that we cannot conjecture. It certainly would not have necessitated such a crash in the physical universe as objectors have imagined.

As to whether such a thing happened or not is a question of history. The history that we have reason to suppose is authentic in the book of Joshua says that it did. It is a remarkable fact that we have a suggestion of the same thing in history outside the Bible. Herodotus, the great Greek historian, tells us that the priests of Egypt showed him a record of a long day.

The Chinese writings state that there was such a day in the reign of their emperor Yeo, who is supposed to have been a contemporary of Joshua. The Mexicans also have a record that the sun stood still for one entire day in the year which is supposed to correspond with the exact year in which Joshua was warring in Palestine. There is nothing of real weight to prove that there was no such day.

So, upon careful examination, this which is asserted to be “the most striking incident of Scripture and science being at variance” is found to be in no sense whatever an incident of Scripture and science, or Scripture and history, being at variance.

The theory has been advanced that the words rendered “Stand thou still,” but which mean literally “Be silent,” should be interpreted as meaning that Joshua commanded the sun to be silent in the sense of withholding its light, and that what occurred on this occasion was not the prolongation of a day but a dark day, so that Joshua had the advantage of fighting practically at night, though it was really the time of day that ought to have been light.

If this is the true interpretation of “Stand thou still,” all difficulty with the passage disappears. But while this interpretation might be admissible, it is difficult to see how some other portions of the narrative can be reconciled with this theory. And as already seen, the theory is not necessary to remove all difficulties in the passage.

In any event it was a miracle, but no one who believes in a God who is the Creator of the entire material universe, a God who is historically proved to have raised Jesus Christ from the dead, ever stumbles at the mere fact of a miracle. We believe in the miracle-working God.


[1]Torrey, R. (1998, c1996). Difficulties in the Bible : Alleged errors and contradictions. Willow Grove: Woodlawn Electronic Publishing.

Joshua Commanding The Sun To Stand Still

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