Stopping the sun (Joshua 10)

The battle of “Joshua’s long day” took place in the Valley of Aijalon (Joshua 10:12), a strategic trade route through the northern Shephelah (an area of low-lying hills located between the coast and the higher Judean hill country). The city of Aijalon is mentioned outside the Bible in the Amarna Letters and, centuries later, by the ancient Jewish historians Josephus and Eusebius. The precise location of Aijalon is uncertain, but there is a proposed location northwest of Jerusalem.

There are numerous proposed explanations for the “long day” of Joshua 10:12-13. The traditional view holds that the Lord stopped the rotation of the earth, so that the sun and moon remained stationary from the perspective of the soldiers. Some poponens of this theory insist that there is astronomical evidence to support this long day, but such claims are unsubstantiated. Other, more conservative scholars read the passage in a figurative sense. Arguments in favour of a figurative reading are as follows:

  • This is one of only two passages of poetry in Joshua, and the similar poetry in Judges 5:20 and Habakkuk 3:10-11 is likely figurative.
  • It might be possible to translate the Hebrew word for “stood still” as “silenced”, conceivably suggesting that the heat of the day was lifted to give the soldiers (on both sides) some welcome reprieve from the beating sun. Interpreting the Hebrew to mean simply that the weather became cooler, however, is a doubtful premise.
  • Some argue that the sun’s standing still refers to prolonged darkness rather than the prolonged daylight. The attack appearently took place at or before dawn (Joshua 10:9), and Joshua 10:12 seems to indicate that the sun and moon were low on the horizon when Joshua prayed. The hailstorm (Joshua 10:11) suggests dark conditions. Against this verse, Joshua 10:13 appears to say that the sun was suspended in place.

The fact that a text is formatted as poetry does not necessarily imply that the event described is figurative or metaphorical. If what occurred was a pure miracle, of course, archaeological or astronomical evidence could not account for it. Regardless of the interpretation, we can agree on the crucial point of this passage: The Lord heard Joshua’s request and granted Israel a miraculous defeat of the Amorites.


 

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