Did it really happen—and how?

by Russell Grigg

The key question in any discussion about the meaning of difficult Bible passages is: What did the author intend to convey? Joshua records in great detail the occupation of Canaan by Israel and the allotment of the land among the tribes, around 1400 BC, so the author is obviously writing a historical account of what happened. The occasion of the long day was during a battle between the combined armies of the five Amorite kings and the army of Israel, early in the campaign.1 With the help of God, the Israelites were winning the battle and needed more time on this day to complete the victory.

Joshua 10:11–13 reads: ‘And it came to pass, as they fled from before Israel, and were in the going down to Beth-horon, that the Lord cast down great stones from heaven upon them unto Azekah, and they died … 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?2 So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day.’

It appears to have been midday or after (Hebrew: sun in the midst of the sky).3 And the author is telling us that the sun did not proceed to set for a period of a completed day, which many commentators take to be approximately a 24-hour period, rather than just a daylight period.

Many cultures have legends that seem to be based on this event. For example, there is a Greek myth of Apollo’s son, Phaethon, who disrupted the sun’s course for a day. And since Joshua 10 is historical, cultures on the opposite side of the world should have legends of a long night. In fact, the New Zealand Maori people have a myth about how their hero Maui slowed the sun before it rose, while the Mexican Annals of Cuauhtitlan (the history of the empire of Culhuacan and Mexico) records a night that continued for an extended time.4

It should also be noted that the Amorites were sun and moon worshippers. For these ‘deities’ to have been forced to obey the God of Israel must have been a devasting experience for the Amorites, and this might well have been the reason why God performed this particular miracle at that time, i.e. near the beginning of the occupation of the land of Canaan by the Israelites.5….

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