As soon as Adoni-zedek, king of Jerusalem, heard how Joshua had captured Ai and had devoted it to destruction, doing to Ai and its king as he had done to Jericho and its king, and how the inhabitants of Gibeon had made peace with Israel and were among them, 2 he feared greatly, because Gibeon was a great city, like one of the royal cities, and because it was greater than Ai, and all its men were warriors.
…12 At that time Joshua spoke to the Lord in the day when the Lord gave the Amorites over to the sons of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel,
“Sun, stand still at Gibeon,
and moon, in the Valley of Aijalon.”
13 And the sun stood still, and the moon stopped,
until the nation took vengeance on their enemies.
Is this not written in the Book of Jashar? The sun stopped in the midst of heaven and did not hurry to set for about a whole day. 14 There has been no day like it before or since, when the Lord heeded the voice of a man, for the Lord fought for Israel.
Some days in our personal lives and our collective experience as a nation are so extraordinary, we say we will never forget them as long as we live. They are normally days of remarkable achievement or unexpected deliverance, often in the context of conflict. Maybe you remember the day your favorite receiver on your favorite football team caught that long pass and scored the winning touchdown in the big game. Perhaps you’re a musician and you remember that day when your band or orchestra played flawlessly like never before and the audience was so impressed the venue fell silent for those few seemingly-endless seconds as the music still reverberated around the room.
Joshua chapter 10 celebrates a divine intervention never seen before in the world’s history. There was “no day like it” (10:14). Reading this unique account brings to mind two key questions, simple to ask but hard to answer. The first is, what actually happened? The second is, what are we to learn from it? We need to deal fairly and squarely with what the Bible says and on its own intended emphasis. This chapter has become a celebrated battleground between atheistic materialists and Bible believing Christians.
Like moths to a flame, atheists are drawn to verse 13: “The sun stopped in the midst of the heaven and did not hurry to set for about a whole day.” Clearly, this is an impossibility to the critics who reduce the whole of biblical history to the status of myth. And that is certainly understandable at the mere level of human reason based on human observation. This chapter becomes a test case on how to deal with claims that scripture has been “disproved” by science and so should be rejected by intelligent, modern minds.
We need to establish what the text actually says and set it in the context of this book in order to understand its significance. Then we have to face the challenges it presents and the possible resolutions to the apparent conflict between science and faith. Third, because the Bible is never merely intellectual, we also need to understand and appropriate the message of this narrative for our lives today as we still live in God’s created order, his world.
In the dialogue between the Bible and science we need to avoid two extremes. The first is tying biblical interpretation too closely to current scientific orthodoxy. The second and opposite extreme is to ignore science altogether: “The Bible says it. I believe it. That settles it, whatever evidence you may produce.” I would respond to that statement by pointing out that if the Bible says it, it doesn’t matter whether you believe it or not. God’s Word is truth and truth does not need your ascent to make it more true. It is good to instinctually trust God’s Word against all opponents. But such an attitude can easily degrade into a bitter, extremist view that can bring the Bible and the gospel into disrepute.
Consider the dialogue between the book of Genesis and modern theories about the beginning of all things. Copernicus advanced his view that the earth and other planets in our solar system orbit the sun in his 1543 work On the Revolutions of the Celestial Orbs. When Galileo published his developed understanding of a sun-centered universe, he was opposed by the Christian orthodoxy of the day, even though his motivation was not at all atheistic.
In our day, Christians readily accept that Copernicus and Galileo were correct. Their explanation accords with reality. We have not subordinated scripture to science, but we have come to understand what scripture means when it declares that the world “shall never be moved” (Psalm 93:1; 104:5) or that the sun “runs its course with joy” (Psalm 19:5).
We know that there can be more than one natural reading of a word or phrase and that when we assign a metaphorical reading of its truth (like when Jesus says, “I am the door” in John 10:9) we do so because of our observational experience of the world. This helps us understand at what level a particular text should be read. We take the natural, primary meaning. If that doesn’t make sense, we go to the next level.
It is not hard for us to understand the natural, primary level of King Adonai-Zedek’s behavior (10:1,2). Already disturbed because of what has happened at Jericho and Ai, the Gibeonites’ covenant with Israel makes matters worse and moves him to preemptive action. At this point in the narrative Israel remains on the highlands, ready to fan out to the south and the north as they sweep westward across the fertile plane, toward the Mediterranean Sea. There are many more cities to conquer and vast areas of territory to be possessed, but at this stage the battle is about to be joined with an alliance of five Amorite kings from Jerusalem and the area immediately to the southwest of their city.
They were shocked that Gibeon, a well-fortified city with a defense force noted for its mighty warriors, chose to seek peace with Israel. It appears that Adoni-Zedek thought that if a great and the powerful city was looking for peace, his own chances of success against Israel were minimal at best. This is why he forms an alliance (10:3-5). The alliance decides to seize the initiative and take the fight to the invaders. By attacking Gibeon, they enact revenge against it for its betrayal of the Canaanite cause and for their giving Israel a new base of operations in the area.
Second, the attack strategy will test the quality of the Israelites alliance with Gibeon and either draw them both into the conflict, killing two birds with one stone, or demonstrate the Israelites promises are worthless. The tactic works (10:6), and the Gibeonites send an urgent call for help against the alliance. To his credit, Joshua does not hesitate as he moves his army from Gilgal to Gibeon in fulfillment of his covenant.
Verse 8 is crucial to everything that follows after. Joshua receives a direct divine revelation of encouragement, “Do not fear them, for I have given them into your hands.” The words reveal God’s unchanging commitment to his people through his servant (1:5, 9). It’s not hard for us to imagine Joshua pounding his fist to his forehead and regretting his foolish mistake to make a covenant with Gibeon as this new battle is forced upon him. But God will turn the defense of Gibeon into the conquest of five enemy cities, all in the space of one day’s battle.
The urgency of the situation prompts Joshua to order a night March from Gilgal to Gibeon, just over 20 miles, involving a climb to higher terrain. That night’s climbing march enables this sudden attack on the alliance, probably very early in the morning. The element of surprise helped spread confusion among the Amorites, and the Israelite army plays a key role in the battle’s outcome. But the emphasis in the brief account of the battle (10:10, 11) is on divine intervention:
10 And the Lord threw them into a panic before Israel, who struck them with a great blow at Gibeon and chased them by the way of the ascent of Beth-horon and struck them as far as Azekah and Makkedah. 11 And as they fled before Israel, while they were going down the ascent of Beth-horon, the Lord threw down large stones from heaven on them as far as Azekah, and they died. There were more who died because of the hailstones than the sons of Israel killed with the sword.
Of course, the Israeli army had its part to play. They had to do the striking down. They had to give chase. They had the mop up operation in God’s war against the devil’s minions. The summary of the action makes it clear that the ultimate victory was God’s alone: “There were more who died because of the hailstones than the sons of Israel killed with the sword” (11b).
That note of divine victory dominates the explanatory paragraph in verses 12-14. But the text, as it stands, is not without difficulty. Clearly Joshua’s prayer had a significant role in God’s victory for Israel. In contrast to 9:14, where Israel did not inquire of God, Joshua now speaks directly to the Lord. We don’t know what time of day Joshua spoke these words of prayer. Did he pray when he arrived, before the battle began, before the hailstones fell, or later in the day as he pressed the offensive against the enemy?
It seems to have been a public occasion since the text said he prayed “in the sight of Israel” (10:12) so that the army would have no illusion as to the source of their victory. In the decades and centuries to come, Israel would know that the Lord used his sovereign rule over his created order to accomplish his purposes for his people. Whatever the exact details, this is the big picture, the overarching reality that dominates the narrative.
Within this paragraph, verses 12-14, the climax is clearly intended to be in verse 14: “the Lord heeded the voice of a man.” It marks the uniqueness of the occasion. When God stopped the waters of the Jordan and broke down the walls of Jericho, it had been at his own initiative. But this time, it was in response to one man’s prayer. That highlights Joshua’s importance in the book, and it also underscores God’s faithfulness to his people.
What Joshua actually said and where exactly the quotation from the Book of Jashar begins and ends is more problematic. Some suggest this text does not indicate a quotation at all but is merely a reference to a parallel historical source outside of the scriptures. Likely, the Book of Jashar was a book of Hebrew poetry celebrating the heroic acts of prominent characters in the life of Israel.
Other scholars suggest that the “he” who spoke to the sun and moon in verse 12 is the Lord, not Joshua. On this reading Joshua appeals to the Lord for help, and we are told not what he prayed but how God responded. God speaks to the sun and moon, ordering them to “stand still” (10:12) until the destruction of the Amorite alliance is complete.
That still leaves us with a question of whether or not the sun actually stood still. Did God halt the rotation of the earth for 24 hours, which would have had catastrophic implications for the planet and everything on its surface due to the force of gravity. This is not a question of whether God could do such a thing, but the question of what he actually did. To question what he actually did does not diminish this extraordinary and unique act but tries to understand better how he did it.
One commentary, The New Bible Commentary (1970), posits that Joshua’s request made in the early morning, at or near sunrise, would place the sunrise above Gibeon to the east and the setting moon over the Valley of Aijalon to the west. Joshua’s prayer was not for the longest day but for a lengthening of the darkness, augmented by the hailstorm. In such case, the phrase “stand still” (10:12) is best rendered as “be silent, cease, or lay off.” And the word “stopped” (10:13), often rendered in the English Bible as “cease” and “for about a whole day” is better translated as “when the day is done.”
The suggested translation then becomes, “The sun ceased shining in the midst of the sky, and did not hasten to come, so that it was as when the day is done.” The day-long darkness of the hailstorm contributed to the defeat of the enemy. This does not disparage the miraculous nature of the occurrence by suggesting there was a less spectacular divine intervention. It was still God who lengthened the darkness by a miraculous intervention on behalf of his people. Similar suggestions are found in other highly regarded conservative commentaries. 
God most certainly could have stopped the Earth’s rotation while still decreeing the forces of gravity continue to exist. He most certainly exists above even all the laws of physics human beings can observe. Nevertheless, there are other explanations for how God miraculously acted in this situation. Darkness and hail are often used as symbols of God’s righteous, miraculous judgment throughout scripture.
THE CLEAR MESSAGE
Whatever you decide to conclude about the details of the text, the clear message is that there was some supernatural upheaval in the normal order of things, by which the created order was used by its Creator to win a great victory for his people. The basic meaning is that God exists and that he is able to intervene in his creation, resulting in the supreme miraculous intervention in the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. We do not have to know how God did what he did in order to defend the basic reality of the passage. Israel’s victory was entirely dependent upon divine intervention in response to human prayer.
Although science is not opposed to scripture (there are large numbers of academic scientists who are Christian believers), current scientific orthodoxy thinks in terms of evolutionary development which cannot allow for the idea of God intervening in his world. Believing in miracles is thought to be too naïve. Such a view is often misrepresented and ridiculed as mere literalism, belonging to a primitive worldview that has been gradually displaced by the fruit of scientific advances.
God (if such an entity exists) is then reduced to the gaps in our scientific understanding, which are rapidly disappearing, so that his own existence is the ultimate casualty. In this view, there is no divine revelation, only human observation. That is the underlying presumption that arose during The Enlightenment period of Western Civilization and has grown into accepted fact today. Ultimately, that view of science versus scripture is also one of faith, not fact. In what or whom do you place your faith? Do you place it in God’s divine revelation or human-produced observation?
Alongside the scientism, religious objections reflect the deistic view of God as a non-interventionist. God, to them, is a watchmaker who constructs and activates of watch, then leaving it to run by itself. In this view, God is remote from his creation and leaves the world to run on its own. To intervene would be contrary to his nature. This view is also an act of faith in observation over revelation. In light of the total witness of scripture, it is an irrational faith.
Since all truth is God’s truth because he is the only source of truth, we have nothing to fear from scientific investigation and discovery. But we need to distinguish between the ability of science to answer some of the observational “how” questions about life on our planet and the inappropriate philosophical speculation about the “why” questions that only biblical revelation can answer.
Returning to our text, commentators generally take five main approaches to explaining what happened in this text: 1) The earth stopped rotating; 2) the sun’s light lingered; 3) the sun’s light was blocked; 4) whatever actually happened, there was a special sign from above; and 5) the passage is entirely figurative. The approach that seems most reasonable to me is that the sun was blocked out by the intense cloud cover of a hailstorm from dawn to dusk.
Other people point to recorded astronomical events such as known dates of solar eclipses or the passage of the planet Mars in close proximity to earth. There will always be an endless array of fascinating and ingenious arguments given to explain what might have been going on in this passage. Few of those arguments are of practical value for us as God’s people living in God’s world.
POINT OF PASSAGE
What the passage is intended to show us is the sovereignty of God in every situation. He is the Creator and controller of everything that exists. The New Testament reveals this more fully for the person in work of the Lord Jesus Christ, our deliverer. “All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:3). “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:16-17).
The physical laws of the universe, which we observe as uniform and consistent, on which our whole experience of life is based, are God’s gifts to us. He wants us to live in the security of his sovereign rule. This is no world he has wound up and left to run on its own. It is a world in which he is intimately and constantly involved. He controls all circumstances that his people face, and he controls all the outcomes of their actions.
Joshua 10 is full of this. God’s explicit promise to Joshua in verse 8 is an implicit statement that God rules in the affairs of men, even though the Amorite kings assumed they were free agents, writing their own life stories. When they planned their attack on Gibeon, they thought they were carrying out their best plans to stop an Israelite invasion. They had no clue they were under the sovereign hand of their Creator, acting as his agents for his purposes. Part of God’s judgment on them was that he hardened their hearts. The Lord is in control of this entire story, even in the details of the events described.
One evidence of this is seen in the fact that the huge hailstones were directed at the enemy and not at the Israelites who were pursuing them (11b). This is the lesson we must constantly relearn whenever we face situations of danger, difficulty, or complexity. God’s back is never turned. He is never remote or distant. Nothing slips into your life without his knowledge. “Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep” (Psalm 121:4). We can sleep because God never does.
Divine sovereignty shows a wisdom that is infinite, a power that is total, and a rule that is absolute. Nothing occurs outside the sovereign will of God, who works all things together for his glory and the spiritual good of his people (Romans 8:28). What looks like impossible circumstances to us are entirely within his knowledge and control. He is actively working out his good and perfect will through them.
Another thing we draw from this text is that we must learn the importance of prayer in every situation. Whatever his exact words, verse 12 makes it plain that Joshua asked for a miracle, and verse 14 underlines that what happened was due to his prayer. The striking verb in verse 14 is that “the Lord heeded the voice of a man” in the same way as the sun and the moon heard and obeyed God’s voice.
Of course, Joshua’s prayer was in line with the revealed will of God and his stated purposes for Israel. Often, we psych ourselves into believing that if we want something, God has to want and provide it. But God is not committed to your bright ideas, your immediate health, wealth, or happiness. He is not a supernatural slot machine, programed to produce. He is nothing like the demon gods of the Canaanites who, if pestered long enough and offered the lives young children as sacrifices, might be induced to grant a wish or two.
Joshua could not have prayed this prayer had he not been instructed in God’s revealed will already given in his written Word. Our prayers should be for those things to which God is committed. We appeal to him for his will to be accomplished. And we learn through prayer to submit to his will in all things because his written Word has revealed those things to us. God has revealed his own agenda and we are commanded to pray for it.
Verse 14 shows us the extremes to which God is prepared to go in answering his people’s prayers of faith, in accordance with his promises. He will fight for his people when they are in his will, doing his work, and seeking his greater glory, however strong the opposition may be and however extraordinary the exercise of his providence may need to be. That is why we “ought always to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1).
Finally, as we move to the next part of this narrative next week, we are to remember that God’s priority is always the destruction of evil, embodied in those who rebel against his will. What happened at Gibeon is part of God’s ruthless rooting out of all the evil of the land, which has been so abused by human sin. The iniquity of the Amorites has now reached its full measure and God is dealing with it. God dealt in grace to Rahab and to the Gibeonites. He deals in wrath with the unrepentant.
That fact does not give us a blank check to launch into a holy war or a violent crusade against Christ’s enemies. We are meant to apply this text to our own lives and to the evil within us, so that we are ruthless against our own sin and rebellion. That is something we can only do when we realize there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ (1st John 1:7; Romans 8:1). Ours is the victory through Christ’s death on the cross, when even the sun hid in darkness at noon time.
His Holy Spirit will ensure that we live increasingly committed lives as he fights for his people and gives them the victory. This may have been “the longest day,” but its lessons are for every day of our earthly pilgrimage, until at last we reach Mount Zion, the unconditional Promised Land of eternal rest.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Jos 10:1-2, 12–14.
 Marten H. Woudstra, The Book of Joshua, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1981), 175.