How Do You Explain Joshua’s Long Day?

By Wayne Jackson

“How does the devout Bible student explain the ‘long day’ that is related in the book of Joshua?”

Joshua, chapter 10, contains the account of a great battle between the children of Israel and the pagan Amorites. In the course of that conflict, Jehovah intervened and sent great stones from heaven, killing many of the enemy.

As the battle progressed, and extended daylight was needed to complete the operation, Joshua prayed: “O sun stand still over Gibeon, O moon over the Valley of Aijalon” (Josh. 10:12). And so, the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the fray was completed (v. 13).

First, the Bible student should observe that the language employed, “Sun, stand still,” is phenomenal jargon. That is, from our vantagepoint, the sun appears to move. Accordingly, we commonly use such expressions as “sunrise” and “sunset” without any loss of scientific credibility. This is an important interpretative principle to note.

But exactly what did happen on this occasion? Did a miracle occur, or is there some natural explanation which might explain the event?

Liberal writers dismiss the biblical descriptive as being merely poetic, or else suggest that the ancient writer was influenced by the “mythology” of his day. Thus, according to their view, there was no miracle associated with the event at all. Such a conviction is to be expected from modernists, who operate from the beginning assumption that miracles, in the very nature of the case, cannot occur.

Conservative scholars take an altogether different approach.

Some, while conceding divine intervention, feel that the miracle involved a refraction of light so that there was no actual alteration in the earth’s movement. They concede that a miracle was involved, but they believe it likely involved a local event, somewhat similar to the darkness plague in ancient Egypt, just prior to Israel’s Exodus from that land (John Davis & John Whitcomb, A History of Israel, Baker, 1980, pp. 66-70).

The traditional view, however, is that the length of that ancient day actually was prolonged by a retardation of the earth’s rotation upon its axis. Professor Leon J. Wood has argued that only this view does justice to the language of the sacred text. He suggests that expressions like “stood still,” “stayed,” and “hastened not to go down” (13) “definitely indicates a change in pattern movement” (A Survey of Israel’s History, Zondervan, 1986, p. 148). The fact that there was “no day like that before it, or after it” (v. 14) does seem to suggest the uniqueness of that occasion, whereas there were other supernatural instances in the Scriptures of the local control of light (see Ex. 10:21-23; 2 Kgs. 20:10,11; cf. 2 Chron. 32:24-31).

At any rate, conservative scholars are in agreement that this circumstance involved a genuine miracle, and that the account is not a mere poetic or mythological description of an ancient victory.

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About the Author

Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.