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Joshua's Long Day: Literal or Not?

Posted: Sun Jan 28, 2018 10:28 pm
by Philip
I'd mentioned to Neo I'd follow upon on what I think about the passage known as "Joshua's Long Day," found in Joshua 10:

“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.”

Now, I don't know what I may have written about this in the distant past (didn't search for it) - but I may have voiced skepticism at the literal interpretation being correct. Is a miraculous long day the literal meaning of the passage? I'm uncertain, as there are several possibilities. But do I doubt that God who spoke a universe into existence couldn't have done such a thing – of course not, as it is but one of many astounding miracles found in Scripture. In fact, if it literally happened as such, its whole purpose was to show the Israelites that it was GOD who miraculously delivered them from the Amorites that day. Really, would this miracle be any different than Moses' plague of darkness in Exodus 10? “So Moses stretched out his hand toward heaven, and there was pitch darkness in all the land of Egypt three days. 23 They did not see one another, nor did anyone rise from his place for three days, but all the people of Israel had light where they lived.” Note that from those experiencing such a miracle is the perspective these passages are written from. Yet, when Egypt went dark, the Israelites still had daylight. So, Joshua's miracle - if that is what it was - may have only been a regional/local one, if it is literally meant. I don't know the truth of it, but I don't doubt that it could possibly be a literal meaning. If so, it may or may not have been only a local miracle. If God can make it go dark when then sun should be up, then He most certainly could do the inverse.

But is the language used accurate to a literal understanding of this Joshua passage? I'll merely tell you what one of the past century's greatest scholars of ancient Hebrew, Dr. Gleason Archer, said about this passage (in his “Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties”, p. 161-62): He concedes that the wide objection is that if this miracle had literally occurred, that “inconceivable catastrophe would have befallen the entire planet...” but Archer also notes that it is also illogical for a believer to doubt that God “could not have prevented such catastrophe," while also causing a miraculous event.

Archer adds:

“It does not seem to be absolute necessary (on the basis of the Hebrew text itself) to hold that the planet was suddenly halted in its rotation. Verse 13 states that the sun did not hasten to go down for about a whole day” (NASB). The words “did not hasten” seem to point to a retardation of he movement so that the rotation required 48 hours rather than the usual 24.” To support this interpretation, research has brought to light reports from Egyptian, Chinese, and Hindu sources of a long Day. Harry Rimmer reports that some astronomers have come to the conclusion that one full day is missing in our astronomical calculations. Rimmer states that Pickering of the Harvard Observatory traced this missing day back to the time of Joshua; likewise has Totten of Yale (cf. Bernard Ramm, The Christian View of Science and Scripture (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954). Ramm reports, however that he was unable to document this report, possibly because those universities preferred not to keep records of this sort in their archives.”

(And here a article casts doubt on the above reference concerning Rimmer and Ramm, including the problems of researching a missing day back to Joshua's day:

But Archer says that a literal long day is not the only possibility:

“Another possibility has been deduced from a slightly different interpretation of the word dom (translated in KJV as “stand thou still”). This verb usually signifies to be silent, cease, or to leave off. E.W. Maunders of Greenwich and Robert **** Wilson of Princeton therefore interpreted Joshua's prayer to be a petition that the sun cease pouring down it's heat on his struggling troops so that they might be permitted to press the battle under more favorable conditions. The tremendously destructive hailstorm that accompanied the battle lends some credence to this view, and it has been advocated by men of unquestioned theology. Nevertheless, it must be admitted that verse 13 seems to favor a prolongation of the day: “And the sun stopped in he middle of the sky, and did not hasten to go down for about a whole day” (NASB).”

Archer also notes:

“Keil and Delitzsch (“Joshua, Judges, Ruth, p. 110) suggest that a miraculous prolongation of the day would have taken place if it seemed to Joshua and all Israel to be supernaturally prolonged, because they were able to accomplish it in the work of two days. It would have been very difficult for them to tell whether the earth was rotating at a normal rate if the earth's rotation furnished their only criterion for measuring time. They add another possibility, that God may have produced an optical prolongation of the sunshine, continuing its visibility after the normal setting time by means of special refraction of the rays.”

Last, Archer skeptically adds this:

Hugh J. Blair (“Joshua,” in Guthrie New Bible Commentary, p. 244) suggests that Joshua's prayer was made early in the morning, since the moon was in the west and the sun was in the east. This answer came in the form of a hailstorm that prolonged the darkness and thus facilitated the surprise attack of the Israelites. Hence in the darkness of the storm the defeat of the enemy was completed; and we should speak of Joshua's “long night' rather than Joshua's “long day.” This of course is essentially the view of Maunders and Wilson. Such an interpretation necessitates no stopping of the earth on its axis, but it hardly fits in with the statement of Joshua 10:13 and is therefore of dubious validity.”

Personally, my only questions about such apparent miracles are: Does the text mean to convey a literal event? Is it plausible that the English translation conveys an inaccurate understanding? What does the context suggest? Thing is, God is the all-powerful God who created all things, began the Big Bang, has the power of life over death. If you read through Scripture, all of the miracles have a spiritual application and learning point - they were never done as cosmic parlor tricks or as parts of a dog and pony show to impress mortals. With God, we should never doubt the miraculous or incredible to be possible - but that also doesn't mean that a particular text necessarily supports that. So, as God has control of every parameter, it should not surprise us that He has done astounding miracles. But is that what this text indicates - as it certainly appears to? We just need to, per the best scholarship, understand what the text really means - and there will always be some unresolvable Scriptural mysteries. And I've already stated why I take the Biblical texts very seriously - as do many of the world's most qualified Bible scholars. So while a miracle might well have occurred, if so, we shouldn't expect to find a scientific explanation - or refutation.