Joshua 10:12-15 – Did The Sun Stand Still?

We have dealt with the cutting off of the Jordan River.
  • We’ve dealt with the appearance of the Divine Warrior.
  • We’ve dealt with the collapse of the wall of Jericho.
  • And last week we even dealt with God throwing hailstones down on the Amorites.
  • But, the claim that the sun stood still “eclipses” them all.

Perhaps this is because such an event would literally be “universal” in scope.
  • Maybe because such an event would surely have massive cosmological implications and repercussions.
  • “A phenomenon of colossal magnitude” – David Howard.

So how are we to understand this text?
  • We are going to look at three views (there are others).
  • A literal view advocated by Marten Woudstra.
  • The “poetic expressions” view advocated by David Howard.
  • The “celestial omen” view advocated by John Walton.

Joshua 10:12–15 (ESV) — 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. 15 So Joshua returned, and all Israel with him, to the camp at Gilgal.


Marten Woudstra says “the language that Joshua uses in addressing the sun and moon is the language of ordinary observation”.
  • He states that this observational language is the kind “still used today in the scientific age”.

The implication of this “observational language” is straightforward –
  • Joshua asks for the sun to “stand still” and the writer of Joshua declares that Joshua observed that, in fact, the sun “stood still” (vs. 13).
  • Joshua asks for the moon to “stand still” and the writer of Joshua declares that Joshua observed that the moon “stopped” (vs. 13).

Furthermore, Joshua observed that –
  • Looking east, he could see that the sun stood still “at Gibeon” (vs. 12)
  • Looking west, he could see that the moon stopped “in the Valley of Aijalon” (vs. 12)
  • This bit of detail even lets us know that this event occurred very early in the morning.
    • Perhaps as they were about to ambush the Amorites.
  • “It is obvious”, says Woudstra, that “there was a halting of the sun and a delay in its going down. This allowed Israel to complete its campaign against the fleeing enemy.”

Therefore, “The long day must be seen as one of several instances of fact…”
  • And given a “biblical view of the world” one should take a “rather literal view of the events reported here”.
  • Woudstra even recommends that attempts to rationalize this story for “the modern scientific mind should be avoided”.

BTW – If this interpretation is correct, the miracle is way bigger than stated.
  • If the sun and moon literally stood still that would mean the earth stopped spinning.
  • This would have disastrous consequences - http://www.universetoday.com/66570/what-would-happen-if-the-earth-stopped-spinning/
  • God would also have had to protect the earth from these disastrous affects.

Woudstra does leave the door open for other options.
  • He says that the text could also be explained “on the basis of proper philological considerations”.
  • In other words, explanations derived from study of, and understanding of the text itself.


David Howard advocates what he calls the “poetic expressions” view.
  • A view that is actually based on “philological considerations”.

This view suggests that, given the poetic nature of the text, “that it was never intended to be taken literally”.
  • The text actually “describes the battle”.
  • But its description is in “cosmic terms”.

This is seen elsewhere in Scripture.
  • Judges 5:20 (ESV) — 20 From heaven the stars fought, from their courses they fought against Sisera.
  • Habakkuk 3:11 (ESV) — 11 The sun and moon stood still in their place at the light of your arrows as they sped, at the flash of your glittering spear.

Howard says that “no one suggests” these two are literal events.
  • They are “figurative expressions in poetic form”.

These “figurative expressions in poetic form” describe –
  • “Yahweh’s victory over the Canaanites (in the first case) or the awesomeness of Yahweh’s appearance (in the second case).”

Prose to Poetry:
How does this approach understand Joshua 10:12-15?
  • It plays out as follows – “prose account” followed by “poetic expression” account:

The moon –
  • We know the march was all-night – “marched up all night from Gilgal” (vs. 9).
    • The prose account.
  • We know that the terrain between Gilgal and Gibeon is extremely harsh.
    • Especially for an entire army to traverse.
  • So how were the Israelite soldiers able to quickly navigate the hill country in the middle of the night?
  • Their march was made possible because of the moonlight – a full moon as we will see later.

How do we know?
  • Because the “poetic expression” of this historical fact is given in verse 13.
  • “…and the moon stopped, until the nation took vengeance on their enemies.
    • The “poetic expression” of the prose account

The sun –
  • The battle, which took place during the day, is described succinctly in verses 10-11.
  • The Amorites were thrown “into a panic”.
  • The Amorites were struck with “a great blow at Gibeon”.
  • The Amorites were chased some distance after the battle at Gibeon.
  • The text says there were chased to the “ascent of Beth-horon”.
  • And chased even “as far as Azekah and Makkedah”.
  • This is the prose account of the battle.

But a battle that took just two verses to describe actually took all day.
  • How do we know?
  • Because the “poetic expression” of the prose text says –
  • And the sun stood still…until the nation took vengeance on their enemies”.

John Howard puts it like this:
  • “The entire battle, which was a lengthy one and which concluded ‘at sunset’ (v. 27), is described in the poetic text as the sun’s stopping in the middle of the sky and delaying setting for a full day.”
  • He understands all of Joshua 10 to take place on the same day, but this is not necessary.
    • That would put verse 15 “out of place chronologically” – Howard.
    • We will deal with that next week.

This argument continues by showing that this pattern – “prose account” followed by “poetic expression” account – is found elsewhere in Scripture.
  • For example, Howard says Exodus 15:1-18 is the poetic expression “of the events that are told in a prose narrative in Exodus 14”.
  • And that Judges 5 is the poetic expression of “the prose text in Judges 4”.

David Howard’s summary:
  • “The suggestion of a figurative interpretation is not a denial that God could perform such a miracle, and one does not need to accept the figurative view because of any concern over scientific problems. God rules over all natural laws and can do whatever he chooses to do. The figurative view is suggested because of the literary features mentioned above, not because of any concern over God’s sovereignty over nature.”


John Walton advocates the “celestial omen” view (Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the OT).
  • This view finds its support not necessarily in the Bible but from an understanding of the context in which the Bible was written – ancient Near Eastern culture.
  • This view cautions us to be aware when we “are reading the biblical text through our own modern (and therefore anachronistic) grid”.

Given its ANE context, Walton says, “I propose that Joshua 10 operates in the world of omens, not physics”.
  • The question to ask is not “what it would mean to us for the sun and moon to stop”.
  • But rather ask what it would mean to the ancients.
  • He argues that this language is the language of ancient “celestial omens”.

Walton begins his explanation by first explaining the ancient Near East view of a month.

  • They didn’t look at the duration of a month as we do.
  • The “months were not standardized in length, but varied according to the phases of the moon.”
  • A new month began with the “first appearance of the new moon” – different from a full moon.
  • A full moon was in the middle of a month.
    • It was “identified by the fact that the moon set just minutes after the sun rose”.
  • The day a full moon occurred indicated “how many days the month would have”.

He then explains how the ANE interpreted the moon cycles and their relationship with the sun.
  • “The Mesopotamian celestial omens use verbs like ‘wait,’ ‘stand,’ and ‘stop’ to record the relative movements and positions of the celestial bodies”.

One such movement was known as “opposition”.
  • “Opposition” occurred with the appearance of the “moon and sun simultaneously on opposite horizons”.

The ANE way of describing opposition –
  • “When the moon and/or sun do not wait, the moon sinks over the horizon before the sun rises and no opposition occurs.”
  • “When the moon and sun wait or stand, it indicates that the opposition occurs for the determination of the full moon day.”

Importantly, when “opposition” occurred it was seen as a “celestial omen”.
  • “Opposition” on the 14th day was a good omen.
    • It meant the month would be a “full-length” month “made up of full-length days”.
    • Under these conditions “all would be in harmony”.
  • “Opposition” on the wrong day “was believed to be an omen of all sorts of disaster, including military defeat and overthrow of cities”.

Walton cites specific examples of the omens assigned to “opposition”.
  • “If on the 14th day the moon and sun are seen together: the speech of the land will become reliable; the land will become happy (517: 6– 7).”
  • “If on the 15th day the moon and sun are seen together: a strong enemy will raise his weapons against the land; the enemy will tear down the city gate (173: 1– 4).”
  • “If the moon does not wait for the sun but sets: raging of lions and wolves (91: 1– 2; see also 174: 4; 295: 1; and 481: 4).”
  • “If the moon is fast (= stands) in its course: business will diminish— on the 15th day it will be seen with the sun (295: 7– 8; see also 252: r. 3).”
  • “If the moon is hasty in its movements: business will diminish (173: 7).”

How does this relate to our text?

We know that the sun was “at Gibeon” – in the east.
  • We know that the moon was “in the Valley of Aijalon” – in the west.
  • This, as we saw earlier, would put the event in the early morning.
  • Because of this we have an occurrence of “opposition”.

And given the ANE context, Walton argues that the language used to describe this “opposition” is “celestial omen” language.
  • sun, stand still
  • and moon” stand still (implied)
  • the sun stood still
  • the moon stopped

So what we have in Joshua 10:12-15 is God using “celestial omens” to declare doom to the Amorites.
  • He is, after all, Israel’s Divine Warrior and sovereign creator of the universe.
  • And He had already told Joshua, “Do not fear them, for I have given them into your hands” (vs. 8).
  • Could He not also used the heavens to declare to the Amorites their pending defeat?
    • He told Joshua, why not “tell” the Amorites to His glory.

BTW – Don’t the Psalms speak of “celestial omens”?
  • Psalm 19:1 (ESV) — 1 The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
  • Psalm 76:7–8 (ESV) — 7 But you, you are to be feared! Who can stand before you when once your anger is roused? 8 From the heavens you uttered judgment; the earth feared and was still,
  • Psalm 97:6 (ESV) — 6 The heavens proclaim his righteousness, and all the peoples see his glory.

We have more than that.
  • We also have Joshua (and the Israelites) looking back and reflecting on the “celestial omen” and it’s meaning.
  • Our text’s poetic description of the “celestial omen” is Israelite praise to God.
  • It indicates that the Israelites saw the “celestial omen” as a sign of favor from God.
    • From the heavens to the earth (hailstones), God was declaring for Israel.

But wait there is more.
  • Walton suggests that Joshua was familiar with these “celestial omens” before the omen appeared.
  • We know this, because under Walton’s view, Joshua asked for it.
  • Joshua’s “knowledge of the Amorites’ dependence on omens may have led him to ask the Lord for one that he knew would deflate their morale” – Walton.
  • At that time Joshua spoke to the Lord…” (vs. 12).

And isn’t this really the focus of our text?
  • Joshua’s asking and God’s answer.

Focus on the Focus:
Joshua 10:14 (ESV) — 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.

David Howard picks up on the focus of this story:
  • “There was never a day like this one before or since, not because of some extraordinary astronomical phenomenon, but because the Lord listened to the voice of a man and fought for Israel.”
  • “This is an excellent example of the power of one person’s influence and of the power of prayer.”

Ralph Davis says of this focus:
  • “Astounding! Isn’t it still amazing that God listens to the voice of a man or woman who comes to him? Doesn’t this view of prayer both rebuke both the flippancy and tedium with which we often approach the Great King? Ought we not catch our breath to think that the God who is seated on high (Ps. 113:5) stoops down and bends his ear to lips of dust and ashes? ‘When he calls to me, I will answer him’ (Ps. 91:15); who ever heard of a God like that?”

Another angle entails understanding why Joshua would even ask God for this “event” when he had already been assured of victory by God?
  • As much as Joshua knew, He was still seeking assurance from God.
    • Who can’t relate to that?
  • Maybe it was to encourage the Israelite soldiers.
  • Maybe he wanted God to declare His favor for the Israelites at the Amorites expense.