In Joshua chapter 10 in the Old Testament is an amazing story. It is about an important battle in the conquest of Canaan by the ancient Israelites. This story is well known not so much for the battle but for something that happened during the battle, the Long Day of Joshua. People have debated how to interpret this story. Even many Christians do not take it literally. The idea of “taking the Bible literally” is a misunderstood concept. The correct way to look at the Bible is to take it as an imperfect translation of copies of inerrant documents. To say it is not a perfect translation is not to question inerrancy. Inerrancy is about the original manuscripts, not about translations. The way to interpret it is to interpret it according to it’s literary genre. That basically means to treat it like any other document or ancient book. There is a lot of historical and cultural background to be aware of. But the Bible is actually true to history.
I can understand people struggling with believing miracles described in the Old Testament. When I became a Christian I had trouble believing in miracles. But there’s no explaining much of anything about our existence without miracles. The Bible doesn’t make sense without miracles either. If you try to treat a miracle in the Bible as symbolic or allegorical, then the story no longer makes sense. So if the passage is a historical narrative and it just happens to describe a miracle, we should not dismiss the miracle. If God is all-powerful, miracles can happen. I know the things that physicists or scientists may bring up about miracles in the Old Testament. But science cannot disprove a miracle from a one-time event that happened in the past that cannot be repeated. Scripture has more authority than science, and more certainty. But Scripture does not describe things in scientific detail. When the Bible describes something about nature it is describing from the perspective of an eyewitness who is just describing what they saw and experienced. It is not giving a complete scientific description. This means Scripture gives an accurate account of what happened, but it does not give a scientific description of what happened. The hermeneutical term for this is that the Bible uses phenomenological language. So you have to understand this about the purpose and limits of how the Bible is written. This means science can neither prove or disprove a miracle from the past described in the Bible.
A story has gone around that NASA once did orbital calculations that showed there was a “missing day” and that this proves the long day of Joshua happened. This is nonsense. No one should believe this. NASA is good but they couldn’t possibly do this. God hardly needs NASA’s help to give evidence to believe the Bible, God has done enough himself to give reason to believe it. Christians should not believe nonsensical ideas that go around. Believing this story about NASA or scientists proving the long day of Joshua is being too gullible. But believing the Bible is not being gullible, it is being wise.
In Joshua chapters 9 and 10 it tells about the people of the city of Gibeon. They tricked Joshua into thinking they lived far away, so that they could get the Israelites to agree to make a defensive pact with them and not destroy them. Then the other Amorite city-states considered the Gibeonites to be traitors essentially. They must not have wanted the Israelites to take control of the lands around Gibeon. So five Amorite kings pooled their armies to attack Gibeon. The people of Gibeon then sent to Joshua for help.
It says Joshua sent the entire Israelite army (which was over 600,000 men) to this battle at Gibeon. This is why I like to call this Israel’s D-Day. There was a large battle at Gibeon and the Israelites were winning, so the Amorites start to flee. The Amorites scatter in all directions and the Israelites start to chase them down. Then it says God sent a large hailstorm and hail killed many Amorites as they tried to flee. Then as the Israelites were trying to run them down, Joshua prays for the Sun to stand still and the Moon to stop, so they could have more time in the day to complete their victory. It says the Sun stopped in the middle of the sky and didn’t go down for about a day, and that the Moon also stopped. Now, should we take this as a real long day?
The trouble with saying it was not an actual miraculous long day is explaining how the Israelites could do so much in one day! If you read through chapter 10 and pay attention to the details, in verse 28 it refers to “That day” so it was still the same day in verse 28. This means that after the big battle at the city of Gibeon, the Israelites travelled about 30 or 35 miles in that one day, and they stopped in multiple towns along the way to take them also. Then in verse 32 it says they attacked the city of Lachish and they “took it on the second day.” If it was not a truly long day, they could not have done so much in one day. In fact, they had to march all night uphill through the mountains to get to Gibeon to start with. So it is amazing all they did in that day. Israel took control of a large swath of territory that day.
Certain ideas have been suggested to explain the miracle of this away. But when you think about these alternative ideas, they don’t make sense. Like the suggestion it was just psychological, so it wasn’t really a long day, it just seemed like it. If that were all, then how was it such an extraordinary answer to prayer as it says (see verse 14)? It describes in two different ways clearly that the Sun stopped in the sky. It was not psychological.
I say we should believe this as a great miracle that really happened. It means God can do incredible things helping his people sometimes when it is his purpose to do so. We do tend to underestimate God. Even when we have asked him for something, it can be surprising when he does it!
Now if I were thinking as a physicist, based on my knowledge of planetary science, I could guess at how this happened. But this is only a guess. We don’t know how God did this. But I would guess the spin of the Earth was slowed down so that Earth was temporarily put into synchronous rotation. This would make Earth’s spin work like the Moon does now, it keeps the same side facing the Earth because the time for one spin on the Moon’s axis is the same as the time for the Moon to orbit the Earth. If Earth’s spin totally stopped the Sun would not actually stop in the sky, it would slowly move backwards as Earth moved along its orbit. So synchronous rotation would be the logical thing apparently. Now, understand that for God to drastically slow Earth’s spin would be a major catastrophy that might destroy most life on Earth if he did not protect the Earth. He would have to prevent the ocean from washing over the continents, and keep the atmosphere from spinning rapidly around the planet. He’d probably need to restrain the motion of the core of the Earth also. But God is big enough to handle these things.
The significant thing is that the Creator-God intervened into history to help his people. It makes me think of Ephesians 3:20-21 (NIV) “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen!”