Many times when a skeptic attacks a biblical story, the problem is caused by misunderstanding a word. In Joshua 10 there is an account of a battle between the Amorites and the Israelites. In verses 12 and 13 of the King James translation, Joshua said, “Sun stand still” and the Sun and Moon stood still for a whole day.
There is no question that God can make the Sun stand still. He can do anything He wants to do, but the physical consequences of stopping the Earth from rotating on its axis are enormous. The inertia of the water in the oceans, the effect on the atmosphere, and even the impact on the land masses challenge the imagination. A careful study of the words used in the biblical account resolves what appears to be an impossible statement in the scriptures.
The New Testament uses the Greek word “helios” which means Sun, but there is no Hebrew word for Sun in the Old Testament. In Genesis 1:16, the word for lights is “maor,” and the Sun is identified as “gadol maor” usually translated “greater light.” In Job 31:26, the Hebrew word is the shorter version “or” and Job 30:28 it is “chammah” referring to the heat of the Sun. In Judges 8:13 and 14:18 the word used is “cheres” again referring to the Sun’s burning heat.
In Joshua 10, the Hebrew word used is “shemesh” which refers to a ministrant, a device to minister to a need. It usually refers to the Sun but could be any ministrant. The word for Moon is “yareach” which refers to a wondering object. There is another interesting point about the words in the last part of Joshua 10:12. The pronouncement of God’s provision for the battle to continue says in the King James, “Sun stand thou still upon Gibeon (El-Jib today); and thou Moon in the valley of Ajalon.” Ajalon is in Dan and Gibeon is 4 miles from Bethel. These two locations are less than 30 miles apart. That fact should suggest that these are not the celestial Sun and Moon.
The question is not whether God caused a “great light” to allow the battle to continue at Joshua’s request, but what was the method by which God did it. There are many ways God could provide a great light or series of lights as a ministrant. Verse 11 speaks of “great stones from heaven” cast down on Azekah which was a town in Judah near Gibeon. Many astronomical possibilities to provide light are worth considering such as an asteroid or meteor shower or an aurora.
If you read the rest of the chapter, the main message is that God fought for Israel. Verse 14 indicates “there was no day like it before or after.” If you are satisfied with assuming that “Sun stand still” was simply a miracle of God and no explanation should be attempted, that is your prerogative. But to the skeptic, there needs to be an answer, and the evidence gives several possible answers that enable the believer “to be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks of the hope that is within us” (1 Peter 3:15).
–John N. Clayton © 2018