Joshua: The Sun Stands Still

Sermon by on April 21, 2002

Joshua 10
Marching as to War: The Sun stands still

Can the Bible be trusted? Is it fatally flawed
by out-worn concepts and ideas? Can we possibly believe in giant fish swallowing
a man for three days and then spitting him up on the shore–alive! Did God
really provide manna from heaven for forty years? Was the Red Sea really divided
in the way Cecil B. de Mill portrayed it? Did the sun really stand still for a
day? Can the Bible really be trusted? In a postmodern age like ours, the
question might be phrased a little differently, but I think it is still useful
to approach it this way. Can the Bible be trusted, when it appears as though it
contains some fairly major scientific and ethical bloopers.

It is an important question. As evangelical and
Reformed Christians, we believe the Bible to God’s inspired Word, infallible
and inerrant in all that it affirms and denies. We believe in plenary
inspiration in the sense that the quality of inspired-ness belongs to the entire
Bible from Genesis to Revelation. “All Scripture,” Paul could insists
(speaking of the Old Testament), “is given by Inspiration (theopneustos,
breathed-out, exhaled) of God” (2 Tim. 3:16). “For prophecy never had
its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along
by the Holy Spirit,” Peter wrote (2 Pet. 1:18). The “least stroke of a
pen” (Matt. 5:18) is the extent to which Jesus attributed the divine
importance of Scripture. “Scripture is like a lion,” Spurgeon famously
said, “Who ever heard of defending a lion? Just turn it loose; it will
defend itself.”

That is true. The Bible will take care of
itself. And we could waste a good bit of time trying to tame something that just
needs proclaiming. And yet, we need to note that in the passage before us there
are two major difficulties that skeptics have raised against the Scriptures’
claim to be the inerrant Word of God. Neither of them is new. Both have a
considerable pedigree. One is an ethical issue. How can God be involved with all
this violence? More particularly, how can the Israelites occupy a land that
belonged to the Canaanites, in what looks like a piece of expansionism that has
bedeviled the world from the beginning to this day; and all this, in the name of
God? How can God be associated with something as unrighteous as this?
That leads me to say:

1. The Bible will challenge our
view of God’s nature
Chapter 10 describes Israel’s
campaign and victory over the southern (Dixie) portion of Canaan. Something
happened which provided Joshua with a great military opportunity for a quick
victory over a number of the enemy at once, rather than by a long, drawn out
campaign against the cities one by one. Being very alarmed over the news
of the victories of Israel, as at Jericho and Ai, and hearing of the Gibeonite’s
covenant with Israel, which was viewed as treasonous by the Canaanites, one of
the kings of the south, Adoni-Zedek (Lord of Righteousness), king of Jerusalem,
gathered four other kings of the region together to attack Gibeon. They had
belonged to the Amorite coalition which was probably a defense coalition against
invading forces. So, in retaliation and also because of fear of the united power
of the Gibeonites with Israel, the five kings listed in Joshua 10:5, moved
against the city of Gibeon.

Then Joshua hears of it. He now has a duty to
keep his covenant with these Gibeonites (chapter 9) and he marches all night
from his base camp in Gilgal towards Gibeon, and, well, there is a slaughter.
The coalition army are “cut down” (10:10). There are four verbs in
this verse: to throw into confusion, defeat, pursue, and cut down. The NIV and
ESV apply the first verb to God and the other three to the men of Israel, but
allow for a different reading in their marginal notes to the effect that all
four verbs have God as their subject. This is the rendition in the NAS version.
In either case, the Israelites are doing it in the name of God, as verse 8
clearly indicates. In addition, some of the coalition forces flee, heading
southwards towards their home cities. But before they can get anywhere, there is
a hailstorm that kills more of them than had been killed by the sword of the
Israelites. The point in the passage that stands out for us is this: “the
LORD hurled large hailstones down on them from the sky” (10:11). God did

Later in the story, even though most of
coalition forces have been destroyed, not all have and the Israelites pursue
after them and they were destroyed completely, “almost to a man”
(10:20). This, too, Joshua assured his men, was because “the LORD your God
has given them into your hand” (10:19).

The five kings escape and are found hiding in a
cave at Makkedah (10:16). In a grizzly episode, Joshua has them sealed inside
the cave for a while as his men are busily destroying the coalition forces, and
once that is done, the cave is opened and the kings brought out. Joshua summons
the commanders to lay their feet on the necks of the five kings and after this
is done, Joshua kills them and hangs them on five trees until evening. As night
falls, their bodies are taken down and unceremoniously thrown into the cave and
it is sealed once more. This, too was done in the name of God.

Later in the chapter, in what is described as
the southern campaign, the cities of Libnah, Lachish, Eglon, Hebron, Debir, the
Negev, and the western foothills and the mountain slopes and even out towards
the Mediterranean sea and the city of Philistine city of Gaza are conquered. The
kings are destroyed. “He left no survivors. He totally destroyed all who
breathed, just as the LORD, the God of Israel had commanded.” (10:40).

The whole chapter is summarized for us this
way: “the LORD, the God of Israel, fought for Israel” (10:42).

Whenever we read the Bible we inevitable come
across things that challenge our view of what God is like. Sometimes, because
of, say, our upbringing–we may have had a father-figure who was harsh and
domineering, who resorted to anger and punishment without a moment’s notice–we
‘project’ or ‘transfer’ that view onto God. In which case, those
passages of Scripture which speak of His love and compassion and forgiveness and
slowness to anger and so on, will challenge us. More often than not, we will
find ourselves having to remind ourselves that our heavenly Father is not like
our earthly father, at all! Equally, we can create a distortion as to God’s
righteous character. We can project a view of God that is tolerant and
indulgent. And then we read passages like this one.

That is not an easy question to answer, and I
doubt that the answer that Scripture itself gives will satisfy the skeptic.
Because, at the end of the day, the answer is, this is right because
God says it is right
! And this will sound like a piece of special pleading
(and in a sense, that is precisely what it is!). Because there is no higher
authority than God himself. I love that Irishism, one which to my great
delight I actually heard someone say whenever I was trying to find my way around
the confusing streets of Dublin, and I stopped to ask the way to a certain part
of the city, the man said, “If I was trying to get there, I wouldn’t
start from here!” We will have to think about it again next week when we
look at chapters 11 and 12 in a sermon which I have called, “When God
behaves like a wild animal!”

What is taking place here is the fulfillment of
what God had said in the covenant promise to Abraham, that Canaan would be
theirs for the taking whenever the “iniquity of the Amorites” had
reached its “full measure” (Gen. 15:16).

There are those, even within this great city
tonight, we say that we evangelical and Reformed Christians have got this all
wrong; God is love. And we can see that in the incarnation of Christ. His
identification with all of humanity. He became one with us, taking our frame and
feeling our sorrows. He loves us and we need to realize that we are united to
Christ. That God has taken the initiative and redeemed us, by taking our nature
upon Himself. The whole message of salvation is to realize that God has already
saved us by the incarnation of Christ. But this is wholly inadequate. This
understanding of God cannot deal with what we have in this chapter tonight
except by having recourse to saying that what it is written here is primitive
and unworthy of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. And there are
scores of people and theologians who have said and continue to say just that, of

The whole message of the cross is to say that
we are not reconciled and that we need to be reconciled. That God loves us, but
not at the expense of his righteous character. Sin has drawn a veil between us
and God. It is necessary for God to meet the demands of His justice before He
can extend the offer of forgiveness. It is at the cross that we see that done
whenever Jesus takes the punishment that our sins deserve upon Himself. It is
what the cross is all about: God reconciling sinners to Himself by punishing His
Son in our place.

We may not know, we cannot tell,
What pains He had to bear;
But we believe it was for us
He hung and suffered there.

Do you see what I am saying? It is only an
evangelical and reformed view of the cross that can begin to make sense of this
chapter. That there is in God inherently, and necessarily, a righteous nature
that recoils against sin and ungodliness and the only way to forgive sin is by
meeting the full demands of God’s moral law. “The soul that sins shall
die.” The fact is that in this case, these Canaanites are condemned to die.
God could, if He wanted, say that about all of us. And He would be just on
saying so, and in doing so. It is His mercy that spares us. However repulsive
this chapter may be, it is only a glimpse of what the day of judgment will be
like if we are not hiding in Christ on that day.

2. The Bible will challenge our
view of God’s involvement in this world
When Joshua hears that the
five kings are marching towards Gibeon, he moves his men by night from
his base camp in Gilgal, arriving somewhere near Gibeon presumably while it was
still dark. And something strange and unusual takes place. The sun stands still
for a day. We will need to ask what exactly this means in a minute, but first of
all we need see something more general. The fact is that what is described here
as “the sun standing still” led many to conclude in the past that the
solar system was geocentric rather than heliocentric. That is, that the earth is
the center of our system and not the sun. The sun was thought to rotate around
the earth, rather than, as we now know, earth rotating around the sun.

In 1633, the famous trial of Galileo Galilei
took place. It was a conflict between the world of emerging science and humanism
on the one hand, and absolutism and scholasticism and the Catholic church on the

Galileo Galilei was born in the same year as
Shakespeare–the year that Michelangelo died. By the age of 19 he had
discovered the isochronism of the pendulum. At 22 he invented the hydrostatic
balance. At 25 he was lecturing at Pisa, and later Padua. He was to become known
as the father of experimental physics. As far back as 1543, Nicolaus Copernicus
had challenged the views of Aristotle and Ptolemy and the Catholic
establishment, suggesting that the sun was at the center of the universe and
that the earth rotated around it on an axis. Galileo agreed (some fifty years
later), writing to Kepler, the German mathematician, how fearful he was making
this known. Galileo invented the telescope in 1609 and confirmed his theory. A
powerful opponent, Tomasso Caccini, a Dominican monk, railed against Galileo.
Galileo was rebuked by the Catholic church and placed under house arrest in
Milan and later in Florence. Ten cardinals found him guilty and forbade him to
teach his views, ordering that his book, the Dialogue, be prohibited.
Galileo spent the last eight years alone and, eventually totally blind. He died
in 1541.

This is a famous, and often cited example, of
how science and the Bible have clashed. We know that our solar system is
heliocentric, but this passage (and this passage was cited by Tomasso Caccini, a
man Galileo referred to as a “turbulent ignoramus”) says the sun stood
still (implying that the earth is stationary and it is the sun which is doing
the moving).

You can see why Captain Janeway, of the
Starship Voyager, signally avoiding any reference to Christianity, consults with
Galileo a lot in her holodeck timeouts! Or is it Michelangelo?

Some have argued that the results of science
are in essential conflict with the Bible’s view of reality. They would allege
that the Bible holds to a primitive, pre-scientific view of the universe which
is no longer tenable to modern man. It describes the heaven above and earth and
“under the earth–suggesting perhaps a three-storied view of the universe.
It talks about demons and angels, and more importantly of miracles, like this

What are we to say to all of that?

There are three issues to comment upon:

i. Is the primitive way it
describes the nature of the universe.
It talks about the “sun going down,” when in actual fact that sun
doesn’t do anything of the sort. “There,” people say, “the
Bible cannot be trusted!” Its full of errors and inaccuracies!”

The church has made some horrible errors in its
relationship with science. I recall, not so long ago, hearing a preacher say
quite categorically that science was completely wrong about the possibility of
cloning, for example.

The Scripture isn’t giving us a scientific
statement here. It’s the language of phenomenon! Of observation. Its telling
things just as they “appear” to be. I have heard Bert Case say,
“the sun will set tomorrow at such and such a time” Is he getting
e-mails and telephone calls calling his scientific expertise into question? Of
course not! The Bible writers are writing history using colloquial expressions.
They are not writing scientific manuals for a physics class.

ii. There is an even
greater objection leveled against the miracle itself. There
is a miracle recounted here! It’s not clear what the nature of that miracle
is. Some have argued that what actually took place is that the sun didn’t
rise, thereby extending the darkness (the battle had begun in the dark by all
accounts). But verse 13 talks about the sun “going down” and the
natural reading would suggest that it is an extension of daylight, rather than
of night-time, that is in view. (Ralph Davis favors the darkness view). Either
way, it is a miracle. It is a divine intervention in the normal course of
things. It is more than a cloudy day (though that, too, has been suggested).

C. S. Lewis, in his book, Miracles,
said, “Miracles are a retelling in small letters of the very same story
which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to

People who balk at this must stumble at the
resurrection, too. Lewis put it wonderfully whenever he said that the
resurrection skeptics view the resurrection as a last ditch attempt by the
Gospel writers to explain a story that has got out of control!

We shouldn’t use the word miracle
lightly. Its not a miracle whenever your computer actually works(!) or when you
open your McDonalds order to find that you’ve got what you actually ordered!

iii. Relationship between
Providence and prayer.
There is a huge contrast between 9:14 and 10:12. Joshua is praying this
time! He understands that although God is sovereign, and He’s made certain
promises, He still expects us to pray and makes sure we get the message whenever
we don’t. God answers prayer. He unfolds His providence in answer to prayer.
Joshua commands! And God obeys.

But what does this mean for us? Is that a
legitimate question to ask? Are we not to bathe in the wonder of what God did in
answer to Joshua? Yes, but surely we can ask: are we to do the same? Are we
supposed to ask for things like this? It’s easily dismissed, isn’t it? This
was a special time, and special circumstances, and a special leader who prays,
and so on!

Yes, but…

The Bible says: “If you have faith like a
grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to
there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.’ (Matt.
17:20). Just maybe, just maybe, there is a sting here for us! We simply do not
believe that God could do something as great as this!

And that is why it so wonderful that we have
One who is greater than Joshua whose prayers are effectual. He ever lives
to intercede for us (Heb. 7:25).

From the Father’s side He pleads.
Five bleeding wounds He bears
Received on Calvary;
They pour effectual prayers,
They strongly plead for me.
“Forgive him, O forgive,” they cry,
“Forgive him, O forgive,” they cry,
“Nor let that ransomed sinner die!”

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