Joshua’s Long “Night”?! -- By: Bill Saxton

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 28:2 (Spring 2015)
Article: Joshua’s Long “Night”?!
Author: Bill Saxton

Joshua’s Long “Night”?!

Bill Saxton

Joshua 10:1-15 recounts the defeat of the Amorite kings by Joshua and the Israelites, and is usually understood as God’s miraculous lengthening of the day to allow the Israelites to finish conquering their enemy. However, a linguistic analysis of the passage and an awareness of the geographical setting suggests another possibility for what happened, though no less of a miracle. It actually seems much more likely that God extended the “night.”

The setting for the beginning of the battle is during the early morning, as the Israelites have marched all night, taking the Amorite army by surprise. The fact that it was early morning is confirmed by Joshua’s prayer-command for the sun to stand still over Gibeon and for the moon to stand still over the valley of Aijalon. Since Aijalon was located west of Gibeon, the moon would have been still visible on the western horizon and the sun would have been just rising in the east.

During the rout of the enemy army, God brought about an intense storm of large hailstones, large enough to kill many of the enemy as they fled south to their Amorite home territory. Hailstones (ice balls) have been known in recorded history as large as a baseball, large enough to do great damage and to even crush an unprotected human skull. In God’s providence, the hail hit the fleeing Amorites but not the pursuing Israelites. Fleeing rapidly down the steep ridge from Beth Horon to Azekah added the danger of falling to the plight of the Amorites.

In his prayer, Joshua commands the sun and moon to “stand still.” This Hebrew word, daman, is found 24 times in the Old Testament, and is variously translated with forms such as “be silent,” “cease,” “rest,” “be quiet,” “be still,” and “stop.” The question is whether this call to “cease” refers to the sun stopping its movement across the sky (i.e., the earth ceased to rotate), or to the sun’s light being restrained from being fully revealed, as by an eclipse or the clouds of an unusually intense thunderstorm. In response to this command, verse 13 notes that the sun did “cease,” and that the moon “stopped.” The Hebrew word here for “stopped,” amad, is used some 525 times in the Old Testament and is variously translated by “remained,” “stayed,” “stop,” and “stand.” Again, does this mean that the moon literally stopped its movement (i.e., the earth ceased to rotate), or that the moon’s movement and reflected light would not be visible due to the prolonged darkness?

The core of the translational problem for this passage comes in the latter...

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