Believing the Unbelievable

Joshua 10 contains an account of what has to be one of the most incredible miracles in the entire Bible: “The sun stopped in the midst of heaven and did not hurry to set for about a whole day” (v. 13b).  Joshua and the Israelites were in the midst of a battle with five Canaanite kings and their armies.  After Joshua caught them off guard, the enemy armies begin to retreat to their home cities.  But wanting to strike while the iron is hot – and knowing that the cover of darkness will greatly aid the enemy in his retreat and necessitate further battles in the future – Joshua prays and asks God to extend the daylight hours so that Israel can hunt down her enemies and gain complete victory.  God obliges Joshua’s request, and the sun stands still in the sky (implying that the earth’s spinning either stopped or was significantly slowed), and Israel gained the victory, “for the Lord fought for Israel.”

Because of its scope, this is not only one of the most incredible miracles recorded in the Bible, but it is also one of the most disputed.  Christians and skeptics alike have doubted the veracity of what is described in Joshua 10.13: “The sun stopped in the midst of heaven and did not hurry to set for about a whole day.”  Such a thing is impossible, say some, because of the drastic consequences that would result from the stoppage or slowing of the earth’s rotation.  After all, the earth weighs 1000 trillion tons.  How does that much rock and water simply stop or slow down without falling apart?  What about life on earth?  How could it survive if the earth stopped spinning?  What about gravitational forces?  The moon?  Clearly there are a myriad of scientific reasons why the miracle described in Joshua 10 can’t have actually happened, making the whole account unbelievable.  Unfortunately, some Christians have taken up the task of trying to “prove” this miracle by insisting that NASA computers have detected a “lost day” when tracking the orbits of planets and moons in our solar system, stating that the orbital patterns over the centuries are off by approximately 23 hours.  While this sounds nice, it’s completely false.  No study was done by NASA that found such a time gap. 

In some scholarly circles, Christian scholars have attempted to explain this miracle by stating that it is actually no miracle at all, and that Joshua’s declaration of the sun and moon standing still is just a poetic pronouncement of the dominant Israelite victory over the five kings noted in chapter 10, as though he were saying, “All of our enemies – from the sun, to the moon and back – have been defeated.”  No doubt this has become an increasingly popular position to take due to pressure from skeptics who insist that the notion that the earth stopped spinning for a period of time amounts to scientific buffoonery.  Interestingly, however, those same Christian scholars who balk at the sun standing still on the basis of scientific improbability reportedly have no problem with the lethal, divinely aimed and guided hailstones of verse 11.  Apparently the notion of God acting as a sniper with hailstones as bullets isn’t out of the question, but the sun standing still is. 

But we need not cook up stories about “lost days” or try to prove scientifically how this miracle could have happened in order for us to believe that “The sun stopped in the midst of heaven and did not hurry to set for about a whole day.”  Instead, we simply need to answer the questions of who God is and what he is able to do. 

During the 18th century, an Anglican minister named Bishop Watson said this: “The machine of the universe is in the hand of God; he can stop the motion of any part, or of the whole, with less trouble than any of us can stop a watch.”  This statement reveals two important presuppositions that informed Bishop Watson’s thinking: 1) God is the creator of the universe; 2) God is sovereign over the universe.  If these two presuppositions are true, the notion that God either stopped or slowed the spinning of the earth in order to aid in Joshua’s military actions is not only reasonable, but very believable. 

Consider, for example, a car moving at 70 miles per hour down the highway: all the driver needs to do to stop the car is apply a few pounds of pressure to the brake pedal with his foot, and within a matter of yards a thousand pounds of steel will be brought to a halt, all because the driver moved his leg a few inches and applied minimal pressure with his foot.  Now, to be sure, there is a lot more that happens to bring a car to a full stop than just stepping on a pedal: brake fluid moves a cylinder, which pushes the brake pads, which press against the rotors, and all do so with just the right amount of force to allow for a controlled reduction in the speed of the car.  But the point is that the driver is the master of the system: he instigates all of this action with his sovereign activity of pushing on a pedal with his foot. 

Isn’t it reasonable to posit that the universe works in a similar way, with God as the “driver,” the sovereign master of the system?  If God created the universe, and if he rules over it with absolute authority, then it is entirely reasonable that he can “step on the brake pedal” of the earth’s rotation and bring it to a halt.  But what about all of the scientific repercussions of a stoppage of the earth’s rotation?  I don’t know, nor will I pretend to be smart enough to understand, let alone explain how the halting of the earth’s rotation can accord with the laws of physics.  I imagine there are several moving parts “behind the brake pedal.”  But the “how” of the miracle isn’t important.  If God is the creator of the universe, and if he rules over it with complete sovereignty, he can and he did. 

But let’s not miss the forest for the trees: the point of this miracle is not to give us a miraculous riddle to solve or a science experiment to conduct, but to show us the awesome power of God and how he acts on behalf of his people.