The Sun Standing Still in Joshua 10

According to Joshua 10:12-14, Joshua was at war and asked God for more daytime by praying that the sun and moon would “standstill”. We can interpret this literally as the sun and moon standing still but that wouldn’t be correct from an astronomical perspective. The sun does move relative to the solar system, however, since the earth is parented to the sun via its orbit around the sun, the sun is actually already still relative to the earth’s movement. The moon does move relative to the earth but it takes a month not a day. So God stopping the movement of the sun and moon wouldn’t have made a difference in daylight since the day-night cycle is governed by earth’s self-rotation on its own axis and not the movements of the sun and moon.

One thing to remember about the bible or any literature written by human hands for human eyes and ears is that everything is written from an earthly perspective. To this day we still say things like the sun “rises” and “sets”. This is called phenomenological language. We use linguistics to explain something complex from a simple phenomenal experiential perspective. The sun does move relative to the earth and does “rise” and “set” relative to the horizon. However, the horizon is just a term for the edge of the surface of the land that curves away from our view. It’s not a physical object but rather a linguistic mechanism to describe what we experience. Another example is when we refer to something as random. From our perspective, something may have happened randomly, but in reality, every action has an equal and opposite reaction because everything happens as an effect of a cause. So nothing is truly random since a force must have acted upon an object in order for something to have changed. This is true even if we don’t know the variables involved, but we often defer to calling action random when we don’t know the motive or cause.

Therefore if we look at Joshua’s prayer from the perspective of phenomenological language, the sun standing still could mean one of two things. 

1) The earth stopped rotating or slowed down to a near stop and the sun and moon stayed in place relatively extending daylight on the side of the globe that faces the sun. 

2) All the people involved in the war were sped up (super speed), and so the earth and heavens weren’t affected at all but rather it was perceived that way by people actually moving faster than normal. 

The first interpretation may be more common among bible believers since the bible is saying that the astronomical bodies literally stopped their movements in the sky. Especially since we know God can shift the sun’s light relative to earth since he moved the shadow backward on the sundial for Hezekiah in 2 Kings 20:9-11. However, what if the writers are writing their experiences rather than writing what literally happened? Ever hear the expression time flies when having fun (or busy). When we are sitting around doing nothing, it seems like the day goes on forever, but when I am moving and getting things done it seems like there isn’t enough time. This logic plays into the 2nd option. We know God can give people super speed since he caused Elijah to outrun King Ahab’s chariot in 1 Kings 18:44-46. So what if God simply got them so focused on battle and even sped up their movements so that they perceived time slowing down or standing still when in reality neither the earth, sun, nor moon’s movements or position had deviated from their usual programming since their creation. This doesn’t mean God couldn’t do that since that is likely what happened in 2 Kings 20:9-11, but in Joshua’s case, we have more options. The only other option I can think of for the sundial situation is that the clouds covered the sun and God sent an angel or something to shine his light on the dial and move it backward, meaning it wasn’t the sun at all shifting the shadow, but this isn’t a necessary argument.

Whether it be by literally stopping the earth’s rotation or giving humans that perception by speeding up the battle, God still answered the prayer. We must take into account the reason why Joshua asked God to cause the sun and moon to stand still, it was because he needed more time. Therefore the real prayer was asking God for more time. That means God can give him what he asked for without specifically answering the prayer the way he asked. Anyone who has been a follower of God for any length of time and has had prayers answered, knows that God will often answer our prayers in unexpected ways that don’t involve any of the words we used when we asked. Both options are valid either way and maybe there are even more options. I just wanted to point out that we can believe what is written in the bible is true while keeping in mind that it is written an ancient human perspective, so things must be interpreted through that lens. Let’s not limit ourselves to one perspective when visualizing biblical events, the authors may simply describe something they see as “a wind” pushing waters away when in actuality there is a supernatural invisible force independent of the wind at work. Any theory that is biblically sound will conclude that God (the supernatural creator of all things) did what the word said he did and answered Joshua’s prayer. Just a thought.

A bonus example of phenomenological language, let’s think of airplanes. To an ancient prophet with a vision of the future, they would describe an airplane as a giant iron bird carrying people in its belly. We know today that is not what it is, but from their perspective, they had to describe what they see with the language they have. A plane looks like a bird because it is designed to fly with wings, like a bird, using the law of lift. I think some of the imagery in the book of Revelation can be viewed this way. How would a prophet of the ancient world describe a smartphone? They don’t even have the word telephone, so it would have to be a visual or experiential description.