Summary: God is the Warrior who fights for His people. When we're operating on our own, we accomplish what talent and education and money can do. When we're walking with God, we accomplish what God can do.
“Stopping the Sun” -Joshua 10:1, 5-14; Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts (28 Feb 2016)
It turns out that D-Day wasn't “The Longest Day.” It was the Battle of the 5 kings!
Here's how it began: Israel was deceived into making a treaty with the Gibeonites (ch 9). Joshua was led to believe they were far away, but he finds out his new ally is both nearby and being attacked. Having made peace with Israel, they were viewed as traitors. Neighboring rulers feared a domino-effect of important cities falling under Israeli control. This would cause a shift in the balance of power. Joshua goes to the aid of Gibeon; he doesn't try to find a way out of helping his ally...and in the process he's given the opportunity to wage war with Israel's enemies and inflict a smashing defeat.
One of the Canaanite kings hails from Jerusalem, and here we find the first reference to this city in Scripture. At the time it is insignificant, but it will become the City of David. The five armies marshall their forces at Jerusalem, then together lay siege to Gibeon. But they are doomed to defeat.
Joshua's early-morning arrival utilizes the element of surprise. No one expected Israel to make an all-night march to engage the enemy. Joshua arrives and scatters the enemy forces.
The battle is marked by two miracles. First, as the Canaanites fled in panic from the Israelite army, God strikes them with a massive hailstorm, which kills more than the sword. This was definitely one of those storms “of biblical proportions”! Israel could not have won on its own; God fought for Israel.
But there were still enemy soldiers on the field of battle, and Joshua had the military advantage. Wanting to make the most of the situation, he needed more time to exploit the initiative. The afternoon sun was starting to set and his opportunity was escaping. So Joshua asked God to prolong the daylight. He did so “in the presence of Israel” (vs 12), not privately, so that if God didn't help it wouldn't look bad. Joshua boldly, openly asks for God to act. He wasn't afraid of being humbled by failure. He put his faith on the line.
When I was an Army Chaplain, my Commanders would often remind me of General Patton's chaplain who was told to pray for good weather for battle. I explained to my Brigade Commander that Patton told his chaplain, “With your prayer and my relationship with God, we'll have good weather.” My Commander looked at me and said, “We're in trouble, Chaplain.”
Joshua prayed and there was ample sunlight for the battle. How did God do it? Did the sun actually stop? Or was this a way of asking for more time? We simply do not know. God might have slowed the earth's rotation. He might have refracted light onto the battlefield. Somehow the sun's light lingered. And Joshua didn't care how it happened; he just wanted more time to fight. The real question is whether miracles are possible. We have two options: either the earth is the result of an impersonal cosmic accident, or God made the earth, and can alter the laws of nature He established. He can do things that can't be explained by science. God is not a prisoner of the laws He made. Miracles are possible because the world is under God's control. Nothing is too great for God. The One who declared “Let there be light” can extend the light any time He chooses!
Even in these days people didn't accept the Bible as legitimate history, so the author refers to a trusted historical account that confirms the miracle. We read in verse 13 an appeal to the Book of Jashar. It's like saying, “Look, if you don't believe this, go read about it in Jashar!” (see also II Sam 1:18)
Skeptics love to refer to this incident to ridicule the Bible. It was brought up by Clarence Darrow at the famous Scopes trial in Dayton, Tennessee. Darrow asked William Jennings Bryan: “Now, Mr. Bryan, have you ever pondered what would have happened to the earth if it had stood still? Don’t you believe that if the earth ever stopped turning it would be converted into a molten mass of matter?” Bryan said he had not considered that, but added, “The God I believe in could have taken care of that, Mr. Darrow.” Bryan upheld his belief that God is in charge and is not limited by natural science. Interestingly, many ancient civilizations have recorded a strangely longer-than-usual day.
There's never been a day like this, and there'll never be one again. In all this, God gets the credit. It was not superior tactics, weapons, or logistics that saved the day. It was the hand of God. We should live with the expectation that God can intervene in our situations, in the battles we face each day. We need to stop living as though God was uninvolved or disinterested in our struggles. We often don't know why life hurts, yet we should understand that God is in charge, that He loves us, and has a purpose for our pain. Let's trust the Master. Either life is full meaning, or life doesn’t mean a thing. Every breath we take is with the hope that our lives matter. When we trust the One who is Light, life begins to make sense.