Tuesday, May 19, 2009


I received the following question from Marie the other day:
“I wanted to ask you about Joshua 10:14. I believe in prayer, and know God answered Moses' prayers for the people over and over. So what does this mean to you: ‘There has never been a day like it before or since, a day when the LORD listened to a man. The LORD was fighting for Israel!’? God had listened to Moses and others. What does this mean to you? Thank you. Marie”

Though I have read the passage many times, your question never occurred to me. Thanks for bringing it up. I suppose I have always been more concerned about what really happened here. So if you’ll please be patient with me, I’ll try to address your question along with mine and some others.

First, an attempt at a reasonably literal translation of the entire passage, Joshua 10:12-15:

‘Then spoke Joshua to Yahweh in the day when Yahweh gave over the Amorites in the presence of the sons of Israel, and he said in the presence (eyes) of Israel:
‘Sun, in Gibeon stand still
And moon in the valley of Aijalon!’
So stood still the sun
And the moon stopped
Until a nation avenged itself on its enemies.
-- Is it not written on the Book (scroll) of Jashar (the upright)? --
So stopped the sun in the middle of the heavens and did not hurry to set for about a complete day. And there was never such a day as this before or after, when Yahweh listened to the voice of a man, for Yahweh fought for Israel. Then Joshua and all Israel with him returned to the camp at Gilgal.”

Some comments:

The book of Jashar was probably a separate account of events in the history of Israel. It is mentioned again in 2 Samuel 1:18. It was probably not cited as a source, but more likely is a collection of war and other poems. There are other such collections mentioned elsewhere in the Old Testament. It is disputed as to how much of the material here is from the book. I believe that all of the passage quoted (verses 12-15) is from it. Two reasons: First, these verses seem to be a unit inserted in the text; the chapter would make complete sense without them. Second, verse 15 seems to be a conclusion, yet more action follows; it is repeated verbatim in verse 43.

The next big problem is the apparent miracle itself. If we read this passage literally, this miracle would be, as one commentator says, “The most striking example of conflict between Scripture and science.” We would have to believe that there was a day that was somewhere near 36 hours long. So what do we do with it?

Well, first, we have to recognize that the Bible, just as we do, uses phenomenal language; it speaks of things as we perceive them. So we don’t have to believe that the sun stopped in motion, but that the earth ceased to rotate. We today speak of sunrise and sunset, even though we know that it is the earth that rotates.

There are a number of attempts at explaining what happened, some of them reasonable, and I suppose, could be held by persons who claim belief in biblical literacy.

One is that the sun merely appeared to halt in mid-heaven. After all, the Israelites didn’t have watches or cell phones, and they obviously didn’t carry sundials with them into battle. We’ve all had the experience of a day which seemed to never end.

A second explanation is that the Hebrew words can be translated to mean that the sun and moon simply ceased shining. It was a hot day so the LORD sent clouds or some such thing so that Joshua and the Israelites would have a cool time for battle.

Another explanation is that because the Book of Jashar is a poetic account, it uses hyperbole or exaggeration – poetic language – to describe the battle. We have plenty of examples of this elsewhere in the Scriptures. See, for instance Judges 5:20 and Psalm 98:8. In fact, Habakkuk 3:10-11 mentions that “the sun and moon stood in their places” along with other events, such as the mountains quaking and the deep lifting its hands.

Now to your question, Marie. I think it’s simply a matter of how the text is phrased. It’s not saying that this is the only time that the LORD answered a prayer, but that it is the only time that the LORD stopped the earth in its rotation. This never happened before or since Joshua’s long day. I don’t think we’d be violating the text if we punctuated it like this:

“There was never such a day as this – before or after!
The LORD listened to the voice of a man!
For the LORD fought for Israel!”

And when we understand verse 14 in this way, we have to throw away all explanations other than the fact that the earth literally stood still. It only happened once and it won’t happen again!

Bill Ball

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


“There was a time when the church was very powerful. It was during that period when the early Christians rejoiced when they were deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society.”
Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from Birmingham City Jail

I’m afraid we as the church have all too few times through the years been a thermometer rather than a thermostat. And the church, we must remember, is made up of individuals. Me.

Our President recently released memos from the previous administration, not only condoning but promoting torture on suspected terrorists (euphemistically referred to as “enhanced interrogation tactics”). These memos even gave detailed instructions as to how far one can go in “interrogation.” For releasing the memos, he was condemned by members of that administration as well as radio talking heads for potentially endangering Americans.

The Pew Research Center took a poll on the issue and found that:
• 40% of atheists, agnostics and unaffiliated felt torture is “often” or “sometimes” justified.
• 54% of weekly church goers felt the same.
• 62% of white evangelicals believe torture can be justified – more than mainline Protestants or Roman Catholics.

Even if the figures are skewed a bit – or a lot – we have a moral problem here. Why should those who claim the name of Christ ever advocate torture? We may argue about whether or not lives have been saved by the information gathered (and all the facts aren’t in yet), but isn’t that simply claiming that the end justifies the means? Should we bring back the Inquisition?

I suppose many of those good church folks are the same ones who would raise their voices against embryonic stem-cell research, even though its advocates claim that it will save lives. But aren’t both sides using the same “ethical” arguments?

Both the right and the left take stands on moral/ethical issues, and I fear that our concepts of what’s right and what’s wrong are often formed by our political views, when it should be the other way around. And all too often we, who claim to be followers of Christ, fall into this trap. It would be quite easy to come up with two different lists of rights and wrongs, based on whether one is right or left, conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat.

There are issues in both lists that need our attention. We need to look at the issues, not from a liberal or conservative worldview, but from a biblical worldview. What does the Scripture say? What would Jesus do? If we do this we will undoubtedly find ourselves in agreement with those on the right or on the left on various issues. But, if we place ourselves in either camp, or place those who disagree with us in either, we compromise our witness to the truth of the Scripture and to the gospel of Christ.

“Stop being conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of the mind, so as to test and approve what God’s will is – the good and acceptable and perfect’ (Romans 12:2)

Bill Ball

Saturday, May 9, 2009


I received the following question on my facebook from a friend: “Okay Bill... I need help and I would love to hear your thoughts. This last week’s Bible Study was about unforgiveness. The verse Matthew 6:14-15 came up. What did Jesus mean by, ‘If you refuse to forgive others, your father will not forgive your sins.’ In the commentaries we looked at, it said it's not an issue of salvation, but of fellowship. But I don't know what they are basing that on.”

I gave a brief answer and then told her to check my blog in a few days, because I hoped to dig a little deeper. So here are my expanded thoughts.

There are two words in the New Testament that are sometimes translated forgive and one word translated forgiveness. The words also have other meanings, but it is pretty easy to determine their meanings from the context.

The most common verb is aphiemi, which has the basic meanings of send away, release, let go or give up and is commonly used in one of these senses; it is even one of the words for divorce. It is often used in the sense of cancel or remit when applied to a debt. It is the word most commonly attributed to Jesus in the Gospels and I believe that it always has the sense of the remission of a debt owed by someone, even when it is translated forgive. This can be seen in the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18:21-35.

”…there was brought to him (a certain king) one who owed him 10,000 talents (a fantastically high amount) … And the lord of that slave had compassion and released him and forgave (aphiemi) him the debt” (verses 24, 27).

The noun form of this word is aphesis, which means a release or cancellation of a debt or obligation.

We need this understanding in mind to really grasp what forgiveness is. We owe God and we have nothing to repay Him. When God forgives us, our debt is cancelled. When we forgive others, we cancel out the debt they have toward us.

The second Greek work is charizomai, which is related to the words charis, grace and charisma, gift. It usually has the meaning give freely, or give graciously or grant.

“…how will He not freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)

When translated forgive it usually has this sense of freely granting to someone what he owes. This is Paul’s usual word, although Jesus uses it twice in the parable of forgiveness in Luke 7:42, 43. Interestingly He also uses aphiemi three times in the same context (verses 47 and 48).

Now back to the question: There are at least 4 passages where God's forgiveness of us appears to be conditioned on our forgiveness of others. All of these are spoken by Jesus: Matthew 6:12-15; 18:21-35; Mark 11:25, 26 (verse 26 is not in many of the early manuscripts); Luke 11:4.

John seems to say that forgiveness is based on confession: 1 John 1:9.

Yet elsewhere, forgiveness is simply based on faith: “And when Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, ‘Cheer up child’ your sins are forgiven!’” (Matthew 9:2 = Mark 2:5 = Luke 5:20).

Especially see the story in Luke 7:36-50. In Jesus’ dialog with Simon the Pharisee, He uses the above mentioned parable to make the point that the one who is forgiven more will love Him more. He contrasts His host Simon with the “sinful woman” who has been anointing His feet and concludes, “’For this reason I say to you, her sins which are many have been forgiven, because she loved much; but the one who has been forgiven little loves little’ (verse 47). Then He said to her ‘Your sins have been forgiven’” (verse 47). Note that He does not say that her forgiveness is due to her love, but that her love is due to her forgiveness. The last verse makes clear the basis of her forgiveness. “And He said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you! Go in peace!’” (verse 50).

Paul tells the Colossians, “And when you were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our trespasses” (Colossians 2:13).

He tells us that God’s forgiveness of us is the basis for our forgiving others, not vice-versa: “Become kind to each other, tender hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).

Having said all this, I believe a few more thoughts need to be added.

First, refusal to forgive is sin. The New Testament is full of commands to forgive. We have no right to nurse a grudge. Jesus told us to forgive over and over again (Matthew 18:21, 22).

Also, a refusal to forgive may be an indication that we do not understand what our own forgiveness is. An unforgiving heart may be an unforgiven heart.

Forgiveness is not just sluffing off a wrong. It is recognizing that we have been wronged and that the one who wronged us is indebted to us, and then refusing to collect, but rather canceling that debt.

I see forgiveness as described in the Bible as having two stages. First, is what we could call an attitude or even a prayer of forgiveness. Jesus did this from the cross when He prayed for His killers: “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Stephen did the same for his murderers following his Master’s example: “Lord do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60).

The second step is to verbally forgive those who have wronged us; to look them in the face and tell them we forgive them. We cannot do this if we haven’t gone through the first stage.

And then we are never to bring the matter up again. If the debt has been forgiven, it’s the same as if it’s been paid.