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.”
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!