Then spoke Joshua to the LORD in the day when the LORD delivered up the Amorites before the children of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel, Sun, stand you still on Gibeon; and you, Moon, in the valley of Ajalon.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
THE SUN STAYED
‘The last time,’ what a sad sound that has! In all minds there is a shrinking from the last time of doing even some common act. The walk down a street that we have passed every day for twenty years, and never cared in the least about, and the very doorsteps and the children in the streets, have an interest for us, as pensively we leave the commonplace familiar scene.
On this last Sunday of another year, there comes a tone of sober meditation over us, as we think that it is the last. I would fain let the hour preach. I have little to say but to give voice to its lessons.
My text is only taken as a starting-point, and I shall say nothing about Joshua and his prayer. I do not discuss whether this was a miracle or not. It seems, at any rate, to be taken by the writer of the story as one. What a picture he draws of the fugitives rushing down the rocky pass, blind in their fear, behind them the flushed and eager conqueror, the burst of the sudden tempest and far in the west the crescent moon, the leader on the hilltop with his prayer for but one hour or two more of daylight to finish the wild work so well begun! And, says the story, his wish was granted, and no day has been ‘like it before or since, in which the Lord hearkened unto the voice of a man.’ Once, and only once, did time seem to stand still; from the beginning till now it has been going steadily on, and even then it only seemed to stand. That day seemed longer, but life was passing all the same.
And so the first thought forced upon us here by our narrative and by the season is the old one, so commonplace and yet so solemn.
I. Life inexorably slides away from us.
Once, and only once, it seemed to pause. How often since has Joshua’s prayer been prayed again! By the fearful,-the wretch to be hanged at eight o’clock to-morrow morning, the man whom the next train will part from all he loves. By the hopeful,-the child wearying for the holidays, the bridegroom,
‘Gallop apace, ye fiery-footed steeds!’
By the suffering,-
‘Would God it were evening!’
By the martyr amid the flames,
‘Come quickly, Lord Jesus!’
But all in vain. We cannot expand the moments to hours, nor compress the hours to moments. Leaden or winged, the hours are hours. The cold-blooded pendulum ticks on, equable and unaltered, and after sixty minutes, no sooner and no later, the hour strikes. ‘There is a time for every purpose.’
How solemn is the thought of that constant process! It goes on for ever, like the sea fog creeping up from the wide ocean and burying life and sunshine in its fatal folds, or like the ever-flowing river, or like the fall plunging over the edge of the cliff, or like the motions of the midnight sky. Each moment in its turn passes into the colourless stony past, and the shadow creeps up the hillside.
And how unnoticed it is! We only know motion by the jolts. The revolution of the earth and its rush along its orbit are unfelt by us. We are constantly startled to feel how long ago such and such a thing took place. The mother sees her little girl at her knee, and in a few days, as it seems, finds her a woman. How immense is our life in the prospect, how awfully it collapses in the retrospect! Only by seeing constellation after constellation set, do we know that the heavens are in motion. We have need of an effort of serious reflection to realise that it is of us and of our lives that all these old commonplaces are true.
That constant, unnoticed progress has an end. Our life is a definite period, having a bounded past behind it, a present, and a bounded future before it. We have a sandglass and it runs out. We are like men sliding down a rope or hauling a boat towards a fixed point. The sea is washing away our sandy island, and is creeping nearer and nearer to where we stand, and will wash over us soon. No cries, nor prayers, nor wishes will avail. It is vain for us to say, ‘Sun! stand thou still!’
II. Therefore our chief care should be to finish our work in our day.
Joshua had his day lengthened; we can come to the same result by crowding ours with service. What is the purpose of life? Is it a shop? or a garden? a school? No. Our ‘chief end’ is to become like God and a little to help forward His cause. All is intended to develop character; all life is disciplinary.
God’s purpose should be our desire. That desire should mould all our thoughts and acts. There should be no mere sentimental regrets for the past, but the spirit of consecration should affect our thoughts about it. There should be penitence, thankfulness, not vain mourning over what is gone. There should be no waste or selfish use of the present. What is it given us for but to use for God?
Strenuous work is the true way to lengthen each day. Time is infinitely elastic. The noblest work is to do ‘the works of Him that sent me.’ There should be no care for the future. It is in His hand. There will be room in it for doing all His will.
‘Lord, it belongs not to my care,
Whether I die or live.’
III. If so, the passing day will have results that never pass.
Joshua’s day was long enough for his work, and that work was a victory which told on future generations. So life, short as it is, will be long enough for all that we have to do and learn and be.
Christ’s servant is immortal till his work is done.
God gives every man time enough for his salvation.
What may we bring out of life? Character, Christ-likeness, thankful memories, union with God, capacity for heaven. The transient leaves the abiding. The flood foams itself away, but deposits rich soil on the plain.
IV. Thus the passing away of what must pass may become a joy.
Why should we be sad? There are reasons enough, as many sad, lonely hearts among us know too well To some men dark thoughts of death and judgment make the crumbling away of life too gloomy a fact to be contemplated, but it may and should be calm joy to us that the weary world ends and a blessed life begins. We may count the moments and see them pass, as a bride watches the hours rolling on to her marriage morning; not, indeed, without tremor and sadness at leaving her old home, but yet with meek hope and gentle joy.
It is possible for men to see that life is but ‘as a shadow that declineth,’ and yet to be glad. By faith in Christ, united to ‘Him Who is for ever and ever,’ our souls shall ‘triumph over death and thee, O time.’
We need not cry, ‘Sun! stand still!’ but rather, ‘Come quickly, Lord Jesus!’
Then Time shall be ‘the lackey to eternity,’ and Death be the porter of heaven’s gate, and we shall pass from the land of setting suns and waning moons and change and sorrow, to that land where ‘thy sun shall no more go down,’ and ‘there shall be no more time.’Joshua 10:12. Then spake Joshua — Being moved so to do out of zeal to destroy God’s enemies, and directed by the motion of God’s Spirit, and being filled with a holy confidence, that what he said would be accomplished. And he spake it in the sight — That is, in the presence and audience; of all Israel — That they might be witnesses of the fact. Sun, stand thou still — Joshua does not speak according to the terms of modern astronomy, which it would have been highly improper for him to have done, as he would not have been understood by the people that heard him, but according to the appearance of things. The sun appeared to the Israelites over Gibeon, the moon was over the valley of Ajalon, which we may suppose to be situated in a different direction; and there, in the name of God, he commanded them to continue to appear, which they did for a whole day — That is, either for the space of twelve hours, or for the time of one whole diurnal revolution. “Nothing,” we may observe in the words of Dr. Dodd, “is more common in Scripture than to express things, not according to the strict rules of philosophy, but according to their appearance, and the vulgar apprehension concerning them. For instance, Moses calls the sun and moon two great lights; but however this appellation may agree with the sun, it cannot in the same sense signify the moon, which is now well known to be but a small body, and the least of all the planets, and to have no light at all but what it borrows by a reflection of the rays of the sun; appearing to us larger than the other planets, merely because it is placed nearer to us. From this appearance it is that the Holy Scriptures give it the title of a great light. In like manner, because the sun seems to us to move, and the earth to be at rest, the Scriptures represent the latter as placed on pillars, bases, and foundations, compare the former to a bridegroom issuing from his chamber, and rejoicing as a giant, to run his course, and speak of his arising and going down, and hastening to the place from whence he arose, &c., when it is certain, that if the sun were made to revolve round the earth, the general laws of nature would thereby be violated, the harmony and proportion of the heavenly bodies destroyed, and the economy of the universe thrown into confusion and disorder. The general design of God, when he inspired the sacred writers, having been to form mankind to holiness and virtue, not to make them philosophers, it no way derogates from the respect due to the Holy Spirit, or from the consideration which the writings of those holy men merit, whose pens he directed, to suppose that, in order to accommodate themselves to the capacity, the notions, and language of the vulgar, they have purposely spoken of the phenomena of nature in terms most conformable to the testimony of the senses.” Add to this, those who are best informed in, and most assured of, the system of modern astronomy, and therefore well know that the succession of day and night is not caused by any motion of the sun and moon, but by the rotation of the earth upon its own axis; yet continually speak of the rising and setting, ascending and declining of the sun and moon, according as they appear to our senses to do. Indeed, if they spoke otherwise they would not be understood by people in general.
The writer of this fragment seems to have understood the words of the ancient song literally, and believed that an astronomical miracle really took place, by which the motion of the heavenly bodies was for some hours suspended. (Compare also Ecclesiasticus 46:4.) So likewise believed the older Jewish authorities generally, the Christian fathers, and many commentators ancient and modern.
It must be allowed, indeed, that some of the objections which have been urged against this view on scientific grounds are easily answered. The interference, if such there were, with the earth's motion was not an act of blind power ab extra and nothing more. The Agent here concerned is omnipotent and omniscient, and could, of course, as well arrest the regular consequences of such a suspension of nature's ordinary working as He could suspend that working itself. It is, however, obvious, that any such stupendous phenomenon would affect the chronological calculations of all races of men over the whole earth and do so in a similarly striking and very intelligible manner. Yet no record of any such perturbation is anywhere to be found, and no marked and unquestionable reference is made to such a miracle by any of the subsequent writers in the Old or New Testament. For reasons like these, many commentators have explained the miracle as merely optical.
The various explanations show how strongly the difficulties which arise out of the passage have been felt. Accordingly, stress has been laid by recent commentators on the admitted fact that the words out of which the difficulty springs are an extract from a poetical book. They must consequently, it is argued, be taken in a popular and poetical, and not in a literal sense. Joshua feared lest the sun should set before the people had fully "avenged themselves of their enemies." In his anxiety he prayed to God, and God hearkened to him. This is boldly and strikingly expressed in the words of the ancient book, which describes Joshua as praying that the day might be prolonged, or, in poetical diction, that the sun might be stayed until the work was done. Similarly, Judges 5:20 and Psalm 18:9-15 are passages which no one construes as describing actual occurrences: they set forth only internal, although most sincere and, in a spiritual sense, real and true convictions. This explanation is now adopted by theologians whose orthodoxy upon the plenary inspiration and authority of holy Scripture is well known and undoubted.
In the sight of Israel - literally, "before the eyes of Israel," i. e. in the sight or presence of Israel, so that the people were witnesses of his words. (Compare Deuteronomy 31:7.)
Thou, moon - The words addressed to the moon as well as to the sun, indicate that both were visible as Joshua spoke. Below and before him, westward, was the valley of Ajalon; behind him, eastward, were the hills around Gibeon. Some hours had passed, since in the early dawn he had fallen upon the host of the enemy, and the expression "in the midst of heaven" Joshua 10:13 seems to import that it was now drawing toward mid-day, though the moon was still faintly visible in the west. If the time had been near sunset, Joshua would have seen the sun, not, as he did, eastward of him, but westward, sinking in the sea.
The valley of Ajalon - i. e. "the valley of the gazelles." This is the modern Merj Ibn Omeir, described by Robinson, a broad and beautiful valley running in a westerly direction from the mountains toward the great western plain. The ancient name is still preserved in Yalo, a village situated on the hill which skirts the south side of the valley.
12-15. Then spake Joshua to the Lord … and … he said in the sight of Israel, Sun, stand thou still … and thou, Moon—The inspired author here breaks off the thread of his history of this miraculous victory to introduce a quotation from an ancient poem, in which the mighty acts of that day were commemorated. The passage, which is parenthetical, contains a poetical description of the victory which was miraculously gained by the help of God, and forms an extract from "the book of Jasher," that is, "the upright"—an anthology, or collection of national songs, in honor of renowned and eminently pious heroes. The language of a poem is not to be literally interpreted; and therefore, when the sun and moon are personified, addressed as intelligent beings, and represented as standing still, the explanation is that the light of the sun and moon was supernaturally prolonged by the same laws of refraction and reflection that ordinarily cause the sun to appear above the horizon, when it is in reality below it [Keil, Bush]. Gibeon ("a hill") was now at the back of the Israelites, and the height would soon have intercepted the rays of the setting sun. The valley of Ajalon ("stags") was before them, and so near that it was sometimes called "the valley of Gibeon" (Isa 28:21). It would seem, from Jos 10:14, that the command of Joshua was in reality a prayer to God for the performance of this miracle; and that, although the prayers of eminently good men like Moses often prevailed with God, never was there on any other occasion so astonishing a display of divine power made in behalf of His people, as in answer to the prayer of Joshua. Jos 10:15 is the end of the quotation from Jasher; and it is necessary to notice this, as the fact described in it is recorded in due course, and the same words, by the sacred historian (Jos 10:43).Joshua spake to the Lord, to wit, in way of petition for this miracle; being moved to beg it out of zeal to destroy God’s enemies, and directed to it by the motion of God’s Spirit; and receiving a gracious answer, and being filled with holy confidence of the success, he speaks the following words before the people, that they might be witnesses of it.
In the sight of Israel, i.e. in the presence and audience of Israel; seeing being sometimes put for hearing, as Genesis 42:1, compared with Acts 7:12; although these words may seem rather to be joined with the following, thus,
In the sight of Israel stand still, O sun, & c., which sense the Hebrew accents favour.
Upon Gibeon, i.e. over and above or against Gibeon, i.e. in that place and posture in which now it stands towards and looks upon Gibeon. Let it not go down lower, and by degrees, out of the sight of Gibeon. It may seem that the sun was declining; and Joshua perceiving that his work was great and long, and his time but short, begs of God the lengthening out of the day, and that the sun and moon might stop their course, and keep the place in which they now were.
In the valley, or, upon the valley; as before, upon Gibeon; the preposition being the same there and here.
1. That Ajalon which was in the tribe of Zebulun, Judges 12:12 northward from Gibeon. Or rather,
2. That Ajalon which was in the tribe of Dan, Joshua 19:42 Judges 1:35, westward from Gibeon, For,
1. This was nearer Gibeon than the other.
2. This was most agreeable to the course of the sun and moon, which is from east to west.
3. This way the battle went, from Gibeon westward to Ajalon, and so further westward, even to Lachish, Joshua 10:31. And he mentions two places, Gibeon and Ajalon, not as if the sun stood over the one, and the moon over the other, which is absurd and ridiculous to affirm, especially these places being so near the one to the other; but partly to vary the phrase, as is common in poetical passages; partly because he was in his march in the pursuit of his enemies to pass from Gibeon to Ajalon; and he begs that he may have the help and benefit of longer light to pursue them, and to that end that the sun might stand still, and the moon also; not that he needed the moon’s light when he had the sun’s, but because it was fit, either that both the sun and moon should go, or that both should stand still, to prevent disorder and confusion in the heavenly bodies.
in the day when the Lord delivered up the Amorites before the children of Israel; the five kings of the Amorites, and their armies, Joshua 10:5,
and he said, in the sight of Israel; in their presence, and in the hearing of great numbers, being under a divine impulse, and having strong faith in the working of the miracle, after related, and that it would be according to his word; he was bold to say what he did, being fully persuaded he should not be disappointed, and made ashamed:
sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon, and thou, moon, in the valley of Ajalon; where they now appeared, and were seen by all Israel, the one as if over Gibeon, and the other as in the valley of which Masius thinks is the same with the valley of Gibeon, Isaiah 28:21; and so must be near Gibeon, and the sun and the moon not far from one another, as they might be if it was now new moon, as Kimchi and R. Isaiah; or on the decrease; some say seven days before her change: but Abarbinel is of opinion that it was near the full of the moon, which was just rising in the valley of Ajalon, and the sun near setting as it seemed over Gibeon, and were just opposite one to another; and Joshua fearing he should not have time to pursue his enemies, and make the victory entire, should the sun set, prays that both sun and moon might continue in the position they were; the sun that he might have the benefit of daylight, which was the chief thing desired; the moon being only mentioned, that the heavenly motions might not be confounded, and the order of the orbs disturbed; and he observes, with Jarchi and Kimchi, that Gibeon was in the tribe of Benjamin, Joshua 18:25; and Ajalon in the tribe of Dan, Joshua 19:42; and it may be observed, that there was also another in the tribe of Zebulun, Judges 12:12; but that seems to be at too great a distance; and still less probable is what some late travellers have observed (e), that the plain of Sharon near Joppa, is thought by many to be the place where Joshua defeated the five kings, when the sun stood still, &c. the opinion of Masius, first mentioned, seems most likely.Then spake Joshua to the LORD in the day when the LORD delivered up the Amorites before the children of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel, Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon; and thou, Moon, in the valley of Ajalon.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)12. Then spake Joshua to the Lord] The quotation probably commences with the 12th verse and extends to the end of the 15th. It begins as follows:—
“Then spake Joshua unto Jehovah,
In the day Jehovah delivered up the Amorites before the sons of Israel.”
Then] The crisis of the battle had now arrived. The day had far advanced since Joshua had emerged after his night-march through the passes of Ai. It was noon, and the sun stood high in the midst of heaven above the hills which hid Gibeon from his sight. “In front, over the western vale of Ajalon, was the faint figure of the crescent moon visible above the hailstorm (Jos. Ant. 5:1. 17), which was fast driving up from the sea in the valleys below.” Beneath him was the Amorite host rushing in wild confusion down the western passes. The furious storm was obscuring the light of day, and the work was but half accomplished. Was the foe to make good his escape? Was the speed, with which he had “come up quickly, and saved, and helped” the defenceless Gibeonites, to be robbed of half its reward? Oh that the sun would burst forth once more from amidst the gloom that had obscured it! Oh that the day, all too short for his great undertaking, could be prolonged “until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies”! See Stanley’s Sin. and Pal. p. 210; Edersheim’s Israel in Canaan, pp. 81, 82.
spake Joshua] Then it was, standing on the lofty eminence above Gibeon, “doubtless with outstretched hand and spear,” that Joshua burst forth into that ecstatic prayer of faith, which has been here incorporated into the text from the “Book of Jasher.”
and he said in the sight of Israel] literally, before the eyes of Israel, in the sight or presence of Israel, who were witnesses of his words,
Sun, stand thou still] Literally, as in the margin, “be silent,” comp. Leviticus 10:3, “And Aaron held his peace.” The word denotes (i) to be dumb with astonishment; (ii) to be silent; (iii) to rest, or, be quiet. Comp. 1 Samuel 14:9, “If they say thus unto us, Tarry (or be still as in marg.) until we come to you;” Job 31:34, “Did I fear a great multitude, or did the contempt of families terrify me, that I kept silence?” Keil would translate it “wait.” The Vulgate renders it, “Sol contra Gabaon ne movearis et luna contra vallem Ajalon;” Wyclif thus, “Sunne, Aзens Gabaon be thow not meued, and mone, aзens the valey of Haylon.”
Gibeon … Ajalon] These spots are named as stations of the sun and moon “because Joshua, when he engaged in the battle, was probably west of Gibeon, in a place where he saw the sun shining in the east over that city, and the moon in the far west over Ajalon.” The hour of utterance contemplated was probably still in the forenoon.
in the valley of Ajalon] i.e. “the valley of the gazelles.” It is represented by the modern Merj Ibn Omeir, “a broad and beautiful valley” running in a westerly direction from the mountains towards the great western plain. The town of Ajalon was afterwards, the conquest being concluded, in the territory of Dan (Joshua 19:42), and was assigned to the Levites (Joshua 21:24; 1 Chronicles 6:69). Here the Philistines were routed by Saul and Jonathan (1 Samuel 14:31), and the place is often mentioned in the wars with that people (1 Chronicles 8:13; 2 Chronicles 28:18).Verse 12. - Then, אָז. See Joshua 8:30. The period is here more strictly defined by the addition of the words, "on the day when the Lord delivered up the Amorites before the children of Israel." Spake Joshua to the Lord. The preposition לְ (literally, "to ") used here, has a variety of meanings in Hebrew. It is employed in such a phrase as "a Psalm of David" (literally, "to David "), but the sense requires "by." So in Psalm 3:9 (Psalms 3:8 in our version); Isaiah 22:5, etc. It has the sense "on account of" in Genesis 4:23 (where it is rendered "to" in our version); but the sense requires "in return for," "on account of." So also in Joshua 9:9, where our version renders "because of." In the latter part of this verse it signifies "before" (sec note there). In a passage so much disputed as this it is necessary to remember the indefiniteness of the original. Though the rendering, "to the Lord," is the natural and obvious one, the other meanings cannot be excluded. The more probable rendering is that in the text. Yet, as no address to God is afterwards recorded, the meaning may be "by," i.e., by the inspiration of, or "because of," i.e., on account of the great success God had vouchsafed to him, and which he earnestly desired to complete; or "before," as though Joshua spoke with a consciousness of God's immediate presence and help. For a full discussion of this remarkable passage the reader is referred to the Introduction. In the sight of Israel. לְעֵינֵי, "before the eyes of." This brings the scene vividly before our eyes: the storm rolling away over the mountains, the enemy in full retreat and wild confusion, the sun bursting forth from behind the clouds, and the leader of the Israelites, in the sight of all his troops, perhaps on the crest of the eminence on which Gibeon stands, or perhaps at Upper Beth-heron (see note on ver. 10), uttering his sublime apostrophe to the "two great lights" which God had given to mankind, not to withdraw their presence until the Lord had "avenged him of his adversaries." The battle had been short, but decisive. The Israelites had no doubt (ver. 9) fallen upon the enemy unawares at the dawn of day as they were preparing for the attack on Gibeon. A few hours had sufficed to put them to the rout, but the utmost expedition would be necessary to complete their destruction before the darkness set in. Hence the ejaculation of the Jewish commander as the difficulty of the task he had imposed upon himself, namely, of utterly annihilating that vast host before light failed, flashed upon him. Sun, stand thou still. The poetic form of this passage is clear to every one who has the smallest acquaintance with the laws of Hebrew poetry. For the Book of Jasher, from which it is apparently a quotation (see Introduction, Sec. 2). Stand thou still. This is not the literal rendering of the original. In no other passage has the verb דָמַם this sense. The sense "stand still" here would seem to be an inference from ver. 14. The literal rendering is, "be dumb." Hence in Exodus 15:16, and in Lamentations 2:10, it signifies to be dumb with amazement or terror. In 1 Samuel 14:9 it seems to mean, "stay your advance" ("tarry," Authorised Version), and the word rendered "stand still" in the last part of the verse is עמד. See also Psalm 4:5 (Itch.), where it is rendered "be still," i.e., "be silent;" and Job 30:27, and Lamentations 2:18. The word must not therefore be pressed to mean that the sun's course was completely arrested in the heavens. All that can be assumed is that it did not set until the people were avenged of their enemies. The passage is evidently part of a triumphal song, like that recorded in Judges 5, where in ver. 20 there is a very similar thought, which no one ever thinks of interpreting literally. Upon Gibeon. Beth-heron was northwest of Gibeon. The meaning of the phrase would perhaps be, "Sun, rest thou (i.e., cease not to shine) in (or upon) Gibeon." In the valley of Ajalon. The valley of the deer, according to the Hebrew. The word for valley is Emek here (LXX. φάραγξ). See note on Joshua 8:13. alert became afterwards a Levitical city (see Joshua 21:24), and was in the inheritance of Dan (Joshua 19:42). See also 1 Samuel 14:31. It has been identified with the modern Yale (so Robinson, Vandevelde, and Conder), and was therefore four hours' journey westward from Gibeon. It was possibly near the time of full moon, and Joshua called for the light of the moon to help him when the sun had set. The very fact of his having called upon the moon to come to his assistance is an argument against the literal interpretation of the passage. The moon could have been no help to him as long as the sun was in the heavens. It is thought by some that the moon must have been already in the heavens, or why should Joshua have addressed her? This may have been the case, and he might thus have adjured the moon to give him her help after the sun had gone down, by which time he would have arrived at Ajalon, a supposition which is quite consistent with probability. Joshua 10:3 were in the mountains of Judah. The Amorites who dwelt in the mountains were the strongest of all the Canaanites.
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