On the day the LORD gave the Amorites over to the Israelites, Joshua spoke to the LORD in the presence of Israel: "O sun, stand still over Gibeon, O moon, over the Valley of Aijalon."
I. GOD IS ACTIVELY CONCERNED WITH THE EVENTS OF HUMAN HISTORY. Divine powers aided Joshua in resisting the onslaught of the Canaanites. God is present, when He is not clearly so recognised, in all crises of life.
(1) His overruling power so disposes of the order of creation that even without miracle the outward world works His will.
(2) His providential control of the minds of men and the course of their lives determines ultimate events. Therefore note: God has not left the world to go its own course only to be judged and rectified at a future judgment day. lie judges now, and intervenes now, and works on the side of right, for the protection of those who submit to His rule, and to the loss of such as fight against His will (Psalm 68:1, 7, 24).
II. NATURE IS SUBSERVIENT TO THE WILL OF GOD. Miracles are not rare and occasional instances of the way in which God makes His will felt in nature. They are rather abnormal manifestations of the Divine power which is equally present in the regular course of nature. God is as much working in the natural as in the miraculous event, though the miraculous serves to impress us with the consciousness of His power. If we believe in God at all, it is unreasonable to suppose that He would create the universe in some age of dim antiquity, and then leave it to itself like a self-acting machine, which being once wound up only needs adjusting by miracle now and again to suit special emergencies. It is much more reasonable to regard the universe as an organism of which God is at once the creating, the inspiring, the energising, and the controlling spirit. Thus the sun and moon and stars and the earth always move by His power, and at every moment express His will (Psalm 104:2-4, 16, 21, etc.; Romans 1:20).
III. NATURAL EVENTS ARE LINKED WITH HUMAN DESTINIES. Like all great delusions which have exercised wide influence over men, astrology was the perversion of a deep truth. Our lives are connected with the stars. All nature is one, and we - in our earthly life - are part of nature. The processes of nature affect us; e.g., possibly sun spots acting through atmospheric phenomena have some influence over human calamities, and even over moral relations. Therefore note:
(1) God touches us through nature, and we must regard nature as an instrument in His hands for our discipline.
(2) Nature should be studied in its bearings upon human life for our practical instruction.
IV. NATURE FIGHTS AGAINST THOSE WHO RESIST THE WILL OF GOD. The Canaanites were resisting God's will concerning the settlement of the land, and thus they made themselves enemies to God's servant, nature. So the stars out of their courses fought against Sisera (Judges 5:20). It is objected that it is unworthy of the character of God to suppose that He would intervene by means of natural agencies to assist in a work of destruction. But it should be remembered that God is always employing destructive agencies in nature, as earthquakes, storms, etc., and that physical destruction is a less evil than moral corruption. - W.F.A.
I. CONSIDER THE ARGUMENTS, USUALLY ADVANCED AGAINST THE POSSIBILITY OF THE SUN AND MOON STANDING STILL IN THE HEAVENS. Not merely is it objected that such an occurrence would be an unwarrantable interference with the laws of nature; but the historian's veracity has also been called in question. It is argued that in recording the circumstance he does not express himself scientifically; but that, on the contrary, he evinces ignorance of the true principles of astronomy: that therefore he should not be regarded as an inspired writer, this circumstance being sufficient in itself to shake credit in his testimony. To this objection we reply — Joshua did not mean to furnish us with a treatise on astronomy. He expressed himself according to the opinion formed on scientific topics during the times in which he lived. Do not we, ourselves, who know that it is the earth which moves, and not the sun, commonly speak of his rising and setting; while perfectly aware that in reality he neither rises nor sets. Certainly the lengthening out of the day (on the occasion of Joshua defeating the five kings) must have been caused by the earth not revolving so rapidly on its axis as it usually does. It is well known that in the equatorial regions the earth moves from west to east at the rate of one thousand miles in the hour; and that the rapidity of motion gradually diminishes as we go from the equator to the poles; so that, at the poles, there is no motion whatever. Supposing that, instead of moving at its usual speed, our earth were to revolve, on its axis, only five hundred miles in the hour: the result would be that the day would be protracted to double the ordinary length, because the apparent passage of the sun first, and of the moon next, over the concave surface would be proportionally retarded. But it is further objected that such an interference with the course of nature would have occasioned irreparable mischief. What! Is anything too hard for God? Cannot He, who called nature into existence, suspend its laws and operations when He pleases? Is any man so well acquainted with the complex machinery of nature as to be prepared to say that the conception and development of animal life are possible things; but that the slackening of the earth's rotary motion is an impossibility? And now, before dismissing this head of our subject, we shall adduce from pagan mythology a proof that the miracle referred to in our text did really occur. The superstitious Greeks, in olden times, worshipped the sun, under the name of Apollo, who (according to them) had a son who was called Phaeton. Apollo was supposed to drive the chariot of the sun daily through the skies. Phaeton requested his father to permit him to drive the chariot for a single day. Apollo granted the request. Phaeton proved an unskilful charioteer, in being unable to curb the horses, which therefore went out of the proper track. Jupiter (whom the ancient pagans regarded as the supreme god) irritated at Phaeton's rashness, and fearing that a conflagration of heaven and earth might ensue, struck the youth with the thunderbolt and hurled him into the river Po in Italy. This heathen anecdote cannot be altogether an invention. There lies a truth at the bottom of it. Some irregularity in the sun's apparent diurnal course must have occurred at an early period of history; otherwise ancient heathens would have no foundation whereon to build their superstitious legend. And let us observe that where heathen testimony can be brought to corroborate revelation the testimony is invaluable; because it is the testimony of enemies.
The sun stood still, and the moon stayed.
(W. G. Blaikie, D. D.)
II. We proceed to show that THERE EXISTED AN ABSOLUTE NECESSITY FOR THE MIRACLE IN QUESTION BEING PERFORMED. Yes; there is an intimate connection between this miracle and the redemption which is in Jesus Christ. If sun and moon had not stood still at Joshua's command there would (on human calculation) have been no chance of salvation for a single member of our fallen race. If Israel had not had sufficient light to guide them in pursuing their Canaanite enemies these enemies would have escaped during the darkness of the night. Had they escaped the five kings might have rallied; and, instead of Israel exterminating them, they might have exterminated Israel. Thus the advent of the promised Redeemer would have been prevented: for God had decreed that of Jacob's seed (in the line of Judah) Messiah should descend. No doubt the Divine plans have long been settled in the councils of eternity; and the Most High will take good care that Satan shall not defeat them. But then God employs second means to work His ends. He ordains every single step and event which will be conducive thereto in order that a single link may not be broken in the chain of His providential dealing.
III. The conflict which Israel, under Joshua, had to maintain with the wicked nations of Canaan prefigured that deadlier conflict which we ourselves, under a greater than Joshua, have to keep up with the world, THE DEVIL, AND THE FLESH. TO enable us to make head against these spiritual foes, who have in view nothing less than our destruction, God in mercy lengthens out the day. There is a spiritual sun, and there is a spiritual moon: even as there exist a literal sun and moon. God has set these moral luminaries in the spiritual firmament, to give such persons as have hitherto turned a deaf ear to the gospel space to believe it and be saved, ere it be too late; and also to afford light to those who already believe that they may continue firm to the end.
(John Caldwell, B. A.)
I. YES, THE BIBLE IS INTENSELY SERIOUS. This is not quoted as an ornament; it is for use. And if you ask, What is the value of it? I reply it is immensely valuable. Apart from this poetical quotation the whole chapter is comparatively worthless. Why? Because a body without a soul is worthless. The Bible is valuable to us in so far as it touches my life and yours. To tell me that Joshua routed those people does not help me very much. That is the body of it. I want to get at the soul of it. I want to understand Joshua himself, to modernise him, to make him a brother and to get some good out of him. Well, this bit of poetry helps me: this is the key to it. If I read this i see how the thing is done, and I see how I can do the same thing, in a measure, when I am called upon to do it. This piece of poetry is a window through which we can look into Joshua's heart. The great battle of Bethhoron was a battle that threatened to be a drawn battle. There stands the man on the ridge. The men have been running away faster than he has been able to pursue them, and at this moment it seemed as if nature were conspiring against him; as if he were not to have the usual hours of the day. A black, mysterious cloud was coming to help the people who were running away from him. Don't you understand the agony that would come into a man's soul at that moment? — the impassioned prayer that would go up to God from his heart — not to stretch the laws of nature till they crack — but to give him the usual day, to keep the sun from going down at noon. No child was Joshua, crying for the moon. No man with such sick fancies could have done the work he did. What this man prayed for was a fair day's light to do a fair day's work in the strength of and for the glory of God. And do not you know something of the fear that came over him? If you are trying to do any work you too will come to this point. It will seem to you as if God were going to make your day too short. You will see the night falling all too soon. The night cometh, and you will say, "Oh, for more light. Life is not long enough; I am being taken away in the very middle of my days." And you will then know what it is to cry, "Sun, stand thou in the heaven; and thou, moon, in the valley of Ajalon."
II. "AND THE SUN STOOD STILL, AND THE MOON STAYED, UNTIL THE NATION HAD AVENGED THEMSELVES." That is the key — "until the nation had avenged themselves." What was coming up from the Mediterranean was not some awful preternatural piece of night, as Joshua feared. It was only a shower: a hailstorm. It was not going to help his enemies, but to slay them. The sun was not hasting from the heavens; the heavenly orbs would do their work as usual. The sun and moon were to be depended on; but if Joshua really wanted to have a longer day than usual, that did not depend on the sun and moon, he had to make it himself. How? Just as he lengthened the preceding night. From Gilgal to Gibeon, how long? Three days' journey. What did Joshua do? Why, he took the twelve hours and stretched them till they became thirty-six. He did three days' march in one night. So if Joshua wants a longer day on Bethhoron, it is not the sun that can make it for him, nor the moon either. He must go back on his recipe of the night before, and take the twelve hours of the day and stretch them. It is for Joshua himself to make the day longer, for it is not up in the skies that days are lengthened, but here on earth. The secret of a long day lies with Joshua, and not with the sun. No, the sun will not wait for you; but you can quicken your pace, and so lengthen your days. The longest day in your life is the day in which you work hardest, think the closest, live noblest.
III. Is that all? No. WAS NOTHING DONE BY GOD? YES, EVERYTHING, "And there was no day like that," says the old poet, "before it, or after, that the Lord hearkened unto the voice of a man." By stopping the sun? No; "The Lord fought for Israel." That cloud coming up from the Mediterranean, that Joshua mistook for the night, was one of his own soldiers marching to meet him; it was one of his own allies. Nature herself was in league with him. It was the hailstorm, one of God's reinforcements coming to do the work of God. It is one of the deepest truths of experience that "all things work together for good to them that love God." The hailstorms are still in league with the Joshuas. Are you false and mean in your aims? Are your ways corrupt on the earth? Then I tell you, whoever you are, you may succeed for a while, or you may seem to succeed, as the tares that ripen in the autumn sun that the fire may burn them all the easier by and by. You may seem to succeed for a while, but the very framework of the universe must be shattered; God's throne must crumble in decay; heaven itself must be carried at the assault of hell's dark troops before you can ultimately and really succeed. You too will be caught some day between Joshua and the hailstorm of the Lord. But are you seeking to be true, trying to be right, yet often finding things arrayed against you? Then, in God's name, go on. You misread the signals. The blackness that threatens you is only an ally in disguise. You are bound to succeed in the battle of the Lord. The nature of things is in league with righteousness.
IV. "AND JOSHUA RETURNED INTO THE CAMP AT GILGAL." Did he know what he had done? No. He knew he had done something; that it had been a great day, but he had no idea how great it was. It was one of the thousand-year days of God. It is still with us. That sun that Joshua cried to is still shining, and the moon has never left the vale of Ajalon. Serve the Lord with all your might, and you will do a work greater than you imagine, or dream, or desire. Our time-tables are altogether wrong — sixty seconds to the minute, sixty minutes to the hour; that will do very well for the rough and tumble work in the city, but apply a time-table like that to Gethsemane. Read the Gospels, watch in hand, beneath the shadow of the Cross — "From the sixth to the ninth hour Jesus hung on the Cross, dying." Sixty minutes to the hour, sixty seconds to the minute! It will not do. These are eternal things, and they upset all our calculations. We do not know what we do when we serve God. Life is greater, grander than we dream. Do not think life is small. We sow time, and, lo, we reap eternity. We may so live as to leave behind us a light shining till the world itself shall end. "Returned to the camp." Ah, men and women, the pathos of that old phrase! You and I will return to the camp very soon. The day over. Well, you may arrest the sun before night; but the sun, once it has dipped beneath the western wave, cannot be brought back. Yesterday! Where is it? It is beyond, in the great eternity. Can you run after the lightning and catch it and bring it back? Sooner shall you do that than at the end of the day recover the sun that has set. We shall be returning to camp soon. What histories are we bringing back — you and I? The number of our days is with God; but the length, fulness, quality, and eternalness arc with us.
(J. M. Gibbon.)
2. Again, we learn by what unlikely means the Almighty brings about the deliverance of His people and the discomfiture of His enemies. To promote this great end, all hearts are in His hand, all events are at His disposal; yea, He directs and controls the elements themselves, so as to extort from the sons of men the confession, "This is God's doing; it is marvellous in our eyes." What befell the Spanish Armada, fitted out for the invasion and conquest of Great Britain? "The Lord sent a great wind into the sea," to destroy the remnant of those ships which had hitherto escaped defeat; so that the final discomfiture of the fleet was as much owing to the tempestuous violence of the ocean as to the desperate valour of the English. However inextricable your difficulties, however insuperable your dangers may appear, the time for surmounting or escaping them may be at hand: your last extremity is God's gracious opportunity: the valley of Achor He is changing into the door of hope, and making the vast magazine of ordinary and extraordinary dispensations instrumental to your eventual happiness and eternal glory. But tremble, ye wicked, though peace and prosperity at present attend your path. The resources in the hand of a retributive Providence are leagued against you, which, if delayed now, will fall on your devoted heads with tripled weight hereafter.
3. But I may instance some still clearer points of resemblance between this special interference of the Almighty in the case of Joshua and His providential arrangements at the present day. Every year presents to us an appearance in the heavens as deserving our surprise and admiration as that which attracted the notice of the camp of Israel. From the depth of winter to the height of summer the sun gradually travels over a wider space in its daily course. Morning after morning it rises earlier; evening after evening later sets. At length it escapes nut sight for a few hours only; and during that short interval the twilight in great degree compensates for its absence. Lest, moreover, during winter nearly utter darkness should veil the skies, on account of the sun's few and contracted visits, the stars on frosty nights shine with a brilliancy unknown in summer, while the unclouded moon supplies its place, a welcome substitute, guided by whose friendly rays at any time the wanderer may confidently rely on reaching his place of destination. I scarcely need remind you what assistance this lesser light lends the labourer in late harvests by rising about the full at the same hour for some evenings in succession; or how, when the sun does not rise above their horizon for months together, and they would otherwise be enveloped in continual darkness, Divine Providence lights up for the inhabitants of the polar regions the brilliant aurora borealis, or northern lights, to illumine and cheer their "noonday nights." Is not as effectual a provision made for light by these contrivances as though the sun and moon in set terms stood still, and hasted not to go clown about a whole day? Are they not as hard to be accounted for?
4. By comparing this miracle wrought by the hand of Joshua with those performed by Jesus Christ, we may learn to ascribe all proper honour to His person, all due reverence to the religion He came hither to establish.
(H. A. Herbert, B. A.)— A new suggestion in regard to the standing still of the sun and the moon at the apostrophe of Joshua is given by the Rev. J. Sutherland Black in his edition of "Joshua," issued as one part of the Smaller Cambridge Bible series. His new postulate is to the effect that no physical miracle occurred, or was desired; he thinks the cosmical features of the event do not touch upon the supernatural at all. His explanation runs thus: "To understand the quotation from the Book of Jasher, we must figure to ourselves the speaker at two successive periods of the summer day — first on the plateau to the north of the hill of Gibeon, with Gibeon lying under the sun to the south-east or south, at the moment when the resistance of the enemy has at last broken down, and again, hours later, when the sun has set, and the moon is sinking westward over the valley of Ajalon, threatening by its disappearance to put an end to the victorious pursuit. The appeal to the moon is, of course, for light — i.e., after sunset. The moon appears over Ajalon; that is somewhat south of west, as seen by one approaching from Beth-horon. There was, therefore, evening moonlight. Joshua prayed first that the sunlight, and then that the moonlight following it, might suffice for the complete defeat of the enemy."
(T. De Witt Talmage.)
NoI. THERE HAD BEEN NONE LIKE IT IN THE NUMBER AND STRENGTH OF THE CONFEDERACY WHICH WAS GATHERED AGAINST ISRAEL. The highlanders, and lowlanders, and the maritime tribes combined their forces to oppose and crush the invaders, who now, by the defection of Gibeon, possessed a pathway into the heart of the country. Israel had previously dealt with separate cities, Jericho, At, Gibeon; but now six of the seven nations of Canaan joined together at the summons of the king of Jerusalem, who was allied with the kings of Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish, and Eglon.
II. THERE WAS NONE LIKE IT IN JOSHUA'S LIFE FOR HEROIC FAITH.
1. It was a day of vigour. As soon as he received the message he saw the importance of at once vindicating the trust reposed in him. Inertness and indolence ill become those who are entrusted with great concerns. The stirring of God's Spirit in man makes the pulse throb quickly, purposes form themselves in the will; and all the nature is braced, and knit, to subserve the heroic soul.
2. It was a day of fellowship. Soon after the first message had come, with surely a certain amount of startling surprise, God had spoken to him and said, "Fear them not," &c. And so we may expect it to be always. Sometimes the assurance comes first to prepare us for what is at hand. But if not then it will reach us simultaneously with the alarm, reassuring us, and giving us quiet confidence in the midst of evil tidings, as the bird rocks in its nest over the rush of the waterfall, serene, though the branch beneath it sways in the storm. There are high days in human lives when thought and purpose, which had been quietly gathering strength, like waters swelling against a barrier, suddenly leap from their leash, and vent themselves in acts, or words, or prayers, such as stand out from the ordinary routine of existence, like the cathedral of Cologne from the mean houses that gather around its base. We are not, then, drunk with wine, but we are flushed, as to our spirits, with the exhilaration and sense of power which the Spirit of God alone can give, or, to put it in another form, we catch fire. There is too little experience of this capacity of rising into the loftiest experience of that Spirit life which is within the reach of us all, through living fellowship with God; but whenever we realise and use it, it is as when the feeble, smouldering wick is plunged into oxygen gas, or as when a flower, that had struggled against the frost, is placed in the tropical atmosphere of the hot-house. In such hours we realise what Jesus meant when He said, "Whosoever shall say unto this mountain," &c.
3. It was a day of triumphant onlook. The kings were summoned from their hiding-place, and as they crouched abjectly at the feet of their conquerors, Joshua called for all the men of Israel, and said unto the chiefs of the men of war, "Come near, put your feet upon the necks of these kings." And whilst they stood in that attitude of unquestioned victory, there broke on the exalted spirit-kindled imagination of the warrior-chieftain the sure prevision of the ultimate issue of the conflict in which they were engaged. He already saw the day when every knee should bow before Jehovah's might, when every king should be prostrate before Israel's arm, and when the whole land should be subdued.
III. THERE HAD BEEN NONE LIKE IT IN THE EXTRAORDINARY CO-OPERATION OF JEHOVAH. The Israelites were the executioners of Divine justice, commissioned to give effect to the sentence which the foul impurities of Canaan called for. There is a judgment-seat for nations as well as for individuals. Within the limits of the ages as they pass, and on the surface of this earth, that throne is erected and that judgment is proceeding. We get some glimpse of this in the hand that wrote the doom of Belshazzar's kingdom on the walls of the palace which beheld a scene of wanton revelry lit by the light of the temple's sacred lamps. And the almighty Judge sees to it that His sentences are carried out. He has many agents — the Persian legions to execute his sentence on Babylon, the Vandals on Rome, the Russian Cossacks on Napoleon, as the Israelites on the Amorites, whose iniquity was now full, and threatened to infect the world.
IV. SUCH DAYS COME STILL TO MEN. There are days in our lives so extraordinary for the combination of difficult circumstances, human opposition, and Satanic combination, that they stand out in unique terror from the rest of our lives. Looking back on them, we may almost adopt the language of the sacred historian, "there was no day like that before it or after it." But these days do not come if we are living in friendship with God, intent on doing His will, without there coming also His sweet "Fear them not, for I have delivered them into thine hands." Our only anxiety should be that nothing should divert us from His path, or intercept the communication of His grace. Like a wise commander we must keep open the passage back to our base of operations, which is God. Careful about that, we need have no anxious care beside. The greatness of our difficulties is permitted to elicit the greatness of His grace. He covers our heads in the day of battle. He is our shield and exceeding great reward. Though an host should encamp against us, we will not fear; though war should rise against us, in this we will be confident. Moreover, these days may always be full of the realised presence of God. All through the conflict Joshua's heart was in perpetual fellowship with the mighty Captain of the Lord's host, who rode beside him all the day. The blessed colloquy between the two was unbroken, as between a Wellington and a Blucher, a Napoleon and a Marshal Ney. So amid all our conflicts, our hearts and minds should thither ascend and there dwell where Christ is seated, drawing from Him grace upon grace, as we need, like the diver on the ocean floor who inhales the fresh breeze of the upper air. At these times it is very necessary not merely to ask God to help us, because the word "help" may mean that there is a great deal of reliance on self, and whatever there is of ourselves is almost certain to give way in the strain of battle. Achilles was mortally wounded in the heel, the one place which did not share in the plunge given him by his goddess mother into the immortal stream. The Divine part of our deliverance will be nullified by the alloy of our own energy, strength, or resolution. Let us substitute for the word "help" the word "keep." Let us put the whole matter into the hands of God, asking Him to go before us, to fight for us, to deliver us, as He did for His people on this eventful day. "The Lord discomfited them before Israel."
(F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
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