Would you please explain “Joshua’s long day?”


In Joshua 10:11-14, we are introduced to one of the greatest miracles recorded in Scripture. We read:

“And it happened, as they [Israel’s enemies] fled before Israel and were on the descent of Breth Horon, that the LORD cast down large hailstones from heaven on them as far as Azekan, and they died. There were more who died from the hailstones than the children of Israel killed with the sword. Then Joshua spoke 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 still over Gibeon; And Moon, in the Valley of Aijalon.’ So the sun stood still, And the moon stopped, till the people had revenge Upon their enemies. Is this not written in the Book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and did not hasten to go down for about a whole day. And there has been no day like that, before it or after it, that the LORD heeded the voice of a man; for the LORD fought for Israel.”

How are we to understand this account? In former days, people argued against Galileo’s claim that the earth rotates around the sun, by using this passage in Joshua 10 to “prove” that the sun rotates around the earth. However, this passage is written from a human perception and perspective. For us, it appears that the sun moves, whereas in reality, it is the earth that moves. Still today, we speak of sunrise or sunset, even though technically, the sun never rises or sets (compare Judges 5:31; Psalm 50:1). For instance, we say that the Sabbath lasts from Friday evening, at sunset, to Saturday evening, at sunset, and we all know perfectly well what we mean by this. We find a similar biblical description of human perception in respect to the re-recreation account in Genesis 1, after the earth had become void and empty through a worldwide cataclysm. Quoting from our booklet, “The Theory of Evolution–A Fairy Tale for Adults?”:

“… how can it be that God made the sun on the fourth day, after He had already made light on the first day? The answer is that the Hebrew word translated ‘made’ in verse 16 can also be translated ‘had made’ or ‘will have made.’ One must always consider the context. Remember in Genesis 1:1, ‘In the beginning, God made the heavens and the earth.’ God did indeed make the sun, moon and stars in the beginning, though we are not told the time frame of the original creation of these elements. Therefore, verse 16 must be correctly translated that God HAD already made the sun, moon and stars. Then on the fourth day God eliminated all the smoke and dust so that the sun, moon and stars could be viewed again in full clarity and strength.

“Reading verses 14 and 15 again, ‘Then God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night…and let them be for lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth.’ In other words, let them become fully visible. Until then they divided nothing, as there was still a lot of smoke and ashes. Commentator R.K. Harrison, in his ‘Introduction to the Old Testament,’ points out that Genesis 1 is written as if the writer was on the earth at the time he wrote, and describes the phases of re-creation in the way he would have seen them. From that standpoint, the writer would have seen the sun, moon and stars on the fourth day when God removed the darkness caused by the fallout…”

But even though, are we to believe that the long day of Joshua really occurred? The Bible teaches this very clearly as a fact. For instance, in Habakkuk 3:11, the account of Joshua’s long day is reiterated as being factual, stating: “The sun and moon stood still in their habitation.” Of course, since the moon rotates around the earth, it can very well stand still. As to the sun, it would appear that way to man on earth (compare Psalm 19:4-6).

Some have rejected the account of Joshua’s long day, labeling it a scientific impossibility, while others claim that suddenly stopping the earth’s rotation would have caused great tidal waves in the seas, or some other great natural disasters. But the fact that the warfare between Israel and their enemies continued during the long day seems to refute the concept of a great worldwide natural disaster. Does this mean, then, that the long day of Joshua did not occur?

There exists a claim about NASA computers having confirmed the biblical account of the long day of Joshua. As one of many Internet accounts describes it: “The most common version of the story is that some years ago, NASA scientists were doing some advanced computer computations to determine the positions of the sun, planets, and stars. In the course of completing these calculations, the computers ground to a halt. As scientists investigated the problem, they found that the computers had discovered a day was missing. The team was totally frustrated and unable to solve the problem. Then a member of the team, who was a Christian, recalled that the Bible tells of a missing day… Then… the NASA team was able to account for 23 hours and 20 minutes of the missing time. But what about the remaining 40 minutes? Well, it was further pointed out that 2 Kings [20:9-11] states [that the shadow went ten degrees backward]. This 10-degree movement would precisely account for that missing 40 minutes!”

However, many claim that this whole story is a hoax, and as we will see, it would not even confirm the biblical account. First, we are told that “this type of tale dates back to the late 1800s” and that “in order to detect any ‘missing time,’ we would need an accurate earth-based clock with which to compare our astronomical observations. Otherwise, how could you know anything was missing at all? However, accurate earth-based clocks do not go back to the time of Joshua. Nor do we have precisely-timed astronomical observations from that time…”

In addition, the biblical account speaks of a long day, not a missing day, which is a big difference and has consequences for our understanding of the calendar. Further, NASA has reportedly denied the entire story and has said that there is no existing documentation pursuant to such discovery. Also, the modern originator of the story, Mr. Harold Hill, President of the Curtis Engine Co. in Baltimore, Maryland, has been repeatedly asked to produce written evidence of his claims, which he stated he had at one time, but subsequently lost.

As no collaborating evidence exists; NASA apparently denies the entire story; the belief in a missing day (as opposed to the biblical long day) existed long before the alleged scientific findings; and the probability of reconstructing scientifically the existence of a missing day is rather remote; we would need to conclude that the entire story is not believable.

On the other hand, non-biblical records seem to collaborate the biblical account of Joshua’s long day. According to some researchers, Chinese history speaks of Yao, their king, declaring that in his reign the sun stood so long above the horizon that it was feared the world would have been set on fire, and it is claimed that the reign of Yao corresponds with the age of Joshua. Other researchers claim that the Incas of Peru and the Aztecs of Mexico have a similar record, and that there is a Babylonian and a Persian legend of a day that was miraculously extended. Allegedly, Herodotus recounts that the priests of Egypt showed him their temple records, and that there he read a strange account of a day that was twice the natural length. We are also told that there is a Greek myth of Apollo’s son, Phaethon, who disrupted the sun’s course for a day.

Cultures on the opposite side of the world have legends of a long night. The New Zealand Maori people have a myth about how their hero Maui slowed the sun before it rose. Further, a record purportedly exists in the Mexican Annals of Cuauhtitlan–the history of the empire of Culhuacan and Mexico, written in Nahua-Indian in the sixteenth century–stating that during a cosmic catastrophe that occurred in the remote past, the night did not end for a long time.

In any event, scientific skepticism in no way disputes the accuracy of the biblical account that at the time of Joshua, there was a long day.

The Ryrie Study Bible discusses the different views that have been advanced regarding the phenomenon, including the argument that the daylight was prolonged “by some sort of unusual refraction of the sun’s rays. Thus, there were more daylight hours but no more hours of the day. Another view supposes a prolonging of semi-darkness… indicating that the sun was clouded by [a] storm and no extra hours were added.” The idea is that the sun stopped shining, not that it stopped moving (see the Nelson Study Bible). Both views must be rejected as clearly contradicting the biblical account (Note especially Joshua 10:13, which is again written from a human perspective: “… So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and did not hasten to go down for about a whole day.”).

The preferred view is that “the normal rotation of the earth” was suspended “so that there were extra hours that day… The Hebrew word for “stood still’ (v. 13) is a verb of motion, indicating a slowing or stopping of the rotation of the earth.” The commentary goes on to suggest that the slowing or stopping of the rotation refers to the rotation of the earth “on its axis (which would not affect the earth’s movement around the sun).” But there is no reason to assume that the rotation of the earth around the sun was not also stopped or slowed down. The Life Application Bible writes:

“.. we are not confused when someone tells us the sun rises or sets. The point is that the day was prolonged… A slowing of the earth’s normal rotation gave Joshua more time, as the original Hebrew language seems to indicate.”

In “The Bible Story” which was written and illustrated by Basil Wolverton and published under the auspices of the Worldwide Church of God, the following is written in volume IV, page 66, copyright 1964:

“… two or three hours after Joshua’s unusual request to God the Israelites began to be aware that the sun was still in a morning position! As the afternoon wore on while Israel kept up the bloody pursuit, it was noted with increasing awe that the sun still had not moved. In fact, it stayed in the midst of the sky for so long that daylight was extended by about twelve hours! (Verse 13). Did God actually stop the Earth from rotating for twelve hours? We are not told. With God all things are possible. If this planet suddenly ceased turning, God must have performed a whole series of tremendous miracles to keep everything in place on the surface of the Earth (which is turning at a speed of [approximately] one thousand miles an hour at the equator) from being destroyed. There was never another day like this one.”

As mentioned above, it appears that there were no great natural disasters, apart from large hailstones being cast down from heaven to destroy Israel’s enemies. These hailstones could refer to an encounter with meteorites, as we suggest on page 31 of our free booklet on “The Theory of Evolution–A Fairy Tale for Adults?,” but this cannot really explain sufficiently why the earth stopped rotating. Still, if God can stop or slow down the rotation of the earth around the sun or on its axis, or however else He worked it out that the day was prolonged, then He can most certainly prevent that natural catastrophes would occur as a consequence.

Others have wondered whether Joshua’s long day would have changed the calendar and transferred Saturday to Sunday. But the days are determined by God from sunset to sunset. Although that particular day lasted a longer time period than usual, until the sun set, it was still the same day. This shows that the Bible does not speak of a “missing” day–just of an unusually long day.

In the above-mentioned work, “The Bible Story,” we continue to read:

“Many religious leaders have argued that time was lost back at the battle near Gibeon, and that as a result the Sabbath was moved from Saturday to Sunday. Not so. That day did not become another day. It was merely an extra-long day of 36 hours.”

We don’t know exactly how God performed this miracle, but we do know that He did. We don’t dare questioning the inspired Word of God, only because we may not have all the “scientific answers” as to how such a miracle might have been performed. Let us remember the words of Jesus Christ to the unbelieving Thomas: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:7 that we “walk by faith, not by sight,” adding in 1 Corinthians 1:21 that the wise of the world through their scientific wisdom do not know or believe God, as the truth sounds foolish to them.  Finally, in Hebrews 11:3, Paul confounds or puts to shame all the astronomers and evolutionists who try to explain and theorize how the universe might have come into existence, when he writes: “By faith we understand that the worlds [the universe] were framed by the Word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.”

The long day of Joshua occurred, as even non-biblical records seem to support. It manifests the unlimited power of God (Luke 1:37; 18:27). If we believe that nothing is impossible for Him, then we understand that the miracle at Gibeon really happened, and we also know that with God’s help, nothing will be impossible for us (Matthew 17:20).

Lead Writer: Norbert Link

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