Christian Churches of God
The Sun Stood Still
(Edition 3.0 20060319-20061212-20080227)
So the sun stood still and the moon stopped while Israel avenged itself on its enemies. This paper has been adapted from Chapters 55 and 56 of The Bible Story Volumes II and III by Basil Wolverton, published by Ambassador College Press.
The Sun Stood Still
We continue here from the paper Walls of Jericho Fall (No. CB52).
A plot against the Hivites
News of the fall of Jericho and Ai brought fear to Adoni-zedek, the ruler of Jerusalem, especially when he learned of the pact between Israel and the four Hivite cities just a few miles from Jerusalem, because Gibeon was one of the stronger cities of the area – even stronger than Ai (Jos. 10:1-2). Adoni-zedek realised that other cities of Canaan must immediately band together to stand against the Israelites, or be defeated.
The proud king of Jerusalem sent messengers to the rulers of four neighbouring Amorite cities. These were Hebron (where the Israelite scouts went on their return trip through Canaan about forty years before), Jarmuth, Lachish and Eglon, and were located in an area only a few miles southwest of Jerusalem. Adoni-zedek suggested they all join forces and invade the Hivite cities to punish them for making peace with the Israelites (vv. 3-4).
When the kings of these cities received Adoni-zedek's plea for their armies to join his in an attack on Gibeon, they agreed at once to send all their soldiers. Their forces were united on the way to Jerusalem, where Adoni-zedek's troops were added. Together these thousands of well-trained warriors marched onward and took up positions against Gibeon and attacked it because the Hivites were now their enemies along with Israel.
The Gibeonites then sent swift messengers to Gilgal to ask for help from Israel.
"Help us because all the Amorite kings from the hill country have joined forces against us. As your servants, we beg you to send up your great army to save us!" (vv. 5-6).
Joshua may have wondered if the presence of so many fighting men could mean that Israel might run into deep trouble as punishment for not consulting God in the matter of making an agreement with the Gibeonites, or if God had forgiven him and the elders when they repented.
Not wishing another unpleasant situation, Joshua no doubt prayed to God to give him a clear picture of what should be done.
"Don't be afraid," came the answer. "Not one man of those many thousands will come out alive after I punish them!" (v. 8). Now Joshua knew God had forgiven him and the elders.
Thus encouraged, he was convinced that he should go at once to the aid of the Gibeonites. He gave orders to his officers to assemble the army of Israel for immediate action. After an all-night march Joshua took them by surprise (vv. 7, 9).
The Lord threw them into confusion and Israel defeated them in a great victory at Gibeon. The attackers were so surprised by this sudden onslaught by the Israelites that they turned and fled in the opposite direction. The Israelites chased after them. As they were fleeing from Israel the Lord threw down large hailstones on them from the sky. More of them died from the hailstones than by the swords of the Israelites (vv. 10-11).
By the time the enemy had been pursued even part of that distance, however, the morning was half spent. Joshua became concerned about being successful in destroying all the enemy troops before dark, after which any who were left would surely succeed in escaping.
On the day the Lord gave the Amorites over to Israel, Joshua said to the Lord in the presence of all the people, “Sun stand still over Gibeon, Moon over the Valley of Aijalon”. So the sun stood still and the moon stayed until Israel had avenged itself on its enemies (vv. 12-13).
The sun stopped in the middle of the day and delayed going down about a full day. Did God actually stop the Earth from rotating for twelve hours? We are not told. However, with God all things are possible. If this planet in a few minutes ceased turning, God must have performed a miracle. Remember, the Earth's surface is turning at a speed of one thousand miles an hour at the equator and more slowly as one approaches the poles. There was never another day like this one. 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.
The lengthened day was a reason for wonder and fear among both Israelites and Canaanites. Here we see God honoured an outstanding prayer in an outstanding way because He was fighting Israel's battle (v. 14).
Joshua then returned with all Israel to the camp at Gilgal (v. 15).
However, the five Amorite kings had fled and hid in the cave at Makkedah. When Joshua was informed he told his men to roll large rocks up to the mouth of the cave and leave some men there to guard it. What the enemy didn't realise was that God had no intention of allowing them to escape.
Meanwhile, at Joshua's command, the Israelites moved southward to seek out and slay the few enemy troops not killed by the storm of gigantic hailstones. They pursued them as far south as the city of Makkedah, where they temporarily camped (vv. 16-21).
Then Joshua sent men to the cave where the five kings were trapped. The men removed the stones piled there, seized the prisoners and took them to a spot part way between the cave and the city of Makkedah. There were a number of trees there, and five of them were chosen for a grisly purpose. The five kings were killed and their bodies hanged on the trees till sundown. Then they were cut down and taken back into the cave where they had tried to conceal themselves. For the second time great stones were piled against the mouth of the cave, this time to form an awful burial crypt for the five men who had tried to lead their armies against Israel (vv. 22-27).
While the five kings were still hanging on the five trees, Joshua and his troops rushed into Makkedah and slew all the people and disposed of the king of that city in the same manner accorded to the ruler of Jericho (v. 28; 6:21).
More cities conquered
In the days that followed, Joshua and his troops stormed over the southern region of Canaan to attack and overthrow a number of cities. The idol-worshipping inhabitants were slain and the leaders killed and hanged – all according to God's instructions. God wanted idolatry and child-sacrifice completely eliminated throughout Israel's land. Included in these cities was Hebron, the place Israelite scouts had passed through four decades previously.
The campaign that had started out as a move to defend the Gibeonites turned into a tremendous victory for Israel. Successful because of God's help, the soldiers returned to Gilgal with a great wealth of the spoils of war – household goods, tools, implements, livestock and farm produce (Jos. 10:29-43; 11:14).
The defeat of the armies of these cities didn't mean that all of the southern part of Canaan was conquered. There were still more cities and tribes to take over in that region. Even after many more military operations by Israel's army during the next year or two there were still a few fortresses and armed areas to overcome.
Promised Land occupied
At that time Joshua turned back and captured Hazor and put its king to the sword; and everyone there was also put to the sword. They totally destroyed anything that breathed.
According to directions from Joshua, the Israelite soldiers set fire to Hazor. It wasn't God's will that this capital city of idol-worshippers, long the home of pagan rulers, should continue to exist as a temptation in the land where God's chosen people were to dwell (Jos. 11:1-11). God knew idolaters would soon corrupt the morals of the Israelites (Num. 25:1-3; 31:14-16).
From Hazor, Joshua's forces swept to the west, north and south to conquer the cities of the kings who had joined Jabin against Israel. They slew these kings and all their subjects and took for booty everything they could use except those things used in the worship of heathen gods (Jos. 11:12-14).
Although Canaan wasn't a vast land, it took much time to conquer enough of it so that the twelve tribes of Israel could move into the respective areas they were to take over. The army moved slowly because it was on foot. Careful planning often took days and weeks. Scouts were sent out to bring back information. They often didn't return for weeks. It was a long, drawn-out task to take over Canaan (vv. 15-23). So Joshua took the entire land, just as the Lord had commanded Moses and Moses had in turn directed Joshua. He gave it as an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal divisions.
After six years had passed, Israel had taken over the small kingdoms and cities of about thirty-three enemy rulers (Jos. chapter 12). Then the land had rest from war.
When Joshua was old the Lord told him that there were still more places to be conquered, and made it known to Joshua just where those areas and cities were located (Jos. 13:1-6). For one example, there was the land of the Philistines, which was on the coast of the Great Sea, and southwest of Canaan. When Israel had set out from Egypt, God had purposely caused His people to give this region a wide berth because the people were warlike, and the Israelites at that time, being newly freed from slavery, were not trained or prepared to resist a large army by physical means (Ex. 13:17-18).
By the time most of Canaan had been conquered, God told Joshua that the time had come to partition the land to the various tribes, even though there were still many people to drive out of Canaan (Jos. 13:7).
A meeting was held in which Joshua, Eleazar the priest, and the heads of the tribes of Israel gathered to learn by lot which areas of Canaan should be occupied by the various tribes. Moses had already indicated how these matters were to be handled. A drawing of lots would make plain what God had planned.
The drawing of lots could be done in various ways, but in this matter of choosing areas for the tribes of Israel, it probably was a matter of writing the names of the tribes on pieces of wood or stone and shaking them together in a container. The names or numbers of the various sections of Canaan would be written on other pieces. Then, if Joshua were to draw a tribe name from one container, and if Eleazar were to draw from another container a number to indicate a section of Canaan, and so on, the future locations for the tribes could thus be determined.
However it was done, God caused the lots to be drawn according to the way in which He had already decided matters. Two and a half tribes had already been given their areas east of the Jordan, so nine and a half tribes were yet to receive their inheritance (Jos. 13:7-33; 14:15).
As it turned out, determining what land would go to which tribe didn't progress very far (Jos. chapters 14;15;16;17). For one thing, there was murmuring and dissatisfaction by the people of the tribes of Joseph – Ephraim and the half tribe of Manasseh. Their elders claimed that because they were two large and powerful tribes, they should be given two tribal allotments of land. Joshua then gave them an additional allotment in a timbered mountainous region (Jos. 17:14-15).
"Why have we, two leading tribes, been given a wooded mountain range in the north right next to a valley where the enemy Canaanites are armed with terrible iron chariots equipped with huge, protruding knives?" the elders of these tribes asked Joshua. "We will still be crowded for space."
"Since you are a great people, you can clear the land and its farthest limits will be yours,” was Joshua's reply. "Also, since you are leading tribes, you will have the power to overcome the Canaanites who have chariots. By the time you clear your mountain land of much of its timber and drive the Canaanites out of the valley, your two allotments will be enough land. It is a fair and just God who has decided where every tribe shall dwell" (vv. 16-18).
At that time lots were drawn only for two and a half tribes – Ephraim, Judah and the half tribe of Manasseh. Various time-consuming matters continued to come up. One of many had to do with the request of a man who had been one of the twelve Israelite scouts who had been sent to Canaan over forty-five years previously. This man was Caleb, who had been Joshua's right-hand man on that excursion. When ten of the scouts had told lies about the strength and size of the people of Canaan, it was Joshua and Caleb who had insisted on the truth and encouraged the people to boldly go in and conquer Canaan, trusting God for the outcome (Num. 13; 14:1-10).
Because of his honesty and loyalty, through Moses God had promised Caleb a choice inheritance in Canaan. It wasn't too forward of him, therefore, to remind Joshua that he and his family should be given the land God had promised in the mountainous Hebron area (Num. 13:22; 14:24; Deut. 1:35-36).
Although Caleb was then eighty-five years old, he was still vigorous and healthy, and promised that he and his relatives who would share his inheritance would conquer the giant men who still remained in the region of Hebron (Jos. 14:6-12). Joshua honoured Caleb's request and gave him what he desired in the territory given to the tribe of Judah (vv. 13-15).
Later, when Caleb and his family moved into the area of his inheritance, he promised one of his daughters to any man who would lead a successful attack against the enemies remaining there. One of Caleb's nephews carried out an assault that overcame the local Canaanites, and he was given Caleb's daughter to become his wife (Jdg. 1:12-15). However, their marriage was not a loveless arrangement. They were so much in love that she inspired her husband to accomplish great things. Many years later he became the first hero to deliver Israel from foreign oppression (Jdg. 3:7-11).
Other Israelite tribes later taking up residence in their respective domains were not all as courageous and enthusiastic as Caleb's nephew and his soldiers, and shamefully allowed some of the Canaanites to share their lands. This was not pleasing to God, who wanted them to gradually drive out all the Canaanites, and had repeatedly and plainly instructed Israel to completely rid the land of the heathen idol-worshipping enemy (Num. 33:50-56; Deut. 7:1-6). The only possible exception God would allow was that of the Gibeonites. They had asked for peace, and had at least mentioned God as being the Supreme Ruler, and had shown some willingness to live under His Laws (Jos. 9:24-25).
Israelites move into the heart of Promised Land
On inspiration from God, Joshua told the people that the time had come to break camp and move on to a point more centrally located in Canaan. That place was Shiloh, about twenty miles north of Jerusalem (Jos. 18:1). There were mountains in that area, but there were also a valley and adjoining flat regions in which Israel would have plenty of room to set up their vast camps and flock-feeding areas.
There were mixed emotions among the Israelites when they learned that they were to travel on. Some had tired of living at Gilgal, and welcomed the opportunity to move. Others regarded Gilgal as a comfortable area which they disliked leaving.
In six years the main body of Israel had almost forgotten what it meant to be on the move. It was considerably more difficult for the millions of people to get going with their millions of animals than it had been when they were more accustomed to be constantly moving. Nevertheless, they managed to be ready to leave for Shiloh at the time Joshua had already indicated to them well in advance.
When the people arrived at the Shiloh region, most of them were content with their surroundings. The Tabernacle was pitched at once in the middle area of the camp. There it remained for many, many years while the tribes went their respective ways and fell into all manner of trouble because of their disobedience.
A few days after the people were settled and camp life in the new site had become easier, Joshua summoned the elders for a meeting.
"I'm beginning to wonder just how anxious our people are to receive their inheritances," Joshua told them. "It's true that seven tribes haven't yet been shown what lands to take over. But few seem interested in doing anything except camping together as we've been doing for so many years. Is it that you are afraid that if you divide into tribes your enemies will overcome you?" (Jos. 18:2-3).
"We would like to know more about the areas we are to go to," some of the elders remarked. "The four tribes and two half-tribes that have already been given their lands have had a fair idea of where they were going, but little is known about the land that is yet to be divided among the remaining seven tribes."
"I still think that most of us would rather stay together than separate as God wishes," Joshua replied. "But your point is one not to be neglected. It would be well to appoint capable men to survey the land to determine how it can best be divided."
Quick plans were made to look over the little-known areas of Canaan to find out just what the land was like and how it could most wisely be apportioned. Three leading men from each tribe were chosen for their ability in surveying and in simple geometry. A relatively small military force was sent along with these men to protect them from any straggling Canaanite soldiers who might attack them.
Weeks later the surveying Israelites returned to Shiloh with a book of maps and information about the part of Canaan yet to be divided among the Israelites (vv. 4-9).
Joshua met with the heads of the seven tribes and with Eleazar the priest to study the information and mark the mapped territory into seven parts. There was no guesswork. The borders, cities, streams, valleys, mountains, plains and elevations were plainly marked.
Again, before the Tabernacle in God's presence, lots were cast for the seven portions of land, and the seven tribes at last learned what their inheritances were and where they would go (Jos. chapters 18 and 19). The tribe of Levi, being supported by the tithes, offerings and sacrifices of the people, did not receive any land (Jos. 18:7), though they were later given cities to live in and adjoining fields for grazing their flocks (Jos. chapter 21).
The last parcel of land to be given for an inheritance went to Joshua and his family. This wasn't a result of any demand made by Joshua, but was according to an unrecorded promise from God such as had been made to Caleb. Joshua had his choice of an area. He chose Timnath-serah, a small city in the land of Ephraim only a short distance west of Shiloh. There, Joshua later planned and superintended the reconstruction of his city (Jos. 19:49-51).
God had already spoken to Moses concerning six cities of refuge that were to be chosen when Israel had taken over Canaan. These cities were to be places of safety for anyone who killed another accidentally or without plan or malice, though it was possible for a guilty killer to also obtain temporary safety in these places.
In those times it was lawful for relatives to avenge the wilful killing of any of their kin by slaying the one obviously responsible. Some, of course, would like to take vengeance even when the killing was accidental. To escape such an avenger, one could flee to the nearest city of refuge, where he could plead his case with the elders at the gates and be admitted to stay at least until there could be a complete hearing by the city's magistrates. If a man was found guilty, he was to be expelled from the city or turned over to the avenger. If he was found to be innocent, he was to have the protection of the city as long as he remained within it.
Three of the cities of refuge were picked from the east side of the Jordan. They were Bezer, Ramoth and Golan. The other three were chosen from the land west of the Jordan. They were Kedesh, Shechem and Hebron (Jos. chapter 20).
According to plans revealed to Moses, the Levites were to receive various cities in which to live, and closely surrounding areas in which to keep their livestock. This matter was next taken up by Joshua, Eleazar and the tribal heads. Lots were drawn having to do with the areas of all twelve tribes. The drawing determined which cities and how many should be given from the various tribes. From all the tribes the cities for the Levites totalled forty-eight, and included the six cities of refuge. The Levites received these cities as centres of living, along with the pasturelands surrounding the cities to the extent of less than a mile (Num. 35:1-5).
During the six years since Israel had crossed the Jordan, the soldiers from the tribes of Reuben, Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh had faithfully fulfilled their duty (Num. 32:1-22; Jos. 4:12-13; 22:1-3). There were still about 40,000 of them because not one of Israel's enemies was able to stand against them (Jos. 21:43-45).
Now that the main wars were over, Joshua had a pleasant surprise for the soldiers of the tribe of Reuben, the tribe of Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh: "You have been faithful in remaining to work and fight with the rest of the Israelite army these six years, even though your families have been only a few miles east of the Jordan.”
"Now that Canaan is ours, you are dismissed from service with the army of Israel" (Jos. 22:1-7). "You have obtained great wealth from the enemy, and now you should return to share these flocks, gold, silver, brass, iron and clothing with your brethren who stayed behind to care for your families. May the blessings of our God go with you and to your families, and may you serve God diligently by keeping all His commandments" (v. 8).
The happy thousands of warriors moved eastward from Shiloh with the cheers of their fellow Israelites ringing in their ears (v. 9).
On their second or third night after leaving Shiloh, the soldiers of Reuben, Manasseh and Gad camped on the east side of the Jordan. There they built a large altar (Jos. 22:10).
When the Israelites heard that they built an altar on the border of Canaan the whole assembly gathered at Shiloh to go to war against them. So they sent Phinehas, son of Eleazar, the priest, and ten chief men, one from each of the tribes, to see what was going on (vv. 11-14).
When they went to Gilead they said to the three tribes, "The people of Israel at Shiloh have heard of this great altar you have built. They feel that you have erected this thing as a sudden move to depart from God and become idol-worshippers. If this is true, can you do such a thing and still recall how close our God came to destroying all of Israel for such a sin in the Baal-Peor idolatry and in Achan's curse?" (Jos. 22:15-17, 20; Num. 25:19; Deut. 4:1-6; Jos. 7:1-5). "Do you realise that all of Israel suffers tomorrow for the sins of a few committed today?" (Jos. 22:18). "If you feel that this land east of the Jordan is not right for you or that the pagan influences here are too great for you, don't rebel against God by building a pagan altar, but come over west of the Jordan and we'll make room for you and your people closer to the Tabernacle where God's altar is located" (v. 19).
The officers of the armies of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh then replied to the heads of the other tribes of Israel.
"There has been a misunderstanding," they explained. "Our God knows that rebelling against Him by building an altar to any other god is something that hasn't even entered our minds. We know that God wants sacrifices made only on the altar He has directed to be made in front of His Tabernacle, and we didn't build this altar for offering sacrifice. If this is not true, may God destroy us today. We didn't build the altar for any religious functions, but rather as a duplicate of God's altar, to serve as a monument to the fact that our people east of the Jordan and your people west of the Jordan are one people bound together by the sacred Laws of God. This altar, being patterned after God's altar, will be a constant reminder that we serve the same God you serve. We hope that it will remain a monument for a long time so that we may point it out for what it means for many generations to come" (Jos. 22:21-29).
When they heard this, it pleased Phinehas and the ten tribal heads.
"You have shown us just now that God is with all of us," Phinehas finally spoke out. "We at first feared that you were falling into idolatry and that God would deal harshly with all of Israel because of what we thought you had done. Now we know what you were intending to do, that you are loyal to God and that your righteous actions have spared us from any punishment God otherwise would have put on us."
After farewells, Phinehas, the heads of the ten tribes and their aides set out for Shiloh. When they arrived there with news of what had happened, those who had been most concerned about their east-of-Jordan brothers going astray were happy to learn that matters were not as they had imagined. Many of the people felt so relieved that they blessed God and did not intend to go up against their brothers in battle, to destroy the land where the children of Reuben and Gad dwelt (vv. 30-34).
Although there were some among the Israelites who were too hastily inclined to point to their brothers east of the Jordan as being sinners, the real concern among most of the Israelites was that a part of them might break away and fall into idolatry.
Joshua was well aware of the kind of people who were always quick to point to the shortcomings of others so that they might seem more righteous by comparison – which is really self-righteousness. Those were the ones he didn't like having any part in the somewhat feverish proposal that one part of Israel should take up arms against another part. In trying to make themselves look more righteous, those people can do great harm.
People who feel that they are next to perfect are often as evil in God's sight as those who feel just the opposite. Such people are generally unable to recognise their own shortcomings. Otherwise they wouldn't have a feeling of self-righteousness and near-perfection.
After a long time had passed since the Israelites' conquest of most of Canaan, Joshua had become more than a hundred years old, and was aware that his life was nearing an end (Jos. 23:1).
Realising that it would be wise to again remind the Israelites what their attitude toward God should be, Joshua requested that the elders, princes, judges and officers of all the tribes assemble at the main camp of the Israelites.
God keeps His promises
"Consider all the wonderful things God has done for you in the conquest of this land," Joshua addressed them. "God has proved that He does as He promises. If you will continue to be of strong courage and obey God, He will surely help you drive out the inhabitants who yet remain in the regions of Canaan to which you are yet to move. In fact, God has said that if you are obedient, only one of you will be required to chase out a thousand of the enemy! (Jos. 23:2-10).
"As one who is about to depart this life, I warn you in the strongest terms that unless you faithfully keep the covenant made with God, Israel can look forward only to defeat and death!" (vv. 11-16).
At another time Joshua again summoned the elders, princes, judges and officers of all the tribes to Shechem, the place where Joseph's remains were buried. It is a few miles north of Shiloh (Jos. 24:1,32; Jn. 4:5). There Joshua spoke to the representatives of all Israel, briefly reviewing the history of the people since before the time of Abraham, and showing how God had dealt with them.
"There are those in Israel who take sin lightly and still have regard for some of the false gods our forefathers fell to worshipping," Joshua told them. "There are others among us who secretly tend to revere the pagan gods of this land. No one can serve both the True God and pagan gods (Mat. 6:24). My God (the God of Moses, the God of our forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) is a jealous God who will utterly consume all who fail or refuse to be faithful to Him. Today every Israelite should decide whom he will serve As for my family and I, we will serve the True God" (Jos. 24:2-15).
"God forbid that we should forsake Him to serve idols or false gods!" the crowd chorused with enthusiasm. "We shall indeed serve and obey the One True God because His great miracles brought us out of Egyptian slavery, protected us from more powerful nations around us, and drove the idol-worshipping nations out of our land" (vv. 16-18).
"Then you are indeed witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen to serve our Creator!" Joshua called out.
Thus, Joshua guided the thousands of leading Israelites and all that generation to renew the national covenant with God. He was pleased. The lessons of forty years wandering as children and young men and women had not been learned in vain. They responded in such a willing and sincere manner that, as he dismissed them to return to their various tribes, Joshua felt the meeting had been well worthwhile, and a fitting climax to his life (vv. 19-28).
Not long afterward Joshua died at the age of one hundred and ten years. He was buried at Mt. Ephraim in the property that had been granted him. The Bible honours Joshua by stating that Israel served God during Joshua's time of leadership and for a score of years afterward, until the deaths of all those leaders who had served under Joshua and who had been influenced by his good example and by seeing God's great miracles (vv. 29-31).
Eleazar the priest, Aaron's son, died shortly after Joshua's death. He, too, was buried at Mt. Ephraim (v. 33).