By S. Cox
There is probably no one passage in the Bible on which those who hold the Christian Faith to be an outworn creed pounce with more malicious delight than the verses in which we are told that Joshua bade the sun stand still over Gibeon and the moon over the Valley of Ajalon. " Here," they say, "the Bible pledges itself to an enormous and exorbitant miracle, which we can easily prove to be impossible, incredible even; " and forthwith they proceed to shew, what indeed Copernicus long since proved to be true, that in its relation to the earth the sun always stands still, or to calculate the immense and direful results that would inevitably ensue were the revolution of the earth on its axis suddenly arrested; -man, with all his works, would be flung from the surface of the globe, the earth itself would be shattered by the force of its own momentum, the moon would share its fate, the balance of the solar system would be deranged, and so on through the whole chapter of logical accidents.
All these arguments, however, have naturally produced very little effect on reasonable men, and that because, logical as they look, they are utterly illogical and absurd. For those who believe in miracles believe also that they are wrought by an almighty God. And when once we believe in the Almighty, it is a very simple inference that no miracle, however stupendous, can be beyond his power. To Him it can be no greater effort to impress his will on the whole physical universe than to bend an atom to his will. To acknowledge his 'power to be illimitable, and then to limit it by affirming that He cannot do this and cannot do that, is as illogical nonsense as any ever talked under the sun. Before any miracle can be pronounced impossible, if, at least, there be a sufficient motive for working it, it must be proved either that there is no God or that God is not almighty. Before any miracle can be pronounced incredible, it must be shewn to be unworthy of God, opposed either to his perfect wisdom or to his perfect goodness.
To those, therefore, who pronounce this miracle. impossible, we reply, "Nothing is impossible with God." But with those who think it incredible that God should arrest the whole solar system in order to give a single race the victory over its foes, we must take a wholly different line. Of them we demand, " Where is any such miracle affirmed? " If they answer, "Why, in the very passage in the Book of Joshua to which you have referred," we respond: "No; there is no miracle recorded here." If, taken by surprise at the rejoinder, they say, "But the popular view of this passage has always affirmed it to record a miracle, and one of the greatest of miracles!" we reply, "You object to the miracle as opposed to the teachings of science. As men of science you profess to verify your facts for yourselves, and not to be imposed upon by superficial appearances, and still less by popular views and impressions concerning them. And, therefore, before you permitted yourselves to make merry over this "enormous and exorbitant miracle," you should at least have made sure, and made sure for yourselves, that a miracle was affirmed. You, of all men, have the least right to ground an argument on popular and unverified impressions."
And, indeed, the main charge to which many who are now forward in disputing the facts and truths recorded in the Bible expose themselves is precisely this-that, while they are very careful to ascertain the facts and laws of science, they do not study the Bible for themselves and seek with equal care. to discover what its facts and truths really are. It they would but verify these for themselves, instead of negligently accepting the popular assumptions-which everywhere else they distrust-and so much they are bound to do if they will speak, not only of Scripture as well as of science, but of the most difficult passages in Holy Scripture-it is very certain that they would arrive at very different conclusions to those which they now too commonly reach,
But many of those who believe in the Biblical revelation will be no less surprised than some of those who reject it, by the assertion that no miracle is affirmed in the passage before us. And, therefore, it may be well, first, to give the passage itself in full then, to tell the story. of which it forms part; and, last of all, to shew what it really means.
1. The Passage runs thus (I take it straight from the Hebrew, and try to preserve its poetic form):
2. The Story is as follows. When the Hebrews, led by Joshua, had crossed the river and entered the valley of the Jordan, the first care of their great, captain was to seize on the passes which led to the interior of Palestine. By the conquest of Ai one.. of these passes was secured. The tribes already in possession of the land took alarm. One of these tribes, the Gibeonites, determined, if possible, to come to terms with the invaders. By an ingenious stratagem-by coming to him in old garments and sandals, with well-worn sacks on their asses and mouldy bread in their sacks-they beguiled Joshua into the belief that they came from "a very far country," and induced him to make peace with them and to promise that he would "let them live." The compact, obtained dishonourably, was honourably maintained by Joshua and the princes of the Congregation. And, indeed, there was a sufficient military reason for treating the wily but submissive Gibeonites leniently; for they held the head of another pass, the pass of Beth-horon, and by their submission a new road into the land was laid open. to the Israelites.
When, however, the kings of southern. Palestine heard in their mountain fastnesses that Gibeon had gone over to the enemy, they determined to take vengeance on their former allies, and to close the pass which they had opened to the common foe. Five of these kings-the kings of Jerusalem, Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish, and Eglon-gathered themselves together, and encamped against Gibeon. The terrified Gibeonites sent an urgent summons to Joshua, their new ally, for their peril was great: "Slack not thy hand from thy servants; come up to us quickly, and save. us, and help us!" Nothing loth, Joshua seized the opportunity of encountering the hostile kings. As the need was sharp and pressing, he made a forced march, traversing in a single night the space between Gilgal and Gibeon, a distance which on a previous occasion it had taken him three days to cover, -so bent was he on striking a sudden blow which might break the hostile confederation to pieces before it gathered its full strength.
The five kings of the Amorites, and their combined host, taken at unawares, were unable to stand the onset of Joshua's'" mighty men of valour." They broke; and fled up the western pass, "the way that goeth up to Beth-horon." Up the weary length of this steep difficult pass the flying host had to toil, chased by their eager foes, and suffering a great slaughter, till they reached the hamlet of Upper Beth-horon, at the crown of. the pass.
When the pursuing army of Israel reached this point, the summit of the pass, a broad and noble scene would open before them, extending even to the blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea. But, doubtless, they would cast but a rapid glance on the distant scene. That which would most attract their eyes would be the rough steep road, heavy with loose stones and shale, broken at intervals with sharp upturned edges, and again by smooth slippery sheets of rock, which led down to Lower Beth-horon, and over which their discomfited enemies were flying in wild disorder, amid the horrors of a tropical storm. For it was as the Amorites turned the crest of the pass, "in the going down to Beth-horon," that they met a fierce tempest driving up from the sea; thunder, lightning, and a deluge of hail storming down on their broken ranks, the. Lord casting down great stones upon them, so that "they were more that died of the hailstones than they whom the children of Israel slew with the sword."
It must have been a weird and manellous spectacle which burst on the-panting warriors of Israel as they topped the pass. Behind them lay the hills which hid Gibeon from view, while from high above those hills the sun shone hotly on their backs. Beneath them the steep mountain-path sloped sharply into the valley, all thick with their scattered and disheartened foes; while, before them, black clouds of 'tempest rolled. up from the sea, and the faint crescent moon glimmered through a rift in the clouds over the distant Valley of Ajalon. To Joshua and his captains the scene would be as unwelcome as it was strange. For here were their foes utterly at their mercy, and, if the daylight would but last, sure to be well-nigh exterminated by a terrible slaughter. But here, too, was the tempest driving up the valley from the sea, threatening to blot out the light of the sun, and, by bringing the day to a premature close, to give their foes an opportunity of escape.
At such a conjuncture as this, the natural thought of Joshua, his wish, perhaps his prayer, would be, "O that the daylight would last, that the darkening tempest might be dispersed, and that we might see our foes till the victory be complete!" If this was his wish, his prayer-and we shall soon see that the Sacred Record implies no more than this-his prayer would be answered as the storm blew by and the sun shone out through the clouds. In some way it was answered; for the Israelites did chase the Amorites down the pass and through the valley, smiting them with a very great slaughter. So vehement was the chase that; even when tidings were brought to Joshua that the five hostile kings had hid themselves in a great cave past which the flight swept, he refused to pause in the pursuit, save to roll great rocks against the entrance to the cave. It was not till they had made an end of slaying, when at last the light of this memorable day failed them, that, on their return, the weary victors hanged the five kings on five trees of the grove which overshadowed the cave, and buried them in the very cavern in which they had taken refuge.
3. The Problem suggested by this story is a very simple one, and is capable of a simple and easy solution by any man who will be at the pains of studying the Sacred Narrative for himself. This problem is started of course by the words which represent the sun as standing stilt on, or over, the hills of Gibeon, and the moon over the Valley of Ajalon, at the command or prayer of Joshua. But the verses in which these words are found have peculiarities about them so marked as even to obtrude themselves on our attention.
(1) Mark, first of all, how the passage is inserted into the Narrative. It is thrust, as it were, into the very middle of the story, just as Joshua has reached the summit of the pass of Beth-horon, and before the pursuit down the pass and through the valley commences. The first part of the story has been told in the previous verses of the Chapter; and yet this passage, instead of taking for granted what has already been said, opens with a formal declaration that we are now to hear what Joshua said to the Lord " in the day when the Lord delivered up the Amorites into the hand of Israel." The latter part of the story has still to be told in the closing verses of the Chapter, and yet this passage forestalls the end of the day by its final words: "And Joshua returned, and all Israel with him, unto the camp in Gilgal." Indeed, if we read the Chapter with any attention, we are somewhat amazed and confused to come, in verse 15, on the statement that at the close of the day Joshua and his host. returned. to Gilgal, and then to be taken back, by the verses which immediately follow it, to the middle of the day and the pursuit down the pass. No unprejudiced student can read the whole Chapter, and consider the significance of the manner in which this singular passage is inserted into it, without reaching the conclusion that he is reading, not one document, but two; that the whole story of the battle is told twice-once, with some fulness in the Chapter in general, and once, but much more briefly, in verses 12-15. He will naturally infer that the sacred historian has paused in the very midst of his narrative, to cite. an ancient and well-known document which gave the story of the battle in a more succinct, yet more impassioned, form.
1) 2 Samuel i. 17-27.
2) Psalm xviii.