And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the nation took vengeance on their enemies. Is this not written in the Book of Jashar? The sun stayed in the midst of heaven, and did not hasten to go down for about a whole day. [Joshua 10:13 (RSV)]
My initial interest in The Book of Jashar arose from Joshua 10 when, while in the midst of heated battle, Joshua prayed that the day would be prolonged. Scripture reports that both the sun and moon stayed in place until victory was won by the Israelites and that the account is found in The Book of Jashar.
In Joshua’s miracle, time stood still. In 2 Kings 20, instead of time stopping, time appeared to go backwards when the shadow on King Hezekiah’s sundial went back “ten steps.” Without an explanation of how God accomplished these miracles, people often assume He stopped the earth in one and briefly reversed its rotation in the other. But, if the earth suddenly stopped spinning, the atmosphere, oceans, and anything not nailed down would keep spinning. Their momentum would cause a 1000 miles-per-hour wind. There would be earthquakes and tsunamis and anything not attached to bedrock would be swept away. If the earth suddenly went backwards, the result would be equally disastrous. Scripture, however, only tells us the sun and moon stayed in the sky and the shadow on the sundial retreated; it never explains how.
For centuries people have pondered these two miracles and questioned the accuracy of their reports. Why people find them more unbelievable than the ten plagues inflicted on Egypt, the parting of both the Red Sea and the river Jordan, manna from heaven, the virgin birth, various miraculous healings, raising the dead, or any other of the more than 120 miracles we find in Scripture is beyond me. Perhaps it’s because these two miracles seem to defy physics and all we know about the way our planet works. Let us remember that the one who spoke the universe into existence can certainly do things in a way we can’t understand or explain.
Nevertheless, there is a persistent urban legend that says astronomers have found a missing day, dating back to Joshua’s time, in the astronomical calendar. This tale started in the late 1800s and has been updated periodically to reflect new science and technology. The latest version is that NASA, while making calculations for a space launch, found a missing 23 hours and 20 minutes. A Christian explained that it must be Joshua’s 48-hour day. He clarified that it wasn’t a full 24 hours because of Hezekiah’s sundial episode when time went backwards and then forward again, adding 40 minutes to its day. While scientists can calculate the past or future positions of heavenly objects with precision, there is no way they can know if time from over 3,000 years ago is missing! To detect missing time, they would need an accurate earth-based clock with which to compare their astronomical observations. Such clocks, however, didn’t exist in the era of sundials and there are no precisely-timed astronomical observations from Joshua’s time.
Scientific proof of these events is impossible and, while Biblical scholars have various explanations for them, they are only speculating. I prefer the easiest answer of them all: God can accomplish His will in ways that defy natural explanations. As the writer of the laws of nature, He can both enforce and alter those laws at His will. What happened was impossible; nevertheless, it happened. Rather than concentrating on the how, let us remember the who!