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UNITED SECESSION MAGAZINE
FOR AUGUST, 1846.
THE STANDING STILL OF THE SUN AND MOON.
The conciseness and grandeur of the addresses employed by certain conquerors to animate their troops in the hour of conflict, or to announce the victory they had gained, have often been celebrated. But words more truly sublime were never uttered by any human being, than those which Joshua, pausing for a moment in the pursuit of the vanquished Amorites, spake in the hearing of the Israelites :—“ Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon, and thou Moon in the valley of Aijalon." In ordinary circumstances, indeed, such an address must have been regarded as the effect of insanity, or of that pride verging on insanity, which has sometimes prompted" the sons of the mighty” to claim the prerogatives and the power of Deity. But they were spoken by Joshua through a divine impulse, and they were, therefore, not spoken in vain; for, in obedience to his command, the sun stood still, and the moon stayed in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day.
As this part of the sacred history has, in every age, been pronounced by infidels to be an incredible tale of wonder ; so not a few, both among Jews and professing Christians, either because they were afraid of their sneers, or because they had imbibed a portion of their spirit, have questioned the actual occurrence of the miracle which it records. Whilst some, proceeding on grounds which would authorise every man to exclude from Scripture whatever was not in accordance with his own views, that is, on merely suljective considerations, have boldly pronounced the narrative to be an interpolation introduced into the history from some uninspired production of later times, called the book of Jasher ;others, by an appeal to the hyperbolisms customary in oriental poetry, have extracted from the occurrence it describes every thing, not only of a miraculous, but even of an extraordinary character, and represented it as merely a highly figurative description of the rapidity and extent of the victory gained by Joshua, or of the effect produced by it on the imaginations bcth of the Amorites and of the Israelites. One views it as nothing more than an intimation, that the events of the day of conNO. VIII. VOL. III,
test and triumph referred to were so wonderful, that the sun and moon might, by a poetic license, be represented as standing still to contemplate them, or so numerous, that they were amply sufficient to have occupied a period twice as long as that of an ordinary day. And another considers it to be merely a declaration, that it seemed to the terrified imagination of the Amorites as if the sun would never set, and darkness suspend the pursuit of their conquerors; and to the enthusiasm of the Israelites, as if the luminaries of heaven were protracting the day to favour their operations, and afford opportunity to them to complete their victory ;—these fancies being, perhaps, induced and strengthened by a somewhat protracted twilight, connected with, if not occasioned by, the storm of hail, which destroyed so many of the Amorites. These interpretations of the sacred narrative are obviously forced and unnatural, and owe their existence solely to unwillingness to admit the reality of the occurrence which it plainly describes; and not only so, they also overlook some parts of it, which prove, beyond controversy, that it was meant tù describe an actual occurrence, and not merely to aggrandise, by the use of strong figures, the victory of the Israelites; such, for instance, as the assertion that there was no day like that, before it or after it, the specification of the precise position occupied for many hours by both the sun and the moon, and especially the intimation, that Joshua asked from God a prolongation of the day, and that the Lord hearkened to his voice and granted his prayer. An event so extraordinary could not fail to make a deep impression on all who witnessed it, or who heard of it. And it may be noticed, that the traditions both of the ancient Egyptians and of the Chinese, speak of deviations from the ordinary course of nature, which might, perhaps, refer to it; and that the Greek and Roman poets have introduced into their fables the idea of prolongations and abbreviations of the day and the night, which would probably never have been imagined, but for some tradition that such an event had actually occurred.
But the narrative, when literally understood, it has been said, is inconsistent with the true nature of things, since it is not the real motion of the heavenly bodies, but the revolution of the earth itself, which causes the alternation of day and night. This is one of those small objections which will have weight only with those whose acquirements are trifling, and whose judgment is weak. The narrative describes what seemed to take place; and who knows not, that language based on the appearances which things present to our senses is always employed, not merely in poetry, but in history, and not merely by the common people, but by philosophers ? because such language conveys a more vivid, and often even a more correct notion of the facts referred to, than could be given by the use of expressions scientifically accurate. We speak of the rising of the sun, and of its course through the heavens, though aware that its motion is only apparent, and caused by the diurnal and annual revolutions of the earth. And were an event similar to that which took place in the days of Joshua again to occur, the narrative of it would be given in terms corresponding to those employed by the sacred historian; and he who, from an affectation of scientific accuracy, should-attempt to relate it historically in a different form, would only be laughed at. Such a mode of relating the miracle wrought at the instance of Joshua, would have been wholly unintelligible during the long period which elapsed before the general persuasion of the true system of nature; and even to us, who are aware of that system, it would not have presented so precise an idea of what actually occurred, as the intimation that the sun and the moon remained stationary in the positions which they occupied when Joshua addressed them.
Not only, however, can no argument against the truth of the narrative be drawn from the language employed in it, but a strong argument, of a positive kind, for the reality of the miracle, is furnished by it. Joshua desired a prolongation of the day, and his faith taught him that God was able and willing to accomplish that wish. And what was necessary to the accomplishment of it? Simply this, that the sun should remain above the horizon. But this was not all that was asked by him, and that is declared to have taken place. He spake to the moon, which was visible in a different part of the heavens, and her course is said to have been arrested. And why is this circumstance introduced ? Her presence was not necessary to give light while the sun continued visible. The discoveries of modern philosophy show, that if the one seemed to remain stationary in the heavens, so also must the other; or that any interference with the ordinary course of nature, which arrested the apparent progress of the sun, must have had the same effect with respect to the moon. But these discoveries were unknown at the time when this occurrence took place; and the accordance of the whole narrative with them cannot be explained, except on the supposition that the sacred historian relates exactly what actually happened, and that Joshua was guided by the Spirit to call for a display of divine power, in terms consistent with the true state of things. Had the whole narrative been fictitious, the writer would not have thought of representing Joshua as asking that the course of the moon should be arrested, or of asserting that it was arrested; for the delay of the going down of the sun would, in his estimation, have been all that was requisite to the prolongation of the day.
No explanation of the real nature of the miracle is furnished by the sacred history. It simply tells what seemed to take place, without adding any thing to show how the appearance it describes was produced. Such an explanation is not necessary to the design contemplated in the record of the fact, and it would have demanded disclosures altogether foreign to the object for which the Scriptures were written ; for it could not have been rendered intelligible without a full exhibition of some of the most important scientific discoveries of modern times. While, therefore, it is not forbidden to us to exercise our judgment with regard to the nature of the miracle, or the mode in which it was effected; we must remember, that the conclusions which we may form on this point are merely our personal opinions, and that they constitute no part of the divine testimony. Various views of the means employed to arrest the apparent motions of the sun and moon have been advocated; but there are only two which can be regarded as sufficient to account for the recorded phenomenon. The supposition which first presents itself to the mind is, that the diurnal revolution of the earth was suspended, or at least retarded for a few hours. The magnitude of the effects which would have flowed from this apparently simple event, has led to the notion that the revolution of the earth on its axis was not stopped, but that God communicated to the atmosphere such refractive power as maintained the image of the sun above the horizon long after it had in reality passed beneath it. The first explanation seems to harmonise best with the natural import of the language in which the miracle is described by the sacred historian; and though the miracle, according to it, was most extensive and stupendous, the accomplishment of it could present no difficulty to him by whose omnipresent and unceasing energy the various properties which belong to matter are upheld.
Every part of Scripture is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness. As God will not work iniracles except to secure some important end, which could not effectually be gained in any other way; so the record of the miracles wrought by him is designed for permanent utility. It becomes us, therefore, to consider what are the purposes which the arresting of the heavenly luminaries, in their progress through the sky, was designed to serve at the time, and what is the instruction which the narrative of it was intended to furnish in subsequent ages, and especially in those in which miracles have ceased. Reflection upon it will show, that at its occurrence, and as recorded in Scripture, it testified at once against the atheism, the idolatry, the unbelief, and the ungodliness of mankind.
First, The miracle proved the dependence of all nature upon God; and in this view it testifies against the practical atheism which is so prevalent in the world. While some have questioned the very being of God, asserting that the universe has existed from eternity, and that its present form is the result of properties originally and essentially inherent in matter; and while others have denied the constant dependence of the order of nature upon him, contending that the laws which he has established cannot be altered or even temporarily suspended at his will ; all are liable to be so engrossed by the contemplation of secondary causes, and so misled by the uniformity of nature as to forget that “ of him, and through him, and to him are all things.” The sun rises and sets, the moon passes through her various phases, day and night, and summer and winter succeed each other; and the order of these and other occurrences is so familiar and uniform, that we lose the practical impression of the presence and agency of that God by whoin all things consist, and with this, the conviction and feeling of our constant obligations to him. In the midst of his works we fail to recognise him who is invisible. The persuasion, however, of the constant dependence of all things on him lies at the foundation of religion. He has, accordingly, not only confirmed the dictates of right reason on this subject by the testimony of his word, but has also established the truth by undeniable signs. This purpose is served by all miracles. By them he proves that what are called the laws of nature are nothing else than the constant exertion of his power according to a uniform plan; that he could have imparted to matter properties different from those which it now possesses ; that all things, animate and inanimate, in heaven and on earth, are upheld and controlled by him; and that even those phenomena in which the greatest regularity is discernible, and in regard to which his agency is most frequently overlooked, are the result