The Day the Sun Stood Still


Moshe Ben-Chaim



My close friend Adam and I often exchange thoughts on various areas of the Torah. It’s a pleasure to join in his enthusiastic excitement at the prospect of uncovering new ideas. Last week, he mentioned a question he had heard another person asking: “Why is the story of the sun and moon standing still at Joshua’s prayer not recorded in other cultures’ histories?” Certainly this surpasses all events in terms of witnesses. Additionally, the amazement of such an event should guarantee its being recorded. The event is recorded in Prophets:


Joshua 10:12-14:

“Then spoke Joshua to G-d on the day that G-d gave the Emorite before the Jews, and he said in the sight of Israel, ‘Sun in Gibeon be silent, and the moon in the valley of Ayalon’. And the sun was silent, and the moon stood until there revenged the enemy nation. Is it not written in the upright book, ‘and the sun stood in the middle of heaven and it did not hurry to set like a complete day?’ And there was not like this day before it or after it that G-d listened to the voice of man, for G-d was battling for Israel.” 


Joshua was battling the Emorites on a Friday and wished not to enter the Sabbath at war. He prayed that the sun and moon be still, and G-d made it so.


Rashi comments on this statement, “…the entire world was filled with the reputation of Joshua, ‘and the sun stood in the middle of heaven and it did not hurry to set like a complete day’.” So the question is answered: Rashi affirms that this miracle was in fact known throughout the world. Why records have not been found may be in part to the expiration of those cultures, or unfinished, current research on this specific event. There may be other reasons, but we do not have conclusive proof that no nation recorded this event.


When attempting to prove what is “not”, as opposed to what “is”, we are faced with a more difficult task. How can one prove that object “x” is non-existent? To prove that “x” exists, is easy – we set it on display. But disproving the existence of something is next to impossible. As Dr. Gottlieb taught, many cultures do not record history, which sheds poor light on their country. Ancient cultures’ historical recording was a method of self-aggrandizement. When the facts were disturbing, leaders ordered them not to be recorded. Regardless, had this miracle never happened, it would not have been recorded, let alone survived and promulgated throughout the world.


As is true in all areas of Torah, once you look into it with one focus, other matters jump at us, more doors open, and here is no exception.


One cannot help but to ask what gave Joshua any idea that he could pray for such an unprecedented miracle! During the Egyptian plagues, Moses merely responded to G-d commands that he move his staff, say certain words, address Pharaoh, or pray to G-d at Pharaoh’s request. We don’t see Moses, on his own, requesting some unnatural occurrence. Even in the face of almost certain annihilation on the Red Sea shore, Moses did not ask for a miracle, but prayed for G-d’s salvation – nothing specific was requested. In all cases, it appears that Moses followed G-d’s lead. In all honesty, Eliyahu did pray for life to be returned to the dead child (Kings I, 17:21). However, we may suggest that this too is not as extreme as Joshua’s request. The resurrection of the dead is a well-known promise, and within the scope of what G-d will do. In contrast, Joshua’s request was unprecedented.


What gave Joshua the idea that he may make such a request? Do we simply suggest that man may request anything at all from G-d? Is man justified to ask for wings? Is such a prayer the words of one who is perfected? Prayer is an institution whereby man may request that which helps in his or her perfection. But do we not see a pattern, that all those who prayed, asked only for that which fell within the realm of reality? Until G-d told King Solomon “ask what I can give to you”, (Kings I, 3:5) Solomon did not ask for knowledge from G-d. But once the door was opened by G-d’s words, he then asked for wisdom. Man knows that knowledge is arrived at through study alone, and no other means. Therefore, no man ever asked G-d to instantly imbue him with knowledge. This is unheard of.


Up to this point, we have the following questions:


1) What was Joshua’s thinking, leading him to believe his request for the sun and moon to halt would be answered?

2) Why did G-d respond to him?

3) What is so significant about this miracle that G-d will never do it again, nor did He ever perform it before?

4) If the reason given why G-d enacted this miracle was because “G-d was battling for Israel”, why should G-d not repeat such a miracle, if He again fights for us?

5) What is behind the statement, “Is it not written in the upright book, ‘and the sun stood in the middle of heaven and it did not hurry to set like a complete day?” This is certainly odd, that the book of Prophets will refer to another section of Scripture. What may we derive from this?

6) And what of this other part of Scripture? Why is another part of the Torah (Exodus 34:10) referring to this miracle? If we look into this reference we have additional questions…


After the Jews sinned with the Golden Calf, G-d would no longer be in their midst - a disinheritance. Moses prays to G-d to go in their midst, to forgive them and to re-inherit them. G-d rescinds His decree:


Exodus 34:10:

“…Behold I will cut a treaty, against all your people I will do wonders that have never been created in all the land and with all the nations, and all the people that you are among will see the acts of G-d that they are fearful, that I do with you.”


In the book of Joshua (10:12), Radak (towards the end) says that the words “I will do wonders that have never been created in all the land and with all the nations” refer to this miracle of G-d causing the sun and moon to stand still. Radak says, “…‘acts of G-d that they are fearful’ refer to the miracle of Moses’ faces shining with light.”


We have located the source referred to in Joshua when it says, “Is it not written in the upright book”. This verse in Exodus foretells Joshua’s sun and moon miracle. According to Radak, Exodus is the “upright book”. (There is a dispute among the commentaries as to which Torah verse is referred to by the book of Joshua. However, our verse in Exodus does state, “I will do wonders that have never been created in all the land and with all the nations.” This is directly supported by G-d statement in Joshua, “…And there was not like this day before it or after it…”.)


We have a few more questions:

7) Other future miracles are not foretold. Why then must Joshua’s miracle be foretold in Exodus?

8) Why is Joshua’s miracle joined with the miracle of Moses’ face shining? 

9) What is its relevance to Moses’ request here?

10) How does man benefit with these two miracles?

11) What is significant about this miracle being “never created in all the land”?

12) And how does this verse in Exodus address Moses’ prayer that G-d once again inherit the Jewish nation, and forgive them?



An Explanation of the Luminaries and Moses’ Light

Returning to our story in Joshua, how did Joshua know he could pray for such an astounding, heavenly event as the sun and moon standing still? It appears Joshua was actually quite certain of a positive response, as his prayer was performed in the sight of the Jews. He purposefully made known his prayer. I believe the very first word in that account is the answer: “Then”. What does this introductory word indicate? It teaches us that Joshua only prayed for this miracle, at a precise moment, i.e., “then.”  “Then”, meaning immediately after something happened, only “then” did Joshua make such an unmatched request. What happened immediately prior to this prayer? The verse states that G-d sent large stones from heaven upon Joshua’s enemies that killed more than those who were slain at war via the Israelites’ swords. This means that this first miracle of G-d casting large stones from the sky taught Joshua something. I believe from this first “heavenly” miracle, Joshua understood that G-d was in fact indicating that the heavens were given over to Joshua for this sake of a victorious battle. Joshua must have understood such a phenomenon of stones falling from heaven as a message that the heavens were to be used by him. Only now did Joshua feel justified in requesting G-d to cause another heavenly phenomenon of halting the sun and moon. Normally, one may not ask for such deviation as we mentioned earlier. But Joshua was sanctioned to do so by G-d’s first miracle.


Why did G-d wish that Joshua make such a prayer so He may perform this never-before performed miracle? Perhaps as a response to Moses’ plea that G-d reunite with Israel and return to their midst, G-d demonstrated His continued, abiding in the Jew’s midst via an overt miracle. His halting of these two luminaries was evidence par excellence that “G-d warred for the Jews”, and these are His exact words in Joshua. Moses prayed that G-d be with the Jews, and G-d agreed to Moses’ prayer. Not only was G-d with the Jews later with Joshua, but, G-d reunited with the Jews in the form of a continued providence with Moses. Moses face shining demonstrated that G-d was with the Jews through Moses. Thus - the luminaries halting and Moses face shining - are in one verse, as they are a single response to Moses’ prayer. Both miracles are a demonstration of the single idea that G-d reunited with the Jews. But why tell us in Exodus, that G-d will remain with Israel throughout Joshua’ time? We may answer that a complete answer to Moses request would be in the form of guaranteeing His providence in a “continued” format. Mentioning Joshua’s miracle long before it occurred, in Exodus, accomplished just that. Additionally, G-d makes mention of His providence with Joshua first in the verse. Why? Perhaps to indicate that a “continued” providence is better demonstrated by depicting a later event first.


The fact that the book of Joshua recalls the original oath is testimony to G-d’s fulfillment of His word. When G-d initially made this promise to Moses, He meant to teach him that He would remain with the Jews through all generations. In order to demonstrate this, G-d need not make such overt miracles in each generation. All that is required is that a “continuance” is seen past Moses’ own time. This was demonstrated in Joshua’s time, the immediate successor to Moses. This single event sufficiently qualifies G-d’s word. No additional, overt miracle is needed. There is a continued providence seen from Moses to Joshua. G-d’s word is upheld. We may now understand why G-d said this will never happen again, nor did it happen before. No other nation may lay claim to obtaining G-d’s favor in the form of such a miracle. The Creator of heaven and Earth favors those who follow His Torah. Perhaps this explains why the miracle incorporated the luminaries – they are the most evident works of the Creator. Unifying this idea, Moses too shared in a miracle of “light”, as his miracle was light emanating from his face.


The verse says that G-d would do miracles among “all the peoples.” Perhaps only when Joshua was warring against five kings was there a case of “all the people”. Only such an assembly of other nations qualifies as “all peoples”, and thus, G-d waited for this moment to create a miracle that was never before performed. In Exodus, G-d also referred to the miracles He would perform as those that He would “do with you.”  The words, “with you” teach that G-d will return to the “midst” of the Jews. G-d displayed through His miracles for Joshua and the nation that He rescinded His former decree not to be amongst Israel.