Even before the Gibeonites went over to Israel’s side, the kings of Canaan banded together to fight Israel (Josh. 9:1-2). But if they were afraid before, they were much more afraid now, because Gibeon was a powerful city. Its soldiers had a reputation as mighty men. Five of the leading Amorite kings discussed what to do. They decided that the best plan was to destroy Gibeon while its soldiers were still separated from the main army of Israel.
Soon, five armies surrounded Gibeon and fought against it. But somehow the Gibeonites managed to send a message to Joshua at Gilgal that they needed help. Although Joshua regretted making a treaty with Gibeon, he did not hesitate to honor it. He gathered his forces and immediately marched to the besieged city. As a skillful general, he knew the importance of taking the enemy by surprise. Therefore, he required his soldiers to move at top speed all night long. When they fell upon the Amorites in the morning, the enemy was unprepared and disorganized. The battle quickly turned into a one-sided slaughter.
The story shows the secrets of Joshua’s success. Before he led his army from Gilgal to Gibeon, he consulted with the Lord, and the Lord told him to go. The first secret to his success was that he obeyed the Lord. Yet he did not just go through the motions of obedience, expecting God to do all the hard work. He knew that the Lord wanted him to do his best, using his own abilities. Thus, he followed good military strategy. The second secret to his success was that he did the work of God with expert skill.
Unable to resist Israel, the Amorites fled back toward their cities. The Israelites pursued, striking down stragglers along the way. But when the Lord saw that some of the fleetest enemy were escaping, He intervened. He rained down upon them a great shower of stones. Perhaps this was a meteor shower that the Lord directed through the atmosphere so that it fell precisely on the enemy. More died from the stones than from the sword.
God was fulfilling a promise He made to Joshua many months earlier, when He set up Joshua as the new commander of Israel. He told Joshua, “There shall not any man be able to stand before thee all the days of thy life” (Josh. 1:5).
Although the stones took a heavy toll, Joshua saw that his army could not track down all the enemy before nightfall. Some would probably slip away under the cover of darkness. Thus, he cried out to God with an utterly amazing request. He asked God to prolong the day. A lifetime of watching God do great miracles had prepared Joshua for this moment. When victory required a great miracle, he did not shrink from asking for it. He did not ask for it apologetically, as if he thought the request might appear extreme or unreasonable. He was so strong in faith that he simply commanded the sun and the moon to stand still.
Was the request unreasonable? Certainly not. Jesus said that if we have faith the size of a mustard seed (a very small seed), we will be able to move mountains (Matt. 17:20). He meant that there is no limit on what God will give us in answer to our prayers, so long as we meet certain conditions. One is that we must ask in faith. What Joshua desired was a much greater feat than moving a mountain, but he did not lack the faith required.
As soon as Joshua spoke, the sun and moon froze in their positions and did not move for a whole twenty-four hours. How was it possible for observers in Canaan to notice halted motion in both heavenly bodies? The miracle presumably occurred during that time of month when both are visible late in the day.
The earth could not have stopped in an instant, or men and animals everywhere would have been violently thrown into the air. Everything on the earth’s surface is moving at the same speed as the earth’s rotation. The speed of something at the equator is more than a thousand miles per hour. Except for gravity, the inertia of loose objects on the ground would carry them on a straight-line path starting parallel to the equator but then moving steadily toward outer space. So imagine what would happen if the earth’s rotation stopped suddenly, within a moment of time. Gravity would be insufficient to keep those same objects from flying off the surface. Yet they would have far less than the velocity needed to go into orbit or to escape from the earth's gravity altogether. Instead, unless they hit a wall or a tree or a hillside first, gravity would quickly pull them back down to the ground, and they would crash at the speed of a spent bullet. For any living being, the impact would be fatal, of course. So, how did God bring the earth’s rotation to a halt without killing all the animals and people? He must have slowed it down gradually. Deceleration in a car is entirely comfortable at a rate of five miles per hour per second. At that rate, the earth’s rotation could be brought to a standstill in only 200 seconds, which is a little more than three minutes. In that time the change in the positions of sun and moon would be hardly detectable. So, we may surmise that when Joshua commanded the sun to stand still, the angels assigned to the task were cautioned to accomplish it within a stated time frame, between three and five minutes perhaps. Later, when they restarted the earth’s rotation, they undoubtedly used the same time frame for gradual acceleration. Men on the surface would have noticed hardly any effects.
The moon presents a special problem. To hold it motionless in the sky even while the earth’s rotation was suspended, the angels must have stopped its orbital motion. Yet to do so would not have exceeded their ability.
Skeptics have always ridiculed the story of the sun standing still. But if God exists, no miracle is more impossible than another. He created the sun, the moon, and the stars. If He created them in the first place, slightly adjusting their motions to prolong an earth day was surely within His power.
Throughout the extra hours of daylight, the army of Israel chased the enemy. Before the day was over, the enemy was totally consumed, except for a few who took refuge in fenced cities (v. 20).
Joshua received a report earlier in the day that the five Amorite kings were hiding in a cave at Makkedah, a Canaanite city that the army of Israel bypassed. He instructed his men to seal the cave so that he could deal with these kings later, after he finished mopping-up operations. At day’s end he returned to Makkedah, intending to set up camp. But first he had unfinished business to take care of. Although his men were weary, he led them in another round of fighting. They overran the city and destroyed every Canaanite they found. Not one soul was spared, although some escaped to fenced cities that Joshua later assaulted individually.
Israel's superiority to her foes was so obvious that "none moved his tongue against any of the children of Israel" (v. 21). All the people of Canaan came to view the conquering nation with deep respect, even with an awe rooted in fear. Much the same happened in Moses' time after God sent the plagues upon Egypt. God had predicted, "Against any of the children of Israel shall not a dog move his tongue, against man or beast" (Exod. 11:7).
Then Joshua went to the cave and brought out the five kings. He commanded his captains of war to come near and place their feet on the necks of these kings, as a sign of what would happen to anyone who dared oppose Israel. He was seeking to embolden his men for future warfare. Just as God wanted Joshua to have courage (Josh. 1:6), so Joshua wanted his men to have courage.
In the weeks following the longest day, Joshua completed his conquest of southern Canaan. He destroyed the enemy cities one by one. The six main cities were Makkedah, Libnah, Lachish, Eglon, Hebron, and Debir. But besides these he took all of southern Canaan, down to Kadesh-barnea on the edge of the wilderness and Goshen on the border of Egypt. The only land he failed to take was along the coast of the Mediterranean, where the Philistines had five strong cities.
Everywhere he went, Joshua killed "all that breathed"—that is, every man, woman, and child. Why was he so severe? He was obeying God, who decreed concerning the nations of Canaan, “Thou shalt smite them, and utterly destroy them; thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor shew mercy unto them” (Deut. 7:2). God denied them mercy because of their great wickedness (Deut. 9:4). The Canaanites were perhaps among the most wicked people who ever lived.
But even they were not too wicked to obtain God’s forgiveness if they repented of their sins. God would have shown them favor if they had sought peace with Israel and Israel’s God (Josh. 11:20). Instead, they chose to reject God and fight against His people.
The incident of the prolonged day is rich in symbolism. The symbols are easy to recognize and their meaning is easy to decipher, because, like all the other symbols we find in Scripture, Scripture itself defines them, either in the immediate context or in more remote passages. The basic question is, what is the general symbolic meaning of the lighted portion of a twenty-four-hour period—of that interval of time we normally refer to as "day"? Day is, of course, when light prevails. In Scripture, the light is Christ (John 1:9), and His kingdom is the Kingdom of light (Col. 1:13). Day specifically represents the future period of history that will begin after Christ descends and sets up His kingdom on the earth (1 Thess. 5:2-4; Phil. 1:6; etc.). The present period of history, when the whole world lies in darkness (John 12:46), is called the night (1 Thess. 5:2-4).
Yet day has already come to this world. It is like the kingdom of God in having three manifestations, one past, one present, and one future. There is the future kingdom that Christ will establish after His return, yet His kingdom first encroached upon this world thousands of years ago in the person of the King (Luke 11:20), and even now in the midst of darkness His kingdom remains in the hearts of His children (Luke 17:21). Likewise, the day has three manifestations. It is not only the future day when darkness will be wholly banished from the earth, but it was also day when Christ the light of the world walked the earth (John 9:4-5), and day continues in the present time wherever it has dawned in a believer’s heart (2 Pet. 1:19). Thus, Jesus says of believers that they walk in the day (John 11:9; see also 1 John 2:9–10).
It is therefore evident that the whole Church Age may be viewed as day and night coexisting side by side. The world of lost men is night, and the world of redeemed men is day. As believers, we can see day about us, because we observe the gospel advancing and rolling back the powers of darkness. Yet day will vanish from the world after the church is raptured. Then darkness will be universal. The Tribulation period is evidently what Jesus had in mind when He warned that "the night cometh, when no man can work" (John 9:4).
The story of Joshua’s conquest of southern Canaan now makes sense. As we have argued before, the wars in Canaan represent the Christian doing battle against all the obstacles that hinder his service of Christ. Yet, as we have also said, Israel as a whole does not picture an individual Christian, but rather the whole church. The campaign against the southern coalition of kings is therefore a figure of the church striving to fulfill its mandate both to extend the kingdom of God by evangelism and to nurture believers until they attain the full measure of Christ.
The campaign was essentially completed in one day, but a most unusual day. Lest it close before the work of conquest was finished, Joshua prayed that it be miraculously extended. The meaning on a symbolic level seems plain enough, although rather puzzling. The meaning seems to be that God will prolong the Church Age until the work of the church is finished.
But then should we regard Joshua’s prayer as a model for us? Should we be seeking a delay in Christ’s return so that more souls will be saved and nurtured? But Scripture recommends the opposite (Rev. 22:20; Matt. 6:10). As believers, we should be praying that God will soon overcome and destroy all the works of the evil one. The better interpretation of Joshua’s prayer recognizes that the source was not the nation as a whole, but their leader, Joshua, who is a type of Christ. Indeed, it is not quite accurate to call it a prayer, for it was in fact a command. His command to the sun and moon portrays Christ’s authority over creation. At the same time, it portrays His authority over the church, and it shows us that He will not permit the work of the church to cease until it has achieved all of God’s purposes. Among these is the evangelization of the uttermost part of the earth (Acts 1:8). Another is a full harvest of wheat without loss of any of the good seed (Matt. 13:24-30). To accomplish the latter objective, He will expand the Church Age as long as necessary to assure that every child of God known and loved from eternity past will be born into this world and, through the gospel, receive life forever.
Peter affirms this divine strategy when he strongly implies that thousands of years will precede Christ’s return (2 Pet. 3:3-9). The reason for the delay is that God wishes to maximize His harvest from the field of the world. He does not wish to cut history short before the maturity of any person who would respond to Him with love. We can be thankful that He postponed Christ’s return to a time still in our future. It was precisely to include us among His beloved saints who will stand before His throne forever that He allowed history to run on until the present time.
We can, in fact, be sure that so long as the gospel is prospering, the Church Age will not come to an end. God is love. Therefore, He wishes to grant existence to souls who will desire Him. By admitting this truth, we discover the rationale behind a major point of God’s program. Bible prophecy affirms in many places that in the Last Days before Christ’s return, the church will be infested with corruption and apostasy. Jesus compared the Last Days to the days of Noah, when only a handful of the world’s population—just eight people—still loved and served their Creator (Matt. 24:37). Jesus viewed the Last Days as so bleak that it was questionable whether any would remain faithful to God (Luke 18:8). Several texts teach explicitly or in transparent symbols that apostasy will fill the church in the days right before Christ’s return (an example of the former, 2 Thess. 2:1-3; of the former, Matt. 13:33). It is clear that immediately before the close of the Church Age, the authentic work of the gospel will wind down almost to a halt. The events terminating the Church Age will not take place until further delay is pointless, because instead of extending the kingdom of light, it will only multiply evil. After the rapture of those who remain, there will be another harvest of souls. We can be sure that in God’s overarching plan of history, the Rapture is set at the precise moment calculated to maximize the total harvest on both sides of the event.
Since the Long Day pictures the Church Age, the execution of the kings hiding in the cave at Makkedah—the last event on the Long Day—may therefore be seen as a type of events at the return of Christ. Upon His descent from the clouds, His first expression of kingly power will be to crush the Antichrist and the False Prophet together with all the forces which they have brought to the land of Israel in an attempt to prevent Christ from setting up His kingdom. It will be the devil's desperate ploy to escape hell, but he will of course not succeed. The ensuing battle—the so-called Battle of Armageddon—will be wholly one-sided. The forces on God's side will suffer no casualties. The forces allied with the devil will be wiped out. Christ will slay the Antichrist and the False Prophet with the sword issuing from His mouth, immediately raise them to life, and then cast them alive into the lake of fire. The devil himself will be seized by angels stronger than he and chained in the bottomless pit (2 Thess. 2:3, 4; Rev. 19:19-21).
© 2007, 2012 Stanley Edgar Rickard (Ed Rickard, the author). All rights reserved.