« PreviousContinue »
wonder-working God than any of the well attested miracles that he wrought. The plagues of Egypt, the passage of the Red Sea, the giving of the Law, the supplying of his people with bread from heaven, or any of the miracles recorded in the New Testament, are as marked exhibitions of Divine power, as the stopping of the sun and moon. And even if it were not so; if the miracle we are considering were one that evidently demanded a much greater effort, in our estimation, on the part of God, we ought not to be influenced by this consideration, in making up our mind as to whether we should believe or not. How can we determine the comparative degree of power which the Almighty must put forth in any given case? How can men say which is the greater or the less work for Him to perform, "who giveth no account of any of his matters," and who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will"? No matter how great the miracle, no matter how stupendous the work, if indeed it is what God has wrought, and he has caused a record to be made of it, we are to receive it. But the question before us is, Did he perform it? Did he, in answer to the request of Joshua, cause the sun and moon to stand still, that his people might avenge themselves of their enemies? This is the whole question which concerns us. It will not be regarded, we believe, as irrelevant or improper for us, in this place, to remark, that no one who has attempted to explain this passage, or who has adventured a theory in regard to it, seems satisfied with his own work when executed. He turns away with evident discomfort, as if to say, "There, I have given the best account of it in my power, and I hope you will be satisfied with it." Even the enemies of revelation, as they have attacked it, with a view to destroy the argument from miracles, seem not to regard themselves as having done any thing toward the accomplishment of their object, in destroying the credibility of the Scriptures, when they have swept the passage away.
It may also be well enough, in passing, to advert to the circumstance which first directed our attention to the question
of the genuineness or inspiration of this text, viz., the astounding fact that a miracle of this magnitude was never once referred to in the writings of prophets, apostles, or evangelists, or even in the instructions of Jesus Christ. By no one who preached or prophesied, at a period subsequent to the conquest of Canaan, though he may have mentioned, and repeatedly too, most of the mighty works which were done for Israel, is the stopping of the sun and moon alluded to, even once! We shall undoubtedly here be told, that the prophet Habakkuk has referred to it. But they who undertake to maintain this will find it quite as difficult a task as to defend the passage in dispute; all which will be made to appear in its proper place.
We shall now give a few of the principal theories invented to explain the passage:
1. There are those who understand it literally; who supFose that, in obedience to the command of Joshua, the sun and moon stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about the space of a whole day. We speak, of course, the language of every day and of every age, in reference to this matter, without regard to the philosophy of the thing, or the more rigid principles of astronomy; this is the language used in the text.
They who embrace the literal view, suppose, of course, that the diurnal motion of the earth was arrested for the space of about twelve hours, that the waters of the sea were prevented from rushing out upon the land, by the same Almighty hand which had made all things, and which had been thus stretched out to work this important miracle; that all things found upon the surface of the earth, which otherwise would have been piled into a mountain of ruins, by the sudden cessation of the earth's motion, were prevented from doing so by the same hand in short, that every thing took place as here recorded, without figure, metaphor, or poetry, just as it would appear to an intelligent inhabitant of the earth, with all the necessary means before him for measuring time, and with the sun and moon passing through the heavens. And this is the
view to be taken, if it be determined that the passage before us is an inspired portion of the word of God. The difficulties we may feel are no greater than those felt in connexion with any well-authenticated miracle recorded in the Scriptures. And we know not that we feel any difficulties whatever in respect to those which are well attested. We suppose that He who has established the laws of nature, has power to alter those laws whenever it shall seem good in his sight; and that he can arrest or reverse them when he pleases.
The literal interpretation of this passage is found as far back as the days of Jesus Siracides, the author of the book of Ecclesiasticus, about 150 or 160 B. C., and is referred to in Chap. 46, in the following words: "Was not one day as long as two?" And so late a writer as Budè Guilloumè, (or Buddeus,) born at Paris, 1467, founds an argument against the Copernican philosophy on the literal interpretation of it. Gallileo and Columbus met with it in the mouth of the bigoted monk and ignorant priest, who were opposed to their philosophy. In a word, it has been the general view taken of it by those who have received the Scriptures as a revelation from God, from the earliest ages of history. This circumstance may have some bearing on determining the true character of the passage.
2. Another opinion is, that the Almighty so far arrested or altered the ordinary course of things, as to cause an extraordinary refraction of the solar and lunar rays, without stopping the sun, moon, or earth, in its course; but only causing things to appear to the inhabitants of the earth just as they would, were the sun and moon to be made to pause in their journey through the heavens. This is the ground taken by Mr. Taylor in his edition of Calmet's Dictionary. It supposes that the event transpired at mid-summer, when the sun was in his highest northern position; that it was near the full moon, just at the setting of the sun, and of course as the moon was rising. At Gibeon, then, (latitude 35 deg. 30 min.) the longest day is fifteen hours. If, now, we add one hour and a half of twilight, morning and evening, we shall have
eighteen hours of daylight, so that the rays of light have to be bent from their natural direction only long enough to make up the remainder of twenty-four hours, at which time the sun. would reappear,-which would fully answer, in his estimation, the purposes of the miracle. And with this view of the subject Professor Stuart seems to accord. In a letter to the writer of this article, he says that "it was only xai' or," i. e. according to appearance.
This, it is thought, will obviate all the difficulties which are felt by the advocates of a literal interpretation, will make the Sacred Record consistent with itself, and leave our confidence in it altogether undisturbed. We shall in this way avoid, as it is said, all serious objections against the miraclesuch as the following: "It disturbed the whole course of nature; made a double day for our hemisphere, and a double night for the other; made the month on which it occurred longer than any other, and the next shorter; held the tides standing, so that where it was high tide there was an inundation, and where low, the extreme reverse; saved the houses and mountains upon the earth's surface from being shaken out of their places, and crushed in one common ruin.”
But we have great difficulty in embracing this view of the subject. It proceeds on the ground that the Jewish leader uttered the command about the hour of the rising sun, whereas the passage itself evidently indicates that it was nearer the middle or close of the day; and the circumstances which are hereafter to be considered, will abundantly show that Joshua, and all Israel with him, were at Makkedah somewhere about the hour of three or four in the afternoon. A more serious difficulty, however, is, that it supposes the rays of the setting sun to have been so bent out of their natural course as to have enabled the inhabitants of Judea to see the sun in the west till he should even reappear in the east, which would give some two days and a half of daylight; and that is more than we know what to do with!
But these are difficulties to which the attention of the reader will be called more particularly in the subsequent part of the article.
All that we have now said proceeds on the ground that the phenomena of nature are described just as they appear to the eyes of the beholder. This mode of speaking is perfectly correct and proper, and the Scriptures, if they are to be understood at all, must use language in accordance with the common modes of speaking, not regarding philosophic distinctions. Were it otherwise, they would mislead a great majority of their readers, and prove an endless source of confusion, instead of being, as they are now, "a light to our feet, and a lamp to our path."
3. Others have supposed that unusual atmospheric phenomena appeared near the close of the day, which performed the office of the sun and moon, by shedding such a light upon the path, both of the conquered and the conqueror, as to prevent the escape of the one, and inspire with courage the other, and that, in accordance with "poetic license," these phenomena are said to be the sun and moon, pausing at the command of Joshua, when he had asked, in general terms, only for light enough to enable him to complete the work which had been so auspiciously commenced. The great objection to this view is, that it bears a marked family likeness to that kind of exposition of the Sacred Record, or to those rules of exegesis which generally invoke the aid of an earthquake or a thunder-storm, whenever any thing supernatural or above the ordinary course of nature is to be explained. Every miracle on record, no matter how well attested, has by this method been explained away, or worse; since, to represent men who are divinely inspired, as stating that for truth which is but the result of their own fear, or the creature of a diseased imagination, is infinitely worse than to have no miraculous works whatever to which to appeal. Besides, one man has as good a right to draw upon the resources of imagination as another. The field is illimitable and open to all, and when once entered is rarely left, until the mind is incurably secured to the interests of unbelief.
4. Some there are, who regard the whole as an example of highly-wrought, figurative, poetic description of a most