Stopping of the Sun at Givon
"Miracle of Miracles"
The Conquest of Canaan is accomplished through both human efforts and Divine intervention. Yehoshua's battle against the Southern kings described in Yehoshua 10 is no exception. After Yehoshua's army marches all night long and surprises its foes, Hashem confounds the enemy and rains upon them a heavenly storm of hailstones. Afterwards, at the apparent behest of Yehoshua, Hashem intervenes in an even more remarkable manner:
(יב) אָז יְדַבֵּר יְהוֹשֻׁעַ לַי"י בְּיוֹם תֵּת י"י אֶת הָאֱמֹרִי לִפְנֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וַיֹּאמֶר לְעֵינֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל שֶׁמֶשׁ בְּגִבְעוֹן דּוֹם וְיָרֵחַ בְּעֵמֶק אַיָּלוֹן. (יג) וַיִּדֹּם הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ וְיָרֵחַ עָמָד עַד יִקֹּם גּוֹי אֹיְבָיו הֲלֹא הִיא כְתוּבָה עַל סֵפֶר הַיָּשָׁר וַיַּעֲמֹד הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ בַּחֲצִי הַשָּׁמַיִם וְלֹא אָץ לָבוֹא כְּיוֹם תָּמִים.
(12) Then spoke Joshua to the Lord in the day when the Lord delivered up the Amorites before the children of Israel; and he said in the sight of Israel: 'Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon; And thou, Moon, in the valley of Aijalon.' (13) And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, Until the nation had avenged themselves of their enemies. Is not this written in the book of Jashar? And the sun stayed in themidst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day.
These words ostensibly describe one of the greatest miracles ever recorded – the stopping of the sun and moon in their tracks. The very enormity of the miracle, however, creates discomfort for some commentators. Is it possible that the celestial bodies, ever constant in their movement, really stood still? Would that not wreak havoc with the entire astronomical system? Moreover, considering that Hashem had already contributed to ensuring the victory, why was such a miracle even necessary? Was there no other way to clinch the Israelite victory than to suspend the natural order in such an extreme way?
Moshe and Yehoshua
Yehoshua 10:14 suggests that this miracle was singular and unprecedented:
וְלֹא הָיָה כַּיּוֹם הַהוּא לְפָנָיו וְאַחֲרָיו לִשְׁמֹעַ י"י בְּקוֹל אִישׁ כִּי י"י נִלְחָם לְיִשְׂרָאֵל.
And there was no day like that before it or after it, that the Lord hearkened unto the voice of a man; for the Lord fought for Israel.
Yet, in speaking of Moshe's uniqueness as prophet, Devarim 34 shares:
(י) וְלֹא קָם נָבִיא עוֹד בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל כְּמֹשֶׁה אֲשֶׁר יְדָעוֹ י"י פָּנִים אֶל פָּנִים. (יא) לְכׇל הָאֹתֹת וְהַמּוֹפְתִים אֲשֶׁר שְׁלָחוֹ י"י לַעֲשׂוֹת בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם לְפַרְעֹה וּלְכׇל עֲבָדָיו וּלְכׇל אַרְצוֹ.
(10) And there hath not arisen a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face; (11) in all the signs and the wonders, which the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh, and to all his servants, and to all his land;
These words imply that Moshe's prophecy was unsurpassed and that the wonders he wrought were unparalleled. How can this be squared with the description of the miracle in Yehoshua? Is not the suspension of the sun's movement on par with, or perhaps even greater than, Moshe's feats?
- Role of the moon – What is the relationship between the phrases "שֶׁמֶשׁ בְּגִבְעוֹן דּוֹם" and "וְיָרֵחַ בְּעֵמֶק אַיָּלוֹן"? Is this simply a literary doubling or does it suggest that there were two distinct celestial phenomena? What role did the moon play in the miracle?
- Request or praise? Were Yehoshua's words "שֶׁמֶשׁ בְּגִבְעוֹן דּוֹם" a prayer for Divine assistance said in the midst of battle or a song of praise after the victory? On one hand, we are told that Yehoshua spoke "on the day that the Emorites were given into Israel's hands", suggesting that the battle had already ended. Yet, the summary statement, "Hashem listened to the voice of man", implies that this was a request for aid.1
- "סֵפֶר הַיָּשָׁר" – The miracle is said to have been documented in "סֵפֶר הַיָּשָׁר". What is this book, and what does its record teach about the miracle?