My first room-mate in college was a guy named John Smith (real name withheld) and I think the housing office paired us up because on our application we both checked the box that said we were Christians. Plus John was a couple years ahead of me and back then colleges often matched upperclassmen like John with freshmen to help newcomers get settled into college life.
But I’m sad to say that, in spite of the housing office’s best intentions, John and I just did not get along for several reasons. First, our personalities clashed. We were like oil and water. We were friendly to each other but we never became friends if you know what I mean. One of our areas of disagreement was the fact that he was a social drinker and I wasn’t and that would be okay. His business was his business but he didn’t keep it his business. He constantly made fun of my teetotaling ways. He repeatedly pressured me to help him host a party in our dorm room where beer and mixed drinks would flow freely.
Another source of contention between us was the fact that John just did not believe in the miracles of the Bible. We had several “lively discussions” that first year about whether or not there really was a world-wide flood in the days of Noah, and whether or not God really did part the Red Sea, and whether or not the story of Jonah and the whale really happened; discussions in which he made fun of me for what he referred to as a foolish, uneducated faith. And after a year of not getting along we both decided it would be best to go our separate ways. I’m not sure how he faired when it came to his next roommate but I didn’t get a good one until God sent me Sue!
Well, the fact is John isn’t alone in his opinion about the miracles of the Bible. To quote Paul Little, many people, some of them Christians, think that miracles in the Bible are just, “…quaint ways of conveying spiritual truth, and are not meant to be taken literally.” Well, what about it? Who’s right-me or John? Did the miracles of the Bible really happen, and do miracles still happen today?
This brings us to our text for this morning because it gives us a perfect opportunity to deal with this issue. Take your Bibles and turn to Joshua chapter 10:1-15 and you’ll see what I mean.
Joshua 10:5 – The five kings of the Amorites-the kings of Jerusalem, Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish and Eglon-joined forces. They moved up with all their troops and took up positions against Gibeon and attacked it.
6 – The Gibeonites then sent word to Joshua in the camp at Gilgal: “Do not abandon your servants. Come up to us quickly and save us! Help us, because all the Amorite kings from the hill country have joined forces against us.”
7 – So Joshua marched up from Gilgal with his entire army, including all the best fighting men.
8 – The LORD said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid of them; I have given them into your hand. Not one of them will be able to withstand you.”
9 – After an all-night march from Gilgal, Joshua took them by surprise.
10 – The LORD threw them into confusion before Israel, who defeated them in a great victory at Gibeon. Israel pursued them along the road going up to Beth Horon and cut them down all the way to Azekah and Makkedah.
11 – As they fled before Israel on the road down from Beth Horon to Azekah, the LORD hurled large hailstones down on them from the sky, and more of them died from the hailstones than were killed by the swords of the Israelites.
12 – On the day the LORD gave the Amorites over to Israel, Joshua said to the LORD in the presence of Israel: “O sun, stand still over Gibeon, O moon, over the Valley of Aijalon.”
13 – So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, till the nation avenged itself on its enemies, as it is written in the Book of Jashar. The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day.
14 – There has never been a day like it before or since, a day when the LORD listened to a man. Surely the LORD was fighting for Israel!
15 – Then Joshua returned with all Israel to the camp at Gilgal.
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
It’s been a couple weeks since we last looked at Joshua, so let’s review a bit before we take a close look at this miracle-filled chapter of Jewish history. You should be familiar with the Gibeonites that are mentioned in this text. Remember? As I told you two week ago they very cleverly tricked the Israelites into making a peace treaty with them by disguising themselves as a delegation from a far away land. The Hebrews were fooled into making a vow in the name of God to ally themselves with these people, who in reality represented a pagan enemy nation that was part of the Promised Land. Joshua was of course upset about this but he showed his integrity because when the deception was discovered, he kept his word and honored the alliance he had been deceived into making. Well, when the Gibeonites’ neighbors heard about this treaty they looked on them as traitors and decided to attack. The King of Jerusalem encouraged four of his peers to band together so as to punish their Gibeonite neighbors for siding with their enemy, the invading Hebrews.
Well, when the Gibeonites learned of this imminent attack they sent word to Joshua, pleading for his help. And at this point, Joshua’s integrity continued to shine. I mean, if he had been a lesser man, he might have seen this as a way to escape the treaty he had been tricked into signing with the Gibeonites. He could have sat back and just waited for the five unified armies to obliterate Gibeon and all of it’s residents; problem solved! After all, they had deceived him. So he could have reasoned that they were just getting what they deserved.
But as I said, Joshua was too righteous of a guy to think that way. He knew inaction on his part would have been sin of omission. A treaty is a treaty and there is no right way to do a wrong thing. So, he immediately marshaled his forces and ordered an all-night march and a surprise attack on the enemy. And-Joshua really pushed his army in his haste to come to the Gibeonite’s aid. He and his troops hurriedly covered in one night a distance that had taken them three days to cover earlier at a more leisurely pace. And, I’m sure it was a tiring march because not only was it double time all the way, their route was also pretty much up hill. They quickly hoofed it up the steep ravine to Ai and then south to Gibeon where they attacked the unsuspecting Canaanite confederacy suddenly, presumably at dawn. The Bible says that as the Hebrews attacked, God threw the enemy forces into confusion such that the armies of the five kings fled. Look at verse 10. “Israel pursued them along the road going UP to Beth Horon and cut them down all the way to Azekah and Makkedah.”
Now, going south from Gibeon, where this battle began, there is a ten-mile ascent up to Beth Horon. But from that point the road drops away abruptly, falling seven hundred feet in two miles. The rocky slope there is cut into steps, and it was down this rugged descent that the Canaanites fled before the pursuing Israelites. I’m sure the King of Jerusalem and his allies were hoping to reach their fortified cities, seal the gates, and gain at least a night’s rest before they had to face their pursuing foes again. But as the Canaanites fled down the rocky path, God intervened in the first of two miracles. Like the eagles coming to the rescue in Tolkien’s book, The Return of the King, God sent help from the skies in the form of hailstones that miraculously struck only the panicked enemy soldiers on the slopes below Beth Horon. In fact verse 11 says, “More of them died from the hailstones than were killed by the swords of the Israelites.”
Now picture the scene that must have greeted Joshua as he crested the ridge at Beth Horon. Before him, as far as his eyes could see, were masses of the panicked armies being pursued by his own soldiers. Over the slopes and above the plains beyond, there was a great cloud from which hail was falling, wounding and killing the fleeing enemy soldiers. As he looked to his right, he saw the sun was about to begin its long afternoon descent toward the Mediterranean. At this point Joshua must have realized two things. First, it hit him that this was an unprecedented opportunity to destroy the southern confederacy once and for all. Instead of having to fight five different battles, he could deal with each the armies of each of these cities at the same time. After all, the best of their soldiers had come out against him, and they were fleeing. If he could destroy them now, the battle for the southern part of the Promised Land would be a done deal. But at the same instant a second thought entered his mind. The day was escaping! When the sun set, fighting would cease, and he quickly calculated that there was just not enough time before sunset to achieve total victory. So Joshua uttered an unprecedented prayer. He asked God to prolong the day. And in this, the last recorded miracle in the book of Joshua, that’s exactly what God did. Look at verse 12-14:
On the day the LORD gave the Amorites over to Israel, Joshua said to the LORD in the presence of Israel: “O sun, stand still over Gibeon, O moon, over the Valley of Aijalon.”
So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, till the nation avenged itself on its enemies, The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day.
There has never been a day like it before or since, a day when the LORD listened to a man. Surely the LORD was fighting for Israel!
Now, it is at this point that many people, even Christians say, “Wait a minute. The miracle of those ‘smart-bomb hail stones’ is one thing. But the sun stopping for an entire day? Come on!? This is too much! Besides, as any educated individual knows the sun always stands still. It is the earth that moves.”
Well, I would respond to that last bit of criticism by saying that in his account of this miracle Joshua was just using the same language we do-even today in our modern, educated culture. I mean, can you imagine him praying, “God, stop the earth from rotating which will make the sun appear to stand still, so my soldiers can have enough light to win the victory!” No, of course not. And we don’t talk that way either. In their daily forecast, even the most educated weathermen on TV today always tell us when the sun will “set” and “rise.”
But, aside from this “sun stand still” wording, what did happen on that day of days? Did the earth really slow and then stop its rotation for an entire day? Did the moon cease to orbit our planet as verse 13 says? How would that have been possible? Wouldn’t it have messed up the tides and caused earthquakes and things like that? What really happened that day as Joshua stood on the slopes of Beth Horon?
Well, as I said, people, even Christians, have debated this for centuries, and in his book The Christian View of Science, Bernard Ramm does a great job of summarizing the results of these discussions. Let’s look at them briefly.
A. First, Ramm points out that some say, the words in this 10th chapter are poetic-symbolic.
After all, the Bible says this text is a quote from a book of poetry-The Book of Jashar. And the people of those days often wove references to the heavenly bodies into the accounts of their victories, like in Judges 5:20, for example, where Deborah and Barak claim that the very stars fought against their enemy, Sisera. People who hold to this interpretation say that Joshua was doing the same sort of thing; that he called on God for strength and God answered by refreshing his soldiers so much that they were able to do a day’s fighting in less than half the time. And because of this it seemed to them as if the day had been lengthened, which inspired this poetic wording.
But this interpretation doesn’t really answer the question as to what really happened that day because it ignores those smart bomb hailstones that only targeted the enemy. These hail stones don’t seem poetic. If so, what would they represent? And, if we take the hailstones literally, shouldn’t we take God lengthening the day in the same way?
B. Others say that Joshua did not ask for a longer day but rather for a release from the day’s heat.
They cite the fact that the Hebrew verb, “dom,” which most of the English versions translate here in verse 13 as “stand still,” usually means, “be silent, ease, or leave off.” They suggest that in the heat of the day in his prayer Joshua requested that the sun cease or leave off shining; that God turn down the heat and that God’s answer was the hailstorm, a storm that not only brought refreshment to his travel-weary soldiers so they could do the work of a full day in half the time, but also brought destruction on Joshua’s enemy. But in the text, the hailstorm came before Joshua’s prayer, so this conclusion doesn’t really add up.
C. And then some believe a miracle of refraction of the sun’s rays made it just seem as if the sun and moon were out of their regular places.
In his book Ramm cites two articles by Short and Butler who say that this miracle in Joshua 10 was due to “…a special and rare mirage in the earth’s atmosphere which is similar to one of more of the natural mirages, but was of a magnitude, altitude, and character that would be the result of a divine miracle only.” Now to me, a miracle is a miracle. If you say God could shape the earth’s atmosphere to make this unprecedented mirage happen, why not just believe God could stop the earth’s rotation!? I mean, come on!!!
D. This leads to the last interpretation of this event, because some believe the sun, or more accurately the earth and moon, actually did stop.
They say that after all, God is God and He can do anything. But even conservative believers like Warren Wiersbe seem to have a hard time swallowing this hook, line, and sinker. He agrees with Francis Shaeffer who argues that God merely lengthened the hours of sunlight a bit by some means, enough to make it seem as if the sun “stopped” for an entire day. Shaeffer points out that after all, days are of different lengths in different parts of the globe, like northern Norway for example, so it wasn’t that spectacular of a miracle.
Now, I should tell you that there are several unverified claims that support a literal interpretation of this event. For example some cite Egyptian, Chinese, Aztec, and Hindu historical records of a mysteriously long day, a day that would have happened in Joshua’s time. And there are also reports of a Professor Pickering at the Harvard Observatory that say in his research about the Big Bang theory he has discovered the fact that since the dawn of creation one full day is missing a day that he also traced to the time of Joshua. I found these reports on the Internet, and whereas I can’t confirm them, I will go on record in saying that I believe the account in Joshua is exactly what happened. I believe God literally “stopped the sun” for an entire day. I’m sure John Smith would disagree vehemently, but I still believe this because I believe God created this entire universe, including our sun and moon. I believe that as Psalm 74:16 says, “Oh God, the day is Yours, and Yours also the night; You established the sun and moon. It was You Who set all the boundaries of the earth.” I believe that as Colossians 1:17 says, “…in Him all things hold together”-even things as big as planets-and solar systems. I believe this literal account because I also believe God will let nothing interfere with His sovereign purpose. God can effortlessly and will literally move heaven and earth if need be!
Now, before we go any further in our study of miracles, let’s agree on a definition. What is a miracle? I mean, we use the word so flippantly these days. If a scared student passes an exam he didn’t study for he says, “It was a miracle!” If an old car gets us where we want to go without breaking down we say, “It was a miracle!” According to Sheila Woofter when the staff husbands beat their wives in a game of TABOO a couple weeks ago, “It was a miracle!” If we are able to turn left out of the church parking lot onto Muncaster Mill Road without the help of a crossing guard we say, “It was a miracle!” If number 14 seed Northwestern beats number 3 seed Iowa in the NCAA play offs we say, “It was a miracle!” And, it was. That’s the only way to explain their victory!
Well, since we use this word so casually, we obviously don’t have an accurate grasp on it’s meaning. So let’s spend the rest of our time this morning trying to correct that. I want to share with you a very basic definition of the word and then four basic miracle facts. First a definition according to Charles Swindoll, “A miracle is a humanly impossible event that occurs in the natural realm apart from natural causes for the glory of God.”
Now please note his last phrase. Biblical miracles are done for a specific purpose. God does them. He countermands His natural law in order to bring Himself glory. Paul Little would agree. He writes, “Biblical miracles, in contrast to miracle stories in pagan literature and those of other religions, were never capricious or fantastic. They were not scattered helter-skelter through the record without rhyme or reason. There was always clear order and purpose to them.” And he’s right. As Jesus said in John 10:25, “The miracles I do in My Father’s name speak for Me.”
In other words, Biblical miracles, miracles that are of God, always have the purpose of pointing to Him. God is glorified, not the miracle worker. They help convict people of their need for God’s saving power. They are never performed for entertainment or for personal prestige or to gain money or power. They always point to Jesus.
I’m reminded of the movie, The End of the Spear, a film that tells the true story of four missionaries who were speared to death by the Auca Indians of Ecuador. As the missionaries lay dying, the Aucas looked up and saw angels welcoming the slain missionaries into heaven. And this miracle served it’s purpose because it helped push these Indians and later their entire tribe toward faith in Jesus Christ.
Now, you may wonder, “Then why doesn’t God do more miracles? Surely that would make more people want to become Christians.” Well, I don’t have a complete answer for this question-but I do know that miracles don’t always prompt people to have faith in God. Even miracles aren’t enough for some people to believe. Look at the Israelites. They saw miracles every single day. They saw the Red Sea parted but an entire generation still refused to believe God could help them conquer the Promised Land. And do you remember Abraham’s reply to the rich man who was in Hell and asked that someone go and warn his brothers who were still living so they could avoid his fate? In Luke 16:31 Abraham said, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” Some people, like this rich man’s brothers, are so hard-hearted that they discount even miracles. No amount of evidence would persuade them to believe. Miracles wouldn’t work on them, and in answer to this question I would say that when it comes to answering why God doesn’t do more miracles, we need to trust His foreknowledge. We must trust that He will intervene miraculously only if He knows it will suit His eternal purposes.
Okay, to help deepen our understanding of Biblical miracles let me share with you four basic facts.
(1) First, miracles are central to the Christian faith.
In his book, Protestant Evidences, Bernard Ramm writes,
“Biblical miracles are part of he means of establishing Christianity [as the one true faith.] Israel was brought into existence by a series of miracles, the law was given surrounded by supernatural wonders, and many of the prophets were identified as God’s spokesmen by their power to perform miracles. Jesus came not only preaching but performing miracles and the apostles from time to time worked wonders. It was the miracle authenticating the religion at every point.”
Ramm is right. I mean, think of how impotent our faith would be without miracles. Removing its miraculous aspects would do away with the inspiration of the Bible, the Virgin Birth, and the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ-and as Paul puts it in 1st Corinthians 15:14ff,
“If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.
More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that He raised Christ from the dead.
And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.
Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.”
C. S. Lewis said,
“The mind which asks for a non-miraculous Christianity is a mind in process of relapsing from Christianity into mere ‘religion.’ All the essentials of Hinduism would, I think remain unimpaired if you subtracted the miraculous, and the same is almost true of Mohammadanism, but you cannot do that with Christianity. It is precisely the story of a great miracle. A naturalistic Christianity leaves out all that is specifically Christian.”
So, when it comes to the Christian faith, a belief in miracles is not something you can take or leave. Without miracles our faith is empty. This leads to a second basic fact.
(2) …our belief in miracles reflects our understanding of the nature of God.
I mean, if we believe that God is truly omnipotent, truly all-powerful, then we have no trouble believing in miracles like we read about here in Joshua 10.
Leland Wong, an evangelist to Chinese people in America put three Biblical texts at the top of his letterhead: Joshua 10:13, “The sun stood still.” 2nd Kings 6:6, “The iron did float.” and Psalm 48:14, “This God is our God.” “The sun stood still…the iron did float…this God is our God.” I like that! Perhaps we should use it on our own church letterhead, because this is true. Nothing is too great for God. As Tozer puts it, “God possesses what no creature can: an incomprehensible plentitude of power-a potency that is absolute.” And as God Himself puts it in Jeremiah 32:27, “I am the LORD, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for Me?!” Of course the answer is no. Our almighty God can do anything!
To say that there is something God cannot do, to say God can’t do a miracle which, by definition, is something that occurs outside natural law is to in essence deify the law and make it God. I mean, of course God can “stop the sun.” He created the sun. He “invented” the miraculous natural law that makes it work. As the song goes, “It took a miracle to put the stars in space. It took a miracle to hang the world in place.”
So of course God can reverse the miracle and stop our planet and keep us from floating off into space if He wants to. He made our planet! He made space! He set into motion the laws of planetary motion and He can stop them whenever he wants. Can’t a clockmaker stop his clock if he so desires?
You know, we tend to forget that the natural law itself is a miracle of God. As J. N. Hawthorne puts it, “Miracles are unusual events caused by God-the laws of nature are generalizations about ordinary events caused by Him.” Miracles are going on around us every minute. The fact that you can hear what I am saying is a miracle of God. The fact that you can breathe air and your heart can pump blood is another and so on.
Another thing-as Christians, if we are to do anything great for God, anything lasting, well, it requires us to believe in His limitless power. The more we believe He can do the more we’ll attempt for Him.
Years ago Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse preached at Princeton’s Chapel. When he finished his old Hebrew professor came up to him and complimented his message saying,“I’m glad you’re a big-godder, Donald.” Barnhouse asked him to explain and he said, “Some men have a little God, and they are always in trouble with Him. He can’t do any miracles. He can’t take care of the inspiration of the Scriptures. They have a little god and I call them ‘little-godders.’ Then there are those who have a great God. He speaks and it is done. He commands and it stands fast. He knows how to show Himself strong on behalf of those who fear Him. You have a great God Donald and He will bless your ministry.” And of course He did!
Well, let me ask you, are you a ‘big-godder’ or a ‘little-godder?’ Do you believe our God is truly omnipotent, all-powerful? Is He powerful enough to heal your marriage? Is He strong enough to provide your physical needs and wise enough to know what they are? Is your God able to make you an effective parent? Can He help you do your job? Is His hearing sensitive enough to hear your prayers? Well, use your miracle-empowered hears to hear me-because my god is! My God can do anything!!! I believe that as the old Children’s chorus goes, my…”God can do anything, anything, anything. My God can do anything but fail!” – which leads to a third basic fact.
(3) God still does miracles.
This week I read dozens of true-life accounts of God’s wonder-working power, amazing things God does even today. I don’t have time to share all of them with you but I decided to rely on God’s miraculous laws of light and sound and electricity to show you two that we have on video.
CLIP FROM JESUS DVD
The main thing I want you to take from this is that God still does miracles, He still does amazing things, if in His omniscience He knows it will draw people to faith in Him.
And that leads us to one final fact we must grasp if our study is to be complete and it is this:
(4) The greatest miracle is conversion.
I say this because when we hear the word “miracle” we tend to think of things like parting the Red Sea or healing a blind man, or this guy on the video being healed of a terminal illness. But those miracles, as amazing as they are, are nothing compared to the miracle that occurs every time an individual puts his faith in Jesus Christ and has his sins forgiven so that He stands pure and blameless in the eyes of our Holy God. Let me put it this way. All other miracles are temporary. Those healed get sick again. Risen Lazarus still died again eventually. The sun only stopped for one day but conversion is for keeps because accepting God’s gift of forgiveness through faith in Jesus gives us eternal life. As Calvin Miller puts it, “Heaven is the finest and most final of all Christian miracles. In that eternal place there is no pain or sorrow or death because the old order of things has passed away.” Think of it this way: a 30 year old woman is diagnosed with breast cancer. Docs say it is terminal. This prompts her to turn to God. She hears the Gospel and puts her faith in Jesus. She also asks for God’s healing power and He gives it. The cancer disappears. Her docs can’t explain it and she lives 60 more years. At the ripe age of 90 her body ceases to function. But because of her conversion six decades later she doesn’t die. She lives in heaven forever. Now, tell me which miracle is more powerful? Her healing from cancer gave her 60 years but her faith in Jesus gave her eternity!!! Do the math. Which miracle is greater?
Another thing-sometimes God heals, but he always saves. He always performs the greatest miracle. As Romans 10:13 says, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” To celebrate this miraculous truth fact let’s sing the chorus of that hymn again….
“It took a miracle to put the stars in place; it took a miracle to hang the world in space; But when He saved my soul, cleansed and made me whole; It took a miracle of love and grace.”
Well, let me ask you, has God saved your soul? Have you personally experienced the greatest miracle? One of these days the sun will set on your life. Are you ready for that day? If not, you can be, because right now if you call on the name of the Lord-if you pray and ask Jesus to forgive you of your sin and to come into your life as Lord-He will. If you want to make that decision today, come forward and I’ll answer your questions and we’ll pray together.
If you are here and you’d like to pray for God’s miraculous power concerning some issue or circumstance, come, we’ll humbly ask for God’s help together.
And if God is leading you to join this church family come.but come now as God leads.