So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day.
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.
Strange and extraordinary was the surrender of the Gibeonites to the children of Israel. It began with an elaborate plan of deception perpetrated by the Gibeonites in the fear which they felt for Israel and the power of Israel’s God. It reflected poorly on the children of Israel in that they proceeded to make a truce with the Gibeonites while failing to consult with their God as to the propriety of this move. It revealed the overshadowing providence of God in that the truce made served to preserve that nation from among the Canaanites, which was not as evil as the others, and which actually could be incorporated into the nation of Israel and become part in the covenant of God. But above all this, surrender of the Gibeonites was significant because of the terror which it struck in the hearts of the remaining nations of Canaan.
After the fall of Jericho and the destruction of Ai, Gibeon and its surrounding towns had been next in Israel’s line of advance. To the rest of the inhabitants of Canaan this had provided at least a small measure of comfort. Gibeon was a great city, a royal city, and among the strongest in the land of Canaan. It surely would serve to be much more of a test of Israel’s strength than Ai ever was. Maybe Gibeon would have been able to stop the armies of Israel. And, if not, it could have at least been counted on to take a big toll from Israel’s strength. To have Gibeon give a good battle to the children of Israel surely would have been of advantage to all of the rest of the land of Canaan. When, therefore, the report went out that Gibeon had surrendered without a fight, that the city had abdicated all of its rights, the rest of the land of Canaan was filled with consternation. They became furiously angry. The whole thing looked like treachery to them.
Among those most concerned was Adonizedec king of Jerusalem. He had watched the advance of Israel very closely. He was troubled by the destruction of Jericho and the defeat of Ai; but the voluntary surrender of Gibeon made him furious. He had been counting strongly on Gibeon because his city was next after it in Israel’s line of advance. He especially felt betrayed by that. He felt he had to do something to retaliate. But discretion made him hesitant to advance against the Israelites. What he wanted was to make the Gibeonites stand up and fight as he felt they ought.
Acting quickly, Adoqizedec called together four other kings of other cities in the vicinity. His message to them was this “Come up unto me, and help me, that we may smite Gibeon: for it bath made peace with Joshua and with the children of Israel.” Even if they themselves might hesitate to mount an attack directly against the armies of Israel, they could at least punish those who gave up without a fight. Upon the Gibeonites they dare pour out the frustration which they felt before that threatening power of Israel drawing closer every day.
Once the Gibeonites had discovered this plot of the five kings, there was only one thing left for them to do. This force of the combined armies of the kings was much too great for them even if they had been in a position to wage a battle. Quickly they sent off a message to Joshua in the camp at Gilgal. “Slack not thy hand from thy servants; come up to us quickly, and save us, and help us: for all the kings of the Amorites that dwell in the mountains are gathered together against us.”
Already the armies of the Amorites were camped about Gibeon. There was no time to lose if Gibeon was to be saved. Neither did Joshua hesitate. Immediately he called all of the fighting men of Israel together and led them ford on a forced march toward the besieged city. Only one thing did he pause to do before they left the camp. He went to the Lord in prayer to ask if it was proper for them to proceed in that way, and if the Lord would give them the victory. The answer that came back was this, “Fear them not: for I have delivered them into thine hand; there shall not a man of them stand before thee.”
All through the night the armies of Israel marched, so that by morning’s dawn they were within attacking distance of the armies of the Amorites. This was a complete surprise. The five kings had never thought that Israel would take its truce with Gibeon so seriously as to come out and fight in the city’s defense; and surely they had not expected Israel to come so swiftly. They had thought that the only problem of the morning for them would be how to penetrate the defensive walls of this city. Instead upon awaking they found themselves pressed between the attacking armies of Israel and the closed walls of Gibeon. It was an impossible situation, indefensible from both sides. The resistance they were able to muster was only token. Almost immediately they felt that there was nothing else for them to do but to turn and flee. This they did.
There were several advantages which these inhabitants of Canaan had over the children of Israel when they turned to flee. They were familiar with the land over which they traveled while the Israelites were not. And neither did they feel any of the weariness from a night-long march as the children of Israel did. As the Amorites fled from Gibeon, the possibility appeared good that they would be able to out-distance the armies of Israel and regroup themselves in a more favorable position of defense. Then Jehovah interfered. Within moments there formed across the heavens the towering clouds of a great storm. From the clouds began to hurl down giant stones of hail. Never before had the land of Canaan seen a hailstorm like this. The stones were tremendous in size, able easily to kill a man with one blow. They could be compared only with those hailstones which had fallen upon Egypt during the plagues. Even more strange, however, was the fact that these stones which fell came down only on the army of the Amorites. Soon the way was littered with the dead bodies of Amoritish men who were struckand slain by these stones. The number of them went into the thousands. But the children of Israel that pressed them so closely from behind remained untouched. Even if a man of Israel pressed ahead into the very midst of the enemy army where these great stones from heaven were falling heavily all around, he remained untouched. This was no natural phenomenon, no mere coincidence of nature; this was the hand of the Lord reaching out against the enemies of His people.
Already early in the day it became evident to Joshua that the enemy was completely rooted. Now all that remained was to finish the victory and make it decisive. And even after many had been killed by the hailstones from the sky this remained quite a task. The terrain in which they fought was mountainous and rugged. The enemy was scattered in many different directions with many places to hide. Even more, they were desperate and determined men. They hated Israel and would fight until the very last. If any reprieve was to be allowed them in their light, they would surely come together and start the battle anew. What Israel needed to prevent this was time, time to hunt out and destroy every pit of resistance. Feeling it to be a critical need that this battle should be brought to a swift and decisive victory, Joshua turned to God and prayed that added time might be given to finish this battle. In answer God gave him permission to perform one of the most amazing victories of all time. Once this permission was received, Joshua stood up in the midst of the pursuing host of the Israelites, looked up unto the sun and moon which could both be seen within the heavens, and addressed them. “Sun,” he said, “Stand thou still upon Gibeon; and thou, Moon, in the valley of Ajalon.”
It was amazing when it happened. The forces of Israel went on to pursue the hiding enemy. Hour after hour they went searching out and destroying the scattered forces of the enemy throughout the hills and rugged mountains surrounding Gibeon. It was a hard and time-consuming task, but the sun held still in the heavens until all was accomplished. From our scientific point of view, this was perhaps one of the greatest miracles ever performed during the days of Scripture. It must have effected the very rotation of the earth on its axis, or the position of the sun in space. It presents scientific problems defying human conception. But to the simple mind of faith this all is of no matter. God rules the sun and moon and the rotation of the earth just as completely as He rules everything else. In simple faith we only accept as Israel recorded it in one of its books of songs, “So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day. 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.”
Before this amazing power even the wicked determination of the five kings of the Amorites finally faltered. All hope of regrouping their forces had been as good as wiped out. Their only remaining hope was that somehow they might spare their own lives. Together they forsook the leadership of their armies and went to hide themselves in a cave at Makkedah. But when evening failed to come at its usual hour, and the searching men of Israel continued to scour the land, even this was discovered. The report of this find was quickly brought to Joshua, and at his command the cave was shut up tight with large rocks until the last of the enemy forces had been found and slain. Then only did he return with the army of Israel to the cave of the five kings, to open it and lead them forth. With this a great ceremony was held to mark the complete and amazing way in which God had given them the victory. First the five kings of Jerusalem, Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish, and Eglon, were made to lay prostrate upon the ground while each of the captains of Israel’s army came and placed his foot on the neck of each of them. As they did so Joshua said, “Fear not, nor be dismayed, be strong and of good courage: for thus shall the LORD do to all your enemies against whom ye fight.” When this was done, the kings were slain and their bodies hung upon a tree. It was a sign of the curse which God had placed upon the nations of Canaan which had filled their cup of iniquity. Only thereafter did the sun continue once again in its course across the heavens. It was the longest day of all history that came to its close as the children of Israel took down the bodies of these kings and cast them once again into the cave in which they had sought to escape by hiding. Before the mouth of the cave once again a great pile of stones was erected. It was a memorial of the great victory which God had given His people in that longest of all history’s days.