JOSHUA'S LONG DAY
HEZEKIAH'S SUNDIAL AND MISSING TIME
Presented by Ralph Woodrow
Finally, it should be pointed out that the wording about the
sun stopping is in a portion of Joshua 10 that is unmistakably
poetic in nature. As the "Pulpit Commentary" says:
"The poetic form of this passage is clear to everyone who
has the smallest acquaintance with the laws of Hebrew
poetry" and that these words "belong rather to the domain of
poetry than history, and their language is that of hyperbole
rather than of exact narration of facts."" Poetic passages
such as this do not require a literal meaning for each word
or expression used.
It was not uncommon for songs or poetic sketches about
Israelite victories to be written using non-literal expressions.
After the defeat of the Egyptians at the Red Sea: "Then sang
Moses ... unto the Lord... he hath dashed in pieces the enemy...
the earth swallowed them" (Exodus 15). "When Israel went out of
Egypt ... the sea saw it and fled ... the mountains skipped like
rams" (Psalm 114). The defeat of Sisera and his armies inspired
the poetic portion of Judges 5: "Then sang Deborah... the earth
trembled... the mountains melted ... the stars in their courses
fought against Sisera." When David escaped from Saul, he "spake
unto the Lord the words of this song... The earth shook and
trembled, there went up a smoke out of his nostrils, and fire out
of his mouth ... he did fly upon the wings of the wind... he drew
me out of many waters" (Psalm 18).
In all of these examples, the Bible records the actual
historical account of what happened. These same events are then
told poetically - stars fighting, mountains skipping, the
frightened sea fleeing, the earth trembling, etc. All understand
these expressions as figures of speech - all recognize the poetic
liberty - even though written about literal, historical battles
So it is in Joshua 10. We have a historical account of what
happened (in verses 1-11 and continuing in verses 16-43) and a
poetic account (verses 12-15). Each account - the poetic and the
historical - ends with the words: "And Joshua returned, and all
Israel with him, unto the camp to Gilgal" (verses 15,43). If we
did not distinguish between the historical account and the
poetic, these two verses would be in conflict, implying that
Joshua returned twice to Gilgal. This cannot be, for the night
following the day of Joshua's command, the camp was established
at Makkedah (verse 21). We know the historical account
continues in verse 16 (from what had led up to the poetic
account) because of the words: "But these five kings fled..."
What five kings? This must tie back in and continue the
historical account from verses 1-11.
Because the wording about Joshua's command to the sun is
contained within the poetic portion of Joshua 10, some have
understood this simply as a poetic way of saying that "God and
all nature fought on the side of Joshua," so that the work of two
days was accomplished in one. Rabbi Levi ben Gersom, a well-known
name in Judaism, put it this way: "The wish of Joshua aims only
at this, that one day and night might be long enough for the
overthrow of the so numerous forces of the enemy. It was the same
as if he had said: Grant, Almighty Father, that before the sun
goes down, thy people may take vengeance on this multitude of thy
foes. The miracle of the day was, that, at the prayer of a man,
God effected so great a defeat in so short a time" (Quoted in
"Lange's Commentary, Vol.4, p.100).
While such conclusions are certainly possible when dealing
with poetry, the fact that the historical portion of Joshua 10
mentions a massive hailstorm provides strong reason to believe
that the literal sun was involved, its light being stopped by
that storm. Yet, being poetic, we are not required to understand
each expression or phrase in a strictly literal sense. Bible
scholars of all persuasions recognize that when we have a
historical account and a poetic account of the same event, we
always take the historical account to explain or clarify the
poetic - not the other way around. If we apply this rule of
interpretation in Joshua 10, a good harmony and sense can be
given to this passage which has, otherwise, baffled and
embarrassed Bible teachers who have sought to uphold the
HEZEKIAH AND MISSING TIME?
Presented by Ralph Woodrow
In 1470, an Indiana newspaper carried a story about
scientists in the space program who discovered 24 hours of
"missing time." Soon other papers and religious periodicals
picked up this thrilling and sensational story. It was printed in
tract form. Millions of copies were circulated. But when
inquiries were made, the source material could not be located,
the part about the scientists could not be verified, and a number
of magazines that had carried the story printed retractions.
Others felt that any who doubted the story were yielding to
Satan! We now reproduce the tract, word for word, as it was
circulated and continues to be circulated by some.
"THE MISSING DAY"
I think one of the most interesting things that God has for
us today happened recently to our astronauts and space
scientists at Greenbelt, Maryland. They were checking the
position of the sun, moon, and planets out in space, where
they would be 100 years and 1,000 years from now. We have to
know this so we don't send a satellite up and have it bump
into something later on in its orbits. We have to lay out
the orbit in terms of the life of the satellite, and where
the planets will be so the whole thing will not bog down.
They ran the computer measurement back and forth over the,
centuries and it came to a halt. The computer stopped and
picked up a red signal, which meant there was something
wrong either with the information fed into it or with the
results as compared to the standards. They called in the
service department to check it out and they said, "It's
perfect." The IBM head of operations said, "What's wrong?"
"Well, we have found there is a day missing in space in
elapsed time. "They scratched their heads. There was no
One religious fellow on the team said, "You know, one time I
was in Sunday school and they talked about the sun standing
still." They didn't believe him, but they didn't have any
other answer so they said, "Show us."
So he got a Bible and went back to the book of Joshua where
they found the Lord saying to Joshua, "Fear them not, I have
delivered them into thy hand; there shall not a man of them
stand before thee." Joshua was concerned because he was
surrounded by the enemy and if darkness fell, they would
So Joshua asked the Lord to make the sun stand still! That's
right!" The sun stood still and the moon stayed... and
hasted not to go down about a whole day."
The space men said, "There is the missing day!" Well, they
checked the computers going back into the time it was
written and found it was close, but not close enough! The
elapsed time that was missing back in Joshua's day was 23
hours and 20 minutes... not a whole day. They read the Bible
and there it said, "about (approximately) a day." Joshua
These little words in the Bible are important. But still
they were in trouble because if you cannot account for 40
minutes you'll be in trouble 1,000 years from now. Forty
minutes had to be found because it can be multiplied many
times over in orbit.
Well, this religious fellow also remembered somewhere in the
Bible it said the sun went backwards. The space men told him
he was out of his mind. But they got out the Book and read
these words: Hezekiah on his death bed was visited by the
prophet Isaiah who told him he was not going to die.
Hezekiah did not believe him and asked for a sign as proof.
Isaiah said, "Do you want the sun to go ahead ten degrees?"
Hezekiah said, "It is a light thing for the sun to go down
ten degrees; nay, but let the shadow return backward ten
degrees." Isaiah spoke to the Lord and the Lord brought the
shadow ten degrees backward. 2 Kings 20:1-11.
Ten degrees is exactly 40 minutes, Twenty-three hours and
twenty minutes in Joshua, plus 40 minutes in 2 Kings, make
the missing 24 hours the space travellers had to log in the
log book as being the missing day in the universe! Isn't
that amazing? Our God is rubbing their noses in His truth!
There is no need to question the good intentions and
sincerity of any who promoted this story. But, as with the
Roskovitsky story (p.63), it is largely fiction. Not only does
the story fail to represent what the Bible actually says, it is
inconsistent with itself.
First, even if time was literally extended almost a whole
day for Joshua, it seems more likely this would have been about
12 hours, not 23 hours and 20 minutes. For Joshua's men to
continue running and fighting all this time, plus a regular day,
after having marched all the night before, seems very improbable.
One gets the feeling that 23 hours and 20 minutes are
introduced in the story so that when the 40 minutes at the time
of Hezekiah are mentioned, it all fits together in a perfect and
astounding manner, making the total exactly 24 hours - a missing
Having already shown, we feel, that the miracle at the time
of Joshua was not one of extended time, but the darkening of the
sun by a vast hailstorm, we now turn to the other Biblical
reference quoted in the tract about missing time. King Hezekiah
had been sick. The Prophet Isaiah told him he would not only be
healed, but fifteen years would be added to his life. Hezekiah
asked for a sign.
And Isaiah said, This sign shalt thou have of the Lord, that
the Lord will do the thing that he hath spoken: shall the
shadow go forward ten degrees, or go back ten degrees? And
Hezekiah answered, It is a light thing for the shadow to go
down ten degrees: nay, but let the shadow return backward
ten degrees. And Isaiah the prophet cried unto the Lord: and
he brought the shadow ten degrees backward, by which it had
gone down in the dial of Ahaz. (2 Kings 20:9-11).
What has been commonly assumed is that in order for the
shadow to move back on the dial, the Lord had to make the sun go
backwards. I believe this is reading more into the text than is
required. Actually all this passage says is that the shadow on
the sundial went back ten degrees. The parallel account in Isaiah
38:8 says that "the sun returned ten degrees" on the dial,
meaning, obviously, the sunlight. It was not the sun itself that
came down out of the sky and rolled around on the king's sundial!
It was a miracle of sunlight and shadow on the dial.
Just exactly how God moved the shadow back on the dial is
difficult to say. The Bible does not tell us, but I believe the
explanation given by Adam Clarke (c.1760-1832), whom no one would
accuse of being a "modernist" in any sense of the word, is as
good as any. He states that "by using dense clouds or vapors, the
rays of light in that place might be refracted from their direct
course ten, or any other number of degrees... rather than by
disturbing the course of the earth, or any other of the celestial
bodies." (Clarke, op.cit., Vol.2, p. 551).
The following simple experiment demonstrates the effect of
Place a vessel on the floor, and put a coin on the bottom,
close to that part of the vessel which is farthest off from
yourself; then move back till you find that the edge of the
vessel next to yourself fairly covers the coin, and that it
is now entirely out of sight. Stand exactly in that
position, and let a person pour water gently into the
vessel, and you will soon find the coin to reappear, and to
be entirely in sight when the vessel is full, though neither
it nor you have changed your positions in the least.
Next, Clarke asks and answers a question about refraction:
"Could not God as easily have caused the sun, or rather
earth, to turn back, as to have produced this extraordinary
and miraculous refraction?" I answer, Yes. But it is much
more consistent with the wisdom and perfections of God to
accomplish an end by simple means, than by those that are
complex; and had it been done in the other way, it would
have required a miracle to invert and a miracle to restore;
and a strong convulsion on the earth's surface to bring it
ten degrees suddenly back, and to take the same suddenly
forward. The miracle, according to my supposition, was
performed... without suspending or interrupting the laws of
the solar systems" (Ibid.)
The sun is approximately 93 million miles from the earth. If
the sun travelled around the earth every day, the circumference
of its journey would be about 584 million miles. If in 40 minutes
it went back 10 degrees (a circle being 360 degrees), this would
mean it had to move backwards sixteen MILLION miles in order to
move a shadow a tiny distance on a sundial! This seems quite out
of proportion to the actual purpose that was accomplished - a
Rube Goldberg arrangement (see drawing on page 89). Of course
time is not measured by the sun going around the earth anyway.
On the other hand, it solves nothing to say it was the earth (not
actually the sun) that stopped and went to reverse.
I am reminded of a humorous story that was told back in the
50s when cars with automatic transmissions had become
increasingly popular. Not understanding the various gear
positions, a man said: "I put it in 'L' for leap, and then in 'D'
for drag, but when I put it into 'R' for race, I really got into
trouble!" This earth is turning at the rate of over 1,000 miles
an hour (at the equator). It does not seem that God Almighty
would put the gears of nature into a drastic "R" - reverse -
causing all kinds of world-wide chaos (or miracles to prevent
that chaos) simply to show Hezekiah he would be healed of a boil.
A LOCAL SIGN
If the sun moved backward for 40 minutes, or the earth
reversed itself to give this appearance (as some suppose), such
would have been observed over a vast area of the world. This was
not the case, for certain ambassadors came from Babylon "to
inquire of the wonder that was done in the land" (2 Chron.
32:31). They had heard, apparently, the news of this wonder and
that Hezekiah "had been sick, and was recovered" (Isaiah 39:1).
The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia says this wonder,
being done "in the land" over which Hezekiah ruled, was a local
miracle, not a world-wide phenomenon (ISBE, article: "Dial of
In the tract, the "religious fellow" told the scientists
that "the Bible said the sun went backwards" for ten degrees
which caused "40 minutes" of missing time. Of course this is
totally inaccurate and the Bible does not say this! Even if time
was measured by the sun moving forward, if it stopped, and
reversed its direction for 40 minutes, and then reversed to
continue on, this would be eighty minutes!
Suppose I am driving from Riverside to Palm Springs,
California. When I get to Banning I remember I forgot something
at Riverside. It is 40 miles back to Riverside, but I decide to
turn around and return. I pick up what I forgot and continue back
on the highway. When I come to Banning again, how many miles have
I gone out of the way? I went back 40 miles, so by the time I
return to where I had been - round trip - I would have gone 80
miles out of my way. It would be the same with the sun. If it
went back for 40 minutes, by the time it again reversed its
direction and got back to where it had been, the amount of time
"lost" would not be 40 minutes. It would be 80!
Where did anyone ever get the notion of 40 minutes anyway?
This is based on the idea of the sun making a circle around the
earth every 24 hours. The 1,440 minutes in 24 hours are divided
by 360 (the degrees in a circle) so that each degree equals 4
minutes. These 4 minutes are multiplied by 10 (the number of
degrees the sun went back), thus 40 minutes.
But this concept is completely erroneous. It was not until
the time of Hipparchus (d. 126 B.C.) that the circle was divided
into 360 degrees - centuries after the time of Hezekiah! (Ency.of
Americana, 1981, article" "Circle").
The sundial sign occurred about 711 B.C. It would be absurd
to suppose that Isaiah used a technical and precise scientific
term about the degrees of a 360 degree circle when talking to
Hezekiah, especially since this concept was totally unknown at
The whole thing is cleared up once we understand the design
of this "dial." According to the Bible, it was actually a series
of steps, a staircase, running east and west. As the day
progressed, the shadow on the steps indicated how much daytime
was left. The accompanying drawing, based on the one given in the
Encyclopedia Judaica (Vol.15, p.519) shows how this may have been
accomplished. In contrast to what we think of as a dial today,
with a flat surface, this "dial" could allow the shadow to go
back and forth, or up and down, as described in the Bible
(2 Kings 20:10; Isaiah 38:8).
The Septuagint version of Isaiah and Josephus say this
staircase was a part of the king's house, while a Qumran version
specifies these were the steps of the upper story of the house.
Whatever may have been the arrangement, there can be no mistake
that this dial involved steps, for the very word translated
"dial" in our text is "maalah," having the meaning of STEPS
(Strong's Concordance, 4609). It is the word translated "steps"
(1 Kings 10:19, etc.), "stairs" (2 Kings 9:13, etc.), and
"degrees"! Notice how "maalah" is used in the text:
"Shall the shadow go forward ten degrees [maalah-steps], or
go back ten degrees [maalah-steps] ...And Isaiah the prophet
cried unto the Lord: and he brought the shadow ten degrees
[maalah-steps] backward, by which it had gone down in the
dial [maalah-steps]" (2 Kings 20:9-11).
It is certain, then, that when the shadow moved back ten
degrees, it is the same as saying that the shadow moved back ten
steps. To assume that 10 steps would equal 40 minutes is, of
course, totally unfounded.
The idea given in the tract - that there were "40 minutes of
missing time" - would require us to believe that God moved the
sun backward millions of miles. Or, he had to stop, reverse,
stop, and start the earth turning again - in order to change the
shadow on the sundial! All of this would be unproportional to the
actual sign that was given. The magnitude of the miracles that
would have been required world-wide - holding oceans in place,
keeping buildings from falling over, etc. - would far outshine
the sign given to Hezekiah. We would have to ignore the Hebrew
word which clearly shows that the "dial" was a staircase and that
the "degrees" were "steps" on this staircase.
And, finally, we would be driven to the absurdity that
Isaiah, in speaking of 10 degrees, meant 10 degrees of a circle
of 360 degrees, even though that concept was not invented until
Since the scriptures imply that the cycle of the earth and
sun has never been stopped or interrupted (Jeremiah 33:20), we
favor the view that the shadow was moved on the dial for Hezekiah
without involving the motion of the solar system. If the hands on
a modern clock are moved back an hour - as when we switch from
daylight saving time to standard time in the fall of the year -
we have not changed the actual time the sun sets.
Likewise, we believe a sign was given to Hezekiah in which
the shadow moved on the dial (staircase) without changing the
actual position of the sun. It was a miracle of sunlight and
shadow, not time.
NOTHING TOO HARD
We know there is nothing too hard for the Lord (Genesis
18:14; Jeremiah 32:17). Consequently, if a Biblical passage is
capable of two different explanations, some are prone to believe
that the one that is the most miraculous is correct. This is not
necessarily true. Roman Catholics are taught that during mass a
miracle turns the elements of bread and wine into the actual body
and blood of Christ. Are Protestants "unbelievers" because they
hold an interpretation that does not require this miraculous
change? Would God be any greater if he had taken the Israelites
across the Mediterranean Sea instead of the much narrower Red
Sea? Would the deity of Christ be greater if he fed 100,000
people instead of 5,000? Would the miracle of his resurrection be
more important if he had been in the tomb 300 days instead of 3?
TO BE CONTINUED