35. The Sun Standing Still
Reading through the Book of Joshua the other day, I chanced upon the following verses, which set me thinking on a number of different levels. "Then spake Joshua to the Lord, and he said in the sight of all Israel, Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon, and thou moon in the valley of Ajalon. And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. Is not this written in the Book of Jasher?" (Joshua 10:12-13).
What are we to make of this? Do you really think it happened literally? You must realize that for the sun to stand still in relation to the earth, the earth would have to stop revolving around its axis. And for the moon to stand still, it would have to cease orbiting around the earth. Astronomically speaking, these processes would have required immense force, and there would have been vast repercussions, affecting and probably destroying everybody then living. One of the lesser effects would have been that the moon would have fallen onto the earth! The Lord is the Great Economist. Would He have upset the sublime order and movement of the heavenly bodies, just to give the Israelites a little longer daylight? Could He not have produced a meteor, or a volcanic eruption, or something like an aurora borealis, to light up the sky if necessary?
The idea that a large meteor, or shower of meteorites, appeared at that time, has been seriously considered by scholars. Professor Velikovsky of Princeton has been studying the records of ancient peoples all over the world: China, Mexico, Peru, Babylon, Egypt, India - and he finds references in all of them to some strange natural phenomena which may have been contemporaneous with Joshua's entry into Palestine. He thinks a huge comet passed close to this earth, and that showers of stones fell from its tail. The Bible informs us, in fact, that more of the enemy were killed by falling stones than by the swords of the Israelites. ("Hailstones" in verse 11 is an interpretation by the translator; the Hebrew just has "stones.")
But need we bother about a literal explanation of the incident? Might it not be a spiritual metaphor? Do we take it literally when we are told, in the opening chapter of Genesis, that light came into existence on the first day of creation, whereas the sun and moon were not created until the fourth day? Or, do we take it literally when Deborah the Prophetess declared in a burst of ecstasy that "the stars in their courses fought against Sisera?" In ancient times, people were not so literal-minded as they are today. There is a wealth of symbolism and imagery in ancient literature, which enshrines truth on a very deep level, but has no bearing on what we understand by history or science. Much of this ancient literature was directly inspired by God, as our Bible is. Swedenborg calls it "The Ancient Word," which preceded the Books of Moses. One of the books of the Ancient Word was the Book of Jasher, well known to the Israelites and quoted several times in their scriptures, but lost to us today. Evidently this Book of Jasher contained an inspired poem about the sun and moon standing still, perhaps actually mentioning Gibeon and the Valley of Ajalon; so Joshua, finding himself in that geographical region, and observing the shower of meteorites falling around him, quoted these ancient verses as a prayer to the Lord. And, lest future readers should make the mistake of supposing that the sun and moon actually stood still, the historian added the explanation: "This comes from the Book of Jasher." (See also II Samuel 1: 18).
Was Joshua's prayer not answered, then? Yes, it was definitely answered, but not necessarily on the physical or natural level. It was answered spiritually, which was probably the way he wanted it to be answered. For, if you study the text carefully, you will find he was not addressing the physical sun and moon at all. (Joshua would not have been guilty of such heathen idolatry). He was addressing the Lord Himself. "Then spake Joshua to the Lord, saying, Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon, and thou moon in the Valley of Ajalon, until we have avenged ourselves upon our enemies." It was to the Lord that Joshua was praying. His cry was, "0 thou Divine Sun and Moon, go not down upon us! Do not hide thy face from us, until the final blow has been struck!" And the historian continues: "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." This was no command, then, to the physical sun and moon to stand still. It was a prayer to the Lord as both Sun and Moon; the prayer of a brave soul struggling against the forces of hell; a prayer expressed in the words of an ancient book of inspired heavenly imagery. "Is it not written in the Book of Jasher?
The Sun standing still in the midst of heaven! Swedenborg makes an interesting point in his book Heaven and Hell. "The Sun in heaven," he tells us, "never sets." It is, in fact, the sphere of the Lord Himself, the infinite God, as He first appears in His finite, created universe. It is a dazzling, pulsating aura of tremendous heat and light, radiating into and through the heavens, and reaching ultimately down into the hearts and minds of men and women on earth. The heat of that Sun is the divine Love, and its light is the divine Wisdom or truth. These together (Love and Wisdom) provide the Power which created and energizes and motivates the universe. Swedenborg goes further. He says that whereas the "celestial" angels, who are more in love than in wisdom, see the Lord specifically as a Sun, like our sun, only much larger and hotter, and redder in color, the "spiritual" angels, who are more in truth than in love, see Him as a white orb which suggests the likeness of the moon, only a million times brighter than our pale satellite - which is only a reflecter of light after all.
Over and over again, in the Bible, the Lord is called a Sun and a Moon: a Sun as to His Divine Love, and a Moon as to His Divine Wisdom. Only when we accept the Lord as our God, does the spiritual Sun and Moon shine upon us. This explains Genesis 1. The light of understanding must come first, in order that the process of regeneration may be got under way; then later, on the fourth "day," we begin to accept the Lord, as represented by the sun and moon, "the two great lights, the greater to rule by day and the lesser by night."
In heaven, the divine Sun never sets. It is always at its meridian. But its position is not static. It appears immediately before the faces of the angels. No matter in what direction an angel turns, the Sun is always directly in front of him. This is because he always has the Lord directly in front of his inward sight; he "looks toward Him" mentally; and, in the spiritual world, the whole outward environment is a projection or objectivation of interior states or relationships. Evil spirits, on the other hand, always have the spiritual Sun behind their backs, no matter which way they turn, since they never look to the Lord for anything. They live in their own shadow.
The prophet Isaiah, speaking of the New Jerusalem, says: "Thy sun shall no more go down, neither shall thy moon withdraw itself; for the Lord shall be thine everlasting light." So it is with the Church when it is functioning properly. Love and wisdom from the Lord shine brightly before the faces of its members. When a Church declines or dies, "the sun becomes black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon becomes as blood" (Revelation 6:12). It is then the "end of the world," as far as that Church is concerned. No matter how vigorously it may be thriving as an organization or club: increasing membership, new carpet in the lounge, a new lamp in the pastor's study, fine ,choir, fine sermons, etc., etc. . . . nevertheless it is quite dead as a Church, if the divine Sun and Moon are not shining upon the faces of its members.
The story of Joshua is not so much concerned with the growth or death of a Church, as with the temptation combats within a Church, or within a member of the Church. You and I and all of us are living in two worlds simultaneously, and on the inner side are surrounded by spirits, good and evil. The evil spirits are bent on destroying us. Before we can occupy the Promised Land, we must, like Joshua, drive them out, which will probably involve a long and painful campaign. Only when we have "avenged ourselves upon our enemies" can we hope to enjoy heavenly peace and prosperity, with the Lord as our divine King. We are born with hereditary evils in our make-up: innate tendencies to selfishness, greed, jealousy, contempt, irrational fears and impure desires. From all these heathenisms, the evil spirits come forth, like maggots from rotting meat; they swarm into our lower nature, our ego. We do not create them; they come from hell. Nor are we responsible for them, unless we assume responsibility by encouraging them, or compromising with them, or abjectly yielding ourselves up to them. Joshua did not do that! He mobilized his forces in this spiritual warfare, and sent his enemies scattering.
This is no justification for earthly warfare between nations, in which people kill people. War is always wrong. War is hell. Even the wars described in the Bible were evil in themselves, though there was some excuse for them m the setting of their times. If this were merely human history, it would make sordid reading. But it is not mere human history! It is the Word of God. Its subject matter is human regeneration, and the battle-field is our own hearts and minds. Our foes are evil spirits from hell who are trying to enslave and destroy us. We must not yield.
The first thing that happens when evil spirits attack us is that the lights go out. The spiritual Sun and Moon disappear. We are plunged into total darkness. This is unnerving, to say the least! Terror seizes us. We don't know which way to turn, what to do. Resistance seems hopeless. Our imagination gets out of control. Perhaps we think we are in the presence of fascinating and alluring creatures who hold out their arms to us in the darkness, inviting us to unholy pleasures, tempting us to join them in their idolatrous Baal orgies. Or we may picture them as cruel demons - enormous, terrifying, dominating us completely. Everything is exaggerated in the dark. Joshua, too, despaired of achieving anything when once night had fallen. His foes would certainly have ambushed his little band and annihilated them. So he turned his face to the Lord and prayed for LIGHT, light to see things in their proper proportion, as they really were; light to shine through appearances to reality, to expose the false propaganda of the Evil-One, to "call the bluff" of hell.
And warmth, too. The warmth of love from God. The inner acknowledgment that the Lord is the only Source of victory, achievement, peace. Joshua fixed his wavering attention on the Spiritual Sun of divine Love and the spiritual Moon of divine Truth ... and they came floating back into his inner vision and remained there, directly before his face, till victory was won. "So the Lord hearkened to the voice of a man," as He always does if we pray to Him, "and the Lord fought for Israel."
Nobody can defeat the evil-one in his own strength, and it is no use our trying to do so. To struggle desperately and say, "I will achieve, I will get rid of this troublesome habit, this haunting fear, this unclean desire!" is bound to end in defeat and disaster, because it is backed by the ego or selfhood, which is on the enemy side! If anyone tries to conduct his campaign in that way, the light goes out for him at once; he stumbles in the dark, and inevitably falls. The correct procedure, the only way to success, is to ask the Lord to take over and fight for you, or, rather, to fight through you. You must do the fighting, but in His strength, in His light.
Before closing, I should like to touch on a practical point which people often raise. If the Lord is the Sun or Moon of the spiritual world, a dazzling orb high up in the spiritual firmament, how can we establish any personal relationship with Him? How can we confide in Him and feel Him intimate with us? Hasn't this concept de-personalized Him? Well, of course, God is not really a great shining Orb! He is a divine Person, the only real, self-existing Person. If He were not a Person, He could not exercise Love and Wisdom, which are distinctly "personal" qualities. But He is Infinite, and we are only finite; so, if we try to visualize Him as He really is, we are dazzled. An angel can no more gaze at the Lord up there in the sky, than we can gaze at our sun, without using a piece of smoked glass or black film. If the angel could, as it were, look through a spiritual smoked glass(!), he would undoubtedly see the Lord as a glorious and beautiful Man, surrounded by an aura of flaming power.
Here is another point which bears directly on the question. God can, and often does, appear to the angels by projection, in a shape suited to their understanding. (An analogy could be made with the projection of a person's face on a TV screen). In ancient times, God appeared to Abraham, Gideon, the Prophets, and many others, by infilling some particular angel with His Spirit, so that the angel spoke and acted as if he were God. Since the Incarnation, God has been able to appear to men in His glorified human body, as Jesus. Swedenborg saw Him in that form on several occasions, as did Paul and many of the saints. Doubtless His appearance is modified according to the recipient: aa African would probably see Him as an African, an Asian as an Asian, and so on. Because God has no fixed "shape," His Humanity can adapt itself to any shape required.
As for the question, "How are we to think of God?" I would say, "Think of Him as the highest, most beautiful and wonderful Person your imagination can conceive of." I personally like to think of Him as He must have appeared to Peter, James and John on the Mount of Transfiguration. "His face did shine as the sun, and His raiment was white as the light." This would correspond to Joshua's Sun and Moon. Or think of Him in His resurrection body, as He ascended up into heaven. Resplendent and glorious, yet available and intimate. Many degrees above our head, yet able to come down into our little life when we want and need Him.
It is so simple to take our problems to the Lord and let Him solve them. We should be doing it all the time; it should be a regular attitude on our part. Every morning we should say: "Lord, stay before my face this day; I want to be warmed by Your love and enlightened by Your wisdom. Nothing else matters." If we can bring ourselves to do this, then we shall be safe against all the wiles of the evil-one. We shall walk in the light, and become children of light, and our day will never end. "The light of the moon shall become as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun shall be sevenfold as the light of seven days, in the day that the Lord bindeth up the breach of His people, and healeth the stroke of their wound." (Isaiah 30:26).