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Habakkuk 3:11 Sun (and) moon stand to the place; for brightness Your arrows go away; for shining the lightening of Your spear.
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Coming in the middle of Habakkuk's apocalyptic vision (3:3-15), this language describes the way that creation responds to the proximity ofHaShem. In the immediately preceding verses, Habakkuk describes how HaShem makes "the earth burst into streams" (Habakkuk 3:9, NJPS), that "the mountains rock" (v. 10, NJPS) and "a torrent of rain comes down" (v. 10, NJPS). Is this an earthquake or a volcano? A seismic event or a tectonic plate movement? Whatever it is on the ground, there are accompanying signs in the heavens: the sun and moon stand still - here , the Qal 3ms affix, so normally taken as past tense completed action, "he stood", is being used as a stative verb, "are standing" - while the sky is filled with light and lightening, represented as HaShem's arrows and spear, flashes from side to side. This is theophany, the visual signs of HaShem. Still to come are "the trampling of the nations in fury" (v. 12), the houses of the enemy being razed to the ground (v. 13), "when his warriors stormed out to scatter us" (v. 14, NIV). Robert Alter suggests that "their light is not needed because the radiance of G-d's weapons lights up the world."
While the Torah reading for the second day of the feast of Shavuot is a rehearsal of the dedication of the male first-born of the flock and herd, to be eaten in the courts of HaShem, followed by a summary of the regulations for the three pilgrimage festivals - Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot - ending with the instructions that "Three times a year - on the Feast of Unleavened Bread, on the Feast of Weeks, and on the Feast of Tabernacles - all your males shall appear before the L-RD your G-d in the place that He will choose" (D'varim 16:16, NJPS), the Haftarah reading for the second day of Shavuot connects to the theme of the Torah being given at Mt. Sinai. There we find similar language relating how HaShem appeared on the mountain: "On the third day, as morning dawned, there was thunder, and lightning, and a dense cloud upon the mountain, and a very loud blast of the horn; and all the people who were in the camp trembled ... Mount Sinai was all in smoke, for the L-RD had come down upon it in fire; the smoke rose like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled violently" (Shemot 19:16-18, NJPS).
and , "the sun and the moon" have significant parts to play throughout the Bible. Created before man, on the fourth day of creation - "G-d made the two great lights, the greater light to dominate the day and the lesser light to dominate the night, and the stars. And G-d set them in the expanse of the sky to shine upon the earth" (B'resheet 1:16-17, NJPS) - they stand in the heavens as part of the witness, like the heavens and the earth, that declare the existence of the creator. The Psalmist calls upon them to praise HaShem - "Praise Him, sun and moon, praise Him, all bright stars" (Psalm 148:3, NJPS) - while Isaiah sees that when the day of the L-rd comes, "The stars and constellations of heaven shall not give off their light; the sun shall be dark when it rises, and the moon shall diffuse no glow" (Isaiah 13:10, NJPS), echoed by the prophet Joel: "Blow a horn in Zion, sound an alarm on My holy mount! Let all dwellers on earth tremble, for the day of the L-RD has come! Heaven shakes, sun and moon are darkened, and stars withdraw their brightness" (Joel 2:1,10, NJPS). Yeshua uses the same symbolism to characterise His return - "the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken" (Matthew 24:29, ESV) - and John suggests that they will no longer be needed in the new Jerusalem: "the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb" (Revelation 21:23, ESV).
However, two particular passages in Tanakh need more attention. The first comes from the account of Joshua and the armies of Israel routing the Amorites at Gibeon. After an all-night march, the Israelites surprised the Amorite forces and the text tells us that the L-rd threw the Amorites into a panic so that "Joshua inflicted a crushing defeat on them at Gibeon, pursued them in the direction of the Beth-horon ascent, and harried them all the way to Azekah and Makkedah" (Joshua 10:10, NJPS). During their flight, "the L-RD hurled huge stones on them from the sky, all the way to Azekah, and they perished; more perished from the hailstones than were killed by the Israelite weapons" (v. 11, NJPS). A long day of fighting and running; so long, in fact, that Joshua had to call for more time. He called to HaShem, "Stand still, O sun, at Gibeon, O moon, in the Valley of Aijalon!" (v. 12, NJPS) and "the sun stood still and the moon halted ... the sun halted in midheaven, and did not press on to set, for a whole day" (v. 13, NJPS). If this was a physical phenomenon, we cannot explain how the science worked, how gravity was maintained without the earth's rotation, the kinetic energy involved in halting the earth's angular momentum; huge forces and an interruption of the normal laws of physics. RabbiHirsch suggests that this was instead a moment of shock and awe: the sun and moon stopped what they were doing and raised their hands in sheer astonishment at the way HaShem fought for the Israelites! The text continues, "Neither before nor since has there ever been such a day, when the L-RD acted on words spoken by a man" (v. 14, NJPS).
Returning to the book of Joel, the second passage deals with the outpouring of the Spirit: "After that, I will pour out My spirit on all flesh; your sons and daughters shall prophesy; your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions" (Joel 3:1, NJPS). Combined with this prophecy is HaShem's sign of the times: "I will set portents in the sky and on earth: blood and fire and pillars of smoke; the sun shall turn into darkness and the moon into blood" (vv, 3-4, NJPS). Blood moons, caused by a total lunar eclipse when the sun's light can only reach the moon filtered through the edges of the earth's atmosphere, have been used by some commentators as a sign to mark John's apocalyptic vision drawing towards its end: "When [the Lamb] opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood" (Revelation 6:12, ESV).
So let's now make the connection to today - not only our time, but the specific day of Shavuot. Our entry point is Acts, chapter two, which relates the amazing outpouring of the Spirit in Jerusalem fifty days after Yeshua's resurrection and just ten days after His ascension into heaven. We need to remember that like Hebrew - where the word , ruach, covers the three options of spirit, breath and wind - the Greek word , pneuma, also covers the same three meanings: spirit, breath and wind. Luke describes the scene early in the morning when the whole assembly has gathered: "they were all together in one place" (Acts 2:1, ESV). The options for such a large group in the Jerusalem of those days were limited. Luke has already told us that "the company of persons was in all about 120" (1:15, ESV), so there are probably only three places big enough for such a number: Herod's palace, the Antonia fortress and the Temple. The southern stoa of the Temple is the most likely place, confirmed by the crowd of people - "Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven" (2:5, ESV) - who witnessed the outpouring. They had come up to Jerusalem for the feast of Shavuot. This reminds us of the nation of Israel gathered at Mt. Sinai.
Luke describes the event itself using very familiar language, "there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting and divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them" (2:2-3, ESV). Here is "the roar of a violent wind" (CJB), the "noise like a violent, rushing wind" (NASB) to echo the Sinai record as "they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues" (v. 4, ESV). Everyone around them heard not only the noise but the subsequent outpouring of praise to G-d as each one heard "in his own native language" (v. 8, ESV). Many are "amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, 'What does this mean?'" (v. 12, ESV) and Peter stands up to explain what is happening. He quotes the passage from Joel 3, changing Joel's "after that" to "in the last days" (v. 17) to announce that 'now' is 'the last days'; this is an end-times phenomenon being revealed in the end-times. After Peter speaks, the people are so struck that over three thousand believe in Yeshua and are baptised. Symbolically, this repairs the loss of three thousand Israelites who fell during the Golden Calf incident just after the Torah had been given at Sinai. Even allowing for the number of mikva'ot (ritual bathing pools) at the southern steps of the Temple, used by all the pilgrims coming up to Jerusalem before they ascended the Temple mount itself, this would have taken a long time in addition to the normal pilgrimage usage. Perhaps, like Joshua, the apostles needed to ask for more time to get through all the new believers.
That was a "sun, stand still" moment, when creation itself stood on tiptoe to see what G-d was doing in Jerusalem. Peter had challenged the crowd with a declaration of who Yeshua is and reminded them that "this Yeshua, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of G-d, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men" (v. 23, ESV) but "God raised Him up" (v. 24), fulfilling David's prophecies and G-d's promises to His people so that the words of Joel could be enacted - as, indeed, they are still being enacted to this very day. The people are "cut to the heart" and cry out, asking, "Brothers, what shall we do?" (v. 37). Peter invites them to repent and be baptised so that they might receive the Holy Spirit; three thousand respond. The sun and moon put up their hands in astonishment at what G-d has just done!
But we live in "sun, stand still" days right now. Peter tells the crowd in Jerusalem that "the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the L-rd our G-d calls to Himself" (v. 39, ESV) and so it is. It is for us, right here and right now. Although we are far off - both geographically from Jerusalem, all around the world, and nearly two thousand years later in time- G-d is still calling people to join His kingdom and become a disciple of His Son, Yeshua. As people respond, repenting of their ways and confessing Yeshua as L-rd and Saviour, they too are being filled with the Holy Spirit - "to each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good" (1 Corinthians 12:7, ESV) - commissioned to "go and make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:19) and are being "conformed to the image of [God's] Son" (Romans 8:29). Around the world, miracles are being done in the name of Yeshua - "the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them" (Matthew 11:5, ESV) - and the sun and moon are still not quite able believe what G-d is doing among His people!
Know that the force of the kingdom is much greater than that of gravity; the energy of evangelists, preachers and teachers proclaiming the gospel is enough to stop the world spinning; the power of Yeshua's love ministered by His disciples will shake the earth and topple the mountains as "every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the L-RD shall be revealed" (Isaiah 40:4-5, ESV). These things are happening in our midst and in our days as we prepare to welcome Yeshua back to Jerusalem. Make sure that you are ready to join the party and keep your eyes on the horizon when His lightning and glory will fill the skies to announce His return: "Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him" (Revelation 1:7, ESV). Then "He will send out His angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other" (Matthew 24:31, ESV) and finally the sun and the moon will be able to rest, knowing that G-d has - after all - done everything he said He would do and done it well: "G-d saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good" (B'resheet 1:31, ESV).
Further Study: 2 Samuel 22:7-15; 1 Kings 19:9-12; 1 Corinthians 12:8-11
Application: Have you ever wondered if the sun would stand still over your life? Look back and see the amazing things that G-d has already done for and with you. Now ask Him what comes next and be ready for yet more amazing things when "sun, stand still" becomes real again for you!
Comment - 21May23 08:51 Joshua VanTime: This drash definitely isn't standing still and is very profound for every believer. May HaShem help us to comprehend more each day that all of creation marvels at Him and His mighty right hand that brings salvation: "For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor other heavenly rulers, neither what exists nor what is coming, neither powers above nor powers below, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God which comes to us through the Messiah Yeshua, our Lord."
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© Jonathan Allen, 2023
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