The Gracious God of Time

February 28, 2016 1 Comment »
The Gracious God of Time

By Valerie Jones

Time, either too much or too little of it, is often a part of daily conversations. Children want time to move faster because it takes “forever” to arrive at that next birthday, that next day off school, or that next privilege of driving a car or a later curfew. But as an adult, you often wonder where the time goes. 

It’s easy to daydream: what would it feel like to have more hours in the week? to have plenty of time for work and catching up with friends, enjoying extended fun with family, or pursuing hobbies and those deep longings in your heart? What would it feel like to have more time in the personal calendar to leisurely move from one task to the next? Perhaps you’ve been tempted, maybe while stuck in traffic and late for an appointment or watching a child grow up too fast, to ask: “God, would you just stop time for me?”

It may be surprising to think of such a silly question, but would it be even more surprising to find God’s answer to be yes? Well perhaps more than once in history, God’s answer to changing time was yes. 

A Miraculous Victory

A conquering Israelite crew had just experienced two major victories under their new leader, Joshua. After the conquest of Jericho and Ai, the tribes were slowly making their way westward to finally settle into the land their God had promised where they could find rest (Joshua 1–8). Bad news arrived, however, when the Gibeonites sent word to Joshua: a coalition of five Amorite kings, now locals in the land, had joined forces to attack the city that had recently come underneath Israelite domain (Joshua 9). Knowing that the promises of God require faith-filled action, Joshua immediately mustered his troops to the battle scene with a promise of victory from Yahweh safe in his heart. 

When the Israelites approached, they found great initial success, but Joshua quickly noticed many of their enemies were escaping and the approaching darkness of the night was in their enemy’s favor. Joshua made a bold move and commanded: “Sun, stand still over Gibeon, and you, moon, over the Valley of Aijalon” (10:12) until the army could take complete vengeance upon their opposition. Surely enough, the sun and moon stood still, the day was lengthened, and a great victory was won for Israel. In essence, time was stopped in order for the Israelites to finish the battle. The Bible records and concludes the event: “There has never been a day like it before or since, a day when the Lord listened to a human being. Surely the  Lord was fighting for Israel” (10:14). 

Though the sun and moon literally never stood still again, careful inquiry into our biblical narratives reveals that Yahweh might have a habit of “stopping time” in a sense for his beloved ones. 

Another Timely Deliverance

The Hebrew word that Joshua used to command the sun to “stand still” is from the root damam. This word implies a deep variety of meanings, including “to be quiet,” “silent,” “still,” “struck dumb,” or even “to wait.”

Interestingly enough, the first time the word damam appears in the Bible is in the context of Israel’s miraculous Red Sea crossing and deliverance from Egypt. In Exodus 15, Moses and the Israelites record a song that recounts their divine delivery and rejoicing in Yahweh’s stirring of the waters to completely overtake the Egyptian army (vv. 4-10). The song praises Yahweh for redeeming the Israelites with “faithful love” and guiding them to a holy dwelling with his strength alone. As the song comes to a close, a line reads: “The people of Canaan [Israelite opposition] will melt away, and terror and dread will fall on them. . . . They will be as still [damam] as stone—until your people pass by, Lord, . . . the people you bought pass by” (15:15, 16).

What is the point? Clearly, the Lord commanded the waters of the Red Sea to “wait” or “be still” just like the sun in Joshua’s battle, until the very last Israelite had crossed over the land and into safety. One can imagine that smaller children or elderly men or women might have taken much longer to traverse this path. But the God of Israel “stopped time” in a sense (stopping the waters) for each and every Israelite soul, regardless of their pace. 

A Timely Escape

In Genesis we find a similar story but with a different twist. God shared with Abraham that destruction to the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah was about to come because of their evil deeds. Abraham pleaded for the salvation of the city, but only Lot and his family were delivered. On the eve of the city’s destruction, angels were sent to Lot’s family to warn them to flee. When Lot’s family appeared to be a bit slow in moving to their intended direction (as we often can be), the Bible records that the angels began to “hasten” them at daybreak and nearly forced them out of the city to the town of safety that Lot had requested. The angel explained, “For I cannot do anything until you reach it” (Genesis 19:22). 

This same word for “hasten,” utz, which means “to press, urge, make haste, or narrow,” also appears in Joshua’s battle story. The messengers of God utz-ed
(“hastened”) Lot’s family to safety, but the sun did not utz (“hasten”) to go down during Joshua’s battle at Gibeon. 

Lessons for Today

But what do these accounts have to teach us? God hastened people. God stopped a sunset and stilled standing waters. What do these facts have to do with us now?

These historical accounts clearly portray a God who is willing to bend time, per se, not for his own sake (as if he needed more time to complete a task), but for the sake of the safety and salvation of his children. For our sake, God will move “fast” or God will move “slow.” Perhaps this is what the apostle wanted us to understand when he emphasized, “Do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day” (2 Peter 3:8). Peter wanted us to see that God is not burdened or constrained by the fixed limits of time, but that in his sovereignty he is able to use time (both its expansion and shortening) for his own glory and our eventual and eternal good. 

The Lord has promised there is a day coming in which the wrong things of our world will be righted, tears will be wiped from our eyes as sickness and sorrow will be no more, and the influence of evil will be judged and purged from our earth completely. Peter knew 2,000 years ago that it would be tempting to wonder if God is late on his promise, considering that Jesus said he was coming soon (Revelation 22:12), and the Hebrew prophets long before his day said that this moment was “near” (Zephaniah 1:14; Obadiah 1:15; Isaiah 13:6; Ezekiel 30:3). But Peter gave perhaps the clearest explanation for this apparent delay when he wrote: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

Here we see the big picture; our Lord may be willing to slow down his “coming soon” because, like the Red Sea crossing and both Lot’s and Joshua’s deliverance, he is giving time for every soul to come to a desired destination of redemption.

So this week when February 29th comes along and you remember that we’ve been given an extra day in our month and year, remember to thank the gracious God of time. Thank him for the time he has given you to seek him, serve him, and live for eternal rewards. And thank him for the way he is holding back time for the ones we know and love who have not finished crossing the path to salvation.

Valerie Jones and her husband live in Colorado Springs and work with international missions and refugee care.

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