Throughout the Old Testament occur stirring accounts of many miracles that have inspired and excited the imagination of the faithful ever since. For anyone who is open to a “willing suspension of disbelief” in the supernatural, these apparent transcendences represent God’s direct intercession in the lives of humankind.
Some, such as Moses’ encounter with the burning bush in Midian (Exodus 3), were of a more personal nature. That is, they directly affected only the experience of the individual—in this instance, Moses himself. Similar miracles might be those of the child Samuel’s threefold hearing of God’s voice in the night (1 Samuel 3) or the food-bearing care of the ravens for Elijah by the Brook Cherith (1 Kings 17) or Balaam’s almost comical dialogue with his own poor beast of burden as he was accompanying—while ignoring God’s counsel—the princes of Moab (Numbers 22).
Still other remarkable miracles of the Old Testament affected many more than mere individuals. The storied plagues of Egypt demonstrated God’s power in waves of misery to all of the Egyptian people. They were struck with successive infestation of flies, lice, frogs, and locusts. They suffered boils, and their animals became infected with disease. Even the elements were affected when the river was turned to blood and great storms produced hail. And the very last plague, directed at any unprotected home, culminated in the death of every firstborn child in the land, including even the house of the pharaoh himself, the world’s most powerful monarch of the time.
Yet, one of these 10 visitations may have had an even wider—an even more cosmic—impact. In the penultimate plague, a three-day blackout, the people of Egypt “did not see one another; nor did anyone rise from his place for three days,” though, interestingly, “all the children of Israel had light in their dwellings” (Ex. 10:23, NKJV).
In his classic All the Miracles of the Bible, Herbert Lockyer organizes the biblical supernatural accounts into four categories, representing God’s sovereign power over (1) nature, (2) disease, (3) death, and (4) demons.1 The miracles of Jesus reported in the four Gospels of the New Testament were direct confrontations between the Godhead and these negative forces. When Jesus healed the Gadarene demoniacs and drove their tormenting demons into the herd of pigs (Matthew 8), it was an epic, face-to-face clash between good and evil.
Elsewhere in Scripture, however, God intervened more often through the ministrations of His servants: Moses, Joshua, Elijah, Elisha, and others. In each instance, the power, however, was only God’s, and no one was more aware of this than His servants themselves. Sometimes even the human opponents of God—world leaders—recognized His power in what they were experiencing. When Daniel repeated and interpreted the very dream that had been troubling Nebuchadnezzar, “‘Truly your God is the God of gods,’” the king of all Babylon exclaimed, “‘the Lord of kings’” (Dan. 2:47, NKJV). And God’s revelation through prophecy was no less a miracle than that Nebuchadnezzar would personally witness in the later deliverance of the three worthies from the fiery furnace (Daniel 3).
These acknowledgements of the supernatural, however, came during what may be called the pre-scientific epochs in human history, when belief was endemic that deities—both beneficent and hostile—inhabited a world outside the everyday human experience that sometimes interfered with humanity. With the dawn of science and the end of the Dark Ages, a new way of looking at the world emerged that actually grew out of a God-given quest for understanding His creation. Increasingly, the search for truth has been viewed through a new lens.
And just about the time when this new demand for empirical evidence came on, it has occurred to some that the seemingly frequent and dramatic incidence of the supernatural reported in past eras has diminished or disappeared entirely. “Coincidence?” ask some scientists. “I think not!” The conclusion, for some, is that the age of reason has put an end to all that superstition.
Lockyer addresses the apparent paucity of miracles in more modern times to a kind of progressive change in message and audience. “The Old Testament miracles,” he says, “established the supremacy of God over all the dead gods of idolatry. The miracles of Christ established His claims to deity and Messiahship. Apostolic miracles established the Church as a divine institution, and once firmly established was mainly left to ordinary providence.”2
Interesting idea, possibly an oxymoron: “ordinary providence.”
Lockyer does go on to observe, as do all people of faith today, that miracles are still evident in the experience of humankind. For anyone who is open to their possibility, there are ample evidences of the supernatural in everyday life. Faith and reason need not be mutually exclusive. In his characteristic style of arch overstatement, G. K. Chesterton wrote, “There may well be wonderful universes above us where reason is utterly unreasonable.”3
Meantime, science continues its close study of the world around it, examining the past and the present. This sometimes focuses the scientific process on Scripture itself. The current issue of Smithsonian magazine, for example, includes a report on research regarding the day that Joshua commanded the Sun to stand still (Joshua 10), introducing it as “among the Bible’s clearly mythical moments.”4 What resulted from this research, ironically, was that using the tools of astronomy, Egyptology, and biblical history, the solar event reported in the Book of Joshua has been suggested as the earliest known solar eclipse: October 30, 1207 B.C.
Scholars have for centuries debated the event during Joshua’s leadership of the people of Israel in which he “spoke to the Lord in the day when the Lord delivered up the Amorites before the children of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel: ‘Sun, stand still over Gibeon; and Moon, in the Valley of Aijalon’” (Joshua 10:12, NKJV). For one thing, from the perspective on Earth, it is clearly understood that the Sun isn’t literally crossing our sky, from horizon to horizon. Though it may be moving as part of a constellation in the greater cosmic context, our Sun is in a pivotal position in relation to the Earth as the Earth orbits around it. We may say that the Sun rises and sets, but this is only a metaphorical way of marking the time of day here in our earthly home.
Though there are certainly other details in this singular event that must yet be addressed by known science and history, the study reported in the Smithsonian article offers an open-minded approach. “‘In ancient writings, the Bible or Egyptian writing, you do get records of strange events in the sky,’” says physicist Sir Colin Humphreys, one of the two lead researchers in this study. “‘The first thing to do is assume these are genuine records and study them. You shouldn’t jump to saying it’s a myth without first looking into it.’”5
Is it not possible to consider the highly reasoned conclusions of science, like the Sun’s apparent movement across our terrestrial sky, in the greater context of faith, like the cosmic verities that are yet beyond our fullest understanding? Could it be that belief in the “wonderful universes above us where reason is utterly unreasonable” may bring “light in [our] dwellings” (Ex. 10:23, NKJV) when all else is darkness?
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