Not everything we read in the Bible is meant to be taken literally because not everything in the Bible was meant to be taken literally. This doesn’t mean that everything we read in the Bible that sounds too fantastic to be true isn’t true. If we start discounting what we read as metaphorical, or allegorical, then we run the risk of not believing anything the Bible says. Rather than try and cover the entire Bible, pointing out what is literal and what is not, I’m going to cover three segments from my reading of Joshua today and share my thoughts on what is metaphorical, literal, and maybe something else

On the day the Lord gave the Amorites over to Israel, Joshua said to the Lord in the presence of Israel: “Sun, stand still over Gibeon, and you, moon, over the Valley of Aijalon.” So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, till the nation avenged itself on its enemies, as it is written in the Book of Jashar. The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day.

Joshua 10:12-13 (NIV)

Some people will read about the sun not going down for an entire day and say it’s some sort of metaphor or otherwise try and explain that it didn’t happen that way. Perhaps it’s a line from a poem from the book of Jashar, or there was an eclipse, etc. I know this because I read a lot of “explanations” about this event today as I was researching something else from Joshua. In fact, I got sidetracked and spent too much time reading a lot of “theories” that just made me shake my head. I wasn’t planning on talking about this incident, although it piques my interest because I didn’t want to cover everything I had read. So I’m not. I don’t think any of those explanations or theories are necessary to understanding this was a miracle. After all, aren’t miracles, by definition, an event we can’t explain through science or other natural means? Thus, we call it a miracle and attribute it to the divine? Therefore, by virtue of being a miracle, this event in Joshua is meant to be taken literally. 

At sunset Joshua gave the order, and they took them down from the poles and threw them into the cave where they had been hiding. At the mouth of the cave they placed large rocks, which are there to this day (emphasis added).

Joshua 10:27 (NIV)

This expression, “to this day,” is used a lot in the Bible. Depending on your translation, it can appear as few as five times (KJV) or in numbers exceeding ninety (ESV). Some people might read this and think it literally means up to and including right now. For example, if we could go to the cave where Joshua threw in the bodies of the five kings, we’d see those very same rocks. This is highly unlikely. However, when it was written it was true, and likely for some time after that, it was true and meant to be taken literally. Therefore, “to this day” is not a metaphor but an idiomatic expression that could be mistaken for a metaphor but shouldn’t be taken as either a metaphor or literal expression applying to right now for this verse. 

There are times when this expression, “to this day,” can be taken literally and applied to right now. A perpetual state of being. 

The firstborn bore a son and called his name Moab. He is the father of the Moabites to this day.

Genesis 19:37 (ESV)

No one else is going to be the father of the Moabites. Therefore, we can confidently say that the use of this expression in this verse can be taken literally.

They came out with all their troops and a large number of horses and chariots—a huge army, as numerous as the sand on the seashore (emphasis added).

Joshua 11:4 (NIV)

The expression used here, “as numerous as the sand on the seashore,” is a metaphor (it’s actually a hyperbolic metaphor, but I’m not getting into that) telling us the army was very large. So large, perhaps, that it couldn’t easily be counted. Not only could it probably not be counted easily, but it was very intimidating. Hence, the Lord’s assurance to Joshua.

The Lord said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid of them, because by this time tomorrow I will hand all of them, slain, over to Israel. You are to hamstring their horses and burn their chariots.”

Joshua 11:6 (NIV)

If we’re having a difficult time deciding if what we’re reading is metaphorical, literal, or something else, in the Bible, we can look at the book we are reading. There are sixty-six books in the Bible that all have a specific purpose or theme in mind. For example, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon are books about wisdom that tend to have a lot of metaphors in them. In contrast, the doctrinal books in the New Testament will have fewer metaphors and the like within them. In any case, the first authority you should seek when you have any question about the Bible (or anything else really) is God. 

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.

James 1:5 (NIV) 

Do you know God? God knows you, and he loves you. He sees you as significant because you are. No one is insignificant to Him. He’s with you today, and he wants you to know him. Jesus died for your sins and mine so we could be free of guilt, be freed from death, and live eternally with him. Eternal salvation is just a prayer away. 

Pray this prayer with me to accept the gift of salvation today:

Lord Jesus, forgive me for all my sins. I repent from my ways. Wash me in your blood and cleanse me from all unrighteousness. I believe that you died on the cross, were buried, and on the third day, God the Father raised you from the dead. Right now, Lord Jesus, I open the door to my heart, and I receive you into my heart as my Lord and personal Savior. Amen.

If you prayed that prayer, then congratulations! You are on the first step of a brand new life. Allow me to be the first to welcome you to my family, the family of God. There are abundant resources available online for new Christians. You can visit here for more information on what to do next. You can also leave me a comment, and I’ll do my best to help you on the next step of this incredible journey.