What does “the stars in their courses” mean?                                                 By Jack Kettler


“They fought from heaven; the stars in their courses fought against Sisera.”  (Judges 5:20)


Consulting the Hebrew for Judges 5:20 using the Strong’s Concordance:


 “from their courses

מִמְּסִלּוֹתָ֔ם (mim·mə·sil·lō·w·ṯām)

Preposition-m | Noun - feminine plural construct | third person masculine plural

Strong's Hebrew 4546: 1) highway, raised way, a public road” (underlining emphasis mine)


Strong’s Concordance, “courses” means “highway,” “raised way,” “public road,” which implies movement. The Earth’s Sun is a star; is it also on a highway? It would seem so.


In Judges 5:20, the stars fighting is a metaphor for God's intervention in the battle. Their enemies outnumbered the Israelites, but God intervened and delivered them from their foes. The stars fighting refers to how God sent a storm of divine judgment to defeat the enemy.


Parallel passages:


 “The stars fought from heaven, from their paths they fought against Sisera.” (New American Standard Bible) (underlining emphasis mine)


“From their pathways in the sky the stars fought Sisera.” (Contemporary English Version)


“The stars fought from the sky; as they moved across the sky, they fought against Sisera.” (Good News Translation)


“From the sky the stars fought, from their paths in the heavens they fought against Sisera.” (The NET Bible)


“From the heavens they fought: The stars from their highways fought with Sisera.” (Young's Literal Translation)


“The stars fought from heaven. The stars in their orbits fought against Sisera.” (New Living Translation)


As seen from several parallel passages, מִמְּסִלּוֹתָ֔ם whether it be translated as orbits, paths, pathways, moved across the sky, highways, movement is implied and is inescapable. Thus, far it is seen that stars move across the heavens in their pathways. Furthermore, it can be deduced that Judges 5:20 teaches that the stars move.


In addition, one sees the movement of the Sun in Judges 5:21:


“So, let all thine enemies perish, O LORD: but let them that love him be as the sun when he goeth forth in his might.” (Judges 5:21)


The Judges 5:21 verse is an exclamation of praise to God for his victory over the enemy. It is a poetic expression of joy and victory, highlighting God’s power and protection over his people. The “torrent of Kishon” refers to a river in the plain of Jezreel, where the Israelites had defeated the army of Sisera. The verse praises God for the strength and power he provided to the Israelites so that they could overcome the enemy.


For a critic who would say that Judges 5:20-21 should not be used as a proof text since the passages are metaphorical and, therefore, should not be understood to be teaching anything literally.


Can a literal metaphor or a literal paradox be used in the same sentence?


Indeed, a literal metaphor and a literal paradox can be used in the same sentence. For example, “The fire burned hot, yet felt cold.”


Could this be how Judges 5:20 is to be understood? If so, the stars fighting is metaphorical, and the star, in their courses, is literal.


In his “Literal Metaphor, Literal Paradox,” Northrop Frye observes that these “two modes of understanding take place simultaneously in all reading.” *

* A Website Dedicated to Northrop Frye


Consider the following cross-references:


“Then spake Joshua 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 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? So, the Sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day.” (Joshua 10:12-13)


In contrast to Judges 5:20-21, which implies the movement of the heavenly bodies, the above passages from Joshua say the “Sun stood still,” which is not normative. Consider the three following that agree with Judge 5:20-21:


“He set the tabernacle for the Sun, which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race. His going forth is from the end of the heaven, and his circuit [journey, route] unto the ends of it.” Psalm 19:4-6 (NKJV)


“The Sun also rises, and the Sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it arose.” (Ecclesiastes 1:5)


“He commands the Sun, and it does not rise...” (Job 9:7)


The above citations from Joshua, Judges, Job, Psalms, and Ecclesiastes show that the Sun moves unless, by a divine act, it stops in its movement.


Does the Earth move?


“Fear before him, all the earth: the world also shall be stable, that it be not moved.” (1 Chronicles 16:30)


This verse from Chronicles encourages believers to fear and revere God, to recognize his power and authority over the entire Earth. It is also a reminder that God created and sustained the world, and it is ultimately under his control. He is the one who keeps the world from being “moved.” When believers put their trust and faith in Him, they can have hope and stability.


“The LORD reigneth, he is clothed with majesty; the LORD is clothed with strength, wherewith he hath girded himself: the world also is stablished, that it cannot be moved.” (Psalm 93:1)


The above verse from Psalm 93:1 is a declaration of the majesty and power of God. It is a reminder that God is sovereign and that He is clothed in strength and power.


The comments on the above two passages from 1 Chronicles 16:30 and Psalm 93: do not rule out the literalness of the two texts, also teaching that the Earth does not move.


The following material on the rules for Biblical interpretation is necessary to help understand the above passages accurately.


General abbreviated rules of Biblical interpretation:


·         Identify the kind of literature or genera of text.


·         Consider the context, historical setting, and grammar of the passage.


·         The Reader should look to the text for its plain and understandable meaning.


·         The simplest explanation is preferable a more complex one (Occam's razor).


·         The Scriptures are the best interpreter of Scripture.


·         The Scriptures should be literally interpreted unless there is a compelling reason to interpret them otherwise.


A more in-depth look at Hermeneutical Principles by R. C. Sproul:


Sacra Scriptura sui interpres


“Scripture is to interpret Scripture. This simply means that no part of Scripture can be interpreted in such a way to render it in conflict with what is clearly taught elsewhere in Scripture. For example, if a given verse is capable of two renditions or variant interpretations and one of those interpretations goes against the rest of Scripture while the other is in harmony with it, then the latter interpretation must be used.”


“Since it is assumed that God would never contradict Himself, it is thought slanderous to the Holy Spirit to choose an alternate interpretation that would unnecessarily bring the Bible in conflict with itself. The analogy of faith keeps the whole Bible in view lest we suffer from the effects of exaggerating one part of Scripture to the exclusion of others.”


“Interpreting the Bible Literally”


“The literal sense offers restraint from letting our imagination run away in fanciful interpretation and invites us to examine closely the literary forms of Scripture. The term literal comes from the Latin litera meaning “letter.” To interpret something literally is to pay attention to the litera or to the letters or words being used. To interpret the Bible literally is to interpret it as literature. That is, the natural meaning of a passage is to be interpreted according to the normal rules of grammar, speech, syntax and context.” (1)


Observations and conclusions:


Using principles of interpretation stated above by Sproul, the idea that the earth moves and the sun and stars do not must be proved from Scripture. No outside interpretive grid should be imposed upon Scripture. Why is this important? To illustrate, using recent newspaper stories to interpret apocalyptic eschatological portions of Scripture has plagued premillennial Dispensationalism since its inception. An error like this has been called newspaper exegesis.  


For example, Hal Lindsey's “The Late Great Planet Earth” and Chuck Smith's “End Times: A Report on future survival” provide insight into the future. These two books are classic examples of reading into Scripture sources from outside of the Scriptures. Moreover, both books are case studies in crackpot eschatology. Both Lindsey and Smith made sophomoric historical anachronisms. Indeed, no one today would try to defend Lindsey and Smith’s eschatological errors in these books. Are there safeguards to avoid errors like this? 


As the reader moves through the following material, does the historical interpretation of the men of the Reformation, like Luther and Calvin, do justice to the Scriptures? A sampling of citations from the ancient Church Fathers can be marshaled in support of the older classical pre-Copernicus interpretation of the above passages is in order.     


Biblical Cosmology and John Calvin:


“[The Christian is not to compromise so as to obscure the distinction between good and evil, and is to avoid the errors of] those dreamers who have a spirit of bitterness and contradiction, who reprove everything and prevent the order of nature. We will see some who are so deranged, not only in religion but who in all things reveal their monstrous nature, that they will say that the sun does not move, and that it is the earth which shifts and turns. When we see such minds, we must indeed confess that the devil possess them, and that God sets them before us as mirrors, in order to keep us in his fear. So, it is with all who argue out of pure malice, and who happily make a show of their imprudence. When they are told: “That is hot,” they will reply: “No, it is plainly cold.” When they are shown an object that is black, they will say that it is white, or vice versa. Just like the man who said that snow is black; for although it is perceived and known by all to be white, yet he clearly wished to contradict the fact. And so, it is that they are madmen who would try to change the natural order, and even to dazzle eyes and benumb their senses.” (2)


In addition, Calvin said:


“The heavens revolve daily and, immense as is their fabric, and inconceivable the rapidity of their revolutions, we experience no concussion–no disturbance in the harmony of their motion.... How could earth hang suspended in the air were it not upheld by God’s hand?  By what means could it maintain itself unmoved, did not its Divine Maker fix and establish it?” (3)


More from John Calvin:


“The heavens revolve daily, and, immense as is their fabric and inconceivable the rapidity of their revolutions, we experience no concussion — no disturbance in the harmony of their motion. The sun, though varying its course every diurnal revolution, returns annually to the same point. The planets, in all their wanderings, maintain their respective positions. How could the earth hang suspended in the air were it not upheld by God’s hand? By what means could it maintain itself unmoved, while the heavens above are in constant rapid motion, did not its Divine Maker fix and establish it?” (4)


God “laid the foundations of the earth, that it should not be removed, forever” (Psalm 104:5). “Here the prophet celebrates the glory of God, as manifested in the stability of the earth. Since it is suspended in the midst of the air, and is supported only by pillars of water, how does it keep its place so stedfastly that it cannot be moved? This I indeed grant may be explained on natural principles; for the earth, as it occupies the lowest place, being the center of the world, naturally settles down there.” (5)


“I beseech you to tell me what the foundation of the earth is. It is founded both upon the water and also upon the air: behold its foundation. We cannot possibly build a house fifteen feet high on firm ground without having to lay a foundation. Behold the whole earth founded only in trembling, indeed poised above such bottomless depths that it might be turned upside down at any minute to become disordered. Hence there must be a wonderful power of God to keep it in the condition in which it is.” (6)


Martin Luther:


“Luther called Copernicus an upstart astronomer and referred to him as a fool who wishes to reverse the entire science of astronomy but sacred Scripture tells us that Joshua commanded the sun to stand still, and not the earth.”

“Scripture simply says that the moon, the sun, and the stars were placed in the firmament of the heaven, below and above which heaven are the waters… It is likely that the stars are fastened to the firmament like globes of fire, to shed light at night… We Christians must be different from the philosophers in the way we think about the causes of things. And if some are beyond our comprehension like those before us concerning the waters above the heavens, we must believe them rather than wickedly deny them or presumptuously interpret them in conformity with our understanding.” (7)


“People gave ear to an upstart astronomer who strove to show that the earth revolves, not the heavens or the firmament, the sun and the moon. Whoever wishes to appear clever must devise some new system, which of all systems is of course the very best. This fool [or 'man'] wishes to reverse the entire science of astronomy; but sacred Scripture tells us that Joshua commanded the sun to stand still, and not the earth.” (8)


Is the Bible without error in all that it teaches? The above verses present the Sun and Stars moving and the Earth being stationary. Is God using human language in such a way to accommodate how humans, in their limited understanding, understood the creation? If so, why would God not correct human misunderstanding and set forth a different view? If the Holy Spirit moved the writers of Scripture when they wrote the Word of God, why would God allow them to write false or misleading information to accommodate human ignorance? God often used the inspired writers to correct ignorance and false doctrine.


The preponderance of the totality of Scripture sets forth a Biblical cosmology that includes the Earth being motionless and the center of God’s creation. Was it an accommodation to science that led to a reinterpretation of the above Scriptures, a different paradigm? The sheer number of passages speaking of the Sun rising and setting makes it difficult to accept that it was nothing more than a figure of speech that did not correspond to reality.  


In addition, the Biblical cosmologists would ask, “How deceptive of God to speak in such a manner unless He meant what he said.” Calvin and others got their understanding from the simple reading of Scripture. Are the Scriptures in error? Since Calvin and other church leaders got their understanding of the Sun moving and the Earth stationary from the Bible, was God teaching falsehood? Were Calvin and Luther ignoramuses in the area of Biblical teaching and science?


Was the Church wrong in its interpretation of the passages listed above and others, or was God wrong in what is conveyed in the above Scriptures? From a skeptical perspective, trying to blame the Church for misinterpretations of the Bible relevant to cosmology is a trick that does not work. The trick of hiding behind the Church does not work. Many Protestants like to think this was just a Roman Catholic dispute with Galileo.


This writer, a Protestant, is well aware of the Church succumbing to false doctrine. However, Biblical cosmology is a somewhat unique case. Unlike soteriology, the Biblical view of cosmology had a unified front in the early Church leading up to the 15th Century. Ambrose, Athanasius, Augustine, Basil, Chrysostom, Clement of Rome, Cyril of Jerusalem, Eusebius, Gregory Nanzianzus, Gregory of Nyssa, Hippolytus, Irenaeus, Jerome, Justin Martyr, and Tertullian were some of the familiar Church Fathers from both the Eastern and Western Church were unified in their understanding of Biblical cosmology. Moreover, Protestant reformers, the likes of Calvin and Luther, agreed.


The Calvin and Luther quotes were for a purpose. Calvin and Luther were not alone; virtually all of the Reformation leaders agreed on Biblical cosmology. Commentator Matthew Poole, Puritan John Owen, Ulrich Zwingli, Philip Melanchthon, John Knox, Heinrich Bullinger, John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, John Bunyan, and many others can be added to the list. Historically, the Eastern, Western, and Protestant Churches did not permit women to be ordained as elders or priests. Similarly, these same churches agreeing historically on Biblical cosmology cannot be dismissed.     


A pertinent quote:


“It is certainly supposed in Scripture that the earth is at rest in the midst of the heavens, and that the heavens revolve about it. The Scripture speaks of the sun's rising and setting, and of its going forth and its circuit, as things frequently done; and of the stars also, as being ordained for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and for years. I suppose that he who believes the Scripture must necessarily believe, that the earth is in the midst of the heavens, and immutable, and the heavens revolve about it.” (9)


In order to prove that this writer's interpretation of the Scriptural references mentioned is incorrect, one must rely on evidence directly from the Scriptures themselves. Therefore, the only acceptable standard for disproving this writer's historic interpretation of the Scriptural references. The Scriptures alone are the final court appeal.


Bonus material, inconvenient observations by scientists in moments of candor:


“Redshifts would imply that we occupy a unique position in the universe, analogous, in a sense, to the ancient conception of a central Earth... This hypothesis cannot be disproved.” - Edwin Hubble in The Observational Approach to Cosmology


“If the Earth were at the center of the universe, the attraction of the surrounding mass of stars would also produce redshifts wherever we looked! This theory seems quite consistent with our astronomical observations.” - Paul Davies in Nature, an English physicist


“The new results are either telling us that all of science is wrong and we're the center of the universe, or maybe the data is simply incorrect” - Lawrence Krauss, theoretical physicist and cosmologist, Yale University, Arizona State University, Case Western Reserve University


“When you look at CBM map, [cosmic microwave background (CMB)] you also see that the structure is...correlated with the plane of the Earth around the sun. That would say we are truly the center of the universe.” - Lawrence Krauss (2006) Lawrence Krauss is a theoretical physicist


“The relation of the two pictures [geocentricity and heliocentricity] is reduced to a mere coordinate transformation and it is the main tenet of the Einstein theory that any two ways of looking at the world which are related to each other by a coordinate transformation are entirely equivalent from a physical point of view. Today we cannot say that the Copernican theory is “right” and the Ptolemaic theory “wrong” in any meaningful physical sense.” - Sir Fred Hoyle, an English astronomer who formulated the theory of stellar nucleosynthesis


“Red shift in the spectra of quasars leads to yet another paradoxical result: namely, that the Earth is the center of the Universe.” - Y.P. Varshni in Astrophysics and Space Science


“In other words, assuming the cosmological red shift hypothesis, the quasars…are arrange on 57 spherical shells with Earth in the center. This is certainly an extraordinary result. Some of the possibilities that we shall consider to accommodate this result may be disturbing, but we must consider these possibilities dispassionately.


(1) Coincidence in distances could be possible if there were clustering. However, an examination of the coordinates of the various members of individual groups show that in most cases there is no such correlation. Hence, this explanation has to be ruled out.

(2) Quasars may be arranged like atoms in a crystal lattice, with the Earth being either at an empty lattice site or at a suitable interstitial site. Should that be the case, one would expect some pattern or regularity in the directions of quasars belonging to a certain group. No such evidence is found and this possibility must also be abandoned.

(3) The Earth is indeed the center of the Universe. The arrangement of quasars on certain spherical shells is only with respect to the Earth. These shells would disappear if viewed from another galaxy or a quasar. This means that the cosmological principle will have to go. Also, it implies that a coordinate system fixed to the Earth will be a preferred frame of reference in the Universe. Consequently, both the Special and the General Theory of Relativity must be abandoned for cosmological purposes.” - Y.P. Varshni in Astrophysics and Space Science


“A great deal of research has been carried out concerning the influence of the Earth’s movement. The results were always negative.” - Henri Poincare, French mathematician, theoretical physicist, engineer, and philosopher of science


“Briefly, everything occurs as if the Earth were at rest…” - Henrick Lorentz, Dutch physicist


“No physical experiment has ever proved that the Earth actually is in motion.” - Lincoln Barnett, editor at Life Magazine


“This hypothesis (of a central Earth) cannot be disproved, but it is unwelcome and would only be accepted as a last resort.” “We disregard this possibility. The unwelcome position of a favored location must be avoided at all costs.” “Such a favored position is intolerable.” - Edwin Hubble, American astronomer


“The pendulum has swung all the way and started to come back on the Copernican principle.” - Max Tegmark, physicist, cosmologist and a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology


For more study:


Did the Sun stand still in Joshua 10:13-14?  http : // Undergroundnotes. com/ Joshua.html


Geocentricity, is it true and does the Bible teach it? http : //www .undergroundnotes .com/ Geocentricity.html


“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)




1.      R.C. Sproul, Knowing Scripture, Abridgement is from Chapter 3: Hermeneutics: The Science of Interpretation, (Downers Grove, Illinois, IVP 2009) pp. 41.

2.      John Calvin, “Sermon on 1 Corinthians 10:19-24”, Calvini Opera Selecta, Corpus Refomatorum, Vol 49, 677, trans. by Robert White in “Calvin and Copernicus: the Problem Reconsidered,” Calvin Theological Journal 15 (1980), p233-243, at 236-237.

3.      John Calvin, Commentary on the Psalms 93:1 Vol. VI, see also Commentary on Joshua 10:12, Vol. IV and Psalm 148:3, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker Book House Reprinted 1979).

4.      John Calvin, Calvin's Commentaries Volume V1, Psalms, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker Book House, Reprinted 1979), pp. 6-7.

5.      John Calvin, pp. 148-149.

6.      Ibid. p. 469.

7.      Martin Luther, Luther's Works. Vol. 1. Lectures on Genesis, ed. Janoslaw Pelikan, (Concordia Pub. House, St. Louis, Missouri, 1958), pp. 30, 42, 43.

8.      Helmut T. Lehmann and Theodore G. Tappert, Luther's Works Table Talk, (Minneapolis, MN:  Augsburg Fortress Publ., 1967), pp. 358-359.

9.      Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Volume 2, (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1974), p. 390.


Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife, Marea, attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of 15 books defending the Reformed Faith. Books can be ordered online at Amazon.