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Don Stewart :: Did God Backup the Sun Dial for Hezekiah?

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Don Stewart
During the reign of King Hezekiah, he asked for a confirmatory sign from the prophet Isaiah to verify that all Isaiah had predicted was true. We have the following account:

And Hezekiah said to Isaiah, What is the sign that the Lord will heal me, and that I shall go up to the house of the Lord the third day? Then Isaiah said, This is the sign to you from the Lord, that the Lord will do the thing which He has spoken: shall the shadow go forward ten degrees or go backward ten degrees? And Hezekiah answered, It is an easy thing for the shadow to go down ten degrees, no but let the shadow go backward ten degrees. So Isaiah the prophet cried out to the Lord, and He brought the shadow ten degrees backward, by which it had gone down on the sundial of Ahaz (2 Kings 20:8-11).

And this is the sign to you from the Lord, that the Lord will do this thing which He has spoken: Behold, I will bring the shadow on the sundial, which has gone down with the sun on the sundial of Ahaz, ten degrees backward. So the sun returned ten degrees on the dial by which it had gone down (Isaiah 38:7,8).

Hezekiah was offered a choice: the shadow on the sundial could go either 10 degrees backwards or forwards. Hezekiah assumed that the sun going backward would be a greater sign since it would go against nature. God granted Isaiahs prayer and the sign occurred.

Which Sundial?

How did God move the sundial? Part of our consideration of this miracle concerns the type of sundial that was in mind. There have been three different suggestions:

1. The sundial was possibly a series of steps leading from east to west. As the sun sank in the west the shadow would come down the steps and a glance at this shadow on the steps would indicate how much daytime was left.

2. Another type suggested is a hollowed out hemisphere with lines on the inside wherein the shaded part will intersect various lines and show the time of day.

3. A third suggestion is that the sundial was a pillar with steps around it and as the sun moved across the heavens, the shadow of the pillar would fall on different steps, thus, giving a rough estimate of the time of day.

Regardless which of the three sundials were used the miracle would be obvious to all concerned. It would not be as miraculous for the shadow to advance ten degrees as for the shadow to retreat. Only supernatural intervention could cause the latter. This is the miracle that Hezekiah received. If the miracle occurred, how and what happened?

Sun Backed Up?

One possibility is that the earth backed up in its trajectory to shed more daylight upon the sundial. The problem with this view is that it disturbs all the machinery in the heavens. There would have been untold destruction if this happened unless God supernaturally intervened. While this is possible, it is not necessary to assume that this is what occurred.
In addition, 2 Chronicles 32:31 seems to restrict the phenomenon to the land of Palestine:

However, regarding the ambassadors of the princes of Babylon, whom they sent to inquire about the wonder that was done in the land, God withdrew from him, in order to test him, that He might know all that was in his heart (2 Chronicles 32:31).

If this be the case, then it is not necessary to say that the sun backed up its trajectory.


Others have thought that the miracle was a supernatural mirage of the sun:

The theory of Butler is that the miracle was a supernatural superior mirage of the sun. Lateral images have been known to shift objects ninety degrees. Butler tells of Martin, one of the round-the-world fliers of 1924, who crashed his plane in Alaska because a lateral image moved a mountain ninety degrees out of its place! So, Butler reasons, a superior image of ten degrees would be no great phenomenon (Bernard Ramm, The Christian View Of Science and Scripture, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954, p. 111).

Lighting Up The Steps

The miracle was more likely that of lighting up the steps. This is a result of the direct intervention of God. W.F. Arndt comments:

The writer does not say that this was due to the movement of the sun. He furnishes no explanation. His account makes it possible to assume that the miracle was confined to what happened on the sundial . . . The prominence which is given to the dial and the shadow strongly supports this view. Since there is no mention of the lengthening of the day, this seems preferable to the view that understands Isaiah to say that the sun reversed its course and shone ten hours or so longer than usually (W.F. Arndt, Bible Difficulties, St. Louis: Concordia Publishers, p. 126).


We conclude that God performed a supernatural sign for King Hezekiah by making the shadow on the sundial retreat. There are several possible ways how he could have done it and we cannot be sure which, if any, of the suggested ways were used. The fact is that God did grant Hezekiah this sign.

Attempts to explain this scientifically or to relate it to some calendrical
adjustment - perhaps in conjunction with Joshuas long day (Josh. 10) - have not carried full conviction with students of science or chronology. It is best to admit that we do not know the explanation but to accept the testimony of the word of God to the fact a miracle took place (Geoffrey W. Grogan, Isaiah, The Expositors Bible Commentary, Vol. 6, Frank E. Gabelein, General editor, Grand Rapids Mi: Zondervan, 1986, p. 236).
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