The Sun-Dial of Ahaz

By Rev Chris Skinner

“And Hezekiah answered, It is a light thing for the shadow to go down ten degrees ,nay but let the shadow return backward ten degrees. And Isaiah the prophet cried unto the Lord: and he brought the shadow ten degrees backward, by which it had gone down in the dial of Ahaz.” 1 Kings 20 verses 10-11

This passage from Kings is one that is most interesting and provides us with the opportunity to study the Word and see how these apparent natural phenomena are used by the Lord to convey wonderful spiritual truths about the state of the church and the state of the individual. To fully appreciate the significance of this passage we must put it in the context of the Jewish church at the time and it will then be clearer how our text provides a forceful reminder of how the ability of the Lord to reach his people depends on the willingness of each of us to turn to Him.

Hezekiah became King after the death of his father Ahaz. Ahaz was a very evil King who destroyed all the places of worship and had no regard for the people and only looked to his own selfish intentions in everything he did. When Hezekiah came to the throne he made a very sincere attempt to reverse the damage done by his father and was recognised as a very devout and faithful ruler who restored righteousness. He restored their places of worship and endeavoured to treat his people with respect.

It is in this context that we see Hezekiah and his dialogue with the prophet Isaiah. Hezekiah recognised the difficulties his nation faced and the work he needed to do as King. If we read this chapter in its entirety we will see that Hezekiah was sick and wanted to be made well. He spoke with the prophet Isaiah who granted him a wish which is the subject of our text. We can recall the text ‘the whole head is sick and the whole heart faint’ which demonstrates a state which recognises the need to change.

In order for us to understand what is being conveyed to us about the church and ourselves we must look at portion of the text of the Word in context otherwise we can draw conclusions from a particular verse or series of verses which is incorrect. We must therefore see Ahaz, the shadow going back ten degrees and the dial or steps of Ahaz in a correspondential form.

As far as the dial of Ahaz or steps of Ahaz is concerned it is uncertain as to whether there was an actual dial or whether the steps of Ahaz were located in such a way as to form a dial as the sun rose and set. However the significance relates to the steps of Ahaz which should be seen as representing the decline of the Jewish Church and also the way we decline spiritually if we turn away from the Lord and rely on false reasoning from self. In successive periods the Jewish Church progressively fell into evil and falsity of every kind and the reign of Hezekiah was an oasis in an otherwise downward spiral.

Much of the Word of the Lord is written in appearances to protect the truth from falsification and profanation and this passage of scripture is no different. The idea of the shadow going back ten degrees is an appearance but in so doing conveys wonderful truths for our use. The sun of this world represents the Divine Love of the Lord which is always present with us. The shadow cast on the steps is a vivid picture of how light is diminished if evil rather than good is favoured.

The question can be asked. How could the shadow go back ten degrees. The Lord is order itself and cannot act outside of this order and therefore the backward movement of the shadow is only an appearance. So many things in this world are only an appearance. We say that the sun rises and sets but in fact the sun does not move it is the earth that moves. If you look in the night sky just after dusk the moon appears much larger and soon afterwards gets smaller. This also is an appearance as it is the angle to the earth and the refraction of light that gives this appearance. Light and colour in our world is created by the gases in the atmosphere between us and the sun.

From this we see that the passage is illustrating spiritual principles and the ten degrees backwards is showing us that if we turn to the Lord then more light will be given and the shadow on our life will be lifted to some degree. Ten signifies many which represents our many spiritual states some of which are good and also remains which we draw upon when we turn to the Lord We often think of the word enlightenment and the lifting of the shadow occurs when we allow the Lord into our life and put the truth into action.

If we read further in this chapter we will see that Hezekiah was given 15 more years on his life to achieve his work for good but even this was not enough to halt the decline of the Jewish nation which had confirmed itself in evil desires and selfish action. The significance of the number 15 is that it represents a new state. Hezekiah was repentant and he was granted a new state of mind.

We can gain much from the spiritual principles given in this passage as it shows how reliance on our own selfhood and not on the truths from the Lord will lead to destruction. It can also be a very poignant reminder of how our change of moods and treatment of others is a reflection of our inner states. Many of our moods and states are likened to the effect of the sun or lack of it and these are also very much part of the Word. In that well known Psalm 23 we read ‘though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil’. We often refer to our psychological states as gloomy, dark or bright. When we feel moody or miserable we tend to focus only on ourselves and look inwards rather than outwards to other people. I am sure we have all seen the phrase on church notice boards ‘God seems far away! Who has moved ? How many times have we suddenly noticed that we have descended into nastiness, bad thoughts, worldly reasoning and self satisfaction and have been brought up with a jolt. Hezekiah through sickness was brought up with a jolt.

Hezekiah used his life to attempt to reverse the trend in the life of the Jewish nation. How can we reverse the bad trends in our life. We can start by being positive, being pleasant looking to the Lord and changing our attitude. How many times have we laid awake at night worried about things. Everything appears gloomy and dark but in the morning with a fresh attitude things are brighter. Our relationships with others can be turned around by being honest open and making sure we communicate with each other. So much unhappiness is caused by one person thinking that another is angry with them when it is not the case. It is an appearance and we must strive to ensure that in all our relationships the Lord is at the centre.

The major lesson from this passage from the Word is that the Lord is constant. His love for us is never ending. It is our turning away from him and loosing sight of the spiritual principles and truth given in His Word that will cause us to go astray.

Let us use this wonderful story of the shadow moving backwards to focus on the Lord’s love and how the events, activities and relationships in life are affected by the way we either turn to or away from the Lord. The Lord is ever present and the shadow will be large or small depending on how we respond to the love that the Lord has for each one of us.