Moving Shadows

Second Kings 18-20 records the life of one of Israel’s greatest kings, Hezekiah. We are told of him that “He did that which was right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that David his father did” (2 Kings 18:3). This isn’t just a comment about the things he did, good as they were, but more importantly it tells us about his heart. It is said that David was a man after God’s own heart, and we see that Hezekiah, even when faced with the most trying of circumstances, remained true to God.

You know that sometimes things just seem to happen all at once?! Well this was certainly true for this Godly king. Jerusalem was surrounded by one of the most formidable armies the world up to that time had known, no nation had been able to stop the advance of the mighty kings of Assyria.  But if threat of invasion, defeat and deportation were not enough, in chapter 20 we find that Hezekiah also falls sick! Do you remember that the Apostle James said we should consider it all joy when we face various trials? (James 1:2). You cannot possibly face a situation like Hezekiah was here and be joyful… unless of course you know and are living in the grace of God (2 Corinthians 12:9) and have the knowledge that God is working all things together for good! (Romans 8:28).

In the midst of all this, Isaiah the prophet comes to Hezekiah with some bad news! “You shall die and not live!” (Prophets are not usually known for their tact and diplomacy!) Yet one again this godly king doesn’t pout or blame God for being unfair, but turns his face toward his beloved Jerusalem (the Hebrew word translated ‘wall’ also means ‘town’), and looks toward the wall (of the city), no doubt wondering what will become of his people if he were to die? Would the Assyrians use this as their opportunity to strike? Would Jerusalem fall to these blaspheming heathens? As Hezekiah had done when faced with every other trial so far, once again he goes straight to the LORD!

Before Isaiah has even left the courtyard God sends him back to the king with a new message. “Thus saith the LORD, the God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold, I will heal thee: on the third day thou shalt go up unto the house of the LORD” (2 Kings 20:5). Isaiah also tells the king that God will add 15 years to his life!

Probably somewhat confused by all this – he has now had two contrasting messages from Isaiah in the last 5 minutes! – Hezekiah asks for a sign, as confirmation that this is Isaiah’s (God’s) final word on the matter! The sign that is promised is for the shadow on the ‘dial of Ahaz’ to move backward! The ‘dial of Ahaz’ was obviously some sort of sun-dial, that could be used for telling the time of day. The is some conjecture as to what it actually was, but the most likely is that it was a series of 15 steps that Ahaz had built that, as the Sun moved across the middle-eastern sky, would cause a shadow to be cast on the steps that would move down the steps throughout the day.

There are books written about this phenomenon of the shadow that moved, with learned people both refuting the possibility of this, and others who try to make a case that this could actually have occurred as a result of refraction, or maybe due to a  change in the Earth’s procession, possibly affected by external gravitational forces. Yet those who know anything about celestial mechanics will highlight the massive impact to the Earth if the Sun moved backward (causing the shadow to move), or if the Earth’s rotation changed, slowed or reversed.

But while that debate continues, it would pay us to go back to the text and see what the Bible actually says! For the Bible does not say that the Sun or the Earth moved, but rather we are simply told that it was the shadow that moved! Further confirmation that the Sun did not play any part in this is found in 2 Chronicles 32:31, where we are told that shortly after this incredible event, the Babylonians came “to inquire of the wonder that was done in the land”. If it were the Sun that moved, there would have been no need for the Babylonians to make the trip, as they would have been perfectly able to observe any effects caused by a change in the Sun (or Earth) from Babylon! Also, as an aside, the Sun was worshiped by a number of the other nations, so any sign in the Sun may have been interpreted as not the work of Yahweh, but of a pagan deity. In Isaiah 42:8 we read “I am the LORD: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images”.

So if it was not the Sun that caused the shadow to move, what did? Or to ask the question another way, how do you move a shadow? Well, it is really rather easy; all you need is the presence of a greater light!

What is greater than the light of the Sun, and would bring the assurance to Hezekiah that God had answered his prayer? The Shekinah glory of God shining from the Temple!

If the Shekinah glory of God shone out of the Temple, which was higher up the hill than the king’s palace, Hezekiah could have gazed out of his window, looking toward the steps known as the ‘Dial of Ahaz’, and suddenly seen such a radiance and brightness that would totally obfuscate the shadow on the steps created by the Sun, literally causing the shadow on the ‘dial’ to move backward! All Jerusalem would have be lit up by God’s glory, and word would have spread far and wide; even as far as Babylon!

One commentator put it this way: “The whole scene, the Palace Gardens, the stairs themselves, the city wall and the Horse Gate far below, and the Mount of Olives on the opposite side of the valley, stand out in sharp relief vividly delineated in that blinding white light. If this is indeed what happened on that memorable day, what possible doubt could remain in Hezekiah’s mind? More convincing by far than any natural celestial phenomenon, this message from the sanctuary was as the appearance of God Himself”.

The Shekinah glory was literally the brilliance of the presence of God, seen as a cloud by day and fire by night in the wilderness, seen in the judgment of Nadab & Abihu in Leviticus 10:2, seen in the judgment of Korah in Numbers 16:42-50, and graphically witnessed by Solomon and all Israel at the dedication of the Temple as recorded in 2 Chronicles 7:1-3: “Now when Solomon had made an end of praying, the fire came down from heaven, and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices; and the glory of the LORD filled the house. And the priests could not enter into the house of the LORD, because the glory of the LORD had filled the LORD’s house. And when all the children of Israel saw how the fire came down, and the glory of the LORD upon the house, they bowed themselves with their faces to the ground upon the pavement, and worshipped, and praised the LORD, saying, For he is good; for his mercy endureth for ever”.

But there is something else very interesting; and that is that the Shekinah glory came forth only for destruction or blessing. Clearly inside the city of Jerusalem there would have been blessing and rejoicing, but at the same time this was taking place we are reminded that outside the city lay that army of Assyria, defiantly looking for the opportunity to prove that the God of Hezekiah was no match for them! Suddenly they are struck by so great a light that it could consume them in an instant!

Surely it is no coincidence that we read that Jesus will consume by ‘the brightness of His coming’ (2 Thessalonians 2:8) the one who in the latter days will be set to destroy God’s people & Jerusalem and who has boasted of his own greatness!

Jesus is the ‘Light of the world’ (John 8:12). Jesus was there in the beginning when “God commanded the light to shine out of darkness” (2 Corinthians 4:6). In the New Jerusalem we read that “the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof”. (Revelation 21:23)

John tells us that Jesus is “the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world” (John 1:9). But the pivotal question is, will Jesus be to you the Light of Life, or a Consuming Fire?

May God richly bless you as you continue to study His word!

Pastor Barry.

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