20 The Dial of Ahaz

<< 2 Kings 20:10, 11 : The Sun Going down on the Dial of Ahaz >>

“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, -2 KINGS xx. 10, 11.

THE very remarkable circumstance related to have taken place as a sign that the King would be restored by the mercy of the Lord, was no doubt calculated to impress him and his people with a sense of the goodness and providence of the Most High.

Though the son and successor of Ahaz, one of the most wicked sovereigns who ever desecrated the throne of David he was a devout and faithful ruler. He had put away the idols, which his father had multiplied, and led back his kingdom to repentance and to order. “He did that which was right in the eyes of the Lord, according to all that David his father did.” He removed the high places! and brake the images, and cut clown the groves, and brake in pieces the brazen serpent that Moses had made: for unto those days the Children of Israel id burn incense to it, and he called it Nehushtan (that is, derisively, a piece of brass)-chap. xviii. 3, 4.

Hezekiah’s faithfulness arrested the sinking condition of the nation, and brought again for the almost ruined land a period of truth, righteousness, and peace, very superior to the condition in which the kingdom had been in the wicked times of his father’s reign. In this respect, the declining sun of the nation’s prosperity went back ten degrees. And no doubt the miracle had application to the career of the kingdom, as well as the condition of the king. Decay had written its marks of misery over all the land: now penitence and reformation brought prosperity once more, and men were able to sit under their own vine and their own fig-tree, none making them afraid.

The Divine narrative is interesting, as containing the first known account of any instrument for the measurement of time. The dial must have been a vertical one, probably fastened to a wall or pillar. Ancient writers say dials were invented in Chaldea, and from the intercourse between Babylon and Israel, it is most likely this dial was obtained by Ahaz from the former country, and from its novelty was called the dial of Ahaz. The dials of Babylonia were made of stone, semicircular marked with divisions, parts of a circle, making probably 180 degrees, and were built into walls. In that case, ten degrees would mean two-thirds of an hour, and although such a going back could not be done at an appointed tune by any other than Divine power, yet we shall easily see that a return of the shadow ten degrees on the dial, could be effected without any further alteration than a slight change in the density of the atmosphere.

The sun every day at his rising and setting appears by refraction in a different place, by eighteen degrees, from that in which he really is. Sometimes, seen through a thick atmosphere, both sun and moon appear two or three tines larger than their usual size, and occasionally extra suns and moons are seen, yet in reality there is no disturbance, except in the refraction of the light. So in this merciful sign to Hezekiah we must not suppose that the sun really was arrested in his course or the earth stopped in its dally revolution, but simply that such a refraction was produced in the air as to cause the backward motion of the shadow, and thus strengthen the faith of the king, by the conviction that the ruler of nature was about to restore him to health, and prolong his life.

In the dispensation of outward religion during the Jewish age, by which the Most High kept earth united to heaven, and preserved mankind until the better dispensation of the Gospel should be opened, many signs and wonders and extraordinary events took place in the representative Church of Judea, which were types needed for them, and full of meaning for us; but we may rest assured that they were all kept within the bounds of Divine Order. Nature was not really turned back, or confounded in her operations. A grand lesson was given to king and people, by this apparent arrestation and turning back of the shadow on the dial. This lesson meant, that by genuine repentance and turning to God, the descending sun of their prosperity would return to its splendour, and all would be well with them. But no further change was necessary to give this lesson than takes place in the mirage of the desert, in which sometimes a wide lake stretches out before the traveler, which vanishes, however, on his nearer approach. A ship, or an army, is seen in the air, which excites wonder, but speedily vanishes away.

The people of Jerusalem would understand the sign, for they were accustomed to regard the progress of the sun as a symbol of their well-being or otherwise, When all was dark and gloomy in their affairs, they said the sun had gone down over the prophets, and it is dark with them (Micah. iii. 6). When great calamity was to come suddenly upon them, it was said,-” And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord God, that I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in the clear day” (Amos viii. 9). This was language not to be understood of movements in nature, but as symbolic of their condition as a nation. When they were doing well, the sun was shining brightly over them: when they were disobedient and ruined, their sun had gone down. In the same character and application of language, the end of their dispensation altogether was described by the prophet Joel as a complete darkening of the heavenly bodies. It is written, “I will shew wonders in the heavens and in the earth blood, fire, and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord come.” (Joel ii. 30, 31 ). Yet these words were fulfilled; the Apostle Peter said on the day of Pentecost, “This is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel: I will shew wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood and fire and vapour of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and terrible day come ” (Acts ii. 19, 20). Evidently the desolation and end of the Jewish dispensation are described figuratively by the decay and extinction of the great lights of nature j but they were only symbolic forms of speech, not to be understood as literal facts.

The destruction and end of Babylon are described by very similar language: “For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light, the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine. And I will punish the world for their evil and the wicked for their iniquity; and I will cause the arrogancy of the proud to cease, and I will lay low the haughtiness of the ternple. And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldees’ excellency, shall be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah” (Isa. xiii. 10, 11, 12).

In like manner the punishment and destruction of the kingdom of Edom are depicted: “And all the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll; and all their host shall fall down as the leaf falleth off from the vine and as a falling fig from the fig-tree, for my sword shall be bathed in heaven: behold, it shall come down upon Idumea, and upon the people of my curse to judgment ” (Isa. xxxiv. 4, 5).

Evidently, a catastrophe of nature is used as an emblem of the ruin of a kingdom, and such language is not to be construed as a literal prophecy, but as a figure of moral desolation. In like manner, when similar language is used concerning the end of the Church by the prophets of the Old Testament, or by the Apostle Peter in the New, it should be understood only of the decay and darkening of the Church, not of any wild crash of suns and worlds. The great universe is a Divine work, and will be sustained for ever by the same eternal Love and Wisdom which originated it and constantly renews, strengthens, and extends it. It is the illimitable field of His adorable goodness, in which ever-increasing numbers of immortal beings can be trained for heaven.

The sun of nature is a symbol of the Lord, and especially of His Divine Love. As the planets have originated from the sun, and are still maintained in their courses by his attractive force, so have we all originated from the Lord, also so are we sustained in our life and movements by His almighty power. The sun pours forth his heat and light, and all the myriad forms of beauty and good with which the earth blooms and is enriched owe their existence to his beams : so is it with the human mind, The Lord as the Divine Sun is the true light which enlighteneth every man that cometh into the world. As the Divine Sun, He blesses the angels, and warms the soul. As the Divine Sun,He draws us to Himself. As the Divine Sun, all inferior being is sustained by Him, because it is derived from Him. As the the Divine Sun, He shines for ever. “The Lord is a sun and a shield. He giveth grace and glory: no good thing will He withhold from them that walk uprightly” (Ps, lxxxiv. 11). “Thy sun shall no more go down, neither thy moon withdraw itself, for the Lord shall be thine everlasting light, and the days of the mourning shall be ended” (Isa. lx. 20).

Of this Divine Sun the earthly sun is necessarily the representative for it is its outbirth. Hence, in the earliest and best ages of mankind men everywhere knew and adored this Divine Sun, as the Apostle Paul knew and adored Him, as the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who only hath immortality, dwelling in the Light which no man can approach unto, and whom no man (by material eyes) hath seen or can see (I Tim. vi. 15, 16). As men became, however, of the earth earthy, carnal, and sensual, they lost sight of the Eternal Sun, and of the inner light and inner love which from Him radiated into their souls, and transferred their adoration of the Divine Sun to the sun of nature—from the cause to the effect, from the reality to the image. Hence arose Sun worship in all its various forms. Afterwards, images of the sun were made, and ultimately these images were worshipped, and endowed with divine powers. So senseless does man become, when he looks downwards to earth in the indulgence of his lusts and carnal appetites, instead of looking upward, and striving continually to become spiritually-minded.

For us, the path of wisdom is to turn upward to the light which shines from the Lord Jesus. The Divine Sun is incarnated in Him, and in His face beams the glory of God. God is manifest in Him, and His countenance is as the sun shineth in his strength (Rev. i. 16). This Sun of the soul is the grand CENTRAL SUN of all the spiritual being. He is the Light; He is the Love; He is the Power, which draws all men unto Himself, and in whom they will find their true Centre, their Father, their Saviour, their Regenerator, their Friend; the King of kings and Lord of lords; the Prophet, Priest, and King. It was to represent the movements of this Divine Sun in the penitent soul, sin-sick, that the miracle was wrought for Hezekiah, and recorded in the Divine Word. The sick king represents the soul conscious of discomfort, weakness, and wrong, and convinced that without Divine help it must die utterly immersed in evil: there is no salvation in itself. The sun-dial was a reflector of the light, and an indicator of its progress. The rational mind is a mental sun-dial. When it is dark, there is no light of truth in the soul. When the spirit is in deep sorrow, and surrounded by dark clouds of doubt, difficulty, and despair, the sun-dial’s use is only negative. That it gives no indication, should lead to humility, to prayer and research. Try yourselves, and search the Scriptures, are admonitions which we should never forget in trials of the soul. When we break through the clouds, and light comes in the light which shews us our state—some advancement has been made. If the light we have tells us the day is already far spent, the summer is nearly ended, and we are not saved, then does it in reality urge to fly for help and refuge to Him who is mighty to save.

Isaiah the prophet was to Hezekiah what the doctrine of the Word is to us. He assured the king that in three days he would be healed his life should be lengthened fifteen years, and his country should be delivered from the Assyrians. The suffering king was very fearful, and asked for a sign that these blessings would certainly be given. The prophet, willing to comfort him, assures the king that a sign would be granted, but it must be in accordance with his own free will. Would he have the shadow go further forward and down, or would he wish it to return and to rise up ten degrees? Evidently it is past noon, the sun is going down. The sun of Judah’s prosperity had been going down since the time of Solomon. To go down further was easy; to return back, that would be the hard thing. Hezekiah had the wisdom to ask for the shadow to go back, and rise up ten degrees. This was well, and Judah’s decay was arrested during his time. The sign that this would be was that the shadow went back on the sun-dial ten degrees.

It is an important spiritual truth, that whatever state of good we can understand to be desirable and yearn after, we can certainly attain. It is in fact, in embryo, already attained. We long for peace, and grieve that we do not possess it. We do interiorly possess it, and it will certainly increase, and become in due time altogether ours. “Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.”

To give us a view of Divine things without the power of attainment would be a tantalization impossible to be attnbuted to Infinite Love. Hence, animals have no capacity of noticing or conceiving spiritual and eternal things, because they have no power of enjoying them.

What we conceive and wish, then, we can have, nay, already have in embryo, Let as never be hopeless, but know that our hope is a true prophet, and only anticipates what we shall certainly enjoy. This foretoken of a better state is represented by the shadow rising on the sun-dial. To see the truth clearly, is given us for the end, that we may love and do it. When we love the light, we easily see the light: we have a ground of good from which we see,. and we pass in time from shade to brightness. Hence the infinite importance of getting light on our mental sun-dial. The reason why truth is covered in the world with some degree of difficulty—-with shade, parable, and cloud—is that our love may be tested. If we have no desire to labour for the truth, we shall not make good use of it when we obtain it. Better is it that we should remain without it. “Unto you our Lord said, it is given to know the mysteries of the Kingdom of God, but not to them which are without.”

But if we are sad at our spiritual sickness and feebleness, and pray as Hezekiah did for deliverance, light will come into the mind, ” Unto the upright there ariseth a light in the darkness.” And in that light we see where we are and where we ought to be. We discover we have been losing time, living heedlessly, and suffering decay and degeneracy. We turn heartily to the Lord, and the light rises on our sun-dial. Hope and faith come to our help, and we are animated by the conviction that we can live a new life, that we can be conjoined to the Lord and attain a present heaven. Hezekiah was restored to health. We too can attain to new strength, and realize a new possession of heavenly life and vigour. The ten degrees up which the indicator of the sun-dial rose, would probably, in the spiritual sense, refer to the sacredness of the Divine Commandments. They are called the ten words, the ten pieces of silver. We have known the Divine law, but we have neglected it. We now perceive that it is all holy, pure, and good. It shall henceforth be our glory to love and do the Divine will. We see the Commandments are the utterances of Divine Love, “for our good always.” ” Great peace have they that love thy law, and nothing shall offend them.”

The light has risen ten degrees. The soul now perceives the Divine truth in fulness, and is invigorated and blessed. It is assured, comforted, and cheered. It can work out its salvation, though with fear and trembling, and filled with gratitude it exclaims, I cried with my whole heart; hear me, O Lord: I will keep thy statutes.

” O blest be His name, who in sorrow’s stern hour
Hears the prayer of affliction, and sends forth His power.”

The sun-dial is designated the sun-dial of Ahaz, and Ahaz was an unfaithful and wicked king. He probably obtained this sun-dial from Babylon, as we are told he had an altar, which he saw and admired, brought from Damascus, The sun-dial, however, we may gather was a true one, although it had belonged to a wicked king, and may have been derived from Babylon.

“All religions include much truth, although that truth may be associated with many things not true. Pious and sincere souls have an instinct for the truth, however it may be wrapped in error, and by that truth they strengthen their spiritual life. They scarcely see the errors of their system, and never dwell upon them. Hezekiah’s being comforted and helped by the light rising on the sun-dial Ahaz was probably intended to teach us that in each religion, however imperfect, there is a sun-dial and if we devoutly pray to the Lord, and look believingly to’ Hiln, He will illumine our minds by what which is Divine in every form of faith, and we shall be spiritually healed. He saves in various ways; He has ten thousand methods of diffusing His love into the weak and the weary. But if the suffering heart really seeks Him, He will be found; if we knock, it will be opened; if we ask in earnest humility, unto us shall be given.

Hezekiah’s life was lengthened fifteen years. Fifteen consists of two sevens and one, and corresponds to a new spiritual state but one rather feeble. It was the fifteenth day of the second month when the Israelites commenced their journey into the wilderness. Hezekiah’s condition was one struggling to be faithful, surrounded by general decay. A soul in such circumstances secures some heavenly good—what he feels to be a great blessing; but is conscious of lacking power to arrest the general downward tendency. Such a soul saves itself, but sighs that it cannot do much more, and its comparative feebleness is expressed by this number fifteen.

Yet to be rescued from disease, to come in to light and love, to enjoy a sense of spiritual life and peace,—these are great mercies, and may well inspire the soul to say, as Hezekiah did “The living, the living, he shall praise Thee, as I do this day: the father to the children shall make known Thy truth. The Lord was ready to save file; therefore will we sing my songs to the stringed instruments all the days of our life in the house of the Lord (Isa. xxxviii. 19, 20).

Author: Jonathan Bayley— The Divine Wisdom of the Word of God (1892)