The Sundial of Ahaz
2 Kings 20:11
And Isaiah the prophet cried to the LORD: and he brought the shadow ten degrees backward…

Here is the first timepiece of which the world has any knowledge. But it was a watch that did not tick and a clock that did not strike. It was a sundial. Ahaz the king invented it. Between the hours given to statecraft and the cares of office he invented something by which he could tell the time of day. This sundial may have been a great column, and when the shadow of that column reached one point it was nine o'clock a.m., and when it reached another point it was three o'clock p.m., and all the hours and half-hours were so measured. Or it may have been a flight of stairs such as may now be found in Hindustan and other old countries, and when the shadow reached one step it was ten o'clock a.m., or another step it was four o'clock p.m., and likewise other hours may have been indicated. We are told that Hezekiah the king was dying of a boil. It must have been one of the worst kind of carbuncles, a boil without any central core and sometimes deathful. A fig was put upon it as a poultice. Hezekiah did not want to die then. His son, who was to take the kingdom, had not yet been born, and Hezekiah's death would have been the death of the nation. So he prays for recovery, and is told he will get well. But he wants some miraculous sign to make him sure of it. He has the choice of having the shadow on the sundial of Ahaz advance or retreat. He replied it would not be so wonderful to have the sun go down, for it always does go down sooner or later. He asks that it go backward. In other words, let the day, instead of going on toward sundown, turn and go toward sunrise. While looking at the sundial of Hezekiah, and we find the shadow retreating, we ought to learn that God controls the shadows. We are all ready to acknowledge His management of the sunshine. We stand in the glow of a bright morning and we say in our feelings, if not with so many words, "This life is from God, this warmth is from God." But suppose the day is dark? You have to light the gas at noon. The sun does not show himself all day long. There is nothing but shadow. How slow we are to realise that the storm is from God and the darkness from God and the chill from God. I cannot look for one moment on that retrograde shadow on Ahaz's dial without learning that God controls the shadows, and that lesson we need all to learn. But I want to show you how the shadows might be turned back.

1. First, by going much among the young people. Remain young. Better than arnica for your stiff joints and catnip tea for your sleepless nights will be a large dose of youthful companionship. Set back the clock of human life. Make the shadow of the sundial of Ahaz retreat ten degrees. People make themselves old by always talking about being old and wishing for the good old days, which were never as good as these days.

2. Set back your clocks also by entering on new and absorbing Christian work. In our desire to inspire the young we have in our essays had much to say about what has been accomplished by the young: of Romulus, who founded Rome when he was twenty years of age; of Cortes, who had conquered Mexico at thirty years; of Pitt, who was Prime Minister of England at twenty-four years; of Raphael, who died at thirty-seven years; of Calvin, who wrote his Institutes at twenty-six; of Melancthon, who took a learned professor's chair at twenty-one years; of Luther, who had conquered Germany for the Reformation by the time he was thirty-five years. And it is all very well for us to show how early in life one can do very great things for God and the welfare of the world, but some of the mightiest work for God has been done by septuagenarians and octogenarians and nonagenarians Indeed, there is work which none but such can do. They preserve the equipoise of Senates, of religious denominations, of reformatory movements. Young men for action, old men for counsel. Instead of any of you beginning to fold up your energies, arouse anew your energies.

3. But while looking at this sundial of Ahaz, and I see the shadow of it move, I notice that it went back toward the sunrise instead of forward toward the sunset — toward the morning instead of toward the night. I have seen day break over Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn, over the heights of Lebanon, over Mount Washington, over the Sierra Nevadas, and mid-Atlantic, the morning after a departed storm when the billows were liquid Alps and liquid Sierra Nevadas, but the sunrise of the soul is more effulgent and more transporting. It bathes all the heights of the soul and illumines all the depths of the soul and whelms all the faculties, all the aspirations, all the ambitions, all the hopes with a light that sickness cannot eclipse or death extinguish or eternity do anything but augment and magnify. I preach the sunrise. As I look at that retrograde movement of the shadow on Ahaz's dial, I remember that it was a sign that Hezekiah was going to get well, and he got well. So I have to tell all you who are, by the grace of God, having your day turned from decline toward night to ascend toward morning, that you are going to get well, well of all your sins, well of all your sorrows, well of all your earthly distresses. Sunrise! Sunrise! But not like one of those mornings after you have gone to bed late, or did not sleep well, and you get up chilled and yawning, and the morning bath is a repulsion, and you feel like saying to the morning sun shining into your window: "I do not see what you find to smile about; your brightness is to me a mockery." But the inrush of the next world will be a morning after a sound sleep, a sleep that nothing can disturb, and you will rise, the sunshine in your faces, and in your first morning in heaven you will wade down into the sea of glass mingled with fire, the foam on fire with a splendour you never saw on earth, and the rolling waves are doxologies, and the rocks of that shore are golden and the pebbles of that beach are pearl, and the skies that arch the scene are a commingling of all the colours that St. John saw on the wall of heaven, the crimson and the blue and the saffron and the orange and the purple and the gold and the green wrought on those skies in shape of garlands, of banners, of ladders, of chariots, of crowns, of thrones. What a sunrise! Do you not feel its warmth on your faces? Scoville M'Collum, the dying boy of our Sunday school, uttered what shall be the peroration of this sermon, "Throw back the shutters and let the sun in!" And so the shadow of Ahaz's sundial turns from sunset to sunrise.

(T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: 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.

WEB: Isaiah the prophet cried to Yahweh; and he brought the shadow ten steps backward, by which it had gone down on the dial of Ahaz.

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