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Smith's Bible Dictionary

"An instrument for showing the time of day from the shadow of a style or gnomon on a graduated arc or surface; "rendered" steps" in Authorized Version, (Exodus 20:26; 2 Kings 10:19) and "degrees," (2 Kings 20:9,10,11; Isaiah 38:8) where to give a consistent rendering we should read with the margin the "degrees" rather than the "dial" of Ahaz. It is probable that the dial of Ahaz was really a series of steps or stairs, and that the shadow (Perhaps of some column or obelisk on the top) fell on a greater or smaller number of them according as the sun was low or high. The terrace of a palace might easily be thus ornamented.

ATS Bible Dictionary

An instrument much used before the invention of clocks, to tell the time of day by the progress of the sun's shadow. The dial of Ahaz, 2 Kings 20:11 Isaiah 38:1-9, seems to have been peculiar either in structure or size, and was perhaps borrowed from Babylon or Damascus, 2 Kings 16:10. The causing the shadow upon it to go back ten degrees, to assure king Hezekiah of his recovery from sickness, was probably effected not by arresting and turning backwards the revolution of the earth, but by a miraculous refraction of the sun's rays, observed only in Judea, though the fame of it reached Babylon, 2 Chronicles 32:31.

Easton's Bible Dictionary
For the measurement of time, only once mentioned in the Bible, erected by Ahaz (2 Kings 20:11; Isaiah 38:8). The Hebrew word (ma'aloth) is rendered "steps" in Exodus 20:26, 1 Kings 10:19, and "degrees" in 2 Kings 20:9, 10, 11. The ma'aloth was probably stairs on which the shadow of a column or obelisk placed on the top fell. The shadow would cover a greater or smaller number of steps, according as the sun was low or high.

Probably the sun-dial was a Babylonian invention. Daniel at Babylon (Dan. 3:6) is the first to make mention of the "hour."

Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary
1. (n.) An instrument, formerly much used for showing the time of day from the shadow of a style or gnomon on a graduated arc or surface; esp., a sundial; but there are lunar and astral dials. The style or gnomon is usually parallel to the earth's axis, but the dial plate may be either horizontal or vertical.

2. (n.) The graduated face of a timepiece, on which the time of day is shown by pointers or hands.

3. (n.) A miner's compass.

4. (v. t.) To measure with a dial.

5. (v. t.) To survey with a dial.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia

di'-al, a'-haz:

1. Hezekiah's Sickness and the Sign

2. The Sign a Real Miracle

3. The "Dial" a Staircase

4. Time of Day of the Miracle

5. Hezekiah's Choice of the Sign

6. Meaning of the Sign

7. The Fifteen "Songs of Degrees"

1. Hezekiah's Sickness and the Sign:

One of the most striking instances recorded in Holy Scripture of the interruption, or rather reversal, of the working of a natural law is the going back of the shadow on the dial of Ahaz at the time of Hezekiah's recovery from his illness. The record of the incident is as follows. Isaiah was sent to Hezekiah in his sickness, to say:

"Thus saith Yahweh, 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 Yahweh.. And Hezekiah said unto Isaiah, What shall be the sign that Yahweh will heal me, and that I shall go up unto the house of Yahweh the third day? And Isaiah said, This shall be the sign unto thee from Yahweh, that Yahweh will do the thing that he hath spoken: shall the shadow go forward ten steps, or go back ten steps? And Hezekiah answered, It is a light thing for the shadow to decline ten steps: nay, but let the shadow return backward ten steps. And Isaiah the prophet cried unto Yahweh; and he brought the shadow ten steps backward, by which it had gone down on the dial of Ahaz" (2 Kings 20:5-11). And in Isaiah 38:8, it is said, "Behold, I will cause the shadow on the steps, which is gone down on the dial of Ahaz with the sun, to return backward ten steps. So the sun returned ten steps on the dial whereon it was gone down."

2. The Sign a Real Miracle:

The first and essential point to be noted is that this was no ordinary astronomical phenomenon, nor was it the result of ordinary astronomical laws then unknown. It was peculiar to that particular place, and to that particular time; otherwise we should not read of "the ambassadors of the princes of Babylon, who sent. to inquire of the wonder that was done in the land" (2 Chronicles 32:31). It is impossible, therefore, to accept the suggestion that the dial of Ahaz may have been improperly constructed, so as to produce a reversal of the motion of the shadow at certain times. For such a maladjustment would have occasioned the repetition of the phenomenon every time the sun returned to the same position with respect to the dial. The narrative, in fact, informs us that the occurrence was not due to any natural law, known or unknown, since Hezekiah was given the choice and exercised it of his own free will, as to whether a shadow should move in a particular direction or in the opposite. But there are no alternative results in the working of a natural law. "If a state of things is repeated in every detail, it must lead to exactly the same consequences." The same natural law cannot indifferently produce one result, or its opposite. The movement of the shadow on the dial of Ahaz was, therefore, a miracle in the strict sense of the term. It cannot be explained by the working of any astronomical law, known or unknown. We have no information as to the astronomical conditions at the time; we can only inquire into the setting of the miracle.

3. The "Dial" a Staircase:

It is unfortunate that one important word in the narrative has been rendered in both the King James Version and the Revised Version (British and American) by a term which describes a recognized astronomical instrument. The word "dial" (ma'aloth) is usually translated "degrees," "steps," or "stairs," and indeed is thus rendered in the same verse. There is no evidence that the structure referred to had been designed to serve as a dial or was anything other than a staircase, "the staircase of Ahaz." It was probably connected with that "covered way for the sabbath that they had built in the house, and the king's entry without," which Ahaz turned "round the house of Yahweh, because of the king of Assyria" (2 Kings 16:18 the Revised Version, margin). This staircase, called after Ahaz because the alteration was due to him, may have been substituted for David's "causeway that goeth up," which was "westward, by the gate of Shallecheth" (1 Chronicles 26:16), or more probably for Solomon's "ascent by which he went up unto the house of Yahweh" which so impressed the queen of Sheba (2 Chronicles 9:4).

4. Time of Day of the Miracle:

At certain times of the day the shadow of some object fell upon this staircase, and we learn from both 2 Kings and Isaiah that this shadow had already gone down ten steps, while from Isaiah we learn in addition that the sun also was going down. The miracle therefore took place in the afternoon, when the sun moves on its downward course, and when all shadows are thrown in an easterly direction. We are not told what was the object that cast the shadow, but it must have stood to the west of the staircase, and the top of the staircase must have passed into the shadow first, and the foot of the staircase have remained longest in the light. The royal palace is understood to have been placed southeast of the Temple, and it is therefore probable that it was some part of the Temple buildings that had cast its shadow down the stairway in full view of the dying king, as he lay in his chamber. If the afternoon were well advanced the sun would be moving rapidly in altitude, and but little in azimuth; or, in other words, the shadow would be advancing down the steps at its quickest rate, but be moving only slowly toward the left of those who were mounting them. It may well have been the case, therefore, that the time had come when the priests from Ophel, and the officials and courtiers from the palace, were going up the ascent into the house of the Lord to be present at the evening sacrifice; passing from the bright sunshine at the foot of the stairs into the shadow that had already fallen upon the upper steps. The sun would be going straight down behind the buildings and the steps already in shadow would sink into deeper shadow, not to emerge again into the light until a new day's sun had arisen upon the earth.

5. Hezekiah's Choice of the Sign:

We can therefore understand the nature of the choice of the sign that was offered by the prophet to the dying king. Would he choose that ten more steps should be straight-way engulfed in the shadow, or that ten steps already shadowed should be brought back into the light? Either might serve as a sign that he should arise on the third day and go up in renewed life to the house of the Lord; but the one sign would be in accordance with the natural progress of events, and the other would be directly opposed to it. It would be a light thing, as Hezekiah said, for the shadow to go forward ten steps; a bank of cloud rising behind the Temple would effect that change. But no disposition of cloud could bring the shadow back from that part of the staircase which had already passed into it, and restore it to the sunshine. The first change was, in human estimation, easily possible, "a light thing"; the second change seemed impossible. Hezekiah chose the seemingly impossible, and the Lord gave the sign and answered his prayer. We need not ask Whether the king showed more or less faith in choosing the "impossible" rather than the "possible" sign. His father Ahaz had shown his want of faith by refusing to put the Lord to the test, by refusing to ask a sign, whether in the heaven above or in the earth beneath. The faith of Hezekiah was shown in asking a sign, which was at once in the heaven above and in the earth beneath, in accepting the choice offered to him, and so putting the Lord to the test. And the sign chosen was most fitting, Hezekiah lay dying, whether of plague or of cancer we do not know, but his disease was mortal and beyond cure; he was already entering into the shadow of death. The word of the Lord was sure to him; on "the third day" he would rise and go up in new life to the house of God.

6. Meaning of the Sign:

But what of the sign? Should the shadow of death swallow him up; should his life be swiftly cut off in darkness, and be hidden until a new day should dawn, and the light of a new life, a life of resurrection, arise? (Compare John 11:24.) Or should the shadow be drawn back swiftly, and new years be added to his life before death could come upon him? Swift death was in the natural progress of events; restoration to health was of the impossible. He chose the restoration to health, and the Lord answered his faith and his prayer.

We are not able to go further into particulars. The first temple, the royal palace, and the staircase of Ahaz were all destroyed in the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, and we have no means of ascertaining the exact position of the staircase with respect to Temple or palace, or the number of the steps that it contained, or the time of the day, or the season of the year when the sign was given. It is possible that if we knew any or all of these, a yet greater significance, both spiritual and astronomical, might attach to the narrative.

7. The Fifteen "Songs of Degrees":

Fifteen years were added to the life of Hezekiah. In the restoration of the second temple by Herod fifteen steps led from the Court of the Women to the Court of Israel, and on these steps the Levites during the Feast of Tabernacles were accustomed to stand in order to sing the fifteen "songs of degrees" (Pss 120-134). At the head of these same steps in the gateway, lepers who had been cleansed from their disease presented themselves to the priests. It has been suggested that Hezekiah himself was the compiler of these fifteen "songs of the steps," in thankfulness for his fifteen years of added life. Five of them are ascribed to David or as written for Solomon, but the remaining ten bear no author's name. Their subjects are, however, most appropriate to the great crises and desires of Hezekiah's life. His great Passover, to which all the tribes were invited, and so many Israelites came; the blasphemy of Rabshakeh and of Sennacherib's threatening letter; the danger of the Assyrian invasion and the deliverance from it; Hezekiah's sickness unto death and his miraculous restoration to health; and the fact that at that time he would seem to have had no son to follow him on the throne-all these subjects seem to find fitting expression in the fifteen Psalms of the Steps.

E. W. Maunder




Those Days it was Near Twelve O'Clock by the Great Dial of History ...
... CHAPTER 2 Those days it was near twelve o'clock by the great dial of history.� Those
days it was near twelve o'clock by the great dial of history. ...
//christianbookshelf.org/bacheller/vergilius/chapter 2 those days it.htm

Passages from Ancient Writers
... Dial. c. Tryph., f.304, a. 21 Dial. c. Tryph., f.316 40 Dial. c. Tryph., f.327 19
Dial c. Tryph., f.335 427 Dial. c. Tryph., f.363 233 Macrobius. ...
/.../passages from ancient writers.htm

From a Hindu Point of view
... Upon it, there is what I thought at first was a sun-dial, and I wondered what it
was doing there. ... It is not a sun-dial, it is an impaling instrument. ...
/.../wilson-carmichael/things as they are/chapter xxvi from a hindu.htm

Whether Venial Sin is Expiated by the Pains of Purgatory as ...
... Therefore neither can it be loosed from venial sin. Objection 3: Further,
Gregory says [*Dial. ... On the contrary, Gregory [*Dial. ...
/.../aquinas/summa theologica/whether venial sin is expiated.htm

Whether the Separated Soul Can Suffer from a Bodily Fire?
... Objection 5: Further, if it be said that the soul is punished merely by seeing
the fire, as Gregory would seem to say (Dial. iv, 29). ...
/.../aquinas/summa theologica/whether the separated soul can 2.htm

Whether the Fire of Hell Will be Corporeal?
... But the fire of hell, in its mode of torture or action, follows the mode of
guilt in the person punished; wherefore Gregory says (Dial. ...
//christianbookshelf.org/aquinas/summa theologica/whether the fire of hell.htm

Why all Things Work for Good
... Or as the traveller does with the sun-dial; if the sun shines upon the dial, the
traveller will step out of the road, and look upon the dial: but if the sun ...
//christianbookshelf.org/watson/a divine cordial/why all things work for.htm

Whether Souls are Conveyed to Heaven or Hell Immediately after ...
... the Apostle says (Phil.1:23): "I desire [Vulg.: 'Having a desire'] to be dissolved
and to be with Christ." From these words Gregory argues as follows (Dial. ...
/.../aquinas/summa theologica/whether souls are conveyed to.htm

Whether by Divine Justice an Eternal Punishment is Inflicted on ...
... eternity [*Cf. [5175]FS, Q[87], A[3], ad 1]; wherefore Gregory says (Dial. iv),
it ... human laws. We may also reply with Gregory (Dial. xliv) that ...
/.../aquinas/summa theologica/whether by divine justice an.htm

Additional Note. A New Installment Has Now Appeared of the ...
... 2. A. xx, f. 47 v.). [88] Compare the reason given by Justin Martyr (Dial. 22) for
the worship to the Temple: ouch hos endees on . . . ... Just. Mart. Dial. 103. ...
/.../additional note a new installment.htm

Dial (2 Occurrences)
... Probably the sun-dial was a Babylonian invention. Daniel at Babylon (Dan. ... 4.
(vt) To measure with a dial. 5. (vt) To survey with a dial. Int. ...
/d/dial.htm - 19k

Sun-dial (1 Occurrence)
Sun-dial. Sundial, Sun-dial. Sundown . Multi-Version Concordance
Sun-dial (1 Occurrence). Isaiah 38:8 behold, I will ...
/s/sun-dial.htm - 6k

Degrees (18 Occurrences)
... See DIAL OF AHAZ. ... (DBY WBS). Isaiah 38:8 Behold, I will bring again the shadow of
the degrees, which is gone down in the sun dial of Ahaz, ten degrees backward. ...
/d/degrees.htm - 14k

Ahaz (42 Occurrences)
... 8. Sun-Dial of Ahaz: The political storm having blown over for the present, with
the final loss of the important port of Elath on the Red Sea (2 Kings 16:6 ...
/a/ahaz.htm - 43k

Degree (19 Occurrences)
... 5 t); Isaiah 38:8 the King James Version (3 t), where we read of the "degrees"
(the Revised Version (British and American) "steps") on the "dial of Ahaz ...
/d/degree.htm - 16k

Sunlight (5 Occurrences)
... Isaiah 38:8 behold, I will cause the shadow of the dial, which is gone down on the
sun-dial of Ahaz, to return backward ten degrees.' So the sun returned ten ...
/s/sunlight.htm - 8k

Sun's (3 Occurrences)
... Isaiah 38:8 behold, I will cause the shadow of the dial, which is gone down on the
sun-dial of Ahaz, to return backward ten degrees.' So the sun returned ten ...
/s/sun's.htm - 7k

... 7) The Luni-solar Cycles of Daniel 6. The Stars (1) Their Number (2) Their Distance
(3) Their Brightness 7. Morning Stars The Stars as a Dial 8. Falling Stars ...
/a/astronomy.htm - 40k

Shadow (72 Occurrences)
... etc.), of wings (Psalm 17:8, etc.), of a cloud (Isaiah 25:5), of a great rock (Isaiah
32:2), of a man (Peter, Acts 5:15), of the shadow on the dial (2 Kings 20 ...
/s/shadow.htm - 35k

Whereon (45 Occurrences)
... (KJV JPS ASV). Isaiah 38:8 behold, I will cause the shadow on the steps, which is
gone down on the dial of Ahaz with the sun, to return backward ten steps. ...
/w/whereon.htm - 20k

Bible Concordance
Dial (2 Occurrences)

2 Kings 20:11 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.

Isaiah 38:8 Behold, I will cause the shadow on the sundial, which has gone down on the sundial of Ahaz with the sun, to return backward ten steps. So the sun returned ten steps on the sundial on which it had gone down."'"



Dial of Ahaz

Dial: A Contrivance for Indicating Time by the Sun's Rays

Related Terms

Sun-dial (1 Occurrence)

Degrees (18 Occurrences)

Ahaz (42 Occurrences)

Degree (19 Occurrences)

Sunlight (5 Occurrences)

Sun's (3 Occurrences)


Shadow (72 Occurrences)

Whereon (45 Occurrences)

Dialect (6 Occurrences)

Sundown (9 Occurrences)

Lystra (6 Occurrences)

Epistle (13 Occurrences)

Diadems (1 Occurrence)

Declined (11 Occurrences)

Prick (2 Occurrences)

Backward (39 Occurrences)

Colossians (1 Occurrence)

Crystal (7 Occurrences)

Cock (12 Occurrences)

Style (5 Occurrences)


Sundial (1 Occurrence)

Shade (67 Occurrences)

Shadowing (3 Occurrences)

Stairway (12 Occurrences)

Time (7245 Occurrences)

Steps (113 Occurrences)

Songs (100 Occurrences)

Sickness (40 Occurrences)

Hand (14438 Occurrences)

Marriage (74 Occurrences)

Hour (124 Occurrences)

Chambers (68 Occurrences)

Hezekiah's (9 Occurrences)


Supper (17 Occurrences)


Heavens (548 Occurrences)


Revelation (52 Occurrences)

Lord's (548 Occurrences)

Mark (182 Occurrences)

According (7613 Occurrences)

Isaiah (64 Occurrences)

Gospel (108 Occurrences)

John (154 Occurrences)

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