And Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “What shall be the sign that the Lord will heal me, and that I shall go up to the house of the Lord on the third day?” And Isaiah said, “This shall be the sign to you from the Lord, that the Lord will do the thing that he has promised: shall the shadow go forward ten steps, or go back ten steps?” And Hezekiah answered, “It is an easy thing for the shadow to lengthen ten steps. Rather let the shadow go back ten steps.” And Isaiah the prophet called to the Lord, and he brought the shadow back ten steps, by which it had gone down on the steps of Ahaz. II Kings 20:8-11 ESV
Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. Matthew 12:38-40 ESV
Have you ever seen a sundial? Long before there were watches or clocks, people were able to tell time by the shadow of the sun as it moved across the sky and cast a shadow on some kind of surface. The first sundials were thought to be used by the Egyptians, while the Chinese also developed their own kind of sundial, but it was the Greeks who refined how they worked. Because the earth is tilted, the best sundials have a vertical rod that is tilted at the same angle as the axis of the earth. If that isn’t the case, the sundial will show slightly different times every day because the sun shines at a slightly different angle every day.
King Hezekiah had some kind of time keeper that had been built by his father, King Ahaz. The Bible talks about steps and a shadow on the steps. It might be that Ahaz had built a staircase that faced the sun in a certain way so that a shadow moved up or down the steps as the sun moved across the sky. Or it might have been something like a sundial with little steps spread across its surface like an accordian, or perhaps a dial built in layers like a wedding cake, with each layer a little smaller than the one below it. We really don’t know what King Ahaz’s time keeper was like, but what we do know is that the sun always moves across the sky from the east to the west, and the shadows move with the sun. It never moves backwards! But God told Hezekiah that he could ask for a sign–for the shadow to move ten steps forward or ten steps backwards, and Hezekiah knew that for the shadow to move backwards would be a miracle. We don’t know how God made this miracle happen, but we know that it did. God healed Hezekiah’s illness, and God moved the shadow backwards ten steps.
God had offered Hezekiah’s father, Ahaz, the right to ask him for a sign, but Ahaz had refused. He didn’t want the Lord’s help, but instead he wanted to do things his own way. But Hezekiah asked God for a sign when the Lord had made the same offer to him, and he wasn’t afraid to ask for a difficult sign. God has given us the most incredible, miraculous sign of all in Jesus. Jesus called the sign he was going to give the sign of Jonah. Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for three days, but he came out alive again, and Jesus died on the cross and was put into the grave. He stayed in the grave for three days, but then he came out again, alive! What an incredible miracle! Jesus conquered sin and death for by dying and by rising again from the dead, and that’s the greatest sign the Lord has ever given, and the only sign we’ll ever need.
Dear Jesus, thank you for defeating sin and death by dying for us and by rising again from the dead. Help us to always trust you. Amen.