Partner with as God uses us to make a difference for those displaced by Russia's war on Ukraine.
Click to donate today!

Bible Commentaries

Clarke's Commentary

2 Kings 20

Verse 1


Hezekiah's sickness, and the message of the prophet to him, to

prepare for death, 1.

His distress and prayer to God, 2, 3.

The Lord hears, and promises to add fifteen years to his life,

and Isaiah prescribes a means of cure, 4-7.

Hezekiah seeks a sign; and to assure him of the truth of God's

promise, the shadow on the dial of Ahaz goes back ten degrees,


The King of Babylon sends a friendly message to Hezekiah, to

congratulate him on his recovery; and to these messengers he

ostentatiously shows all his treasures, 12, 13.

Isaiah reproves him, and foretells that the Babylonians will

come and take away all those treasures, and take the people

into captivity; and degrade the royal family of Judah, 14-18.

Hezekiah bows to the Divine judgment, 19.

His acts and death, 20, 21.


Verse 2 Kings 20:1. Set thine house in order — It appears from the text that he was smitten with such a disorder as must terminate in death, without the miraculous interposition of God: and he is now commanded to set his house in order, or to give charge concerning his house; to dispose of his affairs, or in other words, to make his will; because his death was at hand. "This sickness," says Jarchi, "took place three days before the defeat of Sennacherib." That it must have been before this defeat, is evident. Hezekiah reigned only twenty-nine years, 2 Kings 18:2. He had reigned fourteen years when the war with Sennacherib began, 2 Kings 18:13, and he reigned fifteen years after this sickness, 2 Kings 20:6; therefore 14+15=29, the term of his reign. Nothing can be clearer than this, that Hezekiah had reigned fourteen years before this time; and that he did live the fifteen years here promised. That Hezekiah's sickness happened before the destruction of Sennacherib's army, is asserted by the text itself: see 2 Kings 20:6.

Verse 3

Verse 2 Kings 20:3. I beseech thee, O Lord — Hezekiah knew that, although the words of Isaiah were delivered to him in an absolute form, yet they were to be conditionally understood, else he could not have prayed to God to reverse a purpose which he knew to be irrevocable. Even this passage is a key to many prophecies and Divine declarations: see chap. 18 of Jeremiah 18:0.

Hezekiah pleads his uprightness and holy conduct in his own behalf. Was it impious to do so? No; but it certainly did not savour much either of humility or of a due sense of his own weakness. If he had a perfect heart, who made it such?-God. If he did good in God's sights who enabled him to do so?-God. Could he therefore plead in his behalf dispositions and actions which he could neither have felt nor practiced but by the power of the grace of God? I trow not. But the times of this ignorance God winked at. The Gospel teaches us a different lesson.

Wept sore. — How clouded must his prospects of another world have been! But it is said that, as he saw the nation in danger from the Assyrian army, which was then invading it, and threatened to destroy the religion of the true God, he was greatly affected at the news of his death, as he wished to live to see the enemies of God overthrown. And therefore God promises that he will deliver the city out of the hands of the king of Assyria, at the same time that he promises him a respite of fifteen years, 2 Kings 20:6. His lamentation on this occasion may be seen in Isaiah, Isaiah 38:9-22.

Verse 4

Verse 2 Kings 20:4. Into the middle courtהצר hatstser, the court. This is the reading of the Masoretic Keri: העיר haair, "of the city," is the reading of the text, and of most MSS.; but the versions follow the Keri.

Verse 6

Verse 2 Kings 20:6. I will add unto thy days fifteen years — This is the first and only man who was ever informed of the term of his life. And was this a privilege! Surely no. If Hezekiah was attached to life, as he appears to have been, how must his mind be affected to mark the sinking years! He knew he was to die at the end of fifteen years; and how must he feel at the end of every year, when he saw that so much was cut off from life? He must necessarily feel a thousand deaths in fearing one. I believe there would be nothing wanting to complete the misery of men, except the place of torment, were they informed of the precise time in which their lives must terminate. God, in his abundant mercy, has hidden this from their eyes.

Verse 7

Verse 2 Kings 20:7. Take a lump of figs - and laid it on the boil — We cannot exactly say in what Hezekiah's malady consisted. שחין shechin signifies any inflammatory tumour, boil, abscess, c. The versions translate it sore, wound, and such like. Some think it was a pleurisy others, that it was the plague; others, the elephantiasis; and others, that it was a quinsey. A poultice of figs might be very proper to maturate a boil, or to discuss any obstinate inflammatory swelling. This Pliny remarks, Omnibus quae maturanda ant discutienda sunt imponuntur. But we cannot pronounce on the propriety of the application, unless we were certain of the nature of the malady. This, however was the natural means which God chose to bless to the recovery of Hezekiah's health; and without this interposition he must have died.

Verse 8

Verse 2 Kings 20:8. What shall be the sign — He wished to be fully convinced that his cure was to be entirely supernatural; and, in order to this, he seeks one miracle to prove the truth of the other, that nothing might remain equivocal.

Verse 11

Verse 2 Kings 20:11. He brought the shadow ten degrees backward — We cannot suppose that these ten degrees meant ten hours; there were ten divisions of time on this dial: and perhaps it would not be right to suppose that the sun went ten degrees back in the heavens, or that the earth turned back upon its axis from east to west, in a contrary direction to its natural course. But the miracle might be effected by means of refraction, for a ray of light we know can be varied or refracted from a right line by passing through a dense medium; and we know also, by means of the refracting power of the atmosphere, the sun, when near rising and setting, seems to be higher above the horizon than he really is, and, by horizontal refraction, we find that the sun appears above the horizon when he is actually below it, and literally out of sight: therefore, by using dense clouds or vapours, the rays of light in that place might be refracted from their direct course ten, or any other number of degrees; so that the miracle might have been wrought by occasioning this extraordinary refraction, rather than by disturbing the course of the earth, or any other of the celestial bodies.

The dial of Ahaz.2 Kings 9:13, and the observations and diagram at the end of this chapter. 2 Kings 20:20.

Verse 12

Verse 2 Kings 20:12. At that time Berodach-baladan — He is called Merodach-Baladan, Isaiah 39:1, and by the Septuagint, Syriac, and Arabic versions, and by several of Kennicott's and De Rossi's MSS.; and also by the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds. The true reading seems to be Merodach; the מ mem and ב beth might be easily interchanged, and so produce the mistake.

Sent letters and a present — It appears that there was friendship between the king of Babylon and Hezekiah, when the latter and the Assyrians were engaged in a destructive war. The king of Babylon had not only heard of his sickness, but he had heard of the miracle; as we learn from 2 Chronicles 32:31.

Verse 13

Verse 2 Kings 20:13. Hezekiah hearkened unto them — Instead of וישמע vaiyishma, he hearkened, וישמח vaiyismach, he rejoiced or was glad, is the reading of twelve of Kennicott's and De Rossi's MSS., the parallel place, Isaiah 39:2, the Septuagint, Syriac, Vulgate, Arabic, some copies of the Targum, and the Babylonian Talmud.

All the house of his precious things — Interpreters are not well agreed about the meaning of the original נכתה nechothoh, which we here translate precious things, and in the margin spicery or jewels. I suppose the last to be meant.

There was nothing in his house — He showed them through a spirit of folly and exultation, all his treasures, and no doubt those in the house of the Lord. And it is said, 2 Chronicles 32:31, that in this business God left him to try him, that he might know all that was in his heart; and this trial proved that in his heart there was little else than pride and folly.

Verse 17

Verse 2 Kings 20:17. Behold, the days come — This was fulfilled in the days of the latter Jewish kings, when the Babylonians had led the people away into captivity, and stripped the land, the temple, &c., of all their riches. See Daniel 1:1-3.

Verse 18

Verse 2 Kings 20:18. They shall be eunuchs — Perhaps this means no more than that they should become household servants to the kings of Babylon. See the fulfillment, 2 Kings 24:13-15, and Daniel 1:1-3.

Verse 19

Verse 2 Kings 20:19. Good is the word of the LordHe has spoken right, I have done foolishly. I submit to his judgments.

Is it not good if peace and truth be in my days? — I believe Hezekiah inquires whether there shall be peace and truth in his days. And the question seems to be rather of an interested nature. He does not appear to deplore the calamities that were coming on the land, provided peace and truth might prevail in his days.

Verse 20

Verse 2 Kings 20:20. The rest of the acts of Hezekiah — See the parallel places in Isaiah and in 2 Chronicles. In this latter book, 2 Chronicles 32:24-33, we find several particulars that are not inserted here; especially concerning his pride, the increase of his riches, his storehouses of corn, wine, and oil; his stalls for all manner of beasts; his cities, flocks, and herds, in abundance; and the bringing the upper water course of Gihon to the west side of the city of David, by which he brought a plentiful supply of water into that city, c., c., &c.

ON the subject of the Babylonian embassy I may say a few words. However we may endeavour to excuse Hezekiah, it is certain that he made an exhibition of his riches and power in a spirit of great vanity and that this did displease the Lord. It was also ruinous to Judea: when those foreigners had seen such a profusion of wealth, such princely establishments, and such a fruitful land, it was natural for them to conceive the wish that they had such treasures, and from that to covet the very treasures they saw. They made their report to their king and countrymen, and the desire to possess the Jewish wealth became general and in consequence of this there is little doubt that the conquest of Jerusalem was projected. History is not barren in such instances: the same kind of cause has produced similar effects. Take two or three notable instances.

When the barbarous Goth and Vandal nations saw the pleasant and fruitful plains and hills of Italy, and the vast treasures of the Roman people, the abundance of the necessaries, conveniences, comforts, and luxuries of life, which met their eyes in every direction; they were never at rest till their swords put them in possession of the whole, and brought the mistress of the world to irretrievable ruin.

Vortigern, a British king, unhappily invited the Saxons, in 445, to assist him against his rebellious subjects: they came, saw the land that it was good, and in the end took possession of it, having driven out, or into the mountains of Wales, all the original Britons.

The Danes, in the ninth century, made some inroads into England, found the land better than their own, and never rested till they established themselves in this country, and, after having ruled it for a considerable time, were at last, with the utmost difficulty, driven out.

These nations had only to see a better land in order to covet it, and their exertions were not wanting in order to possess it.

How far other nations, since those times, have imitated the most foolish and impolitic conduct of the Jewish king, and how far their conduct may have been or may yet be marked with the same consequences, the pages of impartial history have shown and will show: God's ways are all equal, and the judge of all the earth will do right. But we need not wonder, after this, that the Jews fell into the hands of the Babylonians, for this was the political consequence of their own conduct: nor could it be otherwise, the circumstances of both nations considered, unless God, by a miraculous interposition, had saved them; and this it was inconsistent with his justice to do, because they had, in their pride and vanity, offended against him. To be lifted up with pride and vain glory in the possession of any blessings, is the most direct way to lose them; as it induces God, who dispensed them for our benefit, to resume them, because that which was designed for our good, through our own perversity becomes our bane.

1. I have intimated, in the note on 2 Kings 20:11, that the shadow was brought back on the dial of Ahaz by means of refraction. On this subject some farther observations may not be improper.

2. Any person may easily convince himself of the effect of refraction by this simple experiment: Place a vessel on the floor, and put a piece of coin on the bottom, close to that part of the vessel which is farthest off from yourself; then move back till you find that the edge of the vessel next to yourself fairly covers the coin, and that it is now entirely out of sight. Stand exactly in that position, and let a person pour water gently into the vessel, and you will soon find the coin to reappear, and to be entirely in sight when the vessel is full, though neither it nor you have changed your positions in the least.

By the refracting power of the atmosphere we have several minutes more of the solar light each day than we should otherwise have. "The atmosphere refracts the sun's rays so as to bring him in sight every clear day, before he rises in the horizon, and to keep him in view for some minutes after he is really set below it. For at some times of the year we see the sun ten minutes longer above the horizon than he would be if there were no refractions, and above six minutes every day at a mean rate."-Ferguson.

And it is entirely owing to refraction that we have any morning or evening twilight; without this power in the atmosphere, the heavens would be as black as ebony in the absence of the sun; and at his rising we should pass in a moment from the deepest darkness into the brightest light; and at his setting, from the most intense light to the most profound darkness, which in a few days would be sufficient to destroy the visual organs of all the animals in air, earth, or sea.

That the rays of light can be supernaturally refracted, and the sun appear to be where he actually is not, we have a most remarkable instance in Kepler. Some Hollanders, who wintered in Nova Zembla in the year 1596, were surprised to find that after a continual night of three months, the sun began to rise seventeen days sooner than (according to computation deduced from the altitude of the pole, observed to be seventy-six degrees) he should have done; which can only be accounted for by a miracle, or by an extraordinary refraction of the sun's rays passing through the cold dense air in that climate. At that time the sun, as Kepler computes, was almost five degrees below the horizon when he appeared; and consequently the refraction of his rays was about nine times stronger than it is with us.

3. Now this might be all purely natural, though it was extraordinary, and it proves the possibility of what I have conjectured, even on natural principles; but the foretelling of this, and leaving the going back or forward to the choice of the king, and the thing occurring in the place and time when and where it was predicted, shows that it was supernatural and miraculous, though the means were purely natural. Yet in that climate, (LAT. thirty-one degrees fifty minutes north, and LONG. thirty-five degrees twenty-five minutes east,) where vapours to produce an extraordinary refraction of the solar rays could not be expected, the collecting or producing them heightens and ascertains the miracle. "But why contend that the thing was done by refraction? Could not God as easily have caused the sun, or rather the earth, to turn back, as to have produced this extraordinary and miraculous refraction?" I answer, Yes. But it is much more consistent with the wisdom and perfections of God to perform a work or accomplish an end by simple means, than by those that are complex; and had it been done in the other way, it would have required a miracle to invert and a miracle to restore; and a strong convulsion on the earth's surface to bring it ten degrees suddenly back, and to take it the same suddenly forward. The miracle, according to my supposition, was performed on the atmosphere, and without in the least disturbing even that; whereas, on the other supposition, it could not have been done without suspending or interrupting the laws of the solar system, and this without gaining a hair's breadth in credulity or conviction more by such stupendous interpositions than might be effected by the agency of clouds and vapours. The point to be gained was the bringing back the shadow on the dial ten degrees: this might have been gained by the means I have here described, as well as by the other; and these means being much more simple, were more worthy the Divine choice than those which are more complex, and could not have been used without producing the necessity of working at least double or treble miracles.

4. Before I proceed to the immediate object of inquiry, I shall beg leave to make some observations on the invention and construction of DIALS in general.

SUNDIALS must have been of great antiquity, though the earliest we hear of is that of Ahaz; but this certainly was not the first of its kind, though it is the first on record. Ahaz began his reign about four hundred years before Alexander, and about twelve years after the foundation of Rome.

Anaximenes, the Milesian, who flourished about four hundred years before Christ, is said by Pliny to have been the first who made a sundial, the use of which he taught to the Spartans, but others give this honor to Thales, his countryman, who flourished two hundred years before him.

Aristarchus of Samos, who lived before Archimedes, invented a plain horizontal disc, with a gnomon, to distinguish the hours, and had its rim raised all around, to prevent the shadow from extending too far.

Probably all these were rude and evanescent attempts, for it does not appear that the Romans, who borrowed all their knowledge from the Greeks, knew any thing of a sundial before that set up by Papirius Cursor, about four hundred and sixty years after the foundation of Rome; before which time, says Pliny, there was no mention of any account of time but by the rising and setting of the sun. This dial was erected near the temple of Quirinus, but is allowed to have been very inaccurate. About thirty years after, the consul Marcus Valerius Messala brought a dial out of Sicily, which he placed on a pillar near the rostrum; but as it was not made for the latitude of Rome, it did not show the time exactly; however it was the only one they had for a hundred years, when Martius Philippus set up one more exact.

Since those times the science of dialing has been cultivated in most civilized nations, but we have no professed treatise on the subject before the time of the jesuit Clavius, who, in the latter part of the sixteenth century, demonstrated both the theory and practice of dialling; but he did this after the most rigid mathematical principles, so as to render that which was simple in itself exceedingly obscure. Though we have useful and correct works of this kind from Rivard, De Parcieux, Dom. Bedos de Celles, Joseph Blaise Garnier, Gravesande, Emerson, Martin, and Leadbetter; yet something more specific, more simple, and more general, is a desideratum in the science of sciaterics or dialling.

Observations on the nature and structure of the

sundial of Ahaz, with a diagram on its supposed form.

5. When writing on the appointment of Jehu to be king of Israel, 2 Kings 9:13, I was struck with the manner in which the subject of the thirteenth verse was understood by the Chaldee: "Then they hastened and took every man his garment, and put it under him, on the TOP of the STAIRS;" according to the Hebrew, __ el gerem hammaaloth, which might be translated, on the bare (naked or uncovered) steps. This the Targumist has translated by __ lidrag sheaiya, "at the HOUR-STEPS." The other versions, knowing nothing of what was intended, have endeavoured to guess severally at a meaning. On turning to 2 Kings 20:11, where the same word __ maaloth is used, and most evidently there implies some kind of sundial, I found the Chaldee still more pointed, both in this and in the parallel place, Isaiah 38:8, rendering the Hebrew words __ betsurath eben sheaiya, "by the shadow of the stone of hours," from which I was led to conclude that some kind of gnomonic figure, or sundial, was intended; and that the hours or divisions of time were shown by a shadow, projected on stone steps, gradually ascending to a certain height. This thought I communicated to the Rev. Philip Garrett, one of the preachers among the people called Methodists, of whose rare knowledge in the science of gnomonics, and ingenuity in constructing every possible variety of dials, I had already indubitable proofs, and requested him, from the principle I had laid down, to try whether such an instrument could be constructed that might serve at once as a public tribunal, and as a dial, to ascertain all the inequalities of the Jewish division of time?

A more difficult problem in the science he was never called to solve. Though several had attempted to construct dials to show the mode by which different nations measured time, and among the rest the Jews; yet nothing properly satisfactory has been produced, although one nearly in the same form of outline with the present may be found in Hutton's Mathematical Recreations, vol. iii., p. 337, projected on a plane superficies, which could not possibly show the ascending and descending of the shadow like that now before the reader, which the ingenuity of the above gentleman has brought to almost as great a degree of perfection as can reasonably be expected. And that the dial of Ahaz was constructed on a similar principle, there can be but little doubt, as the words of the original seem to express this and no other form; and so the Chaldee appears to have understood it; nor is it easy to conceive that one on any other principle could ascertain in all seasons the varying admeasurement of the Jewish time.

6. Having said thus much relative to the circumstances which gave birth to this dial, it may be deemed necessary to give a general view of the natural and artificial divisions of time, and then a description of the dial itself.

The most obvious division of time is into day and night; these are marked out by the rising and setting of the sun. Modern writers call the time from sunrise to sunset the natural day; the night is the time from sunset to sunrise; these days and nights are subject to great inequalities in every part of the earth, except under the equator. The most ancient division of the equatorial day was into the morning and evening; the night was divided into watches.

Hours are either equal or unequal; an unequal hour is the twelfth part of a natural day, or the twelfth part of the night. In summer, when the days are the longest, the diurnal hours are the longest, and the nocturnal hours shortest; in winter, on the contrary, when the days are shortest, the hours of the day are the shortest, and the hours of the night longest. The difference between the hours of the day and those of the night is greatest at the solstices, because then there is the greatest inequality between the length of the day and that of the night. At the equinoxes, when the days and nights are of an equal length, all hours, both of days and nights, are equal.

The ancient Jews made use of unequal hours; with them sunrise was the beginning of the first hour of the day, noon was the end of the sixth hour, and the twelfth hour ended at sunset. Doctor Long observes, "These times might be measured by an astronomer; but how unequal hours can be marked for common use, is not easy to say." He farther observes that "the ancients had sundials; but I think unequal hours could not be marked thereon exactly." And in a note on this observation he remarks "The sundials of the ancients, to show unequal hours, were not made in the method used at present, with a gnomon parallel to the axis of the earth, but had a pin set upright upon a plane, rounded at the upper end, the shadow whereof marked their unequal hours in the following manner: by means of an analemma, or projection of the sphere, six curves were drawn upon the plane, to show where the shadow of the pin at the several hours terminated every month in the year; one curve served for two months, because the shadows are of the same length in January as in December, in February as in November, in March as in October, &c.; each curve was drawn long enough to take in all the hours of the longest day in the respective months, and was divided into twelve equal parts. It is easy to see that a dial made by this method, in order to show the unequal hours exactly, ought to have half as many curves, or parallel lines, as there are days in the year, but this would require so many lines as would make it all confusion; it is possible they had only one line for a month, and that for the middle of the month."

The doctor is perfectly correct in observing, that "the sundials of the ancients, to show unequal hours, were not made in the method used at present, with a gnomon parallel to the axis of the earth;" because such a dial could not be of any use to those nations whose divisions of the solar hours were unequal, or more or less than sixty minutes to an hour. But the doctor is mistaken in supposing the difficulty, or rather impossibility, of constructing a sundial to show these unequal hours; for eleven lines are all that is necessary to show the hours for every day in the year; and forty-four lines would show all the quarters: whereas, on his plan, it would require near eleven hundred calculations of the altitude of the sun, and the same number to show where the shadow of the gnomon at the several hours terminated. His dial would therefore require above one hundred and eighty parallel lines, and nearly eleven hundred marks for the hours only; but if the quarters are inserted, four thousand four hundred marks would be necessary. This would require the labour of six or eight months, whereas the plan here adopted would not require in its calculations and construction as many hours.

7. A description of the dial. This dial consists of eleven steps placed parallel to the horizon, with a perpendicular gnomon fixed in the upper or middle step, which step is placed exactly north and south, and forms the meridian or sixth-hour line.

All the operations of this dial are determined by the point of the shadow projected from the gnomon on the steps of the dial.

Every day for six months the shadow from the point of the gnomon makes a different angle with the gnomon, which makes the hours of one day to differ in length from the hours of the preceding and following days. The same observations apply to the other six months in the year. The shadow crosses each step of the dial every day in the year.

Each day in the year consists of twelve hours from the time of sunrise to sunset, which makes a difference of twenty minutes between an hour in the longest day and an hour in the shortest. The longest day, consisting of twelve hours of seventy minutes to an hour; and the shortest of twelve hours of fifty minutes to an hour; but when the sun enters Aries or Libra each hour consists of sixty minutes.

To be able to understand this dial, one example will be sufficient: On the 21st of March, or the 23d of September, the shadow from the print of the gnomon will enter or ascend the first step of the dial, at the first hour of the day, at the west side of the dial on the equinoctial line; eleven minutes afterwards the shadow comes in contact with the circle marked fifteen degrees, which is the altitude of the sun at that time; twenty-four minutes afterwards the shadow touches the circle of twenty degrees; and in twenty-five minutes it ascends the second step, at the second hour of the day, when the altitude of the sun is twenty-five degrees eight minutes.

In twenty-four minutes the shadow comes to the circle of thirty degrees; and twenty-five minutes after it arrives at the circle of thirty-five degrees; and in eleven minutes it ascends the third step at the third hour of the day, when the altitude is thirty-six degrees fifty-seven minutes. In sixteen minutes the point of the shadow intersects the circle of forty degrees; and in forty-four minutes it ascends the fourth step at the fourth hour of the day, when the altitude of the sun is forty-seven degrees twenty-two minutes; and in eighteen minutes of time it comes in contact with the circle of fifty degrees, &c., &c., until it arrives at the meridian step or line at the sixth hour of the day, when the altitude is fifty-eight degrees ten minutes; than the shadow descends the sixth step, and moves on to the seventh, &c., descending step after step, tracing the equinoctial tine on the east side of the dial, intersecting the steps or hour lines, and the circles of altitude, until it leaves the dial at the eleventh hour of the day.

A dial of this construction is the most simple, useful, and durable that can be made; and as exclusively and completely adapted to ascertain the ancient Jewish divisions of the solar hours. The steps of this dial render the construction a little more difficult than it otherwise would be if the lines were drawn on a plane superficies, which would give exactly the same divisions of the hours.

N. B. A vertical south dial, in lat. thirty-one degrees fifty minutes, (the latitude of Jerusalem,) could be of little or no use to ascertain these divisions for several months in the year. The same remark may be made respecting a south vertical concave dial. The sun cannot shine upon a south vertical plane, in lat. thirty-one degrees fifty minutes in the longest day before fifty-three minutes past eight, or nearly nine, in the morning.

With respect to the dimensions of this dial, if we suppose the height of the stile from the bottom of the lowest step to be four feet, this would allow six inches for the thickness of each step, and twelve inches for the height of the stile above the upper step. According to this scale the south end of the dial would be ten yards; the north end sixteen yards; and the east and west sides eight yards two feet. The ground-work might be eighteen yards by twelve, making an oblong square facing the four cardinal points of the heavens.

N. B. All the lines upon a dial-plane are inverted, with respect to the cardinal points of the heavens.

The lines which show the hours from sunrise to the meridian, are on the west side of the dial-plane; and the lines which show the hours from the meridian to sunset are on the east side of the dial-plane; the southern tropic, Capricorn, is on the north end of the dial-plane; and the northern tropic, Cancer, is on the south end of the plane.

The narrow end of the dial looks towards the south, and is marked north; the wide end looks north, and is marked south. The side which looks west is marked sunrise, and the side which looks east is marked sunset.

8. In the annexed diagram a transverse section of the dial is represented where the steps are seen at one view ascending and descending to and from the gnomon or stile on the upper or sixth step. These steps are all equal in their height, but unequal on their upper surface, as the diagram shows, and for the reasons alleged above. Each of these steps might have been divided into parts or degrees, to mark the smaller divisions of time; and to this sort of division there appears to be a reference in the text, where it is said, the shadow went back ten degrees. It seems the miracle was wrought in the afternoon, for it is said, The shadow was brought ten degrees BACKWARD, by which it had GONE DOWN; so it appears that the shadow had reascended ten degrees on the afternoon steps; and when this was done, so that all were fully convinced of the miracle, the shadow again descended to its true place on the steps; and this would be the immediate consequence of dissipating the vapours which I have supposed to be the agent which God employed to produce, by refraction, this most extraordinary phenomenon.

A dial constructed in this way, in the centre of a town, or some public place, would serve, not only to give the divisions of time, but also as a place from which proclamations might be made; and especially from the upper step, where the speaker might stand by the gnomon, and be sufficiently elevated above the crowd below.

On such-a place I have supposed Jehu to have been proclaimed king; and to do him honour his captains spread their garments on the steps; the first, second, third, fourth, and fifth, by which he ascended, to the sixth step, on which the gnomon was placed, and where he was proclaimed and acknowledged the king of Israel; for it is said, The captains hasted, and took every man his GARMENT, and put it under him on the TOP of the STAIRS, and blew with trumpets, saying, JEHU is KING! 2 Kings 9:13; where see the note.

Pietro Nonius or Nunnex, a celebrated Portuguese mathematician about the middle of the sixteenth century, proved that the shadow on a stile in a sundial might go backward without a miracle; which was founded on the following theorem: —

"In all countries, the zenith of which is situated between the equator and the tropic, as long as the sun passes beyond the zenith, towards the apparent or elevated pole, he arrives twice before noon at the same azimuth and the same thing takes place in the afternoon." This gave rise to the demonstration that a dial might be constructed for any latitude on which the shadow shall retrograde or go backward. And it is effected in the following manner: —

Incline a plane turned directly south in such a manner that its zenith may fall between the tropic and equator; and nearly about the middle of the distance between these two circles. In the latitude of London, for example, which is fifty-one degrees thirty-one minutes, the plane must make an angle of about thirty-eight degrees. In the middle of the plane fix an upright stile of such a length that its shadow shall go beyond the plane; and if several angular lines be then drawn from the bottom of the stile towards the south, about the time of the solstice, the shadow will retrograde twice in the course of the day, as mentioned above. This is evident, since the plane is parallel to the horizontal plane, having its zenith under the same meridian, at the distance of twelve degrees from the equator towards the north; the shadows of the two stiles must consequently move in the same manner in both.

Of these principles some have endeavoured to make an unholy use, contending that what the Holy Scriptures consider to be a miracle, in the case of the retrogradation of the shadow on the dial of Ahaz, was the effect of a mere natural cause, without any thing miraculous in it. On this subject Dr. Hutton very properly remarks: "It is very improbable, if the retrogradation which took place on the dial of that prince had been a natural effect, that it should not have been observed till the prophet announced it to him as the sign of his cure; for in that case it must have always occurred when the sun was between the tropic and the zenith." Hutton's Mathematical Recreations, vol. iii. p. 323.

To this we may add, that if the dial of Ahaz had been thus constructed, the effect must have been generally known; and Hezekiah would never have taken that for a miracle which he and all his courtiers must have observed as an occurrence which at particular seasons, took place twice every day. And that the matter was known publicly to have been a miracle we learn from this circumstance: that Merodach-baladan, king of Babylon, sent his ambassadors to Jerusalem to inquire after the wonder that was done in the land, as well as after Hezekiah's health: see 2 Chronicles 32:31. But the miraculous interposition is so obvious, that infidelity must be driven to pitiful shifts when it is obliged to have recourse to the insinuation of imposture, in a case where the miraculous interference of God is so strikingly evident. Besides, such a dial could not be constructed for the latitude of Jerusalem without having the north end elevated twenty degrees seven minutes; which could not be used for the purpose which is indicated in the text. See No. 3 of the preceding observations.

Click image for full-size version

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Bibliographical Information
Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on 2 Kings 20". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". 1832.