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There are several things I'd like to know about this passage:

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.—2nd Kings 20:8-11 (ESV)

  1. What is causing the shadow?
  2. How did the shadow move back ten steps?
  3. Why was it easier to go backward than forward?
  4. Why did Hezekiah need a sign in the first place?

The commentators assert that some type of sundial was implied, but I don't see where that idea comes from in the text. It looks like an educated guess.

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Another astronomy question I've been meaning to ask. –  Jon Ericson May 23 '12 at 6:36
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3 Answers

NASA interprets the passage:

...tells of an "accidental" sundial, in which the number of steps covered by the Sun's shadow on a staircase was used to measure the passage of time. In that story, the shadow miraculously retreated ten steps on the staircase built by King Ahaz.

The word translated "steps" also is translated as "degrees" (likely anachronistically) and is translated "dial" in the last verse (AV) as the "dial of Ahaz". If it were not an object such as as stairs or a sundial, then Ahaz possessed 'degrees' which would imply he had his own unit of measure for astrological movement perhaps, but not likely.

Using NASA's framework:

  1. The building that the stairs led to is the most probable source of the shadow, but a nearby statue would fare just as well.

  2. Speculation involves, that the earth rotated backwards, or pivoted on a different axis. Why we would look for a naturalistic mechanism when the text says God did it is beyond me. Both of these speculations carry massive geological upheavals if they occurred naturalistically. God would have had to miraculously cover these effects since there is no record of these massive upheavals. A better speculation is that time is not continuous, but quantized. Existence can change between one quantum state and another without having to pass through supposed intermediate states. If every moment is a newly created quantized state in the mind of God, then in the blink of a thought He can do as He wills.

  3. It was easier to go forward than backward. It happens every day when I fall asleep for a moment. He moved it backward.

  4. God was speaking to him through Isaiah. Isaiah offered the sign to prove that God was speaking through him. When someone comes claiming to speak for God, it would be fair to ask, "How do I know what you say is from Him?"

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I agree that we don't need a naturalistic mechanism to explain it. It probably causes more problems than it solves as you indicated. Thanks for the well-grounded answer. +1 –  Jon Ericson May 24 '12 at 23:23
I did a triple-take before I realized you were really quoting NASA. Good quote, tho. I agree with @JonEricson and you that a naturalistic explanation of a supernatural phenomenon is absurd. I'm puzzled why you went ahead and offered a speculation about it after that. +1 for helpful material. –  Kazark May 25 '12 at 0:14
My speculation challenges our sense of reality. It is a physical model that explains why God can do what He wants instantaneously. If creation happened in timelessness or a quantum existence, then it doesn't matter how far the stars are from us, their light can still reach us. It doesn't matter how old the mountains look, we can still have radiation halos in the same rock. –  Bob Jones May 25 '12 at 5:31
@Jon Thanks for the fix. –  Bob Jones May 25 '12 at 5:32
I don't see any problem with looking for a natural mechanism to explain a divine act. Many of the Bible's phenomenon can be described by natural phenomenon: the plagues of Egypt, the great flood, even Genesis. The question could be rephrased "by which existing natural mechanism did the divine being cause the shadow to move back" just as the divine being used natural mechanisms to cause the plagues of Egypt. –  dotancohen Jun 18 '12 at 15:21
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This was also recorded by the Chinese on the same date. They said the sun set and later rose back up.They had two sunsets in one day. Other seismic events were recorded on this date globally. Answer: The sun or the planets did not move, the earth didn't stop spinning. It was a polar shift of the earth's crust maybe ten or more degrees. Recently, around the time of the Japan earth quake the earth shifted around 4 degrees at the poles.

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Wow, those are some fascinating claims! Do you have references? –  Kazark Jan 3 '13 at 2:31
-1: This would be a superb answer... if only it were referenced. –  Kramii Sep 2 '13 at 7:46
@Kazark Google indicates that the Chinese records may relate to an eclipse –  Jack Douglas Sep 18 '13 at 7:44
I second, no third, no fourth, make that fifth the sentiment. This is a fascinating factoid but it's useless here without some references. You're using secular history (without using any actual history to back it up) to suggest how a sacred text should be understood. I'm totally ok with that but you have to give us the history, then show how it's relevant to interpreting the text. Otherwise it sounds like you're just throwing out wild speculations. –  Caleb Sep 25 '13 at 12:47
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My answer is the same that parted the Red Sea. In 1514bc a comet of ammonia approached Earth and split in two. Half impacted causing the the explosion of Atlantis splitting the island into Thera & Santorini, as well as volcanic upheaval of the whole region causing tsunami flood of Ogygos to all Greek coasts. The other took up stationary orbit over the equator for 40 years. First appearing in Egypt, then parting the sea, the ammonia chilling the water as air flow held back the walled sea drawing fresh air into the channel as direct wind. This pillar of cloud by day and light by night appeared only in Gregorian March and September (April & Oct). Now onto Hezekiah if you do your math, the promise of life was right after killing 185,000 the same day because that comet was cyanide. Close enough to kill them and yet stay in orbit, it was brighter than the sun and so the sun appeared to back up with the shadows it cast. In China, where is this date because the year is 732bc. Never claim its a same date, when you dont have the Chinese date. However, the sun in China set and it was the comet that then rose and set again.

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Do you have sources for any of that? –  Gone Quiet Sep 3 '13 at 2:51
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