According to 2 Kings 20:9-11., Hezekiah while on his deathbed, was visited by the prophet Isaiah. The King was about to die so he asked for a sign as proof that G-d would grant him a longer life. Isaiah said he could ask G-d to make the sun go 10 degrees forward. But Hezekiah insisted the shadow go ten degrees BACKWARD! Ten degrees is exactly 40 minutes!

There is a story floating around about Mr. Harold Hill, President of the Curtis Engine Company in Baltimore Maryland from NASA who claimed to discover the "missing" day by using a computer to measure the exact positions of the sun and moon. But this has been debunked since it was a copy from a book by Prof C. A. Totten of Yale, written in 1690.

So did G-d make the sundial of Ahaz moved backward? We know this is impossible since the earth rotates around the sun. It could have been that G-d turned the earth, but the earth is moving at 1000 miles per hour, so this would throw everyone off balance, creating total chaos. Some rabbis claim Joshua 10:8 is speaking of a poem. So what does commentary like the Ralbag or Rambam have to say of Hezekiah? Was this metaphors, allegory, or a miracle?

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    Why do you consider turning the earth more plausible than turning everything on it in such a way that nobody notices?
    – Heshy
    Jan 28, 2019 at 0:00
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    Please see Rabbi Sacks' shiur on Beschalach from this year. Ultimately it matters very little whether a miracle consists of a natural phenomenon itself or G-d intervening to cause things to happen in such a way as a natural phenomenon has wide-ranging effects rabbisacks.org/divided-sea-natural-or-supernatural-5779 Jan 28, 2019 at 0:18
  • The Chabad translation says "steps", not degrees, and the Rashi commentary refers to the time period as 10 hours.That being said, I like the idea of only 40 minutes or so being the interval - it makes it almost seem like they were being instructed on the workings of Daylight Savings Time, except it was over the course of a few years instead of the shifts being twice a year.Btw-Carl Sagan wrote that for the Earth to brake enough for Joshua like it's written, the oceans would have been near or at the boiling point(raised over 100 degrees)due to energy conservation concerns. Too hot to fight!
    – Gary
    Jan 28, 2019 at 2:14
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    @TurkHill - 10:12 indicates the Sun and Moon were in different parts of the sky, as the Rashi also mentions, which is an impossibility for a solar eclipse. The next verse indicates it was for a whole day, also impossible for an eclipse.
    – Gary
    Jan 28, 2019 at 2:25
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    Interesting! Rashi says hours, Chabad says steps and degrees on different pages. Btw- the last part on Hezekiah's Influences has some errors. Religiously, it might have been a good time as far as the faith of the people were concerned, but politically, it was a disaster. Judah had been trimmed down to a rump state, basically just Jerusalem and its immediate environs, and whatever gold and other stuff that allegedly flowed into Judah flowed out pretty quickly to Assyria as yearly tribute. Manassah also paid regular yearly tribute, and provided Assyria labor for projects-hence his long reign.
    – Gary
    Jan 28, 2019 at 2:52

2 Answers 2


Indeed, Ralbag in his commentary there rejects the straightforward understanding of this miracle. For such a miracle to occur, nature would be changed in ways surpassing any of the miracles performed even by Moses whom no miracle-performer can actually surpass. In fact, for Hezekiah to even ask for such a miracle would be utterly foolish, which, based on context, is not an adjective we wish to apply to Hezekiah.

If I understand it correctly, Ralbag's interpretation goes something like this: The rays of the sun are sometimes refracted by the movements of the clouds. Where a ray should have hit point A it might end up hitting point B. Now the miracle was going to be that the clouds would move in such a way as to make the rays of the sun move 10 ma'alot (however you want to translate that) from where it was. Hezekiah saw that the natural conditions present, such as wind, mist, etc. were such that the clouds would have been moving in one direction anyway, so that Isaiah saying that the sun's rays would move in that direction would not be much of a miracle. Instead Hezekiah demanded that the natural movement be reversed, and the clouds move in the opposite direction from where they would have been moving based on the natural conditions. Thus, the miracle was that God spontaneously moved the clouds in the opposite of their natural direction to a point where they would refract the rays of the sun 10 ma'alot from their original position.

Thus, nothing actually happened to the Sun or Earth. Thus, it would not be a miracle that would surpass those of Moses, nor would it utterly destroy the world.

In Milchamot Hashem (Wars of the Lord) Book VI Part 2 Chapter 12 Ralbag discusses this again, saying the same basic idea:

If someone were to raise the question of the miracle of the shadow [moving backward] performed [by Isaiah] for Hezekiah — which might be thought as entailing a change in the order of the movements of the sun — we reply to him [as follows]. It is obvious that this miracle did not result from a change in the order of the motion of the sun. If it had, Scripture would not have attributed this [backward] movement to the shadow but rather to the sun; for the movement of the shadow is consequent upon the motion of the sun. Moreover, if this were true [i.e., that the sun has changed its motion], it would not have been possible for Hezekiah to say "It is a light thing for the shadow to decline [forward] ten degrees". For it is not possible for the order of the sun's motion to be upset with respect to quickness any more than it is possible for [its regular motion] to be upset by reversing its motion; the miracle is the same in both cases. The miraculous element in this event is as follows. In a receiving [body] of some thickness, which operates like a mirror, the [reflection] of a heavenly body can be seen. This is the explanation of haloes and the rainbow, as has been demonstrated in the Meteorologica. Now when a cloud is under the sun, the sun is reflected in it. If this cloud moves quickly, it can move the ray of the sun along with it and cause the ray to be seen not in its proper place; for the cloud will have moved for a while before this impression disappears from it. It is in this way that when a cloud passes under the sun you see the ray of the sun not in its place. This is the explanation of what happens with flowing water: a man sees his reflection duplicated. Because of its quick motion in the water, in which the image is reflected, flows by and the image disappears from it only after it is reflected in another part of the water. [Now,] since Hezekiah had noticed the movement of the cloud in a certain direction, he said that it would be easy for the shadow to incline 10° in the direction of the motion of the cloud, because of the speed of that motion. But it would have been a miracle if the shadow had gone backward 10° in an opposite direction to that of the motion of the cloud. Thus, the miracle at that time consisted in the reversal of the cloud's motion from the direction it was going at the moment, as fixed by the prophet. It is evident therefore that the miracle did not occur in the domain of everlasting phenomena [i.e., the heavenly domain].

(Feldman translation)

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    Why not use 10° like the Feldman translation?
    – Dr. Shmuel
    Jan 28, 2019 at 7:32
  • By a change in the weather, the could could have made a changed in direction, resulting in the motion of the shadow going backwards. Ragbag's commentary makes sense!
    – Turk Hill
    Jan 28, 2019 at 15:03

Possibly Hashem turned the sundial itself 10 degrees and caused the shadow to move that way

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    Welcome to MiYodeya and thanks for this first answer Aaron. Since MY is different from other sites you might be used to, see here for a guide which might help understand the site. Note in particular MY is putting significant emphasis on sources since we don't really know you. Great to have you learn with us!
    – mbloch
    Aug 29, 2019 at 3:55
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    And since this looks more like a comment than an answer, it might be converted to a comment or deleted. But please don't let this deter you from further browsing on the site and giving sourced answers where you have relevant knowledge.
    – mbloch
    Aug 29, 2019 at 3:57
  • Aaron100 Although this is more of a comment, I like it.
    – Turk Hill
    Aug 29, 2019 at 11:43

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