II Kings – Chapter 20

What's Wrong with this Sundial?

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

Chizkiyahu became deathly ill. Isaiah came to visit him. “Get your affairs in order,” Isaiah said, “because you’re going to die.” Chizkiyahu turned to face the wall and he prayed to G-d, crying sincerely.

Isaiah was on the way out when G-d spoke to him, so he went back to Chizkiyahu. “G-d has listened to your prayer,” he said. “I am healing you. In three days, you’ll go to the Temple. You will live another 15 years and I will protect Jerusalem from Assyria.” Isaiah then placed a cake of figs on Chizkiyahu’s boil and it was healed.

The favor of curing the symptom was not a sign to prove Isaiah’s prophecy, so Chizkiyahu asked for one. “No problem,” said Isaiah, “pick one: Shall the sundial move ahead ten hours or back ten hours?” Chizkiyahu picked moving back ten hours. (Not only is making time move backwards more impressive than speeding it up, Chizkiyahu’s whole point was to add time to his life, not remove it!) It went from late afternoon back to early morning (Sanhedrin 96a).

Berodach Baladan, king of Babylonia, inquired as to what the heck was going on with the sun. When he found out a miracle of such magnitude was worked for Chizkiyahu, he was duly impressed and he sent gifts. Chizkiyahu took the opportunity to show off for his visitors. After they left, Isaiah returned.

“What was that?” Isaiah asked.

“I had guests from Babylonia,” replied Chizkiyahu. “I showed them everything.”

Isaiah chastised Chizkiyahu for the missed opportunity. It was G-d who worked the miracle – he should have been “showing off” G-d, not bragging. “All that stuff you showed them?” Isaiah said, “Someday it will be carried off to Babylonia. Some of your descendants will be officers in the courts of Babylonia, as well.”

Chizkiyahu did not protest. He accepted G-d’s judgment as good. (Not even “for the good.” He said “this IS good.” That’s a very high spiritual level!) Chizkiyahu was relieved, at least, that the exile would not happen in his lifetime. (Please note that Chizkiyahu’s actions did not cause the exile, he merely failed to prevent it.)

The reign of Chizkiyahu was 29 years. When Chizkiyahu died, he was succeeded by his son Menashe.

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