Forward or Backward…
In case you don’t know about it, this week is palindrome week. That means that for about 10 days this month, the date can be written forward or backward and it looks the same. For example, today is 9-15-19, and if you write it backward, it is still 9-15-19! In fact, this phenomenon started on 9-10-19 and will run for another several days until 9-19-19. It only happens every once in a while but here we are in the middle of a palindrome sequence. Soon it will be over and I guess it isn’t such a huge deal but people get enamored with the idea of forward and backward all the same.
Usually, we think of things going forward but we are strangely obsessed with things moving backward. In fact, there was a very interesting Bible story about forward and backward as well. It had to do with King Hezekiah, one of the kings of Judah.
King Hezekiah assumed the throne at the age of 25 and ruled for 29 years. His father, Ahaz, was not a good king, but Hezekiah tried to bring the nation back to faith in God by destroying idols, bringing back Passover as a religious holiday; he re-opened the temple and also re-instituted the Levitical priesthood. All in all, Hezekiah was loyal to God.
Sometime later, Hezekiah became very ill and the prophet Isaiah gave him a message from God that he was to get his affairs in order – that he would not survive the illness. Hezekiah prayed to God and begged for his life. God heard the prayer and told Isaiah that he would grant Hezekiah 15 more years of life. Isaiah told Hezekiah how to heal the illness and the king asked how he would know that God would deliver him.
Now, I have always marveled at this part of Scripture. Here is Hezekiah – ill and ready to die. God hears the prayer and agrees to heal the king. And then, Hezekiah has the audacity to ask for a sign that God is going to keep His word! Not only that, but Isaiah announces that Hezekiah has a choice. The sun’s shadow can move forward ten steps or it can move back ten steps. Hezekiah, in a further show of arrogance, tells Isaiah that the shadow moving forward is normal, so he asked the Lord to move the shadow back ten steps. The Lord complied and moved the shadow back up the stair ten steps.
So Hezekiah was healed. I wonder why he couldn’t believe Isaiah when told that God heard his prayer and would honor his request. After all, he had been a God centered king and had done much to bring the nation back to God. Yet, when the chips were down, Hezekiah doubted God and asked for a sign.
If you think about it, from a scientific standpoint, God had to reverse time. Some theologians insist that God actually reversed the rotation of the earth during this time to accomplish the movement of the shadow. But God can do any miracle He likes, and it any way He likes. Nonetheless, God’s commitment to Hezekiah was remarkable.
There were missteps to be be sure. Hezekiah showed his wealth to the Assyrian commander and almost lost the kingdom as a target in battle. But God, through an angelic miracle, delivered Hezekiah and his troops by destroying 185,000 enemy soldiers in one night! And Hezekiah lived another fifteen years, fathering a son, Manasseh, who was arguably the worst king in the Judah’s history. I often wonder what lesson we are to learn from this – we would not have had Manasseh if Hezekiah had not survived his illness.
Tonight’s verse recounts the story of the miracle of the shadow. We are told, in 2 Kings 20:8-11, “Hezekiah had asked Isaiah, “What will be the sign that the LORD will heal me and that I will go up to the temple of the LORD on the third day from now?” Isaiah answered, “This is the LORD’S sign to you that the LORD will do what he has promised: Shall the shadow go forward ten steps, or shall it go back ten steps?” “It is a simple matter for the shadow to go forward ten steps,” said Hezekiah. “Rather, have it go back ten steps.” Then the prophet Isaiah called upon the LORD, and the LORD made the shadow go back the ten steps it had gone down on the stairway of Ahaz.”
My encouragement this evening is that God is capable of miracles whenever He wishes and whether it is forward or backward, it is no big deal for Him. My prayer is that we will be more acutely aware of the miracles that God is doing around us each day. After all, we are to live our lives expecting miracles but most of us just aren’t trained to look for them – or even expect them in our lives. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…