(Isa. 38:8) Did God turn back time?

CLAIM: Isaiah said, “‘I will cause the shadow on the stairway, which has gone down with the sun on the stairway of Ahaz, to go back ten steps.’ So the sun’s shadow went back ten steps on the stairway on which it had gone down” (Isa. 38:8). Did God turn back time?

RESPONSE: The text never states that God turned back time—only that the sun’s shadow went in reverse. We can infer that this refers to a reversal of time, but this is only an inference. If time actually went in reverse, then so would all of the events in the universe, including Hezekiah’s memories of the event itself!

On our view, time is one-directional. Many theologians say that God could turn back time because he is “outside of space and time.” While we agree that God is outside of space, it is not clear that he is outside of time. In our estimation, God existed timelessly before creation (Jude 25), but he exists within time after creation. Unlike science fiction films where people can travel to other times, we don’t believe that these other times actually exist in reality. If these other times do not exist, then it would be logically impossible for God to turn back time.

Of course, God could reorder every molecule in the universe and make it appear as though time had reversed itself. But to actually move to another temporal moment (or temporal location?) is impossible if these other times do not exist.

Since God is all-powerful, rearranging the orbit of the Earth would be no difficulty at all. However, many commentators believe that this miracle could’ve simply been a local event in Judah, rather than a planetary event. They point out that this miracle occurred “in the land” of Judah (2 Chron. 32:31). It could have been “a simple localized refraction of the sun’s rays” or a “geographically localized miracle.”[1]

[1] Patterson, R. D., & Austel, H. J. (1988). 1, 2 Kings. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: 1 & 2 Kings, 1 & 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job (Vol. 4, p. 274). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.