There’s so much hidden in the Bible’s shadows. In Judges, Shechem’s ruler Zebul tells Gaal that what he sees coming down from the mountain to wage war are not men but merely “the shadow of the mountains” (Judges 9:36). As we read on, we learn that Gaal has indeed seen Abimelech’s men, but Zebul’s words ring in our ears. Are these men or shadows of men?
One of the most engimatic of the Bible’s shadow stories is in 2 Kings 20, where Hezekiah, King of Judah, is about to die. The prophet Isaiah comes to deliver the bad news, and the text says that Hezekiah turned his face to the wall to pray.
Remember now, O LORD, I beseech You, how I have walked before You in truth and with a whole heart and have done what is good in Your sight.
Hezekiah weeps bitterly to God as he prays. And the text says that before Isaiah has left the middle court, the place of burnt offerings (2 Chron. 7:7), the LORD tells him that He has heard Hezekiah’s prayer in secret (Matt. 6:6-7). Hezekiah will be healed, and on the third day he will go up to the house of the Lord.
Isaiah next directs the king’s attendants to take a cake of figs, that fruit whose leaves Adam and Eve used to conceal their shame (Gen. 3:7), and to cover Hezekiah’s wound, a blistering boil. Immediately, Hezekiah recovers.
Yet this power is not enough for Hezekiah, and he asks Isaiah for a further sign of God’s promise. Isaiah obliges him, and the sign will be a shadow, he says, either going forward or back ten steps. So Hezekiah answers,
It is easy for the shadow to decline ten steps; no, but let the shadow turn backward ten steps.
In this story of shadows, God shows us first what Hezekiah knew as he lay dying, that our days lengthen as a shadow descending the stairs (Psalm 102:11, 1 Chronicles 29:15, Job 8:9). That we are sojourners in this passing age, cursed by sin and death, taking shelter for a while from the radiance of God’s glory which we cannot endure. As prisoners in misery and chains, without God we hide in the shadow of Israel’s slavery to Egypt, that rickety refuge of Satan (Psalm 107:10, Isaiah 30:3).
And there we remain, until we hear the voice of our Saviour, who calls us into the shadow of God’s Hand (Isaiah 49:2), under the shelter of his wings (Psalm 17:8).
There, our Father holds us until destruction passes by (Psalm 57:1).
There, we sing for joy, for He has been our Help (Psalm 63:7), our Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow (James 1:17).
And there we wait again, until the Father fulfills His sign for Hezekiah in the shadows,
Until the cool of the day, when the shadows flee away, I will go my way to the mountain of myrrh and to the hill of frankincense.
(Song of Songs 4:6)
As we read the story of Hezekiah’s healing, our hope is not in this king of Judah, whom God left alone only in order to test him, whom God found wanting (2 Chron. 32:31). No, God has a much greater story to tell, a story of our journey through the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4, Psalm 44:19). The story of earth and heaven, death and life, shadows and light.
The people who were sitting in darkness saw a great Light,
And those who were sitting in the land and shadow of death,
Upon them a Light dawned.