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THE BURDEN OF JERUSALEM (Isaiah 22:1-14)
This chapter falls into two divisions, the burden of Jerusalem (Isaiah 22:1-14), and the replacement of Shebna by Eliakim (Isaiah 22:15-25).
It is significant that in this division where, for the principal part, foreign nations which were enemies of God's people are repeatedly denounced, there should suddenly appear this stern, almost hopeless denunciation of Jerusalem itself, at this point, alas, actually accounted as an enemy of truth and righteousness. This oracle appearing here against Jerusalem says that, "If God's people are going to behave like the heathen nations, they must suffer the same consequences for their behavior. This becomes clear as we study the prophecy."
Isaiah prophesies in this passage the ultimate destruction of Jerusalem, but the situation which led to this prophecy is not certainly known. It would appear that following the miraculous lifting of the siege by Sennacherib because of the death of his army in a single night, instead of responding with an outpouring of thanksgiving to God and a renewal of faith and devotion, Judah wholeheartedly engaged in a boisterous, sensuous outpouring of merriment and celebration, marked by scandalous and irresponsible behavior. Against such a background of carnality, Isaiah announced God's prophecy of the "death" of the city. Thus there are two sieges of Jerusalem which appear in the passage (1) that of Sennacherib in 701 B.C., and (2) that of Nebuchadnezzar which led to the captivity of Judah. This is the reason why some scholars see one of those occasions In the prophecy, and others see the other. For example, Archer saw a picture of the Babylonian destruction, thus:
"The people from their rooftops would behold the approach of the Babylonian troops ... Their king Zedekiah would try to flee from the city. Lamentable destruction would be meted out to both the city and the people."
On the other hand, "It is generally supposed to belong to the invasion of Sennacherib." Of course, it is difficult to imagine such a sorrowful and pessimistic reaction on the part of Isaiah to the great victory for Judah that occurred in the destruction of Sennacherib's army; but this difficulty disappears when it is understood that it was not the victory over Sennacherib that led to this sorrowful denunciation of Jerusalem, and to her being sentenced to death, actually. Ah no, this prophecy was given upon the occasion of Judah's carnal and licentious response to that victory. It was then destined that Jerusalem would be destroyed and the people removed to a foreign land in captivity because, as Isaiah stated it, "Surely this iniquity shall not be forgiven you till ye die, saith the Lord of hosts" (Isaiah 22:14).
Here also is the explanation of why Jerusalem is called the "valley of vision" in Isaiah 22:1. Jerusalem was not, in the physical sense "a valley." Peake flatly stated that, "Jerusalem is no valley," but he supposed that the prophet might have been speaking of a valley near Jerusalem. We do not accept that explanation. We believe the "valley" is a valley of shame and immorality into which the chosen people had fallen. The vaunted Mount Zion was nothing high at all in the scenes revealed here, but a wretched valley symbolically representing Judah at the very moment when God's merciful grace was no longer able to contain and overlook their wretched sins.
Such considerations as these lead us to accept the conclusion of an older writer, Vitringa, as quoted by Lowth, that, "This prophecy has both of these invasions in view."
"The burden of the valley of vision, What aileth thee now that thou art wholly gone up to the housetops? O thou that art full of shoutings, a tumultuous city, a joyous town; thy slain are not slain with the sword, neither are they dead in battle. All thy rulers fled away together, they were bound by the archers; all that were found of thee were bound together; they fled afar off. Therefore said I, Look away from me, I will weep bitterly; labor not to comfort me for the destruction of the daughter of my people."
The double nature of this prophecy appears in the very first paragraph. The first two verses here depict the inhabitants of Jerusalem, "In a state of boisterous merriment." Of course, some scholars ascribe this boisterous condition to indifference on the part of Jerusalem, as the soldiers of Babylon begin the siege, due to an Epicurean philosophy of "Eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!" It seems to this writer, however, that the occasion of the lifting of Sennacherib's siege would have been a much more likely occasion for such merriment. The Babylonian siege is certainly suggested by the flight of the leaders in Isaiah 22:3. Archer wrote that this is a reference to the fact that "Their king Zedekiah would vainly attempt flight from the city." The behavior of the people was what caused Isaiah's bitter weeping, because he realized that the inappropriate response of the people would displease the Lord and that the sure punishment and destruction of the city would follow, as indicated in Isaiah 22:4. In spite of all the terrible hardship and disasters that had come upon the Jews, "They were still insensitive to the true demands of God. In the midst of their light-hearted festivities, therefore, he asked to be left alone that he might weep bitter tears over their destruction."
"For it is a day of discomfiture, and of treading down, and of perplexity, from the Lord, Jehovah of hosts, in the valley of vision; a breaking down of the walls, and a crying to the mountains. And Elam bare the quiver, with chariots of men and horsemen; and Kir uncovered the shield. And it came to pass that thy choicest valleys were full of chariots, and the horsemen set themselves in array at the gate. And he took away the covering of Judah; and thou didst look in that day to the armor in the house of the forest. And ye saw the breaches of the city of David, that there were many; and ye gathered together the waters of the lower pool; and ye numbered the houses of Jerusalem, and ye brake down the houses to fortify the wall; ye made also a reservoir between the two walls for the water of the old pool. But ye looked not unto him that had done this, neither had ye respect unto him that purposed it long ago."
The Babylonian destruction is certainly in view here, for Sennacherib did not break down the walls and destroy the people; but a number of the facts mentioned here apply to the preparations Hezekiah made at a far earlier time when he built a conduit for the water and made other urgent preparations for the assault of Sennacherib. Why? Isaiah strongly implies that the preparations Judah will make for that ultimate destruction will be just like those of Hezekiah, that is, they will depend more upon their own ingenuity and diligence than upon the blessing of Jehovah. That it is actually the "destruction" of Jerusalem that will take place in the event prophesied here is indicated by the words, "God took away the covering of Judah" (Isaiah 22:8), a disaster that did not take place during Sennacherib's siege, but in that of Babylon. As Kidner put it, "Isaiah with characteristic long sight foretells the fall of Jerusalem a century away (586 B.C.)."
"And in that day did the Lord, Jehovah of hosts, call to weeping and to mourning, and to baldness, and to girding with sackcloth: and, behold, joy and gladness, slaying oxen and killing sheep, eating flesh and drinking wine: Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we shall die. And Jehovah of hosts revealed himself in mine ears, Surely this iniquity shall not be forgiven you till ye die, saith the Lord, Jehovah of hosts."
These verses announce the "death sentence" for Jerusalem; and, oddly enough, it came on the occasion of one of God's most remarkable interventions on behalf of the chosen people, namely the miraculous lifting of Sennacherib's siege of Jerusalem by the sudden overnight destruction of 185,000 soldiers of the invader's army. This was poetically memorialized in the words of Lord Byron's poem:
"The widows of Ashur are loud in their wail,
And broke are the idols in the Temple of Baal.
For the angel of death spread his wings on the blast
And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed;
And the might of the Gentile unsmote by the sword
Was melted like snow in the glance of the Lord."
Significantly, these verses (Isaiah 22:11b-14), were cited by Kidner as foreshadowings of Isaiah 40-66, the same being a strong indication of the unity and "single authorship" of Isaiah.
The first part of this chapter does not apply exclusively either to the siege by Sennacherib or to the final overthrow of Judah by Babylon, although there are portions of it which most certainly apply to both. Perhaps, as Hailey stated it, "The prophet is describing ... the general condition of the heart of the people." There remained no longer in Judah any true spirit of humility and devotion. The drunken orgy that greeted the death of Sennacherib's army demonstrated graphically their carnal nature. It seems never to have entered the mind of the Jews of that era that their status in the eyes of God was contingent upon their love and obedience of God's word.
From this it is plain that not even God could spare the arrogant and conceited people from that impending and certain death which their shameful behavior so fully deserved.
"With a hedonism rivaling that of their pagan neighbors they had cast aside all restraint, shouting, "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die." The Lord's message to Isaiah was that they should indeed die, and that their iniquity would never be forgiven."
Concerning the revelry and hedonistic feasting which marked the conduct of Judah during this period, Barnes noted that, "Few sins can be more aggravated than revelry and riot, thoughtlessness, and mirth over the grave." Adam's sinful race is on a collision course with disaster that must at last culminate in the destruction of the whole sinful race, as God promised in Zephaniah. Nothing can be more sad and deplorable than the spectacle of a doomed race rushing headlong toward their destructive final judgment, and at the same time mocking all reality by hilarious merriment and revelry. Nothing could possibly show any greater disregard for God or a more wicked attitude toward our Creator.
"Thus saith the Lord, Jehovah of hosts, Go, get thee unto this treasurer, even unto Shebna, who is over the house, and say, What doest thou here? and whom hast thou here? that thou hast hewed thee out here a sepulchre? hewing him out a sepulchre on high, graving a habitation for himself in the rock? Behold, Jehovah, like a strong man, will hurl thee away violently; yea, he will wrap thee up closely. He will surely wind thee round and round, and toss thee like a ball into a large country; there shalt thou die, and there shall be the chariots of thy glory, thou shame of thy lord's house. And I will thrust thee from thine office; and from thy station shalt thou be pulled down."
"This treasurer ..." The whole attitude of Isaiah here is one of depreciation and scorn. Every line in the paragraph is designed to belittle and to show contempt for Shebna. The office mentioned here was an important one. "Over the house," means over the king's house; and apparently, Isaiah visited Shebna at the site where his rock sepulchre was being carved out at a place high on some cliff or mountainside, and there uttered the words of this prophecy. We do not know just why a special prophecy was directed to the "comptroller of the king's house"; but it could be that God in the person of this selfish official was rebuking all of Judah, especially its officialdom, who were making their plans as if they thought they would live forever; whereas, demotion, military conquest, and captivity awaited all of them in the not too distant future.
Regarding the date of this oracle against Shebna, Payne placed it a year or two prior to 701 B.C. This is reasonable, because in 701 B.C. Shebna had already been demoted (Isaiah 36:3), although even then he still held an important office. (See also 2 Kings 18:18.) Archer believed that Shebna and Eliakim, who succeeded him, were singled out here as symbolical representatives of the two general classes in Jerusalem: "(1) Eliakim, a truly devoted follower of God, representing the righteous remnant, and (2) Shebna," representing the carnal and rebellious majority of the old Israel.
It has also been conjectured by a number of scholars that Shebna was singled out for the denunciation here because he had been one of the advocates of Hezekiah's joining an alliance with Egypt and Ethiopia against Assyria, an alliance which Isaiah, through the leading of the Lord, bitterly opposed.
In Isaiah 22:16, there is an abrupt change of persons. First, Isaiah speaks in the second person directly to Shebna; and in the same breath he speaks of Shebna in the third person. This change of persons is characteristic of many passages in the Bible; and, in no case, is such a change an indication either of an interpolation or of different authors. As Peake properly observed, when Isaiah here addressed Shebna in scornful anger in the third person, "He seems to be addressing the bystanders."
Archer believed that Shebna and Eliakim were singled out in this prophecy as representatives of the two classes in Jerusalem at that time, (1) the righteous remnant who trusted God, and (2) the carnal, worldly element who favored reliance upon their own devices rather than relying upon God's blessing and protection. The fact of the fall of Eliakim being mentioned a little later is in harmony with this view, because even the righteous remnant were yet destined to go into captivity.
"Wind thee round and round ..." Many have commented that the passage is obscure; but Maurer (as quoted by Jamieson) believed that it meant, "I will whirl thee round and round, and then cast thee away, as a stone is first whirled round and round in a sling and then released."
"And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will call my servant Eliakim the son of Hilkiah; and I will clothe him with thy robe, and strengthen him with thy girdle, and I will commit thy government into his hand; and he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Judah. And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; and he shall open, and none shall shut, and he shall shut, and none shall open. And I shall fasten him as a nail in a safe place; and he shall be for a throne of glory to his father's house. And they shall hang upon him all the glory of his father's house, the offspring and the issue, every small vessel, from the cups even to all the flagons. In that day, saith Jehovah of hosts, shall the nail that was fastened in a sure place give way, and it shall be hewn down, and fall; and the burden that was upon it shall be cut off; for Jehovah hath spoken it."
We cannot resist the conclusion that far more is meant by these verses than the mere replacement of a corrupt and ineffective official by a faithful successor. As hinted at by Archer, Eliakim is a type of the "righteous remnant" who indeed were the glory of Judah, the heir of all the sacred promises to Abraham and who did indeed totally replace the great secular majority of Israel who correspond to Shebna. The ultimate fall of Eliakim is a reference to the rejection of the Messiah. This was indeed the "fall" of the righteous remnant in the racial sense. "It was hewn down" is far too strong as a reference to the fall of one man. This foretells the destruction of secular Israel by the armies of Vespasian and Titus in 70A.D.
The reference here to the "key of David" is of special interest. Many have pointed out that "opening and shutting" represent the making of decisions that no one but the king could change. Here is the background of Jesus' teaching in Matthew 16:19, "Suggesting that Jesus was appointing Peter to be steward over the household of God in the messianic kingdom." While true enough as far as it goes, this statement is fundamentally altered to extend the ownership of the key of David to all of the apostles of Christ (Matthew 18:18), and by no means restricting it merely to Peter. Besides that, "The ultimate authority is claimed in these very terms for Christ himself (Revelation 3:7,8)."
This reference to the key of David is all but proof of the proposition that there are indeed in this half of the chapter overtones of the messianic kingdom and the rejection of racial Israel as the chosen race.
How futile and pitiful are the plans of sinful men. Shebna was concerned about building himself an impressive tomb, high on a cliff; but he did not know that he would go into slavery under a foreign invader, suffer a shameful death, and have no impressive tomb whatever, if indeed, he had any at all. Jamieson has given us this sad comment on the death of Shebna:
"The mention of "thy magnificent chariots" does not mean that Shebna would have these in a foreign land, but that he would be borne thither in ignominy instead of in his magnificent chariots. The Jews say that he was tied to the tails of horses by the enemy, to whom he had designed to betray Jerusalem, as they thought he was mocking them; and so he died."
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Isaiah 22". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
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