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The oracle against Jerusalem ch. 22
As in the first series of oracles, God’s people occupy the fourth place in this second series, which points further into the future, surrounded by the nations of the world. In the first series the Northern Kingdom was in view, but in the second series Judah takes the spotlight. Three aspects of life in Judah receive separate attention in this chapter: the city of Jerusalem (Isaiah 22:1-14), the individual Shebna (Isaiah 22:15-19), and the family of Eliakim (Isaiah 22:20-25). All three sections reveal the thoroughness of Israel’s sin of seeking security in the world rather than in the Lord, namely: self-sufficiency.
". . . Jerusalem is found cannibalizing itself to make itself safe, without a thought of looking to the Lord (Isaiah 22:8-11); Shebna is portrayed as the man concerned only for his own worldly glory, before and after death (Isaiah 22:16-18); and Eliakim is at risk of becoming the focal point of the security of others to his own and their downfall (Isaiah 22:23-24)." [Note: Motyer, p. 180.]
The first part of the oracle deals with self-sufficient Jerusalem (Isaiah 22:1-14). At present there was joy in the city (Isaiah 22:1-2 a), but in the future there would be sorrow (Isaiah 22:2-7). Past actions (Isaiah 22:8-11) had produced the present joy, and they determined future consequences (Isaiah 22:12-14).
The prophet employed another enigmatic title that implied a contrast with the actual condition of the place described to indicate the object of this oracle (cf. Isaiah 21:1). "Valley of vision" refers to Jerusalem (cf. Isaiah 22:5; Isaiah 22:9-10). Isaiah pictured it as the depressed place (cf. Psalms 125:2) where he received a depressing vision, namely, the inevitable judgment that would come on the city. In this valley there was a notable lack of vision among God’s people when it came to seeing things from His perspective. The mention of a valley suggests the valleys that surrounded Jerusalem on three sides, the Kidron Valley on the east and the Hinnom Valley on the west and south.
". . . Jerusalem was an enclosed place, hidden and shut off from the world, which Jehovah had chosen as the place in which to show to His prophets the mysteries of His government of the world." [Note: Delitzsch, 1:390.]
Isaiah thought the residents of Jerusalem had behaved inappropriately by going up on their flat housetops to rejoice. Some turn of events in his day had resulted in the people feeling very secure. Perhaps Sargon’s attack on Ashdod followed by his return to Assyria in 711 B.C., or God’s deliverance of Jerusalem from Sennacherib in 701 B.C. (cf. Isaiah 37:36), was the historical occasion for their rejoicing.
Such rejoicing was inappropriate, however, because Isaiah saw in his vision that they would fall to an enemy, not because of combat but starvation. This happened when the Babylonian Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem and took it in 586 B.C. (cf. 2 Kings 25:3-4; Jeremiah 52:6). Jerusalem, as well as Babylon, would fall (cf. Isaiah 2:6-22; Isaiah 21:1-10).
Therefore Isaiah rejected the attempts of his fellow citizens to get him to participate in their celebration. The terrible end of the city drew tears from him that the present rejoicing could not stop. Isaiah was a compassionate person because he identified with his countrymen in their suffering.
The Lord Himself would bring this fate on Jerusalem. The residents would then panic, be subjugated and confused, and cry to the surrounding mountains for help as the city walls broke down.
The enemy would be Elam, an ally of Babylon’s to her east, and Kir, whose exact location is unknown but was the destination of some Israelites taken into Assyrian captivity (cf. 2 Kings 16:9; Amos 1:5; Amos 9:7). It was also the place (city or land) from which the Arameans originated (cf. Amos 9:7). Isaiah did not identify the main enemy, Babylon herself, but only two of her allies here, perhaps to emphasize the size (by merism) and or distance of the foe.
This enemy would conquer the countryside around Jerusalem and then set up a siege of the city outside her walls at her very gates.
Such an attack would be possible because the Lord would remove His defensive screen from around the city. The reason was that the people had relied on physical implements of warfare for their security rather than on Him. Evidently the "house of the forest" of Lebanon was an armory in Isaiah’s day (cf. 1 Kings 7:2-5; 1 Kings 10:17).
"The Lord is always the ultimate agent in his people’s experiences . . ." [Note: Motyer, p. 184.]
The people would try many forms of defense, but all would fail because they did not depend on the Lord who had made the city what it had become. Strong walls and adequate water would be their hope rather than their God. Hezekiah’s strengthening Jerusalem’s walls and securing her water source were not wrong in themselves. The people’s reliance on these physical securities was their sin.
"Walled cities usually had two walls with a space between, allowing defenders the open space needed to overcome attackers who had penetrated the outer wall. In peace-time that space tended to be built up by squatters with temporary shacks which soon became permanent dwellings. The government apparently took two steps to meet this problem. The houses were demolished to regain the open space between the walls and parts of it were flooded with water from the old pool. This latter created a flooded moat and also ensured water reserves for the besieged city." [Note: Watts, p. 284. This writer provided a diagram of Hezekiah’s pools and waterworks, and an excursus on the same, on pp. 282-84.]
"If it is true that God is the Sovereign of the universe, then our first task in a moment of crisis is to be sure that all is clear between him and ourselves. Then other preparations, if necessary, can follow." [Note: Oswalt, p. 412.]
Rather, in that day, the people should turn to the Lord in repentance, and reaffirm their trust in Him for their security. He is the sovereign, almighty God who can save.
However, they would not repent but rejoice in their apparent security, believing that if they could not save themselves, nothing else could (cf. Revelation 9:20-21). Isaiah saw in the present rejoicing over security (Isaiah 22:1-2 a) the same attitude of self-sufficiency that would doom the Jerusalemites in the future.
Normally ancient Near Easterners used cattle and sheep for producing milk and wool; they did not slaughter them to eat very often because these animals produced valuable products. Killing them to eat, therefore, expresses the people’s utter despair and their self-indulgence, thinking there was no future left for them (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:32).
The Lord had revealed to Isaiah that He would not forgive their unbelief in Himself. As long as they continued to trust in themselves rather than in Him, He would not save them.
Unbelief persisted in until death is the only sin that God will not forgive. In the unsaved it results in eternal damnation, and in the saved it results in the loss of some eternal reward plus temporal punishment in some cases. However, as long as people can repent there is hope. Repentance was still possible for Isaiah’s original audience when he gave this message. The warning passages in Hebrews explain that a time can come when people are no longer able to repent.
". . . the oracle stands here as the proclamation of a judgment deferred but not repealed." [Note: Delitzsch, 1:397-98.]
The oracles against Shebna and Eliakim that follow are the only ones on individuals in chapters 13-27. They show that the choice between faith and works, with its attending results, is individual as well as national. They also provided immediate signs of the prophecies that Isaiah gave here concerning the fate of Jerusalem in the future. Shebna was as self-reliant individually, as the people of Jerusalem were collectively (Isaiah 22:15-19). Eliakim was an object of trust by the members of his family and the residents of Jerusalem and so risked taking the Lord’s place in their affections (Isaiah 22:20-25).
The Lord commanded Isaiah to go to Shebna, who was steward (ruler) over the royal household (cf. Joseph; Genesis 39:8-9; 1 Kings 4:6; 1 Kings 18:3). This was the highest office of state in both the Northern and Southern Kingdoms, and sometimes the heir to the throne occupied it (cf. 2 Chronicles 26:21). As the royal steward, Shebna stood nearest to the king and represented the king.
Isaiah’s question is almost identical to the one in Isaiah 22:1, tying Shebna’s error to that of the people of Jerusalem. He had no personal right, or a right by reason of his position, to prepare a permanent and prominent tomb for himself. A person’s tomb made a statement about his importance, and Shebna wanted to guarantee his future recognition by building himself a respectable monument in Jerusalem (cf. Haman; Esther 3:1-2). Archaeologists have found the remains of a grave hewn by one Shebna on the Mount of Olives east of Jerusalem. [Note: Dyer, in The Old . . ., p. 544.]
"In this episode (a scene which deserves to be remembered beside ’Nero fiddled while Rome burned’) the prime minister chooses the moment when Jerusalem’s citizens are frantically arming for a last-ditch stand against the invaders to visit the elaborate mausoleum he was preparing for himself in the royal cemetery. . . .
"Why should he be preoccupied with dignity in death, while most people in Jerusalem were still hoping to live?" [Note: Watts, p. 291.]
Shebna would not die in peace in Jerusalem as he anticipated. God would throw him, like a balled up rag that cannot control where it is going, into a distant land where he would die. Presumably the Assyrians took him captive. His emblems of greatness would also end up there rather than in the place where he wished to be remembered. His attitude of self-glorification made him unworthy of the office he occupied, in Isaiah’s view (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:12).
The Lord promised to drive Shebna out of his office, and to tear him down from his exalted position in which he took so much pride.
The Lord also predicted that He would appoint Eliakim to a special position of authority, complete with the symbols of that authority, to replace proud Shebna. In chapters 36-37 Shebna and Eliakim appear as officials who were both serving King Hezekiah when Sennacherib invaded Jerusalem (701 B.C.). Thus Shebna’s humiliation and Eliakim’s exaltation apparently occurred sometime after that. Eliakim would become a father to the people of Jerusalem in that he would care for them sacrificially at God’s appointed time.
"Shebna had been riding ostentatiously in his chariots and building a splendid grave for himself, seeking in all this the praise of men. How much better to have God’s smile of approval and to be described, in a simple but eloquent phrase, as ’my servant’ (Isaiah 22:20; cf. Isaiah 20:3; Isaiah 42:1; Isaiah 52:13)." [Note: Grogan, p. 143.]
"When God designates a man my servant, He attributes high honor to that man; He asserts that that man is one who will serve Him." [Note: Young, 2, 113.]
Eliakim would bear authority to administer the affairs of David’s royal house, which the key on the shoulder symbolizes. His decisions would be binding, as when one unlocks or locks a door with a key (cf. Matthew 16:19; Matthew 18:18; Revelation 3:7).
He would also serve as a tent peg holding the royal house and all Jerusalem stable against the winds of adversity. He would bring glory to his father’s house. He would be such a strong figure that many people would rely on him and commit much responsibility to him.
Unfortunately, Eliakim would not be able to carry all the weight of responsibility committed to him and would fail. Thus the people’s trust in another human being, even a very capable person, would prove misplaced. They could only safely trust in the Lord Almighty; He is the only one who would not fail them. One writer believed that Eliakim would not fail. [Note: Archer, p. 625.]
This oracle reproved the people of Jerusalem for trusting in the arm of flesh to protect them from their enemies. Isaiah epitomized and condemned this attitude by citing Shebna’s self-confident behavior. He also showed that trusting in even the most capable of people, such as Eliakim, would prove disappointing. Rather their trust should be in their sovereign, almighty Lord.
Christians face temptations similar to the ones Isaiah identified here. We may fail to trust the Lord first and to pray for His guidance, resting rather on our own or another’s ability to solve problems. We may become so preoccupied with our own interests and reputations that we fail to serve the Lord and people. We may also put too much hope in our leaders and not enough in our God.
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Isaiah 22". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent