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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Isaiah 22

 

 

Introduction

Chapter 22 The Burden of the Valley of Vision.

The vision begins with a description of wild rejoicing in Jerusalem at something which is the cause of great happiness. Some see this rejoicing as resulting from their receiving the news that their initial plea to Assyria for merciful treatment had been accepted (prior to the later advancement on Jerusalem. See 2 Kings 18:13-16). But if that were so why is this earlier incident not mentioned in chapters 36-39? Others see it as resulting from the retreat of Assyria from the siege of Jerusalem after the slaying of a large part of their army by Yahweh during the siege (36-37). But would not Isaiah have also rejoiced in Yahweh’s deliverance and drawn pointed lessons? And why the still strong sense of the approach of death (Isaiah 22:13)? Still others refer it to their rejoicing on the inauguration of the Siloam Tunnel for bringing water into Jerusalem, or on the day when the tunnellers first met and the water broke through, instilling a new joyous confidence into Jerusalem, but foreboding in Isaiah because of their false confidence (Isaiah 22:8-11). A further suggestion is that it was on their receiving the news that a large Egyptian army was on the way to hopefully effect their deliverance. The truth is that it could really be any time when good news was brought to Jerusalem, after prior ignominious failure.

But whatever its cause Isaiah disapproves of it. He feels that they have nothing to rejoice over and everything to be ashamed of. He is fearful for the future because of their self-confidence. He knows that this is not trust in Yahweh, it is trust in themselves. What they should be doing is worshipping Yahweh and giving thanks to Him in all humility and shame, recognising that had they but trusted in Yahweh from the beginning none of the things that had come on them would have happened, and that trust in Yahweh now could bring them deliverance. But instead, even now, they rather look to other gods in their housetop shrines.


Verses 1-11

God’s People Must Choose Between Excessive And Unjustified Hilarity Resulting From False Confidence, or Mourning Over Sin and Trusting In Him (Isaiah 22:1-11)

Jerusalem is seen as having become a scene of rejoicing, but Isaiah is only too well aware that it is all for the wrong reasons. For in the face of the approaching enemy, instead of having confident trust in Yahweh, they are spurring themselves on and are wildly elated and fatalistic, and are relying on their own defences and on their allies, unaware that they are no longer under Yahweh’s protection.

But Isaiah wants them to know that he has been walking in the valleys outside Jerusalem, and while walking in one of them he has had a vision. He has seen into the future of what is going to happen in that valley as the enemy troops arrive with their chariots, and horses, and bows, and set up their siege equipment, and lay siege to Jerusalem, as they have done with regard to all the cities of Judah (Isaiah 22:5-8). And he has seen the blood that will be shed as a result of it. This is now his burden. The burden of the valley of vision in which he has seen working out ‘the Day’ that is coming from the Lord (Isaiah 22:5). And yet all the while Jerusalem rejoices, unaware of what is coming.

Analysis.

a The burden of the valley of vision.

b What do you think you are doing (literally ‘what to you then?’), now that you have wholly gone up to the housetops? O you who are full of shoutings, a tumultuous city, a joyous town. Your slain are not slain with the sword, nor are they dead in battle. All your rulers fled away together, they were bound by the archers. All who were found of you were bound together. They fled far off (Isaiah 22:1-3).

c Therefore I said, “Look away from me. I will weep bitterly. Do not rush to comfort me for the spoiling of the daughter of my people, for it is a day of discomfiture, and of treading down, and of perplexity from the Lord, Yahweh of hosts, in the valley of vision. A breaking down of the walls and a crying to the mountains (Isaiah 22:4-5).

d And Elam bore the quiver with chariots of men and horsemen, and Kir uncovered the shield. And it came about that your choicest valleys were full of chariots, and the horsemen set themselves in array at the gate (Isaiah 22:6).

d And he took away the covering of Judah, and you looked in that day to the armour in the house of the forest, and you saw the breaches of the city of David that they were many. And you gathered together the waters of the lower pool, and you numbered the houses of Jerusalem, and you broke down the houses to fortify the wall. You also made a reservoir between the two walls, for the water of the old pool, but you did not look to him who had done this, nor did you have respect to him who fashioned it long ago (Isaiah 22:7-11).

c And in that day the Lord, Yahweh of hosts, called to weeping and to mourning, and to baldness and to girding with sackcloth (Isaiah 22:12).

b And behold, (instead of that there was ) joy and gladness, slaying oxen and killing sheep, eating flesh and drinking wine. “Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we shall die”.

a And Yahweh of hosts revealed himself in my ears. “Surely this iniquity will not be purged from you until you die,” says the Lord, Yahweh of hosts. (Isaiah 22:13-14).

In ‘a’ Isaiah speaks of the valley of vision, where he has received a vision from God of what is coming, and in the parallel he declares the solemn message that he has received. In ‘b’ there is joy and gladness, but it is not because they have won a great victory resulting in slain heroes, for they have rather avoided battle, and the only captives were those who were caught on the run, and in the parallel similar joy and gladness proves to result from a fatalism and a casualness of attitude that can only be displeasing to Yahweh. In ‘c’ Isaiah weeps over the people because they are despoiled, and yet he does not seek comfort because it is a day of discomfiture, of treading down and of perplexity, while in the parallel Yahweh calls all to the same weeping and mourning. Note that in both parallels reference is made to ‘the Lord, Yahweh of Hosts’. In ‘d’ we find reason for his grief in the presence of enemy hordes in their valleys and at their gates and in the parallel it is revealed to be because Yahweh has taken away His covering, so that they are looking to various expediencies by which to defend themselves, but are failing to look to the One Who has done this, the One Who had planned it long before.

Isaiah 22:1-3

‘The burden of the valley of vision.

What do you think you are doing (literally ‘what to you then?’),

Now that you have wholly gone up to the housetops?

O you who are full of shoutings,

A tumultuous city, a joyous town.

Your slain are not slain with the sword,

Nor are they dead in battle.

All your rulers fled away together,

They were bound by the archers.

All who were found of you were bound together.

They fled far off.’

‘The burden of the valley of vision.’ The heading is a paradox. How can the valley of vision be a burden to the visionary? (For in each previous case the name connected with the burden has been subjected to judgment). If this was the place where Isaiah had received his visions, why then should he be burdened about what would happen to it? The answer lies in the fact that he is aware that the valley will shortly be overrun by enemies for in his vision he has seen them there (Isaiah 22:5-7). But while he had received the visions from God there Jerusalem/Judah had not on the whole listened to what he had to say. That was why Jerusalem would suffer and the valley be overrun. And that was why he was now burdened for the valley, because he knew what would shortly be happening in it

It is possible also that there is the added thought that he is burdened because the vision had had to be given in a valley and not on the mountain of Yahweh (compare Psalms 23:4), because he had had to go outside Jerusalem to receive his vision. And that because it was not to be a vision of triumph, such as could have been received on the mountain of Yahweh, but a dark vision, a vision of sadness and disaster.

‘What do you think you are doing (literally ‘what to you then’) now that you have wholly gone up to the housetops?’ ‘What to you then’ is a phrase that expresses disapproval (compare Jeremiah 2:18; Hosea 14:8). It is clear from this that Isaiah considers that they have no grounds for rejoicing. Indeed that he thinks that their rejoicing reveals how spiritually sick they are. It is possible that their going up to the housetops simply has in mind a means of expressing delight as men openly rejoiced (contrast Isaiah 15:3). But there is actually probably a darker significance to it in that he is speaking of their having gone up to their housetops so as to enter their rooftop shrines which were dedicated to the host of heaven, and to other gods (Jeremiah 19:13; Zephaniah 1:5). Thus their gratitude is seen as being wrongly directed. Their hearts are in the wrong place. (LXX adds ‘which help you not’).

‘O you who are full of shoutings, a tumultuous city, a joyous town.’ This is a picture of a city’s jubilation at some kind of good news. They are possibly rejoicing in anticipated deliverance (because Sennacherib has withdrawn or has accepted their surrender on favourable terms), or in hope of deliverance (because they have heard news that their Egyptian allies are coming), or because their defences have been satisfactorily completed and their water sources secured so that they are sure that they can now hold out, but there is no thought of what it has all cost Judah, no mention of gratitude to Yahweh, no mention of going to the Temple to worship, no thought of what they have lost by it. It is self-congratulatory, and that after a miserable showing, with God forgotten. And seemingly it was temporary rejoicing for they were still anticipating the possibility of death on the morrow (Isaiah 22:13), although that may simply have indicated an irreligious spirit.

‘Your slain are not slain with the sword, nor are they dead in battle. All your rulers fled away together, they were bound by the archers. All who were found of you were bound together. They fled far off.’ He wants to know what they can possibly have to rejoice about when they bring to mind the real picture that they should have been considering. It is a dismal one of failure, even of cowardice. For as a nation they had not offered firm resistance. They had not died in battle. Rather their leaders had fled into hiding and had been taken prisoner under the threat of archers rather than at sword point, an ignominious situation, while the remainder of the people had also fled, apart from those who were discovered, taken captive and chained together. What was there to rejoice about in that?

The reference is probably to what had happened throughout Judah, for Sennacherib himself records how during his campaign certain of the forces of Judah had deserted Hezekiah’s cause and had betrayed their people. They had not put on a brave show at all.

Isaiah 22:4-5

‘Therefore I said, “Look away from me. I will weep bitterly. Do not rush to comfort me for the spoiling of the daughter of my people, for it is a day of discomfiture, and of treading down, and of perplexity from the Lord, Yahweh of hosts, in the valley of vision. A breaking down of the walls and a crying to the mountains.’

Because of this (‘therefore’) Isaiah declares that he himself is not rejoicing. Rather he is grief stricken. He wants no comfort from such people. For he is only too aware that he has witnessed the despoiling of his people, a spoiling which need not have happened had they trusted in Yahweh. It had been a day of discomfiture, a day when the people had been trodden down, a day when he had been perplexed before the sovereign Lord in the valley of vision. In his inaugural vision he had seen the state of the people before God, but this did not mean that he found what had happened to them now as easy to bear. If only they had trusted in Yahweh from the start all this would have been avoided.

For the truth is that if men do not trust and obey God, they must recognise that there is always a cost. But that does not necessarily make it easier to understand. Rather it is often perplexing and heartbreaking to those who minister to them.

It is easy to forget that, although Jerusalem had been delivered each time there was an invasion, there had always been a great cost for the people of Judah as a whole. The deliverance was regularly deliverance at the last hour after huge suffering had been experienced by the many, and many had been taken off to exile. And Isaiah had seen it all and had been perplexed as he had received his visions from God. It had been ‘a day of breaking down of walls’. Possibly he was thinking of the many walls of the cities of Judah that had been destroyed (as Sennacherib wrote in his annals, ‘forty six cities of Judah I besieged and took)’. It had been ‘a day of crying to the mountains’. Possibly the thought in mind is of the screams of the people as they had cried to the surrounding mountains for help (compare Isaiah 10:30), especially those in the lowlands who had been looking in vain to the king, ‘the breath of their nostrils’, in his mountain fastness. But the king had not been able to help them. He had been too busy seeking to help himself. How little then there was really to rejoice in.

‘For the spoiling of the daughter of my people.’ Nothing is worse than the rape of a daughter. It is a grief to the whole family. And Isaiah saw what had happened to his people as being similar to his own daughter having been ravished. Compare ‘the daughter of my people’ with ‘the daughter, Zion’ (Isaiah 1:8). That had been Jerusalem, this was the whole people that had been ‘raped’ (see Jeremiah 4:11; Jeremiah 6:14; Jeremiah 8:11; Jeremiah 8:19; Jeremiah 8:22; Jeremiah 9:1).

Isaiah 22:6-7

‘And Elam bore the quiver with chariots of men and horsemen, and Kir uncovered the shield. And it came about that your choicest valleys were full of chariots, and the horsemen set themselves in array at the gate.’

He now describes what he had seen in the valley of vision. There is here a pointed reference to the fact that their erstwhile allies in whom they had trusted were now in array against Judah. This may be connected with the betrayal mentioned in Isaiah 21:2. The Elamites, or some of them, had changed sides. They may, of course, have been forced to do so because of their defeat at Sennacherib’s hands. But Isaiah sees the irony of it. They had trusted in their allies, and here they were, invading their land. The exact location of Kir is unknown but it was the destination of some of the Israelites taken into Assyrian captivity (see 2 Kings 16:9; Amos 1:5; Amos 9:7).

The result had been that the whole of the lowlands of Judah had been occupied, with the dreaded bowmen of Elam, and with the warriors ready for battle, with uncovered shields, from Kir. Their finest valleys had been covered with enemy chariots (as the valley of vision would also shortly be). The horsemen had pressed in on the gates of their cities, the weak point in their defences. Was this really something to rejoice in?

Isaiah 22:8-11

‘And he took away the covering of Judah, and you looked in that day to the armour in the house of the forest, and you saw the breaches of the city of David that they were many, and you gathered together the waters of the lower pool, and you numbered the houses of Jerusalem, and you broke down the houses to fortify the wall. You also made a reservoir between the two walls, for the water of the old pool, but you did not look to him who had done this, nor did you have respect to him who fashioned it long ago.’

But worst of all for Judah was that God had withdrawn His favour from them. He had removed His protective covering from Judah (contrast Isaiah 4:5-6), because instead of looking to Him, they had looked to the armour in the house of the forest. They had considered that their armour was a better thing to trust in than Yahweh. And while they were gloating at their armour they were unaware of the invisible protection that had been removed. Well, they could have their armour. For thus Judah was left at the mercy of her enemies, and her armour would prove insufficient.

The ‘house of the forest’ had been built by Solomon and was called this because of the cedar pillars that supported its roof. It was used as an armoury and royal treasury (1 Kings 7:2; 1 Kings 10:17).

But while they had ceased to look to God they had also not looked to their defences. ‘You saw the breaches of the city of David that they were many.’ The walls had been allowed to crumble, and gaps had appeared in them, so that they would not be strong enough to take the hammering of a battering ram. And the result was that the city of David, which, with the Davidic house at its head under God, should have been invincible, had become an easy prey for an enemy.

So they had set themselves to frenzied activity, working to repair the defences and to guarantee the availability of water during a siege. ‘You gathered together the waters of the lower pool, and you numbered (assessed) the houses of Jerusalem, and you broke down the houses to fortify the wall. You also made a reservoir between the two walls, for the water of the old pool.’ The walls had been rebuilt and strengthened by taking selected buildings, tearing them apart, and using the materials to repair the walls. A reservoir was also built between the two walls which they had filled with water from the old pool. This would include the work done on the tunnel which Hezekiah built so as to provide an underground water supply from the spring Gihon, which was then covered in so as to be invisible to attackers (2 Kings 20:20; 2 Chronicles 32:2-4). The old pool was possibly the pool formed around that spring, from which water was brought to the reservoir, or it may have been the pool which had previously been the mainstay of their water supply. The result was that now they had had strong walls and plenty of water although it had been at a cost. But in all this there had been one thing that was lacking.

‘But you did not look to him who had done this, nor did you have respect to him who fashioned it long ago.’ The tragedy was that they had left Yahweh out of account. They had ignored the One Who had chosen Jerusalem, the One Who had placed the spring there, and the One Who had shaped the city and its surrounds to be right for the purpose that He had purposed for it. Indeed had they looked to Him all the other preparations would have been unnecessary, but they chose rather to ‘improve’ on God’s handiwork while ignoring God.


Verse 12

‘And in that day the Lord, Yahweh of hosts, called to weeping and to mourning, and to baldness and to girding with sackcloth.’

For there was One Who had offered another way. That One was the sovereign Lord, Yahweh the great ‘He is’, the Deliverer from Egypt, the One Who was over all the hosts of heaven and earth. And this way was Yahweh’s way of victory. Let them but come to Him in repentance, in mourning over sin, in weeping over their idolatry and the way that they had neglected Him and His Law (compare here Joel 2:12-17). Let them genuinely repent and demonstrate it by the outward signs of weeping and mourning by shaving their hair (Jeremiah 47:5; Amos 8:10) and wearing sackcloth to prove their genuineness, and then God would hear them and they would be delivered. But it had to be genuine. (Contrast here Isaiah 58:2-14 which describes the kind of fasting that would not have been pleasing to Him).


Verse 13

‘And behold, (instead of that there was ) joy and gladness, slaying oxen and killing sheep, eating flesh and drinking wine. “Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we shall die.” ’

But instead of weeping and mourning over sin the people had gone all out for a good and hilarious time. Rather than spiritual awareness they had sought carnal pleasure. They had wanted great feasts and barbecues, entertainment and pleasure, and mountains of food, and plenty of wine. Their policy had been that death might well be close so that the best thing to do was to enjoy life while they could. They had forgotten the moral and spiritual dimensions. And they had forgotten that if only they would trust in the Lord Yahweh death would not have been so close, because He would have delivered them. But instead of exercising faith they had been happy-go-lucky.

This all suggests that, whatever it was that they were rejoicing over, it had not removed the main threat. The slaying of oxen and sheep in this wild manner was a sign that they did not expect life to go on smoothly, for normally they would have preserved their cattle because of what they contributed to their lives. And their expectancy of imminent death suggests that there were problems that still lay ahead. (It may, however, have been that they were just citing a well known saying which reflected their casual attitude towards life, and that the slayings were of thanksgiving offerings).

So this was the sin of Judah. Like Ahaz they had had to choose between trust in and obedience to Yahweh, or trust in themselves and reliance on the weapons and defences that they could produce for themselves. And they had chosen the latter. To them what they could see had counted for more than what they could not see. But it was not really just a matter of lack of faith. Behind it all was the fact that they did not want to live as God required of them. That was the central point. They would, of course, have been pleased for Yahweh’s help if it had been offered with no strings attached, but they did not want to have to submit to His commandments (compare again Isaiah 58:2-14). And so, as they could not have the one without the other, they rather chose self-sufficiency. And that was the iniquity that had so aroused His anger. They had hardened their hearts against Him. (And we need to ask ourselves, ‘Do we do the same?’)


Verse 14

‘And Yahweh of hosts revealed himself in my ears. “Surely this iniquity will not be purged from you until you die,” says the Lord, Yahweh of hosts.’

As a result of all this God’s anger had been aroused against them even more than before. That was why He had spoken to Isaiah very personally and very specifically (He had ‘revealed Himself in my ears’) and had warned him that this sinful and unforgivable behaviour would ensure that they did die, and that until they did nothing would remove it. They had now gone too far in rejecting Him. Their hearts were now hardened beyond repair. Only death awaited them. They were to be their own sacrifice for sin. Their final fate may seem to have been delayed by the good news, but it was sealed by His decree.


Verses 15-19

The Self-Important First Minister (Isaiah 22:15-19).

The first to be dealt with is Shebna, the self-important First Minister. God determined to get him out of the way to a place where he could do no harm.

Isaiah 22:15-16

‘Thus says the Lord, Yahweh of hosts, “Go, get yourself to this Vizier, even to Shebna, who is over the house, and say, ‘What are you doing here, and whom have you here, that you have hewed yourself out here a sepulchre?’ Hewing himself out a sepulchre on the height, cutting (graving) a habitation for himself in the rock.” ’

Having depicted the false attitude of Judah this is now seen as reflected in their leadership. Shebna was ‘over the house’, that is responsible for administration on behalf of the royal house (compare 1 Kings 4:6; 2 Chronicles 26:21). He was the Vizier or First Minister. But rather than concentrating on his responsibilities at this difficult time he was full of himself and seeking to establish his name for all time. He had utilised valuable resources by hewing out a sepulchre from rock, in a high place, so that all would see it and remember whose it was. If they were to die he was ensuring that he would be permanently remembered. He was seeking a permanent name, a permanent resting place, and full prominence in men’s eyes, seeking to some extent to replace God in their eyes. He wanted men to look to him, admiring him because of the grand tomb that awaited him, and then admiring him in death. So the questions mean, ‘who does he think he is? What permanent status does he think that he has?’

We are probably intended to recognise as significant that all his thoughts were seen to be concentrated on death.

‘This Vizier.’ A contemptuous way of depicting how unimportant he really is in God’s eyes. The fact that his father’s name is not given suggests that he has come from humble beginnings, or that it is deliberately omitted in order to humble him. But he is not condemned for that, only for his self-promulgation.

Isaiah 22:17-19

‘Behold, Yahweh will hurl you away violently, O you great man, yes he will wrap you up closely (take firm hold of you). He will surely twist you and throw you like a ball into a large country. There you will die, and there will be the chariots of your glory, you disgrace of your lord’s house. “And I will thrust you from your office.” And he will pull you down from your high position.’

God has no time for this man. He intends to get rid of him. He will play with him as a child plays, wrapping him up in His hand and twisting him into a ball and hurling him into a wide open space. No doubt the game was familiar to his readers. ‘O you great man’ is sarcastic. He is not really seen as great at all, he only thinks that he is. And now he has become but a plaything.

The purpose is to be rid of him. He is something to be thrown away. The ‘large country’ may simply mean somewhere well away from the palace where he can do no harm, ‘the wide open spaces’, or it may suggest that he will be forcibly exiled or more probably sent somewhere as an ambassador or similar. For while he is to be demoted, he will still have his chariots which he thinks bring him glory, which is why it seems possible that he will be an ambassador or something similar. God will let him keep his chariots, but he will die there. God will exile him permanently even if man does not. ‘You disgrace of your lord’s house’ is clearly said with some feeling. It is clear that Shebna is advising the king unwisely, against the will of God, possibly to enter into foreign alliances.

“And I will thrust you from your office.” These words are probably to be seen as quoting Yahweh. He is so moved at the situation that He conveys His own message. Isaiah then declares that He will do precisely that. He will be pulled down from his high position. We possibly find the partial fulfilment of this Isaiah 36:3; Isaiah 37:2, although that may have been a different Shebna.

A similar indictment might be made against some preachers who try to make themselves look big, with big homes and big cars and big egos.


Verses 15-25

The Two Ministers (Isaiah 22:15-25).

This passage is presumably intended to come under the general heading of the Burden of the Valley of Vision, indicating problems among the leadership as well as among the people. When a people are dishonest before God it is not long before their leaders become the same. So here two important ministers are dealt with, both of whom were failing in one way or another. They are seen as following the trend and as a corrupting influence in Judah as a result of their bad example. They are seen as two men who shared some of the responsibility for Judah’s sinful attitudes. They illustrate all that is wrong with Judah. This demonstrates that underneath all Judah’s problems lay the self-aggrandisement and disobedience and sinfulness of the people. It was their attitudes and behaviour that were at fault.

Analysis of Isaiah 22:15-25.

a Thus says the Lord, Yahweh of hosts, “Go, get yourself to this Vizier, even to Shebna, who is over the house, and say, ‘What are you doing here, and whom have you here, that you have hewed yourself out here a sepulchre?’ Hewing himself out a sepulchre on the height, cutting (graving) a habitation for himself in the rock.”

b Behold, Yahweh will hurl you away violently, O you great man, yes He will wrap you up closely (take firm hold of you). He will surely twist you and throw you like a ball into a large country. There you will die, and there will be the chariots of your glory, you disgrace of your lord’s house. “And I will thrust you from your office.” And He will pull you down from your high position (Isaiah 22:17-19).

c And it will come about in that day that I will call my servant Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, and I will clothe him with your robe, and strengthen him with your girdle (Isaiah 22:20).

d And I will commit your authority into his hand. And he will be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Judah (Isaiah 22:20-21).

d And I will lay on his shoulder the key of the house of David, and he will open and none shall shut, and he will shut, and none shall open (Isaiah 22:22).

c And I will fasten him as a peg in a sure place, and he will be for a throne of glory to his father’s house, and they will hang on him all the glory of his father’s house, the offspring and the issue, every small vessel, from the vessels of cups even to all the vessels of flagons (Isaiah 22:23-24).

b “In that day,” says Yahweh of hosts, “the nail that was fastened in a sure place will give way, and it will be hewn down, and fall, and the burden that was on it will be cut off” (Isaiah 22:25 a).

a “For Yahweh has spoken it” (Isaiah 22:25 b).

This is a passage of deliberate contrasts, but both parties fail in their own way. In ‘a’ Yahweh has spoken against Shebna because he has used his office for personal aggrandisement. He has ‘hewn’ out his own sepulchre in a prominent position to enhance himself in the people’s eyes, and in the parallel Yahweh has spoken against Eliakim. In ‘b’ Shebna will be hurled away and thrust from office, and in the parallel the nail that has been fastened in a sure place will give way and fall. In ‘c’ Eliakim is called and is made strong, and in the parallel Eliakim is to be fastened securely and to prosper in office. In ‘d’ Eliakim is to replace Shebna in his responsibilities and become father to the people, and in the parallel the key of the house of David will be laid on his shoulders so that he will be able to open and shut doors.


Verses 20-25

Eliakim the Nepotist (Isaiah 22:20-25).

This is the second failing First Minister. In some way Eliakim’s case is sadder than that of Shebna. His life and service was so promising, but it was ruined by nepotism. He was a good man, with a fault that he left undealt with, and the fault was too great and brought him down. Each of us has some fault like that at some time, and it can make or break us depending on whether we deal with it or not.

Isaiah 22:20-21

‘And it will come about in that day that I will call my servant Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, and I will clothe him with your robe, and strengthen him with your girdle, and I will commit your authority into his hand. And he will be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Judah.’

God will raise up another to replace Shebna (compare Isaiah 36:3; Isaiah 37:2). He will be given Shebna’s ‘uniform’ and insignias. The robe and the girdle often indicated the importance of the wearer. And he will be given total authority over the royal house, just as Shebna had been. The difference is that he will be a true father to God’s people, guiding, directing, advising, passing judgments, and he will have wide influence.

‘My servant.’ An honourable title given to very few throughout history. When he fell he would fall from a very honoured status.

Isaiah 22:22

‘And I will lay on his shoulder the key of the house of David, and he will open and none shall shut, and he will shut, and none shall open.’

The key was the symbol of authority showing whom he represented. He could allow men into the king’s presence, or otherwise. And he had supreme control over royal affairs. He could confirm legislation and make royal appointments. He could act in the king’s name. He was greatly privileged. Compare Matthew 16:19; Revelation 3:7.

Isaiah 22:23-24

‘And I will fasten him as a peg in a sure place, and he will be for a throne of glory to his father’s house, and they will hang on him all the glory of his father’s house, the offspring and the issue, every small vessel, from the vessels of cups even to all the vessels of flagons.’

He was to be fastened like a peg in a sure place, strong, firmly established and able to bear all who would put weight on his shoulders, a strong and capable first minister. But then, alas, his father’s house will see him as a stepping stone for their ambitions, and he will concur. They will see him as their throne of glory, their means of advancement. And there will be hung on him by his family all from the highest to the lowest. All will seek high positions because of their relationship to him. How quickly can good men let themselves down when they do not look only to the Lord.

Isaiah 22:25

‘In that day, says Yahweh of hosts, the nail that was fastened in a sure place will give way, and it will be hewn down, and fall, and the burden that was on it will be cut off, for Yahweh has spoken it.’

The introduction of his family into the different positions of authority will be too much for the nation, and for God. One powerful family in control could only lead to total injustice and jealousy, and divisions within society, especially as they began to arrange things for their own welfare and to prevent the rise of others. Thus both he and they will be removed from office, and his fall will be sudden, he will be ‘hewn down’. The rivalry of other families would ensure that. So what began as a promising career will be wrecked by nepotism. It is a warning that the man in authority must never have favourites. His appointments must always be on the basis of who will most satisfactorily fill important positions.

We should note that these attitudes and the behaviour of these men was seen as important enough to be placed among Isaiah’s burdens, and to result in the men’s downfall. It was declared of these two men that in one case it was the result of a huge sense of his own importance and in the other the result of showing of excessive favouritism, that led to their demise. Both were acting in the name of Yahweh and usurped the place of God by their behaviour. Thus both had to be dealt with. They were symptomatic of what was wrong with Judah and Jerusalem.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Isaiah 22:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/isaiah-22.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, October 14th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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