Isaiah 22: What’s the Matter with You?

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Where we are:

Part 1: Judgment

Part 2: Historical Interlude

Part 3: Salvation

Chapters 1-35

Chapters 36-39

Chapters 40-66

When this takes place:

This oracle against Jerusalem is offered during the reign of Hezekiah and speaks both to the imminent invasion by the Assyrians and the future destruction by the Babylonians more than 100 years in the future.

Key verses:

Isa. 22:12-13 – On that day the Lord God of Hosts called for weeping, for wailing, for shaven heads, and for the wearing of sackcloth. But look: joy and gladness, butchering of cattle, slaughtering of sheep, eating of meat, and drinking of wine — “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!”

Quick summary:

Warren W. Wiersbe writes, “The people of Judah were behaving like their pagan neighbors, so it was only right that Isaiah should include them in the list of nations God would judge. Yes, in His mercy, the Lord would deliver Jerusalem from the Assyrian army; but He would not deliver them from Babylon. Isaiah pointed out two particular sins that would cause Judah to decline and ultimately go into Captivity in Babylon … [t]he unbelief of the people … [and] the unfaithfulness of the leaders” (Be Comforted, An Old Testament Study, S. Is 22:1).

Take note:

The “Valley of Vision” is a reference to Jerusalem, which even though located on Mt. Moriah is situated in a valley surrounded by higher hills (Ps. 125:2; Isa. 2:3; Jer. 21:13). The Valley of Kidron runs between two hills east of Jerusalem, the seat of divine revelation. Jerome calls it “the nursery of prophets.” From this city God reveals Himself to, and through, the prophet Isaiah. “The point seems to be that Jerusalem has received message after message (i.e., ‘vision’) from God and yet failed to really hear” (Lawrence O. Richards, The Bible Readers Companion, electronic ed., S. 422).

The Valley of Vision (Isa. 22:1-14)

While some portions of this passage refer to the Assyrian invasion in Hezekiah’s day (see Isa. 36-37; 2 Kings 18-19; 2 Chron. 32), the primary emphasis is on the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. Isaiah provides a stark contrast between Jerusalem’s gaiety and its grim future (vv. 2a, 13). Possibly, the prophet refers to the celebration that will take place when Assyria’s Sennacherib retreats (see Isa. 37:37); to Judah’s overconfidence in Jerusalem’s defenses; or to the escapism that reveals the moral bankruptcy of Jerusalem’s citizens as they face inevitable destruction. In any case, their philosophy is, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (v. 13b; cf. 1 Cor. 15:32).

Rather than partake in the revelry on the rooftops, Isaiah descends into the valley, where he sees people dying, not from battle wounds, but from starvation and disease (v. 2). He sees the nation’s leaders running for their lives as the invading hoards descend on the capital city (vv. 3-7; 2 Kings 25:1-10). The people do what they can to brace themselves for a long siege, collecting armor, fortifying the walls, and securing a supply of water, but their efforts will come to naught as the Lord “remove[s] the defenses of Judah” (vv. 8-11). Longer term, many will find themselves mired in an entitlement mentality, thinking, “Just as God delivered us from the Assyrians, He must also save us from the Babylonians. After all, we’re His chosen people.” Quite the contrary, the Lord will use the pagan Babylonians as His rod of judgment against the eat-drink-and-be-merry citizens of Judah.

“The people did everything but trust the Lord,” writes Warren Wiersbe. “Instead of feasting, they should have been fasting, weeping, putting on sackcloth, and pulling out their hair in grief (v. 12; Ezra 9:3; James 4:8-10). God had sent the nation many prophets to warn them, but the people would not listen. Now it was too late; their sins could not be forgiven because their hearts were hard. Judah would go into captivity, and God’s word to Isaiah would be fulfilled (Isa. 6:9-13)” (Be Comforted, S. Is 22:1).

A Warning to Shebna (Isa. 22:15-25)

There might be hope for Judah if the leaders would call the people to repentance, but too many leaders like Shebna have only themselves in mind. Shebna is identified as a steward in charge of the king’s palace. He may be Hezekiah’s chief administrator or prime minister who carries out the will of the king; if so, he is second in command and deeply involved in mounting defenses against Sennacherib’s military forces.

Isaiah is sent to Shebna, who is more concerned with building a monumental tomb for himself and acquiring chariots than he is with honoring the king and serving his country. Likely, he sides with the pro-Egypt party in Judah. Isaiah’s question cuts to chase: “What are you doing here?” (the construction site of his tomb). The young steward’s actions belie his wicked heart, and Isaiah informs him that the Lord is about to shake him violently (v. 17). “God judged Shebna by demoting him (he became ‘secretary’ according to 36:3, NIV), disgracing him, and deporting him. Eventually he was thrown ‘like a ball’ (22:18) into a far country (Assyria?), where he died. He could not have an expensive funeral and be buried in his elaborate tomb” (Be Comforted, S. Is 22:1).

Isaiah predicts that Eliakim will replace Shebna, and apparently Isa. 36:3 shows the fulfillment of this prophecy. Eliakim will be like a father to the people, “a throne of honor for his father’s house” (v. 23). The “key” in verse 22 is a symbol of authority that a steward has over the house. Jesus makes reference to this when he tells Peter He will give him “the keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 16:19). The New Manners and Customs of the Bible provides some interesting insight into the references to keys by Isaiah and Jesus:

The idea contained in both these passages is expressed in Isaiah 9:6, where it is said of the Messiah: “the government will be on his shoulders.” The word keys is used figuratively again when Jesus says to Peter: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19)…. Matthew 16:18 has caused considerable controversy, but verse 19 has been even more fiercely debated. Nothing in either verse, however, suggests the possibility that Peter or any of the apostles were given authority to forgive sins. The words bind and loose are rabbinic terms meaning to forbid and to permit. Keys were the symbol of knowledge or the fruit of the scribal or teaching office…. The use of those keys-knowledge of the gospel-would build the church. Peter did precisely this at Pentecost (Acts 2:14), at Samaria (Acts 8:14), and for Cornelius the Gentile (Acts 10). Phillip did it at Samaria (Acts 8:5), and Paul did it throughout all of Asia (Acts 19:10). To say that only Peter had the keys to heaven would give the power of salvation to Peter and not to the gospel: “the gospel … is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile” (Romans 1:16) (S. 355).

Another illustration is given to us in the “peg” in verse 23. This is not, as some might think, a reference to a wooden tent peg that is driven into the ground. Rather, Isaiah compares Eliakim to a peg that is driven into the wall to hold up kitchen utensils or other items. However, if the people trust wholly in Eliakim, rather than in God, they will be disappointed, for the weight of their burdens will shear off the peg and all that hangs upon it will fall. Some commentators believe Eliakim’s advancement results in corruption of his family, eventually leading to a fall, while others see Eliakim as a type of Christ, the latter of which would take all mankind’s burdens upon Himself (see Isa. 53:4-6). In any case, Isaiah’s message is consistently clear: Trust God.

Closing Thought

Gary V. Smith comments: “Leaders who fail to lead people to depend on God will not last; instead, God will raise up true servants (22:20) who care for others, like a father cares for his children (22:21). God will firmly establish them and give them great opportunities for service and influence (22:22). Nevertheless, people are not the basis for a secure future in any organization; God is the only truly dependable resource for hope” (The New American Commentary: Isaiah 1-39, p. 394).

Copyright 2009 by Rob Phillips

One comment

  1. C. L Emuria

    What an inspiring interpretation of the word of God! I like the elaborations and the vast tour of the various texts that are connected to it throughout the bible.

    Indeed, people should not rely on their leaders for their provisions. God is the sole provide of all our needs – big or small, complex or simple. He alone is God.