Bible Commentary: Isaiah 22

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Isaiah 22

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Prophecy Against the Valley of Vision

"Valley of Vision [verses 1, 5] sarcastically describes Jerusalem. Mount Zion is ironically personified in its valleys from which it could see nothing. Instead of partying on housetops, the ailing city should have been in its prayer closets" (Nelson Study Bible, note on verse 1).

Isaiah explained that "a day of trouble and treading down and perplexity" was coming (verse 5). In verse 6 it appears to have already come, but the words of verse 7 show that it had not yet occurred. God often speaks of things that have not yet happened as though they already have (compare Romans 4:17). The day of trouble likely refers to the impending invasion of Sennacherib in Isaiah's day. However, given the messianic reference later in the chapter—which we will take note of shortly—it is possible that the rest of the passage has a dual application, referring to events in Isaiah's day as well as the latter days. And in an end-time context, the day of trouble would represent the time of Jacob's trouble—the coming awful Great Tribulation.

Isaiah 22:6 shows the involvement of Elam. This would seem to indicate Elam attacking but perhaps not. It says Elam "bore the quiver," which could indicate that it is serving another army, perhaps even by compulsion, which would make sense if this applied to the ancient Assyrian army, which likely had Elamites and other peoples pressed into involuntary service (the Elamite nation as a whole was supportive of Babylon against Assyrian rule). Again, however, it is conceivable that the reference is dual, applying also to the end time. As modern Elam is found in Eastern Europe, Iran and India, perhaps weapons from these areas will be utilized by the end-time Assyrian army in its initial assault on the modern nations of Israel. A "quiver" in a modern context might represent a store of missiles.

Verse 8 refers to the armor of the "House of the Forest"—no doubt a reference to the "House of the Forest of Lebanon," which Solomon built. It was used as the national armory (compare 1 Kings 7:2; 1 Kings 10:16-17). The Jews were not relying on God but looking to their own military stockpiles. How different is that from the Israelite nations today?

As to what was transpiring in Isaiah's day, we should realize that Hezekiah was making preparations for a rebellion against Assyria. He was evidently in talks with Egypt, certain of the Philistines and Merodach-Baladan of Babylon about throwing off the Assyrian yoke. Remember that a general spirit of rebellion broke out all over the empire following the death of Sargon in 705. Within two years, in 703, Merodach-Baladan was back on the throne of Babylon for a short stint. Indeed, this prophecy likely dates to the period between 703 and 701, the latter date being when Sennacherib comes to stem the rebellious tide. In the meantime, Hezekiah and Jerusalem's other leaders were making preparations for war.

That brings us to Isaiah 22:9-11. The city of David is damaged (verse 9) by great numbers of houses being torn down to expand and fortify the city wall (verse 10). "Confirming this, Israeli archaeologist Nahman Avigad, in the course of his excavations of the old Jewish Quarter, uncovered a massive 130-foot stretch of city wall, partly built directly onto bedrock, and partly on top of houses only recently constructed. The dating of the pottery in these houses provided clear evidence that the huge wall was part of this same Hezekiah-directed fortification effort" (Ian Wilson, The Bible Is History, 1999, p. 162).

Verse 11 appears to refer to the pool and tunnel also mentioned in 2 Kings 20:20, referring to "improvements in the water supply of Jerusalem in preparation for possible attack (compare Isa 22.8b-11). This conduit, with an identifying inscription has been found and is now popularly called Hezekiah's Tunnel, or the Siloam Tunnel (compare 2 Chr 32.30). It runs from [the spring of] Gihon (see 1 Kings 1.33 n.), which was outside the city wall, to the Pool of Siloam, which was inside the wall. Extending 1700 feet through solid rock, this tunnel was a remarkable engineering achievement in its time" (Oxford Annotated Bible, note on 2 Kings 20:20-21).

"At the southern end of the tunnel, workmen inscribed in ancient Hebrew script on the walls of the tunnel a vivid description of the completion of the tunnel on the day when workmen cutting from the two sides met. The inscription is now in the Istanbul Museum. The text runs in part: '... while there were still three cubits to be cut through, (there was heard) the voice of a man calling to his fellow, for there was an overlap in the rock on the right (and on the left). And when the tunnel was driven through, the quarrymen hewed (the rock) each man toward his fellow, axe against axe; and the water flowed from the spring toward the reservoir for 1,200 cubits, and the height of the rock above the head(s) of the quarrymen was one hundred cubits'" (E.M. Blaiklock and R.K. Harrison, The New International Dictionary of Biblical Archaeology, 1983, p. 414).

(These are just some of many examples of the important role that archaeology is playing in the proof of the Bible. To find out more, request or download our free booklet Is the Bible True?)

We will read of further developments in this project in 2 Chronicles 32:2-5, 30. Sadly, these verses continue to point out Judah's trust in its own defenses instead of trusting God.

Verse 13—“Letus eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!"—is cited by the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:32 to describe the futility of life if there were no resurrection. If we were living only for today, then this could logically be our whole pursuit. But God has revealed otherwise. And God had revealed to Jerusalem that they needed to draw close to Him in sincere repentance. Through the Bible, He proclaims the same thing to the people of Judah and Israel today (and, by extension, to all people). Yet because of their flippant attitude—“Hey, might as well live it up because we're going to die anyway"—God says they will die (verse 14).

Shebna and Eliakim

In connection with Hezekiah's preparations for Sennacherib's impending attack, a change in leadership is demanded. Shebna has been the "steward" who is "over the house"—like a modern prime minister or chief of staff. He is accused of making a tomb "on high" (verse 16). Archaeologists have actually found a lintel fragment of a tomb with Hebrew script from Hezekiah's time, which stood in Silwan, on the steep slope across the valley from David's city, in full view of the inhabitants of ancient Jerusalem. The fragment (now in the British Museum) says it belonged to a person who was "over the house." The name, partially destroyed, ends with the common Hebrew ending -yahu, meaning God—and the name Shebna is thought to be a short form of the name Shebanyahu or Shebaniah, applying to someone else in Nehemiah 9:4. Many scholars believe this fragment was part of Shebna's sepulcher.

"Pride is the sin of this official, who like the pharaohs of Egypt sought to build himself a lasting monument while his land was in peril. Perhaps we can see a parallel between Shebna and those modern elected officials who put reelection above the good of the nation" (Bible Reader's Companion, note on Isaiah 22:15).

The Bible says Shebna is to be driven from his office, pulled down and dragged away into a large country and killed—and his job given to Eliakim, son of Hilkiah. We will later see that when Sennacherib sends his representatives to Jerusalem, they are met by Eliakim, who is said at that time to be "over the house" (36:3, KJV), and either the same or a different Shebna is the scribe.There is no evidence that Shebna the steward was dragged away, say to Assyria, although it is possible that he was.

It is of course possible that this prophecy did not apply to the present Shebna and Eliakim of Isaiah's day—or did not primarily apply to them. They could have been used as types of others. Eliakim, incidentally, means "God Will Establish."

Some have seen links in the passage to a later "son of Hilkiah," Jeremiah the prophet—who was apparently given stewardship over the house of David, overseeing its transfer to another land. Furthermore, we know that Eliakim represents the future Messiah. Verse 22, regarding the key of David and opening and shutting, is specifically said to apply to Jesus in Revelation 3:7. This perhaps ties in with the "keys of the kingdom" given to God's Church (Matthew 16:19)—seemingly related to the "key of knowledge" (Luke 11:52) of salvation in the Kingdom (compare Matthew 23:13). It ties back to David because Jesus Christ will inherit the throne of David (Isaiah 9:6-7), and His saints will share His throne—the Davidic throne—with Him (Revelation 3:21).

Yet why would the Messiah, as King, be taking over a steward's office? Consider that when He is crowned as King of the Kingdom, Christ will actually be the Steward of the Kingdom of God the Father. Indeed, this is parallel to the past history of the Davidic monarchy, wherein the human ruler actually rules as a steward for the real king—God.

The rejected steward, Shebna, if a scenario of Jeremiah's day or the end time is intended on some level, could apply to a later steward—that is, a prime minister or a monarch—in Jeremiah's day dragged off to Babylon at Jerusalem's fall, or in the end time dragged away into Israel's final captivity.