Had there been a map on the wall of the king’s great hall, where all the foreign dignitaries kept court with the king, they would have followed Isaiah’s oracle path from Moab north to Damascus, southwest to Cush, then northwards again through Egypt, sweep far inland, northeast to Babylon, then south to Seir, west to Arabia … where next? They would have traversed the whole of the Ancient Near East by this point, or so it would have seemed.

I imagine when the prophet entered the throne room with the oracle from this chapter, he would have rested his eyes meaningfully on the center of the map, the center of Judah’s kingdom, at the very heart of the nation. God’s holy hill, Mount Zion, to God’s holy habitation, the royal capital of Jerusalem.


An Oracle Against Jerusalem

The people of Judah would rejoice because the Lord in God’s mercy would deliver them from the Assyrians.

Architectural model of the first temple | By Creator:Thomas Newberry – This file was donated to Wikimedia Commons as part of a project by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. See the Image and Data Resources Open Access Policy, CC0

But Isaiah did not celebrate. The burdened prophet went down to the valley, where he saw a dark vision.

Therefore I said:
“Look away from me;
    let me weep bitter tears;
do not try to comfort me
    for the destruction of my beloved people.”

Isaiah 22:4 (NRSV)

God would not deliver them from Babylon because of two particular transgressions

Unbelief

Jerusalem was filled with celebration as though they were the ones who had won the victory, going to their rooftops to throw confetti. They had not put two and two together.

People would be dying of famine and disease.

Your slain are not slain by the sword,
    nor are they dead in battle.

Isaiah 22:2 (NRSV)

The nation’s leaders would flee in fear.

For the Lord God of hosts has a day
    of tumult and trampling and confusion
    in the valley of vision,
a battering down of walls
    and a cry for help to the mountains.

… [God] has taken away the covering of Judah.

Isaiah 22:5, 8 (NRSV)

The people would do everything they could think of to prepare for a long siege, collecting armor, fortifying the walls, securing a water supply, building a reservoir between the walls.

On that day you looked to the weapons of the House of the Forest, and you saw

  • that there were many breaches in the city of David,
  • and you collected the waters of the lower pool. 
  • You counted the houses of Jerusalem, and you broke down the houses to fortify the wall. 
  • You made a reservoir between the two walls for the water of the old pool.
Isaiah 22:8-10 (bullets mine)

But all this frantic activity would not spare them from what was coming.

But you did not look to [God] who did it or have regard for [God] who planned it long ago.

Isaiah 22:11 (NRSV, brackets and emphasis mine)

God would win the Assyrian victory, not them. Had they acknowledged this, God would have intervened with Babylon.

On that day the Lord God of hosts
    called for weeping and mourning,
    for baldness and putting on sackcloth,
but instead there was joy and festivity,
    killing oxen and slaughtering sheep,
    eating meat and drinking wine.
“Let us eat and drink,
    for tomorrow we die.”
The Lord of hosts has revealed himself in my ears:
“Surely this iniquity will not be forgiven you until you die,”
    says the Lord God of hosts.

Isaiah 22:12-14 (NRSV, emphases mine)

This refusal to look to God would seal their fate, and God’s judgment would now be inevitable.

Destruction of the first temple | By Jean Fouquet – [1], Public Domain,

Unfaithfulness

As the leaders went, so would the people go. Had the leaders been faithful to the Lord, and called the people to repentance, there might have been hope. But too many leaders were self-serving.

Shebna was an example, using his position in the government to build a monument to himself. 

Thus says the Lord God of hosts: “Go to the steward Shebna, who is master of the household, and say to him: What right do you have here? Who are your relatives here, that you have cut out a tomb here for yourself, cutting a tomb on the height and carving a habitation for yourself in the rock? 

The Lord is about to hurl you away violently, my fellow.

He will seize firm hold on you, whirl you round and round, and throw you like a ball into a wide land; there you shall die, and there your splendid chariots shall lie, O you disgrace to your master’s house! 

I will thrust you from your office, and you will be pulled down from your post.

Isaiah 22:15-19 (NRSV)
The lintel of Shebna-yahu’s tomb found in the village of Silwan, now in the British Museum | By Mustafaa at English Wikipedia – Transferred from
Script𐤆𐤀𐤕 [𐤒𐤁𐤅𐤓𐤕 …]𐤉𐤄𐤅 𐤀𐤔𐤓 𐤏𐤋 𐤄𐤁𐤉𐤕. 𐤀𐤉[𐤍 𐤐𐤄] 𐤊𐤎𐤐 𐤅[𐤆]𐤄𐤁
𐤀𐤌 [𐤏𐤑𐤌𐤅𐤕𐤉𐤅 𐤅𐤏𐤑𐤌𐤅𐤕] 𐤀𐤌𐤕𐤄 𐤀𐤕𐤄. 𐤀𐤓𐤅𐤓 𐤄𐤀[𐤃𐤌] 𐤀𐤔𐤓
𐤉𐤐[𐤕𐤇] 𐤀𐤕 𐤆𐤀𐤕 ‎
Transliterationz’t [qbwrt …]yhw ’šr ‘l hbyt. ’y[n ph] ksp w[z]hb
’m [‘ṣmwtyw w‘ṣmwt] ’mth ’th. ’rwr h’[dm] ’šr
yp[tḥ] ’t z’t
RomanizationZōʾt [qəḇārōt …]yāhū ʾăšer ʿal habayīt. ʾēy[n pō] kesef wə[zā]hāḇ
ʾīm [ʿaṣəmōtayw wəʿaṣmōt] ʿămātāhō ʿītō. ʿārūr hāʿā[dām] ʾăšer
yīp[taḥ] ʾet zōʾt
TranslationThis [burials …]-iah, the royal steward.[5] There is no silver or gold here
only … [his bones and the bones] of his maidservant with him. Cursed be the man
who opens this
The Shebna Inscription, written in proto-Hebrew

This was prophecy when Isaiah first delivered it. So imagine the shocked gasps as the prophet lifted his finger and thrust it at the hapless steward, standing in a position of honor near the king. Imagine the ensuing turmoil, the room suddenly erupting in both defenses and denials, as the steward’s allies and coworkers scrambled to distance themselves from God’s judgment on Shebna.

Did some look out beyond the pillars of the king’s hall to espy Shebna’s grand building, placed in honor among nobility?

But the prophet was not finished with the word God had given him to deliver.

“On that day I will call my servant Eliakim son of Hilkiah and will clothe him with your robe and bind your sash on him. I will commit your authority to his hand, and he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah.

  • I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and no one shall shut; he shall shut, and no one shall open. 
  • I will fasten him like a peg in a secure place, and he will become a throne of honor to his ancestral house. 
  • And they will hang on him the whole weight of his ancestral house, the offspring and issue, every small vessel, from the cups to all the flagons.” 
Isaiah 22:10-24 (NRSV)

A quick Google search brought up historical corroboration for Eliakim as well. Evidently, in 2019, archaeologist Yosef Garfinkel reported discovering a reference to Eliakim, son of Hilkiah, in two bullae unearthed at Tel Lachish, which are now documented in a paper (for images, please follow that link). He described the seal legends as reading

“Eliakim, (son of) Yehozarah.” 

In addition, in 1974, an unprovenanced 8th century B. C. bulla, allegedly coming from the Hebron district, was acquired on the antiquities market by the Israel Museum for its Hebrew seals section, and its legend reads “(Belonging to) Yehozarah, son of Hilqi[ya]hu, servant of Hizqiyahu”.

Wikipedia: Garfinkel, Yosef; Klingbeil, Martin; G. Hasel, Michael; H. Petruk, Néstor (May 2019). «(PDF) Four Judean Bullae from the 2014 Season at Tel Lachish»Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Researchdoi:10.1086/703122.

God was about to replace Shebna with the godly Eliakim. Sadly, with so few other godly leaders to support him, Eliakim would not last.

“On that day, says the Lord of hosts, the peg that was fastened in a secure place will give way;

it will be cut down and fall, and the load that was on it will perish, for the Lord has spoken.”

Isaiah 22:25 (NRSV)

Remember that these details, once fulfilled, corroborated the greater prophecies Isaiah was making.

Michelangelo, lunetta, Zerubbabel – Abiud – Eliakim 01 | By Michelangelo – Web Gallery of Art:   Image  Info about artwork, Public Domain

Eliakim: Prophetic Fulfillment

Both Eliakim and Shebna appear together in 2 Kings 18-19, a story found repeated in Isaiah 36-37.

In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah, King Sennacherib of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and captured them.

Eliakim son of Hilkiah, who was in charge of the palace, and Shebna the secretary, and Joah son of Asaph, the recorder, came to Hezekiah with their clothes torn and told him the words of the Rabshakeh.

2 Kings 18:13, 37 (NRSV)

It seems Shebna had been demoted by the fourteenth year of Hezekiah’s reign, though he was permitted to remain among the king’s closest entourage.

Isaiah’s far-future prophecies were now anchored in this near-term fulfillment. So God had said, so would it be.


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