Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Isaiah 22: 15-18

15 Thus says the Lord God of hosts,
“Come, go to this steward,
To Shebna, who is in charge of the royal household,
16 ‘What right do you have here,
And whom do you have here,
That you have hewn a tomb for yourself here,
You who hew a tomb on the height,
You who carve a resting place for
yourself in the rock?
17 ‘Behold, the Lord is about to hurl you headlong, O man.
And He is about to grasp you firmly
18 And roll you tightly like a ball,
To be cast into a vast country;
There you will die
And there your splendid chariots will be,
You shame of your master’s house.’

There is more to Isaiah, Chapter 22. With the close of verse 14, we did not reach an end in the prophecy of Jerusalem but a pause. If the first 14 verses were the lead article, verse 15 might be the beginning of a sidebar. Isaiah has been speaking to all of Jerusalem when God touches him on the sleeve, figuratively, and says, "Come...." There is more to be said, and we discover more of the problems that plague Jerusalem through one of its servants.

Shebna is a " charge of the royal household." What my study Bible calls 'steward' the King James Version and Amplified Bible call 'treasurer'. We know, then, that Shebna handled money. Being in charge of the house is like being chief of staff or prime minister. He was someone with very high authority, as in not the king, but close.

We also know from Scripture that he was a scribe.

"When they called to the king, Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who was over the household, and Shebnah the scribe and Joah the son of Asaph the recorder, came out to them."
--II Kings 18:18
This is the time when King Hezekiah's intermediaries met the liaison from the Assyrian delegation that had parked itself outside Jerusalem's gates. Shebna and his fellow servants to the king called for calm at a time when Sennacherib's forces wished to rock the city walls down and scare all the people--which is exactly what the Assyrians did. At this point in time, Shebna appears to be fulfilling his role.

But, the prophecy from Chapter 22 describes a different time and situation, before the time Shebna faces Sennacherib's folks. In fact, we will learn next week that Shebna is demoted to scribe (Isaiah 22:19). In his higher position as steward, it seems Shebna ran into difficulty with his integrity. In verse 16, Isaiah questions him: Who are you? "You who hew a tomb...." [Say that 10 times fast!] Really, it's who do you think you are, Mister Big Stuff?! Shebna decided that he was worthy of a burial place fit for a king, quite literally. Do you remember reading about the fallen pompous kings of Sheol in Chapter 14? These verses sound so much like that.

"But you said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven;
I will raise my throne above the stars of God,
And I will sit on the mount of assembly in the recesses of the north.

I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.'
Nevertheless you will be thrust down to Sheol,
To the recesses of the pit."

--Isaiah 14: 13-15

Shebna arranged to have a tomb carved from rock. Not just any rock, but rock that was of considerable height. ("A tomb that may be Shebna’s, cut in the rock, has been excavated in the Kidron Valley."--Reformation Study Bible) This would have involved calling in some craftsman.

"So very nice and curious was it that it seemed rather to be the work of an engraver than of a mason or carpenter; and it seemed engraven in a rock, so firmly was it founded and so impregnable was it. “Nay, thou hast hewed thee out a sepulchre,” as if he designed that his pomp should survive his funeral."
--Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible
"What right do you have here...?" Isaiah asks. Indeed! A man in the position that Shebna held should not have expected the benefits of the king for himself. We can make a reasonable guess that Shebna had a problem with pride. He may have been more caught up in his titles than he was in the work of guiding the people of Jerusalem. There is suggestion in commentary that he may have been writing to Sennacherib--corresponding with more than the regular payment of the tribute. Under such a Godly influence as Hezekiah, Shebna would have had the opportunity to have found great blessing in serving. The larger error, of course, was his disobedience to the God he was supposed to be honoring in his word and deed.

With verse 17, Shebna's fate is revealed in graphic description. I'm sorry to say that I'm stifling chuckles because I have these pictures of cartoons and mythical movies in which the "giant" scoops up the small trouble-in-its-way, balls him in its hands, and throws him off the screen. As a little kid, you don't know any better. I do know, now, though--this isn't funny. Isaiah is saying that Shebna thought himself so high that it would be the Lord's doing to hurl him down from the heights he thought he was at! He will be thrown "to a vast country." Unnamed, but not Judah. "There you will die...." You and the "splendid chariots" you somehow found time and funds to create for yourself with which to get around the city. No, not funny at all.

It is not known exactly what happened to Shebna, either. Perhaps he was taken by the Assyrians. Hezekiah may have tossed him out, as part of his reforming work. There's even a report that Shebna developed leprosy ("which was a disease commonly supposed to come from the immediate hand of God’s displeasure, particularly for the punishment of the proud, as in the case of Miriam and Uzziah"--Matthew Henry), and left the country in disgrace. "You shame of your master's house." Two masters, really.

Jerusalem's people were certainly at fault in their disobedience. The first of this chapter makes that clear to us. God grants us a look at the inner failings of a governmental system through one of its leaders. When we ask why Hezekiah couldn't pull off total reform of his city, of his country, perhaps this is another reason why? Even so....

"It is likewise a confirmation in general of the hand of divine Providence in all events of this kind, which to us seem contingent and to depend upon the wills and fancies of princes. Promotion comes not from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south; but God is the Judge...."

--Matthew Henry

Out with the old, in with the new. Goodbye, Shebna! ....'Til next week!

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Next week:  Isaiah 22: 19-21
Note: I read from the New American Standard Bible translation,
specifically, The MacArthur Study Bible (NASB).
I will quote other sources if used in a post.

I also use Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible
(with notes from the King James Version).