Isaiah 22:15-25 The Prophecy about the Prime Minister
Victor Ludlow writes:
After portraying the unconcerned and sinful condition of Jerusalem’s inhabitants, Isaiah singles out a leading citizen and describes his selfish, vain actions. The individual selected is Shebna, the leader of the king’s court, a position similar to present-day secretary of state. Isaiah apparently confronts Shebna in the Kidron Valley near the tombs of the kings:
This is what the Lord, the Lord Almighty says:
“Go, say to this steward, to Shebna, who is in charge of the palace:
What are you doing here and who gave you permission
to cut out a grave for yourself here,
hewing your grave on the height
and chiseling your resting place in the rock?
Beware, the Lord is about to take firm hold of you
and hurl you away, O you mighty man.
He will roll you up tightly like a ball
and throw you into a large country
there you will die
and there your splendid chariots will remain-
you disgrace to your master’s house!
I will depose you from your office
and you will be ousted from your position. (Isaiah 22:15-19 NIV)
Like the dashed expectations of those in Jerusalem, Shebna’s hope for a magnificent tomb in Jerusalem is destined to come to naught. Indeed, Shebna was eventually disgraced in office and demoted to the office of secretary or scribe of the king’s court. (Isaiah 36:3.) This position was still influential, however, being the post second only to the head of the court.
According to some scholars, Shebna was actually a foreigner who rose to power in Jerusalem. They give three primary reasons for this supposition: (1) his father is never mentioned, although other officials are identified by their families (see Isaiah 22:20; 36:3); (2) his name is not Hebrew; and (3) Isaiah makes a strong contrast between “here” in Jerusalem where Shebna hews out his tomb and “there” where he will die. (Young, The Book of Isaiah 2:106; Slotki, Isaiah, p. 103.)
Many scholars also believe that Shebna favored a strong pro-Egyptian policy, and that Jerusalem’s immunity from Sargon’s campaign of 711 B.C. resulted from a shift in Judean policy at the time when Shebna was removed from office. In short, the Jewish government became more submissive to Assyria. (IDB 4:312.)
In any case, Isaiah presents two strong contrasts in this short discourse: Shebna planned a glorious tomb for himself in Jerusalem, but the Lord has planned another burial in a foreign land; Shebna, indifferent to Jerusalem’s fate, builds himself a permanent tomb while Isaiah weeps over the fate of his people.
Here Isaiah continues speaking to Shebna, but prophesies about the person who will replace him: Eliakim is to be invested with the keys and authority of Shebna’s office. Isaiah has a warning for Eliakim, however, concerning the way in which his family will rely upon Eliakim’s position and influence for protection:
“In that day I will summon my servant, Eliakim son of Hilkiah. I will clothe him with your robe and fasten your sash around him and hand your authority over to him. He will be a father to those who live in Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. I will place on his shoulder the key to the house of David; what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. I will drive him like a peg into a firm place; he will be a seat of honor for the house of his father. All the glory of his family will hang on him; its offspring and offshoots—all its lesser vessels, from the bowls to all the jars.
“In that day,” declares the LORD Almighty, “The peg driven into the firm place will give way; it will be sheared off and will fall, and the load hanging on it will be cut down.” The LORD has spoken. (Isaiah 22:20-25 NIV)
In hanging all their hopes upon Eliakim’s position as a “peg in a firm place,” Eliakim’s family will be disappointed, for when he loses his position of influence they will fall with him.
Some of the terminology of this warning also seems to refer to the priesthood keys and atoning powers of Jesus Christ. First of all, the name Eliakim means “God shall cause to arise,” a messianic title pointing to the Resurrection. (See Isaiah 22, footnote 20a.) Secondly, Eliakim is called as a servant of God (v. 20). Third, he holds the physical keys to the king’s storerooms. Fourth, Eliakim serves as a “nail in a sure place” (KJV) for his family, meaning that they depend upon him for security. Similarly, Christ was crucified by a “nail in a sure place,” thus fulfilling the demands of the Atonement under the law of justice. (See Ezra 9:8; Zechariah 12:10; 13:6; John 20:25; D&C 45:51-53; TG “Jesus Christ, Crucifixion of”; BD “Crucifixion.”)
Important differences remain between Eliakim and Christ, however. Eliakim’s office was temporal, temporary, and unsuccessful, while Christ’s mission is heavenly, eternal, and triumphant. Eliakim failed as a “nail in a sure place” but Christ’s “nail in a sure place” (crucifixion) secured the eternal blessings of the Atonement. (Victor Ludlow, Isaiah: Prophet, Seer, and Poet, p. 233-235)
There are other interpretations of these verses. Some commentators say that this prophecy is about Eliakim, and others emphasize that it is about Shebna. I include two examples below:
In this commentary, the prophecy is apparently about Eliakim, not Shebna:
(25) Shall the nail that is fastened in a sure place be removed . . .—There is, the prophet says, a judgment for the misuse of power portrayed in the previous verse. The “nail” that seems so firmly fixed should be removed, i.e., Eliakim should cease to hold his high office, and with his fall should come that of all his kindred and dependents. Here, as in the case of Shebna, we have no record of the fulfilment of the prediction, but it is a natural inference, from its remaining in the collected prophecies of Isaiah, either that it was fulfilled, or that it did its work as a warning, and that the penalty was averted by a timely reformation. (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers)
This commentator states that this prophecy is about Shebna, not Eliakim:
In that day, saith the Lord of hosts,…. That Shebna is deposed, and Eliakim put in his place:
shall the nail that is fastened in the sure place be removed, and be cut down, and fall; meaning, not Eliakim before spoken of, who really was a nail fastened in a sure place, and not to be removed; but Shebna, who thought himself to be as a nail in a sure place, being put into it by the king, and supported by his authority, and courted by his friends and flatterers; for to him the whole preceding prophecy is directed, which is carried down to this verse; for all that is said of the glory and usefulness of his successor Eliakim was to be told to him, which would make it still the more grievous to him, to be degraded and disgraced as he would be, signified by his being removed, cast down, and falling:
and the burden that was upon it shall be cut off; those that were dependent upon him, his family, his flatterers, and friends, such whom he had raised by his influence and authority to considerable places, and whom he supported in them; these would fall with him, as is usual when a royal favourite, or prime minister of state, falls into disgrace, and is removed; an instance of this may be seen in Haman, whose family and friends were involved in the same ruin with him, Esther 9:12 and it may be observed, that many dependents, which a minister of state always has, are a burden to him. The Targum interprets this of the burden of prophecy; and Jarchi says, that some explain it thus,
“the prophecy, which thou prophesiest, concerning it, shall be confirmed;”
for the Lord hath spoken it; and therefore it shall come to pass;
as the Targum,
“for, so it is decreed by the word of the Lord.” (Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible)
A couple of takeaways from this section of Isaiah to me are the nature of the importance of the steward or vice regent in these texts. In this way, this is a Messianic text. The Savior Jesus Christ is the one authorized by the Father to represent him in everything. On Jesus the Father has put “the key of the house of David” and on Jesus has the Father “fastened as a nail in a sure place” to carry all of the glory of the Father, his offspring and offshoots. The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Jesus Christ.
Along another line of thought, those that are given authority by Jesus Christ are his authorized representatives. In this regard, Peter was given the “keys of the kingdom” to act on behalf of the Savior when he left the earth (see Matthew 16). Upon Peter was the government of the kingdom of God placed. The same can be said of the Savior’s authorized representatives today.