Notes on Isaiah 22

David H. Linden  University Presbyterian Church, Las Cruces, NM

 

22:1-14  The Valley of Vision 

 

Background   To interpret this chapter properly, we need to settle the situation the prophet spoke about. His oracle was not completely obvious. There was revelry over something, and Isaiah indicated there should not be. The vision foresaw the walls of Jerusalem broken down and their leaders fleeing without success. The details of Isaiah 22 do not fit the Assyrian threat to Jerusalem. Assyria did not even shoot an arrow at Jerusalem; she broke down no walls and did not enter the city (37:33-35).

 

The fulfillment of Isaiah 22 came with the Babylonians. In Isaiah’s time, Hezekiah repented and turned to the Lord in abject humility and faith. God protected His undeserving city and poured His wrath on the Assyrian army. Further, this oracle mentions Elam in v.6, and that too indicates the prophesied events are in the future. We have no record of Elam ever invading Judah. Since Elam was an ally of Babylon, the mention of Elam was an obscure clue to the Babylonian invasion over a century later (obscure when written, but clear when fulfilled). When Babylon came, there was no repentance, as is evident in Jeremiah’s writing. Jerusalem had developed a wicked confidence that the city would not fall. Jeremiah and Ezekiel had to speak about this repeatedly, with no one listening to them.  (Jeremiah 6:1-6; Ezekiel 4 & 5). There was no trust in the Lord, and that is the burden of the first half of Isaiah 22. In Isaiah 36,37, seeing the powerful army nearby, people were in great fear that the city would fall, but God delivered it. Many years later they had a false confidence that it would survive since Jerusalem never falls!, but the Lord did hand it to the Babylonians.  

 

 

22:1   The sense is “what do you mean by this?”  There is a strange disconnect here as a party atmosphere is joined to a scene of death. These things do not fit together and that is the point Isaiah is making.  Their celebrating on a rooftop will end in agony.  Jerusalem celebrated because its people were not aware of the terrible things coming. Parties on rooftops would give way one day to fleeing to the roof to escape soldiers advancing at street level.  

 

22:2,3    The defeat was so terrible that many died without being slain in battle.  They perished of other things like starvation (Jeremiah 14:18). This shows a city under siege. Rather than being defeated after putting up a fight, they simply capitulated and were slaughtered. Their king fled, but the Babylonians chased and caught him (2 Kings 25:1-7).  This detail makes it clear that the oracle looked ahead to the time when Babylon overran Jerusalem and Zedekiah the king tried to escape. 

 

22:4    The prophet saw what was coming, and it was the prophet who took it seriously. Those who are full of gaiety have no reason for their revelry. Disaster was ahead. If any would believe the prophet, they too would cease their revelry and repent. Everything hangs on whether the Word of the Lord is being received and believed. For Isaiah this was so painful, he told the party-goers to leave him because of his grief. This is what happens with the people of God. We believe what God says, and that gives a different perspective on what makes for good news or bad. Isaiah knew of the destruction of ‘the daughter of my people’. Such language fits the weakness of Jerusalem before a predator.  

 

22:5-7   In his vision Isaiah saw the valleys beside Jerusalem filled with enemy soldiers, though the people of his time looked out and saw life as usual. They refused the word which came from God.  Isaiah looked across the same valley and by the Holy Spirit saw what was coming. Perhaps for this reason the oracle is called The Valley of Vision.  An army of chariots and horsemen would enter their valleys. The sound changes from the sound of celebration and cheers to the noise of war.  The people hear the noise of the enemy pounding walls to break them down. Death is near at hand, and their cry of fear can be heard across the valley to the mountains beyond. Elam (the ally of Babylon) will attack and prevail. The Lord said so. Isaiah wept bitterly (v.4). The scene would change from a city “full” of revelers to a valley “full” of enemy soldiers (vv.2 & 7).

 

22:8-11   The self-confidence of Judah    What did they look to?  Looking is sometimes a way to express faith. The people were to look to the serpent on the pole to be healed (Numbers 21:9). When we “look to the Son” (John 6:40), we believe in Him, and we are saved. One must have confidence in something. Isaiah grieves that His people did not look to the Lord. Notice the contrast in 17:7,8 of looking to their Maker, and 22:11 where they do not. The great issue of faith is not how strong it is but to whom our eyes are turned. We are not saved by the quality of our believing but by the One in Whom we trust. Isaiah speaks in v.8 of a false trust. 31:1 is a perfect example of looking to Egypt with faith in the wrong direction.

 

They “looked to” weapons, their strengthened city walls, and they made great efforts to have a good supply of water. The water supply was a major issue. Covering over and protecting the spring outside Jerusalem was a major accomplishment in 2 Kings 20:20, 2 Chronicles 32:1-5,30. The threat to the water supply was a great anxiety to Ahaz in 7:3. 

 

The defenses of Judah are stripped away (v.8) may be translated better, “When He removed Judah’s protective covering.”  It was the Lord who sent the enemy against Jerusalem. This text does not deal with Jerusalem’s devotion to false gods. The point here is simply that they trusted in their defenses, weapons and water supply.  They would get death, defection by leaders (v.3), and defeat. Isaiah’s vision has one main point: they did everything else to protect themselves except trust in the Lord. Whatever we trust in is always our real god.

 

The Promise of God to Preserve Jerusalem    It was the Lord who chose Jerusalem as the place where He would be in the midst of His people. “God is in the midst of her…” (Psalm 46). How can the mighty Lord fail to protect His own from enemies who are weak against Him? The presence of the Lord among them did not mean that they had faith in Him. He was left out of their thinking, yet it was the Lord who gave them that city, and it was the Lord who planned (v.11) the city to have its chief spring outside its walls in a vulnerable location. Since the Lord had chosen the city and promised provision for it (Psalm 132:13-18), they could rest assured in Him, and not worry about water. Their Lord, the LORD Almighty (vv.5,12,14) had covenanted to be their God. He swore to maintain the line of David (Psalm 132:10-12) and David’s city as well (v.9).

 

The eventual destruction of Jerusalem and the captivity of their king, a son of David, did not spell unfaithfulness by God. He restored Jerusalem and wiped out Babylon. The city would be rebuilt (44:28). His believing people are citizens (Ephesians 2:12,19) of the new Jerusalem (Hebrews 12:22). We look for a city with foundations, whose builder and maker is God. This is in sharp contrast to the diverted faith of Jerusalem with its frenzied building of walls to save themselves (22:8-11).

 

 

22:12-13   These words, written in a past tense, are still part of a prophecy of the future.  Isaiah speaks as if present 150 years later. The call of the Lord is to repent in remorse for their sin. Instead they gave themselves to revelry, an important theme in this oracle! Not seeing that their world would crumble, instead of turning to the Lord in godly sorrow, they sought all the pleasure they could squeeze out of life. The phrase words “eat, drink and be merry” (See 1 Corinthians 15:32), are a fitting description of Western decadence. Their misplaced trust let them down but when the results came in and destruction was imminent, they still do not repent. Repentance is a wonderful gift of God (Acts 11:18). God was left out of their plans. Their hope was in other things and when it all went wrong, they could then say “tomorrow we die”.  They were godless to the end and “refused to repent” as in Revelation 16:9. God had obviously called Isaiah to preach to hardened rejecters of God’s word (6:9,10).

 

22:14    A play on words is the uncovered of v. 8 (God’s protective covering removed) is matched by another uncovering.  What is brought out into the open or revealed in v.14 is a statement from God to Isaiah. The prophet does not make up his message; it is not a cleverly invented story (2 Peter 1:16). Prophecy does not originates in the mind of a true prophet. Its origin is God (2 Peter 1:20,21). And so here in v.14, Isaiah speaks of the source of his message.  

 

That message was that this sin will not be atoned for. What sin?: their self-confidence, false confidence, and their rejection of God’s promise of protection and His fidelity to His covenant with His people. This sin stretched over generations in the face of the many appeals of God’s prophets. So they would bear the horrible consequences themselves. It is true that God is a God of mercy, yet He has no obligation to show mercy to anyone. His appeals were to people to repent so they could have mercy. They rejected mercy and God left them in their unrepentant state. He may extend or withhold grace; He always exercises justice. We never say God showed us grace because we repented. That is backwards; we repented because God showed us grace. Otherwise we would be right in there with the unrepentant ones we read about in Isaiah 22.

 

Sin not atoned for, is a simple way to say it will not be forgiven. There is an unbreakable link between atonement and forgiveness. Not all sin is atoned for according to v. 14. Had it been atoned for by the sacrifice of Christ, they would not have endured the wrath of God. His wrath cannot fall on the Redeemer and also on the sinner for whom atonement was made.

 

Isaiah says “the Lord, the LORD Almighty”.  This precise combination appears 4 times here and 4 times in chapter 10 (plus 1:24; 3:1,15; 19:4; 28:22).  Lord (Adonai) shows He is sovereign; only persons in authority are called Adonai.  LORD is His name Yahweh, the Lord who saves and redeems, the covenant keeping faithful One. Almighty connects to ‘of hosts’, or ‘of armies’; a word stressing His power. This is the Lord, the LORD Almighty they refused to trust and obey.

 

Shebna and Eliakim

 

This is the only time an oracle is about individuals; these men are mentioned also in 36:3,11 and 37:2.  Shebna was a self-serving, self-confident man, who as an individual characterized the sin characterized in the oracle of the Valley of Vision. Eliakim, as a man of more character and even appointed by God, then became the hope of many.  

 

22:15-19    Shebna had power; he was in charge of the palace. The question, “What are you doing here?” like v.1 is derogatory.  Shebna even wanted to have a king’s tomb so he could parade his prominence.  In life, he rode in splendid chariots, but the Lord would depose him from his lofty office.  Instead of a grand tomb he would be thrown far away to some unknown place.  It would not be surprising if Shebna had coveted the throne, one to which in God’s covenant with David Shebna  had no right. He coveted position and possessions, and was a disgrace to his master’s house.  

 

22:20-25    Eliakim, however, was not a disgrace like Shebna, but an honor! (v.23). God gave him position; he did not seize it for himself. God invested him with the insignia of office, the special clothes of Shebna.  He would be respected as a father to those who live in Jerusalem.

 

Rather than being a disgrace and a competitor to the house of David, Eliakim was given such rank to serve it that he has the key to the house of David.  He knew his place and wielded authority properly.  

 

The Keys of the Kingdom    Only here in the Old Testament is there mention of the key. This is important in the New Testament, because the key of David is held by Christ, the true Son of David (Revelation 3:7-10).  Christ gave the keys to the kingdom of heaven to the apostles of the church (Matthew 16:17-19). In other words, the authority of Christ to open and close the kingdom was given to the church to act in His Name directed by His word. His representatives open to those who by the proclamation of the gospel, confess and believe in Christ. Believers enter God’s kingdom with the door unlocked under the authority of God, Whose gospel is one the lips of men. The church excludes or shuts out by discipline those who reject Him and disobey Him. It is impossible to have such a corporate scenario of authority, inclusion and exclusion from a body unless there is a visible church body in which these commanded responsibilities function. Thus the reformers never sought to get rid of the church, but to save it from its corruption. Life in Christ’s body is a Biblical obligation. It is a surprise that the imagery of a key appears first in connection with Eliakim, a man barely known in Scripture, and one who was not himself a king. (There is a similar passage in 1 Chronicles 9:22-27. There it speaks of authorized gate-keepers guarding the House of the Lord. “…They had charge of the key for opening it each morning.”

 

Why the big disappointment?  God had given Eliakim position, making him a peg in a firm place.  The glory of his family rested on him. The picture is of all these breakable dishes hanging on a peg.  Yet it will break, sheared off “in that day”. It is easier to see why God puts down the proud Shebna, but God also frustrates faith being placed in a faithful man like Eliakim. Only God, and God alone, is our refuge and strength, and worthy of all trust. All other trusts, even in the very best of men, will crumble.