Isaiah 22
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
The burden of the valley of vision. What aileth thee now, that thou art wholly gone up to the housetops?
1. The burden of the valley of vision] Or, The Oracle “Valley of Vision.” The heading (prefixed by an editor) is taken from a phrase in Isaiah 22:5 (see the note).

What aileth thee now] Better: What meanest thou, I wonder (cf. ch. Isaiah 3:15).

gone up to the housetops] cf. ch. Isaiah 15:3; Jdg 16:27; Nehemiah 8:16. The flat roofs of the houses are thronged by excited citizens keeping holiday, perhaps watching some public spectacle. The prophet, wandering disconsolate through the streets, ironically inquires the reason of this unseasonable demonstration.

1–4. The joy of the people and the sorrow of the prophet.

Ch. Isaiah 22:1-14. The inexpiable sin of Jerusalem

The key to this passage—the most lurid and minatory of all Isaiah’s prophecies—is the irreconcileable antagonism between the mood of the prophet and the state of public feeling around him. In a time of universal mirth and festivity he alone is overwhelmed with grief and refuses to be comforted. In the rejoicings of the populace he reads the evidence of their hopeless impenitence and insensibility, and he concludes his discourse by expressing the conviction that at last they have sinned beyond the possibility of pardon. The circumstances recall our Lord’s lamentation over Jerusalem on the day of His triumphal entry (Luke 19:41 ff.).

It may be regarded as certain that the prophecy belongs to the period of Sennacherib’s invasion (701), although it is difficult to select a moment when all the elements of the highly complex situation with which it deals might have been combined. There is just one incident that seems to meet the requirements of the case, viz., the raising of the blockade of Jerusalem, in consequence of Hezekiah’s ignominious submission to the terms of Sennacherib (see General Introd., pp. xxxviii f.) It must be noted that this was not the last episode in that memorable campaign. The real crisis came a little later when the Assyrian king endeavoured by threats to extort the entire surrender of the capital. It was only at that juncture that Hezekiah unreservedly accepted the policy of implicit trust in Jehovah which Isaiah had all along urged on him; and it was then that the prophet stepped to the front with an absolute and unconditional assurance that Jerusalem should not be violated. That the earlier deliverance should have caused an outbreak of popular joy is intelligible enough; as it is also intelligible that Isaiah should have kept his eye fixed on the dangers yet ahead. The allusions to the recent blockade are amply accounted for, and the prophet’s expectation of a terrible disaster yet in store is obviously based on his view of the continued and aggravated impenitence of his countrymen.

The following analysis of the prophecy is partly influenced by this reading of the historical setting, and it is right to say that at one or two points the view adopted is somewhat tentative.

i. Isaiah 22:1-4. While the city abandons itself to demonstrations of frantic gaiety, in spite of the disgrace that has overtaken the country, Isaiah shuts himself up in solitary and inconsolable anguish.

ii. Isaiah 22:5-7. He sees in vision a great day of calamity approaching, when the Assyrian shall again thunder at the gates of Jerusalem; and although the picture is not completed it leaves the impression that the city’s day of doom has arrived.

iii. Isaiah 22:8-11. At this point (although the transition is extremely abrupt) the prophet seems to go back to the past, in order to trace the evidence of the people’s unbelief. In the height of the danger they had paid minute attention to human measures of defence, but with never a thought of Him whose strange work then appealed so closely to their conscience.

iv. Isaiah 22:12-14. And this spirit of unbelief remains with them still. It has caused them to misread the providential lesson of their escape, and to find an occasion of thoughtless revelry and merriment in what was so obviously a call to serious reflection and penitence. For such a sin Isaiah has only a “fearful looking-for of judgment” to announce.

Thou that art full of stirs, a tumultuous city, a joyous city: thy slain men are not slain with the sword, nor dead in battle.
2. full of stirs] R.V. full of shoutings. joyous city] jubilant city, as ch. Isaiah 32:13. A festive disposition seems to have characterised the inhabitants of Jerusalem in Isaiah’s time; cf. also ch. Isaiah 5:14. That their gladness on this occasion was “the forced gaiety of despair” is indicated by nothing in the passage; it was due to the sense of relief from imminent peril.

thy slain … battle] Jerusalem’s warriors have not met a glorious death on the battle-field, but have been taken prisoners and ignominiously executed (see Isaiah 22:3). Some critics, however, take this clause and the next verse as the description of a vision which the prophet has of the future. On that view, which is plausible enough, it would be more natural to think of deaths from famine and pestilence (Lamentations 4:9).

All thy rulers are fled together, they are bound by the archers: all that are found in thee are bound together, which have fled from far.
3. thy rulers] thy chieftains,—the same word as in Isaiah 1:10, there in its civil, here in its military sense.

they are bound by the archers] Better: without bow (which they had thrown away) they were taken prisoners.

all that are found in thee] all of thine that were found. which have fled from far] Rather as R.V. they fled afar off. The text of the verse is possibly in some disorder.

Therefore said I, Look away from me; I will weep bitterly, labour not to comfort me, because of the spoiling of the daughter of my people.
4. Look away from me] i.e. “leave me alone,” as Job 7:19.

labour not is strictly press not upon me, and spoiling should be destruction. The prophet’s gaze is already on the future.

daughter of my people] The phrase, common in Jeremiah and Lamentations, occurs only here in Isaiah.

For it is a day of trouble, and of treading down, and of perplexity by the Lord GOD of hosts in the valley of vision, breaking down the walls, and of crying to the mountains.
5. The first half of the verse reads: For a day of tumult and trampling and confusion hath Jehovah of hosts,—“a series of inimitable assonances” (Cheyne) in the Hebr. (cf. Nahum 2:10 [Hebrews 11]). The form of the sentence is the same as in Isaiah 2:12.

The words in the valley of vision belong (in spite of the accents) to the second half; render: in the valley of vision (they are) battering down the wall, and a cry (of distress rises) to the mountain. “Valley of vision” is taken by some as a proper name (valley of Ḥizzâyôn), though no such place is known; by others as a mystic name for Jerusalem (like Ariel, Isaiah 29:1), which is hardly possible, since the word for “valley” denotes a deep and narrow ravine. Some particular valley round Jerusalem must be meant, most probably the Tyropœon; but why it is called the “valley of (prophetic) vision” we cannot tell. The suggestion that Isaiah lived and had his visions there is very far-fetched.

5–7. The connexion here becomes very uncertain. It seems clear that Isaiah 22:5 (from its form) must refer to the future, while Isaiah 22:8-11 undoubtedly go back to what is past. The transition must apparently take place either at Isaiah 22:6 or Isaiah 22:8. Now the tenses in Isaiah 22:6-7 would be naturally construed as historic perfects, and at first sight it seems obvious that these verses are intimately connected with Isaiah 22:8 ff., and belong like them to the past. But on the other hand it has to be considered that (a) Isaiah 22:5 is too short to stand alone; (b) the preparations for the siege (8 ff.) are in any case distinct from (if not prior to) the assault described in 6 f.; and (c) there is no evidence of an attempt to carry Jerusalem by storm during the first blockade. Hence it seems better, in spite of the violence of the transition at Isaiah 22:8, to regard Isaiah 22:5-7 as an account of what Isaiah has seen in vision, viz., the return of the enemy in force to the city.

And Elam bare the quiver with chariots of men and horsemen, and Kir uncovered the shield.
6. Elam (see on Isaiah 21:2) and Kir (not identified: 2 Kings 16:9; Amos 1:5; Amos 9:7) are mentioned as furnishing auxiliaries to the Assyrian army. There is force in Cheyne’s argument that some words may have fallen out before this verse, since it is difficult to understand the prominence given to these mercenary troops in the description of the siege. The “bow of Elam” is mentioned in Jeremiah 49:35.

with chariots of men and horsemen] a difficult expression. Perhaps “men on horseback among the chariots” (Dillm.).

uncovered the shield] Shields when not in use were protected by a leather covering (Cæs. de Bell. Gall. ii. 21).

And it shall come to pass, that thy choicest valleys shall be full of chariots, and the horsemen shall set themselves in array at the gate.
7. And it shall come to pass] strictly, And it came to pass, in the scene beheld by the prophet.

set themselves … gate] take up their station towards the gate.

And he discovered the covering of Judah, and thou didst look in that day to the armour of the house of the forest.
8. he discovered the covering of Judah] Probably “exposed the defencelessness of the state.” The subj. may be Jehovah or the enemy, or it may be indefinite. The clause is virtually the protasis to the following “And when the defencelessness of Judah was exposed, thou didst look, &c.”

the house of the forest] of Lebanon (1 Kings 7:2; 1 Kings 10:17). It was evidently used as an arsenal.

8–11. The preparations for the siege. Cf. 2 Chronicles 32:2-5; 2 Chronicles 32:30; 2 Kings 20:20.

Ye have seen also the breaches of the city of David, that they are many: and ye gathered together the waters of the lower pool.
9. The first half reads Ye saw (i.e. examined) the breaches of the city of David (the citadel of Zion, 2 Samuel 5:7; 2 Samuel 5:9) for they were many. Jerusalem was evidently quite unfit to stand a siege. The water supply was still defective, as it had been 34 years before (see ch. Isaiah 7:3). The lower pool is not elsewhere mentioned, although its existence is implied by ch. Isaiah 7:3. It was obviously within the walls, and probably lay near the mouth of the Tyropœon Valley.

And ye have numbered the houses of Jerusalem, and the houses have ye broken down to fortify the wall.
10. And ye have numbered the houses] And ye numbered, apparently to see which could best be spared for the purpose specified in the next clause,—“to fortify the wall,” cf. Jeremiah 33:4.

Ye made also a ditch between the two walls for the water of the old pool: but ye have not looked unto the maker thereof, neither had respect unto him that fashioned it long ago.
11. For ditch read reservoir as R.V. The “old pool” is very probably the pool of Siloam (though this is not certain) and the “reservoir” would be intended to retain its surplus water.

between the two walls] a part of the city adjoining the royal gardens, where there was a gate (see 2 Kings 25:4; Jeremiah 39:4; Jeremiah 52:7). The locality is doubtless the entrance of the Tyropœon Valley, where the wall of the Western Hill and that of Zion (and Ophel) met at a sharp angle. The space so designated was of course outside the city; whether it was protected by a third wall crossing the valley we do not know.

but ye have not looked …] but ye looked not. This clause carries us back to Isaiah 22:8-9, where the same two verbs (“looked,” “saw”) are employed.

the Maker thereof] Better him that did it.

fashioned it long ago] lit. formed it from afar. The sin of the rulers of Jerusalem is that same indifference to the work of Jehovah with which the prophet had charged them many years before (see Isaiah 22:12). To Isaiah, history is the evolution of a consistent, pre-determined plan of Jehovah, to the men of his day it was merely a confused struggle between opposing forces. Their failure to discern the hand of God in the events that had befallen them was the crowning proof of their spiritual insensibility; their ill-timed frivolity on this occasion seemed to the prophet to seal their fate.

And in that day did the Lord GOD of hosts call to weeping, and to mourning, and to baldness, and to girding with sackcloth:
12. in that day did the Lord … call] not only by the silent march of events, but also by the voice of His prophet: see ch. Isaiah 32:11. The call was to seriousness and humiliation, expressed by the customary signs of mourning. (Cf. Joel 2:12; Amos 8:10; Isaiah 3:24; Isaiah 20:2, &c.)

12–14. The ignoring of Jehovah’s presence in this crisis is an unpardonable sin.

And behold joy and gladness, slaying oxen, and killing sheep, eating flesh, and drinking wine: let us eat and drink; for to morrow we shall die.
13. Instead of this the people rush to drown reflection in riotous festivities. The immediate occasion of the revelry was no doubt a great sacrifice of thanksgiving to Jehovah for their unexpected deliverance, but this only rendered their irreligious spirit more detestable to Jehovah (cf. Isaiah 1:10-17).

for to morrow we shall die] Cf. 1 Corinthians 15:32. Probably a current proverb. But the revellers may very well have been conscious that their escape had only procured for them a precarious respite. And in the next verse Isaiah assures them that they shall die.

And it was revealed in mine ears by the LORD of hosts, Surely this iniquity shall not be purged from you till ye die, saith the Lord GOD of hosts.
14. And it was revealed … hosts] Render with R.V. And Jehovah of hosts revealed himself in mine ears. The message comes to the prophet like an external voice, which he knows to be that of the Lord (cf. ch. Isaiah 5:9).

Surely …] The form is that of adjuration (cf. Isaiah 14:24).

purged from you] Better; expiated for you. Cf. 1 Samuel 3:14. The threat neither implies that the sin could be expiated by the death of the sinner, nor means merely that guilt would lie on them as long as they lived; it is a definite intimation that the unexpiated sin will call down punishment, and the punishment will be death.

Thus saith the Lord GOD of hosts, Go, get thee unto this treasurer, even unto Shebna, which is over the house, and say,
15. this treasurer] Better: this official. The “this” is contemptuous. The word for “official” (sôkçn) is not elsewhere found. It seems to mean either “associate” (like the “king’s friend” of 2 Samuel 15:37; 2 Samuel 16:16; 1 Kings 4:5; 1 Chronicles 27:33), or “administrator” (the Assyrian šaknu).

which is over the house] (cf. 1 Kings 4:6; 1 Kings 18:3). This office has been compared to that of “mayor of the palace” under the Merovingian kings.

Ch. Isaiah 22:15-25. A Philippic against an influential Politician

Shebna, the minister here addressed, is supposed from his name and from Isaiah’s indignation at his ambitious desire to have a magnificent sepulchre in Jerusalem, to have been a foreigner in the royal service. The office which he holds is the highest in the court, and is of course a measure of his influence with the king. That he was a partisan of the Egyptian alliance may be safely assumed, and it is likely that Isaiah had found in him the most astute and resolute opponent of the policy which he advocated. This opposition, together with hearty contempt for the character of the man, is the occasion of Isaiah’s only invective against an individual. The prophecy is therefore probably contemporaneous with ch. 28–31. Eliakim was probably the leader of the party favourable to Isaiah’s views, and the substitution of the one minister for the other was equivalent to a radical change of policy on the part of Hezekiah. This change seems to have taken place before the crisis of the invasion, for in ch. Isaiah 36:3, Isaiah 37:2 we find Eliakim in possession of the dignity which Shebna here holds. But since the latter then occupied the lower office of secretary, we must conclude that some compromise had been arranged, and that Shebna’s power was not altogether broken.

The passage contains three parts:

i. The denunciation of Shebna, and the announcement of his deposition and banishment, Isaiah 22:15-19.

ii. The installation of Eliakim, and the honour of his family, Isaiah 22:20-23.

iii. A very perplexing appendix, which seems to warn Eliakim against nepotism, and to anticipate the ruin of his house, Isaiah 22:24-25.

What hast thou here? and whom hast thou here, that thou hast hewed thee out a sepulchre here, as he that heweth him out a sepulchre on high, and that graveth an habitation for himself in a rock?
16. We may imagine the meeting between Isaiah and the vizier to have taken place at the sepulchre which the latter, after the Eastern fashion, was having prepared in his lifetime. By this act the novus homo asserted his equality with the aristocracy of Jerusalem, a piece of presumption which evidently kindles the ire of the prophet.

What hast thou (to do) here? and whom (as kindred or descendants) hast thou here?] i.e. “Thou neither hast the rights of a citizen, nor canst claim to be the founder of a family.” Shebna’s grave was simply the monument of his own vulgar and ostentatious vanity.

that thou hast hewed … here] (see below)—in so conspicuous a position. That Shebna actually placed his tomb amongst those of the kings and princes of Judah is not to be assumed; but he had plainly chosen a pretentious situation.

as he that heweth …] Render: Hewing out his sepulchre on high! Graving in the rock an habitation for him! Ejaculations of unutterable scorn. The use of the third person suggests that there were bystanders.

Behold, the LORD will carry thee away with a mighty captivity, and will surely cover thee.
17. will carry thee away … captivity] Translate: will fling thee forth violently, O thou man. The A.V. preserves the sense but entirely misses the bold metaphor, which is carried on to the middle of Isaiah 22:18. The next words and will surely cover thee, when so rendered, hardly suit the context. The verb may be the equivalent of an Arabic verb, meaning “seize,” which gives an appropriate idea, although it is the solitary instance in the O.T. Render accordingly: and will seize thee firmly (lit. “with a seizing”).

17, 18. The doom of Shebna is set forth in language of extraordinary force and passion.

He will surely violently turn and toss thee like a ball into a large country: there shalt thou die, and there the chariots of thy glory shall be the shame of thy lord's house.
18. The first half of the verse reads: He will roll thee up in a bundle (and toss thee) like a ball into a spacious land (lit. “a land broad on both sides,” as Genesis 34:21; Jdg 18:10). The words “and toss thee” have to be supplied from the context; the construction is pregnant. The figure expresses banishment from Jehovah’s territory, the “spacious land” referring probably to the Assyrian Empire.

there shall thou die (cf. Amos 7:17) and there shall be thy splendid chariots, thou shame of thy lord’s house] To ride forth with “chariots and horses” was once regarded as a sign of aspiring to the highest dignity (2 Samuel 15:1; 1 Kings 1:5); later it seems to have been the privilege of the princely caste (Jeremiah 17:25), peculiarly offensive, therefore, in a foreign adventurer. The concentrated bitterness of the last words points to something worse than political differences as the cause of Isaiah’s antipathy to Shebna.

And I will drive thee from thy station, and from thy state shall he pull thee down.
19. The subject here is Jehovah; the change of person resembles that in Isaiah 10:12. After Isaiah 22:18, the verse reads like an anti-climax, but it is added to prepare for

And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will call my servant Eliakim the son of Hilkiah:
20. Eliakim is called my servant as Isaiah is in ch. Isaiah 20:3.

20–23. The elevation of the head of the prophetic party at court.

And I will clothe him with thy robe, and strengthen him with thy girdle, and I will commit thy government into his hand: and he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Judah.
21. robe (“tunic”) … girdle] The palace officials seem to have worn distinctive liveries (1 Kings 10:5); the uniform of the vizier was apparently a tunic and a girdle of special pattern. The word for “girdle” is used elsewhere only of the priestly girdle (see Exodus 39:29, &c.). For strengthen, translate gird.

he shall be a father]—a beneficent administrator, as Shebna had not been. How much in the East the welfare of the people depends on the character of the vizier is known from the legends of Haroun-al-Rashid. For the expression cf. Genesis 45:8; 1Ma 11:32.

And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; so he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.
22. the key of the house of David] The symbol of unlimited authority over the royal household, carrying with it a similar influence in all affairs of state; like Pharaoh’s signet-ring in the hands of Joseph, Genesis 41:40-44 upon his shoulder] Cf. Isaiah 9:6; and with the whole verse comp. Revelation 3:7.

And I will fasten him as a nail in a sure place; and he shall be for a glorious throne to his father's house.
23. a nail] usually a “tent-peg” (and so probably in a figurative sense, Zechariah 10:4); but also (Ezekiel 15:3) a peg on which household utensils are suspended. The latter idea (according to Isaiah 22:25) must be intended here.

a glorious throne] Better: a seat of honour.

to his father’s house]—all his nearest kindred, who are through him advanced from obscurity to great dignity.

And they shall hang upon him all the glory of his father's house, the offspring and the issue, all vessels of small quantity, from the vessels of cups, even to all the vessels of flagons.
24. An under-current of satire seems unmistakeable.

all the glory] perhaps: the whole weight (see “burden” in next verse).

the offspring and the issue] the scions and the offshoots (Cheyne). The second expression is decidedly contemptuous, and so (more or less) are all that follow. It cannot be to Eliakim’s credit that the bulk of his relations are likened to the meanest kitchen utensils.

24, 25. If Isaiah 22:24 stood alone it might be barely possible to interpret it in a sense favourable to Eliakim. But taken in connexion with Isaiah 22:25 it seems to convey an imputation of the unworthy exercise of patronage on his part,—a filling of important offices with worthless relatives and dependents. Many commentators, it is true, hold that Isaiah 22:25 refers back to the fall of Shebna, but this is quite arbitrary. Shebna is not likened to a “nail in a sure place” and it is clearly implied that he had no “father’s house” in Jerusalem (Isaiah 22:16). It is hardly credible that Isaiah should have uttered such a threat along with the promises in Isaiah 22:20-23; but the last two verses may be an appendix written later, when abuses of trust in Eliakim’s family had begun to display themselves.

In that day, saith the LORD of hosts, shall the nail that is fastened in the sure place be removed, and be cut down, and fall; and the burden that was upon it shall be cut off: for the LORD hath spoken it.
25. The fall of Eliakim’s house, described under the same metaphor. It is not necessarily implied that the minister himself lived to see this reverse of fortune; living or dead, his name was the “peg” of the family’s nobility, and when the crash came, it might truly be said that the “peg fastened in a sure place” had been removed.

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