After bringing oracles concerning surrounding nations that will impact Israel, Isaiah now has a word directly for the people and leaders of Judah. The first half of the chapter (1-14) records a plaintive pronouncement of Judah and Jerusalem’s coming demise. What makes matters even more tragic is that, in the face of impending destruction, the leaders flee (3) and the people party (2, 13). Or they seek to muscle up and protect themselves, not looking to the Lord for help (9-11).
The oracle begins with the Lord asking a question of the people of Jerusalem: “What do you mean that you have gone up all of you, to the housetops, you who are full of shoutings, tumultuous city; exultant town?” (1-2). The Lord’s question pictures the people as stirred up, excited. As the oracle unfolds, we find out why. The nation’s leaders had fled, seeking to escape impending danger (“your leaders have fled together”—3). The attempt to flee to safety proved futile; the leaders were captured without a fight (“without the bow”—3) and the city was left to fend for itself.
Isaiah can see how this will end badly; he grieves for the coming “destruction of the daughter of my people”, refusing to be comforted (4). He realizes that the day of God’s judgment approaches: “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 shouting to the mountains” (5). Now we see that the inhabitants of the city are in a tumult and are full of shoutings (1-2). An invading army (Elam and Kir—6) are filling the valleys with chariots and standing at the gates (7).
Isaiah realizes God has “taken away the covering of Judah” (8). God’s people, having turned away from him, are on their own now.
The response of the people is both telling and tragic. Seeing danger, they are stirred to action (8-11). The cadence in these verses comes from the repetition of the pronoun “you.” You looked to gather your weapons from the “house of the Forest” (8). You sought to repair breaches in the city wall using stones from houses in the city (9-10). You replenished the water supply, preparing for a siege (9, 11). But tragically, “you did not look to him who did it or see him who planned it long ago” (11).
Consigned to defeat and death, they choose to live for their last bits of pleasure in the present. Where the Lord wanted them to humble themselves before him in repentance, they choose to live like there is no tomorrow: “Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die” (13). The Lord reveals to Isaiah that these words will come true: “Surely, this iniquity will not be atoned for until you die” (14). The Lord of hosts (8, 14) is withholding the help of his heavenly armies and leaving his earthly people to face the consequences of their unfaithful ways.
The back half of the chapter focuses on two court officials from Hezekiah’s reign: Shebna and Eliakim (15-25). As at the start of the chapter, the Lord begins with a question, this time of an individual not the entire city. The Lord sends Isaiah to ask Shebna, “What have you to do here, and whom have you here, that you have cut out here a tomb for yourself, you who cut out a tomb on the height and carve a dwelling for yourself in the rock?” (16). Evidently, Shebna, a “steward” in the king’s court, was using his position to enrich himself and secure his legacy. He had amassed “glorious chariots” (18) and had his own tomb (a monument to his legacy) carved out of rock (16).
Rather than use his position as steward to serve God’s people, Shebna chooses to serve himself (16). The Lord takes this misuse of leadership seriously. He sends Shebna a dire message: “Behold, the Lord will hurl you away violently, O you strong man” (17). Shebna is pictured as a ball that the Lord will grab and throw into a “wide land” (18). In this place of exile, Shebna will die in shame: “There you shall die. . . you shame of your master’s house”—18.
The Lord will replace Shebna with Eliakim, one he calls “my servant” (20). Rather than serving his own selfish interests, Eliakim will use his position of authority to serve God’s people: “And he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah” (21).
The Lord finds Eliakim trustworthy and so entrusts him with great authority over Judah. Eliakim receives “the key of the house of David” with authority to make binding decisions for the nation: “He shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open” (22).
Because of his heart to serve, the Lord promises to firmly establish Eliakim’s leadership: “And I will fasten him like a peg in a secure place” (23). The rest of his “father’s house” will rely on him to hold them up (24). Whereas Shebna is called “the shame of your master’s house” (18), Eliakim will become “a throne of honor to his father’s house” (23).
For a time, Eliakim will be able to sustain the weight of leadership, holding up those who rely on him. However, in God’s time, he will no longer be able to endure. This peg “that was fastened in a secure place will give way, and it will be cut down and fall” (25). When Eliakim goes down, so do all those relying on him: “and the load that was on it will be cut off” (25).
Behold Your God
The Lord, and the covering He gives, is our only security in dangerous times. The people of Jerusalem fail to understand that without the Lord’s protective covering (8), all their efforts to protect themselves (8-11) are useless. As Psalm 127:1 reminds, “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.” Taking action to repair walls and store up water are not innately wrong; Hezekiah dug a tunnel to give water to Jerusalem in the face of danger (2 Chron 32:1-4). However, our actions must flow out of faith in the Lord not faith in our own defenses.
The Lord holds leaders accountable, bringing down the selfish and raising up those who serve. The account of Shebna and Eliakim—a tale of two leaders—is a case study in the kind of leadership God wants for His people. Shebna used his strength and position to accumulate wealth (glorious chariots) and carve out a legacy (tomb in the rock). God saw this as shameful and threw him out of office like a ball flung to a distant place (18). Eliakim used his authority (robe, sash, key, throne) to be a “father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the house of Judah” (21). God established him like a “peg in a secure place”, making him “a throne of honour to his father’s house” (23). The Lord assesses how leaders handle their positions. Those who serve themselves (“carve a dwelling for yourself”—16) will be deposed; those who serve His purposes and His people are made secure until their season of leadership is over.
Here Am I
I must use God-given authority for the good of God’s people. God is not opposed to humans having power. Eliakim had decision making power that could not be overturned. However, God wants a leader to use authority for the good of His people. Contrary to Shebna’s example, a trustworthy leader doesn’t pad his pockets or carve out his own legacy.
I want to be a leader God treats as a peg not a ball. For his selfish leadership, Shebna is thrown like a ball to a “wide land” (18). Eliakim, who serves God’s purposes as a father to His people, is fastened by God “like a peg in a secure place” (23). Lord, make me a peg not a ball.
Leaders carry the weight of caring for others for a time. Eliakim becomes a secure peg to sustain the people of Jerusalem. He upholds them by carrying the weight of leadership in a God-honouring way. However, he doesn’t last forever; ultimately the peg will “give way” (25). No leader lasts forever, except the One True Leader—the Lord of hosts. My hope is to carry the weight of leadership for as long as the Lord has me in my place.