Isaiah 22:1-25 Exploring the Passage

Below are some preliminary questions to assist in the study of this passage. For a comprehensive study of the passage, download the Study Guide (PDF download).

A note on the sequence of events spoken of in Isaiah 22

In the face of the impending disaster the people of Judah sought to fortify Jerusalem as a final effort to ward off the Assyrian forces (vs. 8-11). But when all appeared to be lost, they resigned themselves to death and determined to engage in one final revelry (vs. 12-14). Then Jerusalem was unexpectedly spared when king Hezekiah paid a huge ransom to the Assyrian king (see 2 Kings 18:13-16). Now the people are ecstatic that they have been spared from disaster (vs. 1-3) and it is now that Shebna begins construction on his tomb (vs. 15-16)—a testimony to his confidence that God’s peace and blessing have returned to Jerusalem and the people of Judah.

1. When the people of Judah were confronted with the impending disaster of conquest by the Assyrians, what did they do? See Isaiah 22:8b-11 (printed below)

…on that day you depended on the armor stored in the Palace of the Forest. (9) You saw that the city of David had many breaches in its defenses; you stored up water in the Lower Pool. (10) You counted the buildings in Jerusalem, and you tore down houses to fortify the wall. (11) You built a reservoir between the two walls to store the water of the Old Pool. But you did not look to him who had done this, neither did you express reverence for him who planned all this long ago. (Isaiah 22:8b-11)

When the people of Judah were confronted with this impending disaster of conquest by the Assyrians they looked to their own arsenal of weapons in a futile hope of defending themselves (verse 8b). They tore down the houses of Jerusalem in an effort to fortify the walls and they fashioned a reservoir to assure themselves of a water supply (verses 9-11a). But, as verse 11b, indicates, “you did not look to him who had done this”—they did not look to the Lord, acknowledging His righteous judgment against them, pleading for His mercy, and returning to the Lord their God.

2. When it became obvious that they could not defeat the Assyrians and all appeared to be lost, what did the people of Judah do (see verse 13 printed below?) But what had the Lord intended for them to do (see verse 12 printed below?)

But look! There was joy and revelry, there was the slaughtering of cattle and the killing of sheep, there was the eating of meat and the drinking of wine! You said, Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we will die! (Isaiah 22:13)

On that day the Lord, Jehovah of hosts, called you to weep and to wail, to shave your head and to put on sackcloth. (Isaiah 22:12)

When it became obvious that they could not defeat the Assyrians and all appeared to be lost, the people of Judah resigned themselves to their fate and determined to have one last wild revelry, convinced that it was inevitable that they were about to succumb to utter defeat and destruction. This was their reaction when the Lord had intended for their present situation to bring them to mourning and repentance.

3. Because of Judah’s sense of resignation in the face of the Assyrian invasion—and decision to therefore engage in one last act of revelry—rather than repentance, what does the Lord declare that He will do? See Isaiah 22:14 (printed below)

Jehovah of hosts has revealed his intention in my ears: Surely, this iniquity will not be forgiven until you die, declares the Lord, Jehovah of hosts. (Isaiah 22:14)

Seeing this response made by the people, the Lord solemnly declares to Isaiah about these people: “Surely, this iniquity will not be forgiven until you die, declares the Lord, Jehovah of hosts” (verse 14). When there is resignation (all is lost), instead of repentance; when there is ungodly laughter, instead of godly sorrow; then there is no place for forgiveness (contrast the case of the Prodigal Son). In his case godly sorrow and repentance were met with mercy, compassion, and restoration (Luke 15:14-18,20).

4. In verse one we find Isaiah inquiring, “What is the matter, what causes all of you to go up to the housetops?” Isaiah is asking, “What is all the commotion?” What is the answer to his question? See verse 2 (printed below)

O you city full of shouting, a city full of revelry, a joyful town! Your slain have not been slain by the sword after all, neither have they died in battle. (Isaiah 22:2)

From verse 4 we learn that Isaiah had gone into seclusion to bewail what appeared to be the certain destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Assyrians. But now, to his surprise, Isaiah hears shouts of celebration; and he discovers that the celebration is due to the fact that the imminent conquest by the Assyrians has been averted. In verse two he writes, “Your slain have not been slain with the sword after all.” In the face of the threatened invasion by the Assyrians, the armies of Judah viewed themselves as dead men, slain in battle, but now that devastating defeat has been averted. 2 Kings 18:13-16 describes the dishonorable and spiritually deplorable manner in which the city of Jerusalem was delivered: Sennacherib demanded the equivalent of eleven tons of silver and one ton of gold; and king Hezekiah paid the price by robbing the temple of the Lord and emptying the royal treasury. The people now rejoice that the city has been delivered and respond with a tremendous celebration.

5. What does Shebna construct for himself (see verses 15-16 printed below?) What does Shebna’s action tell us about his future expectations? But what does the Lord tell him to expect (see verses 17-18 printed below?)

This is what the Lord, Jehovah of hosts, says, Go to this steward, Shebna, who is in charge of the palace, and say to him, (16) What are you doing here and who gave you permission to cut out a tomb for yourself here?—cutting out a tomb for himself on the height, chiseling a resting place for himself in the rock! (Isaiah 22:15-16)

Listen! Jehovah, like a strong man, will violently hurl you away! Indeed, he will grasp you firmly, (18) wrap you up tightly like a ball, and throw you into a vast country. There you will die. There shall your splendid chariots remain—you disgrace to your master’s house! (Isaiah 22:17-18)

Some time after this delirious celebration, one of the chief officials, Shebna, begins construction of an elaborate mausoleum for himself. Hewing out a sepulchre indicates that Shebna expected to peacefully live out his life in Israel and be laid to rest in the land of promise, being at peace with God in life and in death. Furthermore, Shebna’s act was a public declaration to the nation of his confidence that the Lord was on their side and would shelter them, no matter how they might live. Based upon the “miraculous” deliverance from the Assyrians—secured at the price of robbing the Lord’s temple and oppressing the people with a hefty tax to raise the demanded ransom money—Shebna had apparently concluded that the Lord would take care of His people and be tolerant of their sinful conduct. Through His prophet, Isaiah, the Lord declares His judgment against Shebna: like a man hurls a ball, so will the Lord hurl Shebna out of the Promised Land and into a large and distant land, and there he would die, exiled from the Promised Land, separated from the blessing of God and consigned to His righteous judgment (verses 17-19).