Isaiah part 16: The Second Cycle of Oracles - The Valley of Vision (Jerusalem): the unforgivable sin (chapter 22)
In the first cycle the microscope fell on the Northern Kingdom of Israel and their Syrian alliance, in this cycle the microscope falls on Judah, the Southern Kingdom, and the same bacteria is found - faith is abandoned for the quest of self-reliance. The people of God surrender to the pressure of the surrounding world. In chapter 22, three oracles (Jerusalem, Shebna, and Eliakim) repeat the same finding that the people of God, to whom God promised security and prosperity, have sought worldly security.
“And the Lord is the one who goes ahead of you; He will be with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear, or be dismayed.”
Jerusalem is found cannibalizing itself to make itself safe. They tear down houses to fortify the walls of the city. Shebna, king Hezekiah’s secretary of state, is a man concerned only for his worldly glory, both during his life and after it, but his end is frightful. Eliakim who replaces Shebna will be the man of the hour, and all in Jerusalem will pin their hopes on him, but he is not what the people think he is. He is another bad official who will not turn the people’s heart towards the Lord, but rather imagines himself to be worthy of the hope they wish to hang on him. In all three cases, by becoming self-sufficient, the people have committed the unpardonable sin.
Jerusalem, the self-sufficient city.
The oracle concerning the valley of vision.
What is the matter with you now, that you have all gone up to the housetops?
2 You who were full of noise,
You boisterous town, you exultant city;
Your slain were not slain with the sword,
Nor did they die in battle.
3 All your rulers have fled together,
And have been captured without the bow;
All of you who were found were taken captive together,
Though they had fled far away.
4 Therefore I say, "Turn your eyes away from me,
Let me weep bitterly,
Do not try to comfort me concerning the destruction of the daughter of my people."
We see a contrast between the people and the prophet: they rejoice while he weeps. He sees what they do not see: death, defection, and capture - the “destruction of the daughter of my people.”
It is difficult to determine the time frame and the subject of this oracle. Why are the people rejoicing and why are they doing so when the walls were breached and they were taken captive and their rulers fled? What we have here is are prophetic perfect tenses. The verbs are in the perfect tense, which describe a type of action rather than a time of action. What Isaiah is describing is to come in the future, but he states it as having already happened, so sure is it to occur. There is a present joy (vv. 1-2a) and a coming sorrow (vv. 2b-7).
Yet, we are still pressed for the reason as to why the people are rejoicing. There is one situation that matches this oracle well, the inauguration of Hezekiah’s tunnel that brought water into the city (2KI 20:20; 2CH 32:30). To the people of Jerusalem this was a guarantee of security and so a reason to rejoice. This engineering marvel made it difficult for an invading Assyrian army to find water around the city, while behind the walls of the city there would be an abundance. This self-wrought security, to Isaiah, was an unforgivable sin. They don’t need a tunnel - all they need is God. Isaiah knows what is coming (not the present Assyria but the future Babylon). The people will not repent of their sins against God, against the Law, and they conclude that a tunnel will overcome whatever curses are sure to come upon them by opposing the Lord. The prophet weeps in the face of reality, while the people rejoice over a fairy tale based on a tunnel.
And you saw that the breaches
In the wall of the city of David were many;
And you collected the waters of the lower pool.
10 Then you counted the houses of Jerusalem,
And you tore down houses to fortify the wall.
What a wonderful picture this is. Would you destroy that which is within you to make your external more secure against an enemy?
And you made a reservoir between the two walls
For the waters of the old pool.
But you did not depend on Him who made it,
Nor did you take into consideration Him who planned it long ago.
Isaiah can see what is coming and so he writes it like it had already happened.
Then the city was broken into, and all the men of war fled by night by way of the gate between the two walls beside the king's garden, though the Chaldeans (Babylonians) were all around the city.
Isaiah draws a picture of the people in Jerusalem by giving the impression of a bee hive of activity, showing the people darting here and there in a self-effort to make themselves secure. It is the way of the world and not the way of faith. The Lord was not in their purview. Why bother with faith when you have walls and water?
The circumstances of the Lord’s people are not chance but by design. Our resource is not to change our circumstances or even question them, but to throw ourselves in faith upon the One who “planned it long ago.” And, this is Jerusalem, the city chosen by God to make His name dwell there.
But you shall seek the Lord at the place which the Lord your God shall choose from all your tribes, to establish His name there for His dwelling, and there you shall come.
When God chose Jerusalem He knew all about its vulnerable water supply. Nothing is chance or accident. Jerusalem’s shortcomings made her a place that demanded perpetual faith. If the walls are thin, the water drying up, and the fierce army surrounding the city wants you dead, you have to say, “This is the Lord’s city. He will defend her. Greater is He who is with us that he who is with them.” Every believer in our age is God’s temple. You don’t need to change your circumstances or even question them, but you do need to throw yourself in faith upon the One who adopted you. You have frailties and shortcomings, they perpetually demand your faith, and with that faith, despite them, you will do God’s will rather than using them as a crutch to sin.
Watch how this section closes:
Therefore in that day the Lord God of hosts, called you to weeping, to wailing,
To shaving the head, and to wearing sackcloth.
13 Instead, there is gaiety and gladness,
Killing of cattle and slaughtering of sheep,
Eating of meat and drinking of wine:
"Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we may die."
14 But the Lord of hosts revealed Himself to me,
"Surely this iniquity shall not be forgiven you
Until you die," says the Lord God of hosts.
They possess the worldly attitude of getting the most out of this world before it is snatched away. To some, this almost counts as bravery, but to God’s people it is terrible cowardice. It proclaims that if our own endeavors cannot save us then nothing can. It ignores God completely and puts all focus upon the earth.
Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. 3 For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
Shebna and Eliakim
It might seem odd that Isaiah switches from the matters of the nation to individuals, but the choice between faith and works is individual as well as national, and also, divine judgment reaches to the individual as well as the nation.
Shebna sought to secure himself and his place in history by his own efforts. He used his high office to enrich himself, gain the regard of others (riding around in splendid chariots), and perpetuate his memory with a grandiose tomb.
'What right do you have here,
And whom do you have here,
That you have hewn a tomb for yourself here,
It is his self-sufficiency and pompous self-importance that brings God’s displeasure upon him.
And roll you tightly like a ball,
To be cast into a vast country;
There you will die,
And there your splendid chariots will be,
You shame of your master's house.'
His replacement, Eliakim, received the confidence of the people, allowing them to trust in him, and liking the feeling it gave him of being the man of the hour, he neglected to tell the people to trust in the Lord and not in man.
"And I will drive him like a peg in a firm place,
And he will become a throne of glory to his father's house.
24 "So they will hang on him all the glory of his father's house, offspring and issue, all the least of vessels, from bowls to all the jars. 25 "In that day," declares the Lord of hosts, "the peg driven in a firm place will give way; it will even break off and fall, and the load hanging on it will be cut off, for the Lord has spoken."
Eliakim is as peg that the people hand their hopes on. He is an able minister and the people trust him to perform the things of statecraft that he alone can do. Every state needs leaders and officials, but when leadership changes to pride in position, personal interest, and lust for beneficence, that which should be reposed in the Lord is transferred to a human being.
Just as the individual is not sufficient for himself (Shebna) neither is he sufficient for others (Eliakim).
In His precious name,
Pastor Joe Sugrue