Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
The burden of the valley of vision. What aileth thee now, that thou art wholly gone up to the housetops?XXII.
(1) The burden of the valley of vision.—The “valley of vision” is Jerusalem, lying as it did (Jeremiah 21:13) in a valley, as compared with the hills round about it (Psalm 125:2). If we think of the prophet’s dwelling as being in the lower city, in the valley of Tyropœon, the epithet becomes still more appropriate. That valley would be to him in very deed a “valley of vision,” where he saw things present and to come. Possibly the name became more characteristic from the impulse given to the prophetic dreams of all who claimed to be seers. The prophet looks out, and sees the people in a state of excitement, caused probably by the near approach of the Assyrian armies. They are “on the house-tops,” the flat roofs of which were a customary place of concourse (Judges 16:27; Nehemiah 8:16), keeping their revels, as those do who meet the approach of danger with a reckless despair (Isaiah 22:13). By some commentators (Birks, Kay,) the “valley of vision” has been identified with Samaria.
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) A joyous city . . .—It would seem from Isaiah 32:13 as if this was the characteristic on which Jerusalem, like Athens afterwards (Thucyd. ii. 40), specially prided itself.
Thy slain men are not slain with the sword . . .—The words imply something like a reproach of cowardice. Those who had perished had not died fighting bravely in battle, but by the pestilence which then, as at all times, was prevalent in the crowded streets of a besieged city.
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) They are bound by the archers.—Better, fettered without the bow. The taunting charge of cowardice is carried farther. The rulers had ventured on a sortie, and had been captured without a struggle, not even drawing their bows in their defence.
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) Therefore said I, Look away from me.—The tone is that of one who wishes to be alone in his sorrow. It is too deep for visits of consolation. He “refuses to be comforted.” Isaiah bewails the destruction of “the daughter of his people” in much the same strain as that of Jeremiah over a later catastrophe (Lamentations 3:48).
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) For it is a day of trouble.—The earlier clauses paint the mental emotions of the coming day of judgment. In the latter we hear the actual crash of the battering-rams across the walls. The cry of the panic-stricken people shall rise to the surrounding mountains, possibly as to the hills from whence they expected help, either as true worshippers looking to Mount Zion (Psalm 121:1), or to the high places which were so long the objects of their worship, and which led their enemies to say that their gods were “gods of the hills, and not of the valleys” (1Kings 20:23).
And Elam bare the quiver with chariots of men and horsemen, and Kir uncovered the shield.(6) Elam . . . Kir . . .—The two nations are named as the chief elements of the Assyrian army then invading Judæa. Elam, previously named as the destroyer of Babylon (Isaiah 21:2), was at this time, as the inscriptions of Sargon show, subject to Assyria (Records of the Past, vii. 29). As in later history (Herod. i. 73, iii. 21; Jeremiah 49:35), it was conspicuous chiefly for its archers. “Kir,” named in 2Kings 16:11 as the region to which Tiglath-pileser carried off the people of Damascus, has been identified with the region near the river Kyros, the modern Georgia. There are, however, both linguistic and historical grounds against this identification, and we must be content to look on it as an otherwise unknown region of Mesopotamia. To “uncover the shield” was to draw it out of its leather case (comp. “Scutis tegumenta detrahere”; Cæs. Bell. Gall. 2:21), and so to be prepared for battle.
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) That thy choicest valleys . . .—These were the valleys of Gibeon, Rephaim, Hinnom, and Jehoshaphat, which encircled Jerusalem on the west and south. They are painted as filled with the chariots and cavalry of the Assyrian army, ready to make their attack on the very gate of the city, the “great gate” named in Sennacherib’s inscription (Records of the Past, i. 39).
And he discovered the covering of Judah, and thou didst look in that day to the armour of the house of the forest.(8) And he discovered the covering of Judah—i.e., Jehovah removed the veil which till then had hidden the approaching danger from the eyes of the inhabitants, and laid bare their weakness to those of the invaders. The verbs which in the English version are in the past tense are really in a kind of prophetic present, painting the future as if actually passing before the prophet’s gaze.
The armour of the house of the forest.—More fully (as in 1Kings 7:2; 1Kings 10:17), “the house of the forest of Lebanon,” which appears to have been used as an arsenal, and to which the people now turn as their chief resource.
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) Ye have seen also the breaches . . .—The prophet paints the hasty preparations for defence. So in 2Chronicles 32:5 : “Hezekiah built up all the wall that was broken, and raised it up to the towers,” and added an outer line of defence. The “city of David” is, of course, the fortress of Zion.
The waters of the lower pool.—This was the Lower Gihon, now the Birket-es-Sultan. The operation is described more fully in 2Chronicles 32:3-4. Its object was to stop the outflow of the streams, and gather them into a reservoir, partly, of course, for the supply of the inhabitants during the siege, but still more that the Assyrian armies might find little or no water in the immediate neighbourhood of the city. Sargon, in his inscriptions, describes like preparations at Ashdod (Smith, Assyr. Discov., p. 291).
And ye have numbered the houses of Jerusalem, and the houses have ye broken down to fortify the wall.(10) Ye have numbered the houses of Jerusalem.—The preparations for defence are continued. The houses were numbered that some might be pulled down and others left, as strategical plans might determine. (Comp. 2Chronicles 32:5.) So in what was probably a contemporary psalm we have, “Walk about Zion . . . tell the towers thereof . . . mark ye well her bulwarks” (Psalm 48:12). So in the later siege of Jerusalem houses were thrown down by (or, more accurately, on account of) the mounds that were employed by the besiegers (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) Ye made also a ditch between the two walls.—Better, a pond or pool, to form a reservoir for the supply of the city. This was probably identical with the “pool of Hezekiah,” known also as the Birket-el-Batrak (“pool of the patriarchs”), between two walls, that to the north of Zaon, and that which runs to the north-east round the Acra. During the rainy season this is supplied by the small conduit which runs from the upper pool along the surface of the ground, and then under the wall near the Joppa gate (Robinson, Researches, i., 437-439). The “old pool” was probably the pool of Siloam (John 9:7), or the king’s pool (Nehemiah 2:14).
Ye have not looked unto the maker thereof.—These material defences, the prophet affirms, will avail but little if they forget Him who was the true “builder and maker” of the city, and who alone can secure its safety.
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) To weeping, and to mourning, and to baldness . . .—National danger, Isaiah adds, should call to a national repentance in its outward manifestations, like the fast described in Joel 2 “Baldness,’ produced by the tearing of the hair in extreme grief, took its place naturally, with weeping and sackcloth, in those manifestations.
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) And behold joy and gladness . . .—As things were, however, the danger, imminent as it was, led, as in the plague at Athens in the time of Pericles, and that of Florence in the time of Boccaccio, not to repentance, but to recklessness and sensuality. The cry of the baser form of epicureanism in all ages (1Corinthians 15:32) was uttered, or acted on, and the prophet echoes the spoken words, or gives utterance to the unspoken thought, in tones of burning indignation.
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) It was revealed in mine ears . . .—The special form indicates that the warning was “borne in,” ringing, as it were, on the inward ears of the prophet, as an oracle of God. That sensual recklessness could have but one end in all countries and ages, and that end was death. No formal religion, no chastisement, even, would avail to purge an iniquity like that in the absence of a true repentance.
Thus saith the Lord GOD of hosts, Go, get thee unto this treasurer, even unto Shebna, which is over the house, and say,(15) Go, get thee unto this treasurer, even unto Shebna.—The section that follows opens a chapter in the internal politics of the reign of Hezekiah. The word for “treasurer” (literally, companion) implies a position like that of a vizier, identical, probably, with that of the “king’s friend” of Genesis 26:26; 2Samuel 15:37; 1Kings 4:5. In addition to this office Shebna had the position of being “over the house,” an office, like that of a Lord Chamberlain, of such importance that it was sometimes held by a king’s son (2Chronicles 26:21). It gave him supreme control over the treasury of the king and the internal affairs of his kingdom, and made him almost like a maire du palais under the Merovingian kings. It is obvious that his influence was exercised to thwart the prophet’s counsels; and the probable sequence of thought connecting the two sections is that he was prominent as the representative of the false security and luxury which the prophet had condemned; probably also of the party which rested their hope on an alliance with Egypt. What follows seems to show that he was a novus homo, with no ancestral dignities in his house, possibly even a foreigner (the name is Aramaean in form), pushing himself forward with an obtrusive ambition. We note the touch of scorn in “this Shebna.”
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) What hast thou here? . . .—The prophet’s indignation is roused by Shebna’s last act of arrogance. He had no “sepulchre of his fathers” to deck with fresh stateliness, and, like the kings and great ones of the earth (the kings of Sidon, the Pharaohs of Egypt, the kings of Assyria), had built one for himself, hollowed out of the wells (probably on one of the hills of Jerusalem), to be his own everlasting “habitation,” his domus œterna. So in Ecclesiastes 12:5, the grave is the “long home” of man. Rock-hewn sepulchres of this type are found on the slopes of all the hills in the neighbourhood of the holy city.
Behold, the LORD will carry thee away with a mighty captivity, and will surely cover thee.(17) The Lord will carry thee away with a mighty captivity.—Better, will hurl thee with the hurling of a mighty man—i.e., strongly and effectually. The words have, however, been rendered (Cheyne), “will hurl, will hurl thee, O mighty man.” The marginal rendering rests on no sufficient grounds.
Will surely cover thee.—Better, Will surely grasp thee, so that thou shalt not escape.
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) Like a ball into a large country.—The picture is that of a ball flung violently on a smooth, even plain where it bounds on and on with nothing to stay its progress. The “large country” is, probably, the plain of Mesopotamia, where Shebna is to end his days in exile.
There the chariots of thy glory shall be the shame of thy lord’s house.—Better, Thither shall go the chariots of thy glory, the shame of thy lord’s house. The words point to another form of Shebna’s ostentatious pride. Not content with riding on an ass or mule, as even judges and counsellors rode (Judges 5:10; Judges 10:4; Judges 12:14; 2Samuel 17:23), he had appeared in public in stately chariots, such as were used by kings (Song Song of Solomon 1:9; Song of Solomon 3:9). These were to accompany him in his exile, but it would be as the spoil of the conqueror. There are no records of the fulfilment of the prediction, and the judgment may have been averted by repentance; but when we next meet with Shebna (Isaiah 36:22) he is in the inferior position of a scribe, and Eliakim occupies his place as being “over the household.”
And I will drive thee from thy station, and from thy state shall he pull thee down.(19) I will drive thee . . . shall he pull thee down.—The change of person has led some interpreters to refer the latter clause to Hezekiah. Such changes, however, are common enough in Hebrew prophetic speech (e.g., Isaiah 10:12; Isaiah 42:13-14), and Jehovah is the subject of both clauses.
And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will call my servant Eliakim the son of Hilkiah:(20) Eliakim the son of Hilkiah.—Nothing is known of Eliakim’s previous history, but the epithet, “my servant,” bears witness to his faith and goodness; and we may well believe him to have been in heart, if not openly, one of Isaiah’s disciples. He was apparently, at the time, in some subordinate office.
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) I will clothe him with thy robe . . .—The words point to an actual transfer of the robe and girdle which were Shebna’s insignia of office. There was to be, in this case, a literal investiture.
He shall be a father . . .—The words were, perhaps, an official title given to the king’s vizier or chamberlain. (Comp. 2Kings 5:13.) Here, however, the words indicate that the idea of the title should be fulfilled, and that the government of Eliakim should be, in the truest sense, paternal.
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) And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder . . .—The key of the king’s treasure-chambers and of the gates of the palace was the natural symbol of the chamberlain’s or vizier’s office, and, as in Isaiah 9:6, it was solemnly laid upon the shoulder of the new official, perhaps as representing the burden of the responsibilities of the duties of his office. In the “keys of the kingdom of heaven,” in Matthew 16:19, and again in Revelation 3:7, as also in the custom of admitting a Rabbi to his office by giving him a key, we have a reproduction of the same emblem.
So he shall open, and none shall shut . . .—The words paint vividly the supremacy of the office to which Eliakim was to be called. He alone was to decide who was to be admitted into the king’s chamber, and for whom the king’s treasury was to be opened. In Revelation 3:7, the symbolism is reproduced in its higher application to the King of kings.
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) I will fasten him as a nail in a sure place . . .—The word for “nail” is used both for the peg that fastens a tent to the ground, as in the “stakes” of Isaiah 33:20; Isaiah 54:2; Judges 4:21, or, as in Ezekiel 15:3, for a nail driven into the wall. Here the context shows that the latter meaning is preferable. It was, as the sequel shows, a symbol of the support upon which others can depend. (Comp. the “nail in his holy place” of Ezra 9:8.)
He shall be for a glorious throne . . .—Another symbol of sovereignty follows. The form, throne of glory, is found in its highest application in 1Samuel 2:8, and Jeremiah 14:21; Jeremiah 17:12. Such a throne, kingly in its state, is to be the pride of the hitherto obscure house of Eliakim.
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) And they shall hang upon him all the glory of his father’s house . . .—The metaphor of the nail is resumed. Not without a touch of irony, as the sequel shows, the prophet paints the extent to which those who belong to Eliakim will hang upon his support. There will be the “glory” or the “weight” (the Hebrew word has both meanings) of his next-of-kin. Besides these there will be the remoter off-shoots and side-shoots of his family. But the number will increase, and upon that single nail, or peg, would hang the “vessels of small quantity,” cups such as were used by the priests for the blood of the victims in sacrificing (Exodus 24:6), or for wine in common use (Song Song of Solomon 7:2), flagons, or earthen pitchers, as in Isaiah 30:14; Lamentations 4:2, i.e., the whole crowd of the retainers of a great official. The prophet obviously paints the picture as a warning. There was the danger even for Eliakim, upright and religious as he was, as there has been for others like him, of giving way to nepotism, and the fault would not remain unpunished.
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) Shall the nail that is fastened in a sure place be removed . . .—There is, the prophet says, a judgment for the misuse of power portrayed in the previous verse. The “nail” that seems so firmly fixed should be removed, i.e., Eliakim should cease to hold his high office, and with his fall should come that of all his kindred and dependents. Here, as in the case of Shebna, we have no record of the fulfilment of the prediction, but it is a natural inference, from its remaining in the collected prophecies of Isaiah, either that it was fulfilled, or that it did its work as a warning, and that the penalty was averted by a timely reformation.