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Isaiah 22: The Predicted Siege of Jerusalem by Sennacherib

Chapter 22: This chapter is a further description of the siege of the city of Jerusalem by Sennacherib but is described in a vision before the event. The same event has been pictured in chapter 10:28-34. There the approach of the Assyrian armies and the devastation wrought on the northern cities of Judah by the Assyrians is pictured. Those are events that took place outside the city in the ranks of a frustrated enemy whose high branches were, in the end, "lopped off." In this chapter the same event is pictured but from the point of view of those under attack. Beginning with the preparation of the siege (which is historically recorded in Isaiah 36-38; 2 Kings 18-20 and 2 Chronicles 32:1-33.) Isaiah prophetically described the preparations of the water courses, hiding them from the enemy making aqueducts for the water and digging tunnels to carry the water away from the outside sources into the city. The chapter opens with the paradox of the doubting inhabitants watching, preparing and crying out of desperation while at the same time many abandon themselves to hedonism. Reveling to enjoy what little is left of their lives is so offensive that God himself said He would not forgive this attitude. Many leaders of the people also doubted the message of Isaiah's assurance that the Assyrians would not enter the city. Hezekiah believed and comforted many that God would be with them. Those who doubted among the higher officers abandoned the city in an attempt to escape. Ironically they were the only ones to go into captivity, being quickly rounded up and corralled by the troops of Sennacherib and taken back as captives in shame to Assyria while those in the city were able to rejoice at the deliverance wrought. It is small wonder that this momentous event finds so much place in the prophet's book and so little in the Assyrian annals. The Assyrian annals confirm the main events of Sennacharib's invasion including as he said "Hezekiah, I shut up like a caged bird" but he does not mention his loss of an army nor the capture of the city of Jerusalem..

Sennacherib recorded his military 8 campaigns on what is known as Sennacherib's prism and the section about Hezekiah is quoted beneath the picture of the prism. Click here to see it.

From verse 15 to the end of the chapter concerning Shebna, who was the chief ruler in the King's household, a high position indeed, is a prediction that he would be demoted from that office and disgrace his whole household. In verse 17 he is said to be destined to go into captivity. In Isaiah 36 he is seen in a new position. In this chapter Eliakim the son of Hilkiah is extolled and said to be the one who will be in Shebna's office. In chapter 36:3 which describes the preliminary events just before the siege that relationship is the reality. Eliakim is the head of the king's household and Shebna, though still an officer, is seen as demoted to the position of scribe or "recorder." Thus, this prophecy of the siege which he seems to have held in contempt at the time it was given did come to pass and he was demoted by the time it happened. The leaders of the city who fled during the siege were captured and led to Assyria. Those who remained in the city survived and enjoyed the blessing of God after God had "lopped off the high bough" of the King of Assyria.

Since only those who abandoned the city by fleeing were taken captive and Shebna was destined to captivity and also to bring disgrace on his whole family, he therefore must have been among those who shamelessly abandoned the city after the visit of Rabbi Shakah and Tartan but before the destruction of the besieging armies of the Assyrians.

The last verse of the chapter is out of harmony with the conclusion that Eliakim would also be disgraced later. It is not out of harmony with Isaiah continuing the analogy of the peg (Shebna) that had been hammered into a secure place and had been a support for all those related to it to hang on. Shebna suffered just such a disgrace when he ran away and treacherously fled his people whom he was committed to serve, Such desertion has always been considered a disgrace and those who are related suffer. The last verse therefore describes the fall of Shebna and his disgrace.

1. The burden of the valley of vision. How is it that you have all gone up to the housetops?

Chapter 22:1 House tops: The events prefigured in this chapter have already been the subject of a preliminary vision in 10:28-34. Rawlinson is correct at seeing the same thing. But some have missed the meaning of this chapter, ascribing it to the later siege by the Babylonians although it was obvious to them that the historical notes of second part of the chapter about the demotion of Shebna are related to the siege of Jerusalem by Sennacherib. The events of the siege are described here in this chapter in a vision while chapters 36-38 describe the events historically, after they had happened. The scheme seems to be that Isaiah knew he had given the visions which predicted just such events so the historical portions in 36-38 are added to the book after the fact to give verification to those living near Isaiah's time that he was confirmed by history to be a prophet indeed.

Verse 1: "Valley of Vision and Housetops:" This describes the "lay of the land" in Jerusalem which lies in a valley compared to the mountains about it. Although Jerusalem is actually on top of two of the mountains or hills in the mountain highlands,--Mount Moriah and Mount Zion--the rest of the mountains round about Jerusalem are all higher. This is described in Psalms 125:2 "As the mountains are round about Jerusalem, so the LORD is round about his people from henceforth even for ever." The description of Sennacherib approaching from the higher ground of the north by way of Samaria is described in detail in notes under 10:28-34. and in 37:34. The city of Jerusalem has rolling hills going toward the high ground to the north that was occupied by Sennacherib. Jerusalem was in a depression of ground and the need to ascend the house tops to see the enemy is a perfect picture of what would happen under the conditions described.

2 You that are full of stirring, a tumultuous city, a joyous city: your slain men are not slain with the sword, nor dead in battle.

Verse 2: Tumult and joy: This paradox is described in verses 12-14 below.

3 All your rulers have fled together, they are captive by the archers: all that are found in you, which have fled from far are captives together.

Verse 3: All the rulers: This is a good example of prophetic hyperbole which is an exaggerated statement which emphasizes that a large number of the people on whom the inhabitants depended deserted in the time of trouble, to their own disgrace and ultimate captivity. All of those who fled were bound and led captive. It is likely that Shebna was one of these, hence his disgrace mentioned below.

4 Therefore I said, Look away from me; I will weep bitterly, labor not to comfort me, because of the spoiling of the daughter of my people. 5 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.

Verses 2-5: Perplexity: The descriptions here are all of a confused city under siege. The men are not killed in battle, there is trouble, crying, leaders fleeing away only to be caught and gathered together, the walls are being undermined, the gates are under attack and the fortress cities of Judah have already fallen.

6 And Elam bore the quiver with chariots of men and horsemen, and Kir uncovered the shield. 7 And it shall be, that your choicest valleys shall be full of chariots, and the horsemen shall set themselves in array at the gate. 8. And he shall uncover the covering of Judah, and you shall look in that day to the armor of the house of the forest.

. Verse 8: Covering: This word, "masak", is used in the scriptures 14 times and is always translated hangings or curtain but coverings only here in Isaiah. It is most often used for the curtain which is the doorway of the tabernacle or the entrance to the court of the tabernacle. In Hebrew "uncover" is the word for rolling aside. The most likely meaning is that God is going to open the door of Judah to the enemy as one would roll aside a curtain over a doorway so there is no obstacle to entrance. The taking of the fortress cities of Judah which were a "covering" or shield to Jerusalem had already fallen when Sennacherib began the siege of Jerusalem.

9 You have seen also the breaches of the city of David, that they are many: and you gathered together the waters of the lower pool.

Verse 9: Lower pool: 2 Chron 32:30 "This same Hezekiah also stopped the upper watercourse of Gihon, and brought it straight down to the west side of the city of David." Hezekiah made a number of attempts to hide the water courses north of Jerusalem so the Assyrians could not make use of them. One of the most energetic projects was the digging of the Gihon spring tunnel through the solid rock of the hill of Ophel which resulted in the reservoir known as the pool of Siloam inside the lower city. The Gihon had formerly flowed out east into the Kidron Valley and from there down to the Dead Sea. Hezekiah brought the waters through the hill to the west side of the hill. He had also built conduits for the northern reservoirs and springs whose sources were hidden. These northern waters were conducted to the Gihon cave whose entrance was also hidden and the waters were then diverted through the Gihon tunnel. Most books on archaeology give accounts of the tunnel and the inscription from inside the tunnel made in the days of Hezekiah which was removed by the Turks in 1881 to Constantinople which is a verification of the accuracy of the biblical record of the history of the tunnel and pools. The tunnel still carries water from the Gihon Spring to the pool of Siloam and it is possible for students to wade through the tunnel from Gihon to Siloam, an experience that this writer has enjoyed.
Following note under verse 10 is an entry from Harpers Bible Dictionary:

10 And you have numbered the houses of Jerusalem, and the houses have you broken down to fortify the wall.

Siloam-Gihon Tunnel: Siloam Inscription, a Hebrew inscription recovered from the Siloam tunnel in Jerusalem. The text commemorates the excavation of the tunnel, which connected the spring of Gihon, the principal source of water for ancient Jerusalem, with a reservoir within the city known as the pool of Siloam.

The Gihon arises on the eastern slope of the Ophel, the southeastern hill of Jerusalem, upon which the City of David was located. Originally, therefore, it emptied into the Kidron Valley. After the occupation of the site, however, an open basin was dug at the mouth of the spring to collect the waters. From this basin, known as the upper pool, the waters were conveyed south along the slope of the city mound by an aqueduct called ‘the conduit of the upper pool’ (2 Kings 18:17; Isa. 7:3). Recent excavation has shown that this aqueduct was in part a tunnel and in part an open canal, so that in addition to receiving the flow from the upper pool it collected rainwater from the slope of the mound. It contained a number of ‘windows,’ through which water could be released for the irrigation of the valley below. The reference in Isa. 8:6 to ‘the waters of Shiloah that flow gently’ probably reveals the name for this water system that was in use during the reign of Ahaz. ‘Siloam’ is a later, Greek form of ‘Shiloah.’ At the mouth of the aqueduct was another reservoir called ‘the lower pool’ (Isa. 22:9). ‘The Pool of Shelah’ (Neh. 3:15) and ‘King’s Pool’ (Neh. 2:14) are probably other names for this second reservoir.

Because the original Shiloah or Siloam channel lay outside the fortifications of the city, it was difficult to protect during a siege. As part of his preparations for Sennacherib’s attack on Jerusalem, therefore, Hezekiah sealed the old outlet of the upper pool (2 Chron. 32:2-4, and 32:30; cf. Isa. 22:8-11 on this page) and devised an underground passage to divert the flow of the Gihon to a reservoir within the fortified precincts of the city (2 Kings 20:20), evidently the ‘reservoir between the two walls’ of Isa. 22:11. The shaft of Hezekiah’s tunnel followed a sinuous path through 1,749 feet of bedrock under the City of David to a new pool on the western slope of the Ophel in the valley later known as Tyropeon. The name of the older aqueduct was transferred to the new system. The first century Jewish historian Josephus knew the western reservoir as Siloam, and in John 9:7 Jesus refers to it as ‘the pool of Siloam.’ However, the modern village of Silwan, which also preserves a form of the ancient name, is located across the Kidron to the east of the Gihon spring.

The Inscription, now in the Museum of the Ancient Orient in Istanbul, was found in 1880 by two boys wading inside the tunnel some 20 feet above the western reservoir. It consists of six lines incised on the lower part of a prepared surface on the rock wall of the shaft. The blank upper surface has led some scholars to suppose that part of the inscription is missing; others believe that the text was originally intended to be surmounted by a relief. The Inscription cannot be dated long before 701 b.c., the year of Sennacherib’s siege of Jerusalem. The script is the Hebrew lapidary hand of the eighth century b.c., and the language is comparable to the standard Hebrew prose of the Bible. The text describes the completion of Hezekiah’s tunnel by two crews who, having set to work from opposite directions, dug until only three cubits (ca. 4.5 feet) of rock separated them at a point one hundred cubits (ca. 150 feet) beneath the streets of the city. From there they were able to guide each other through the remaining rock by shouting. This was possible, we are told, because of something extending north and south in the rock. Perhaps this was a fissure, as the translation below suggests, but the Hebrew word is obscure.

The New Bible Dictionary, (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.) 1962

The Inscription may be translated as follows: (with gaps indicated)

"1. The [ ] of the penetration. This is how the penetration took place. While [the diggers were] still [wielding]
2. their axes towards each other, with three cubits still to be pen[etrated, they could he]ar each other sho-
3. uting, for there was a fissure in the rock running to the south [and to the nor]th. So at the moment of pene-
4. tration, the diggers struck towards each other, axe against axe. Then the waters flowed
5. from the spring to the pool one thousand two hundred cubits. And one h[un-]
6. dred cubits was the height of the rock above the heads of the digger[s]."

* Achtemier, Paul J., Th.D., Harper’s Bible Dictionary, (San Francisco: Harper and Row, Publishers, Inc.) 1985 The numbers list the actual lines on the original inscription..

Verse 10: Walls: The account of Hezekiah's preparation for the siege includes the building of an extra wall and breaking down the houses between the wall for extra strength and possibly to hide the aqueducts carrying water from hidden springs. See 2 Chron. 32:5.

11 You made also a ditch between the two walls for the water of the old pool: but you have not looked to the maker of it, neither had respect to him that fashioned it long ago.

Verse 11: Built walls and aqueducts but did not consider God: This can only refer to the majority of inhabitants whose hedonism is described in this chapter and can not refer to Hezekiah whose faith in God, though tested to the wavering point, did not fail. Hezekiah's building of a second wall is noted in the preceding verse and here the hiding of the water conduits under the rubble of the houses is confirmed. The historical accounts given in 2 Kings 18-20; and 2 Chronicles 32; and Isaiah 36-39 confirm these details in the vision as accurately seeing Sennacherib's invasion

12 And in that day did the Lord GOD of hosts call to weeping, and to mourning, and to baldness, and to girding with sackcloth: 13 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. 14. And it was revealed in my ears by the LORD of hosts, Surely this iniquity shall not be purged from you till you die, says the Lord GOD of hosts.

Verses 12-14: Call to mourning rejected in favor of a revel: It is the lack of faith in the God who was intervening in so miraculous a way that is condemned. The contradiction of an abandonment of sorrow in the face of the invading army besieging the city marks this as an unusual response of self indulgent and unthankful inhabitants of Jerusalem who were not "inhabitants of Zion." Only such could look for one last drink and revel before death. Because of their unnatural rejection of prayer and dependence on God in a present danger they are soundly condemned.

15. Thus says the Lord GOD of hosts, Go, get you to this treasurer, even to Shebna, which is over the house, and say,

Verse 15: Shebna and the Assyrian Invasion: Shebna is here described as the chief overseer of the city of Jerusalem. it is a position of authority and power. According to this chapter he was to lose that power. He is seen in chapter 36:3 as having been demoted but still in a respected position. His shame would come shortly after when he absconded.

Verse 15: For a detailed description of the transition of authority over the King's house from Shebna to Eliakim and Shebna's strong influence that was eventually lost during Sennacherib's siege of Jerusalem see Delitzsch.

16 What have you here? and whom have you here, that you have hewed out a sepulchre here for yourself, as he that hews out a sepulchre on high, and that engraves a habitation for himself in a rock? 17 Behold, the LORD will carry you away with a mighty captivity, and will surely cover you.

Verse 17: Captivity: The fulfillment of Shebna'a future captivity is not given in the subsequently recorded history. It is implied and the facts are treated as though they would be well known by the first readers of Isaiah's prophecy and they would be part of the verification of the truth of these visions among those who first heard them. Isaiah said Shebna was to go into captivity and he did. His demotion came first. His disgrace and the shame he would bring on his whole family, which would cost them all irreparable loss, came quite a while later and is in sharp contrast to his aspirations to build a mausoleum among the kings of Israel

18 He will surely violently turn and toss you like a ball into a large country: there shall you die, and there the chariots of your glory shall be the shame of your lord's house. 19 And I will drive you from your station, and from your estate shall he pull you down. 20 And it shall be in that day, that I will call my servant Eliakim the son of Hilkiah:

. Verse 20: In that day: There is no reason to suppose that the phrase "In that day" in verse 25 is any different a period than the "in that day" that is introduced here. The "day" is the period in which Eliakim is to move into the position of Head of Household to the king, now occupied by Shebna. It is the day in which Shebna will be demoted. It is the "day" when Eliakim will continue to receive further honors while Shebna will go on to disgrace himself. It is the day in which Shebna will go into captivity and "in that day" Shebna's "lynch pin" which is secure, at the time of the writing of the prophecy, will be broken off and his whole family and all others who depend on him for their position will also be caused shame..Verse 25 is the conclusion of the events outlined here by Isaiah to happen "In that day."

21 And I will clothe him with your robe, and strengthen him with your girdle, and I will commit your government into his hand: and he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Judah. 22 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. 23 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. 24 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. 25 In that day, says the LORD of hosts, the nail that is now fastened in a secure place shall be removed, and be cut down, and fall; and the burden that was upon it shall be cut off: for the LORD has spoken it.

Verse 25: "In that day:" Verse 20 above and what follows it defines the "day." It is the day of Eliakim's exaltation and Shebna's demotion. It is not the day when Isaiah wrote this prophecy but was in the future. It is still in the future in this verse and defines the day of the loss of the peg that was hammered into a secure position in the time frame of giving the vision. At that time Shebna had a secure position which held all his family in high esteem. But in the day when Eliakim was awarded his position Eliakim's "peg" was to be hammered in securely where Shebna's peg was to be cut off, "in that day." In the day when Eliakim has assumed all the power and glory that Shebna had as well as that which he aspired to: In that day, Shebna, upon whom all the hopes of his father's house was hung and upon whom all the wealth of that family depended, was to disgrace the whole family and be broken off and all his dependents shamed and disgraced along with him; and so it turned out. There is no reason at all to suppose that the "in that day" of verse 20 has changed to a different day in the "in that day" of this verse.

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