Today’s passage is probably an unfamiliar for most of us. At a glance, it’s confusing. At two, you feel like skipping the chapter. At three, you ask if you need a Masters of Divinity to understand it. But this passage can be understood, especially when we read it in context! Read on to find out what this challenging passage has to tell us about Christ!
(A) Shebna: Judgement is promised to the self-seeking government official (Isa 22:15-19)
Shebna is the first character that is introduced, and he is an important one. Who was he, what did he do, and what was at the heart of all these actions? (Isa 22:15-16)
The text tells us that Shebna is a steward, who is “over the household” - one who is basically like the Prime Minister to the King. He carved out a tomb for himself on a high place, which was an act that was clearly attention seeking. Some historians think that they’ve found this very tomb, and it has been described as opulent and over-the-top. But these aren’t just external details, for they reveal the intent of Shebna’s heart. In building this grand and outlandish structure to house his dead both, we see some sense of desire to be glorified and remembered even after his death. Shebna is one who tries to wrest glory for himself, and God is offended here, for it is God that Shebna is trying to wrest glory from.
God responds to this by means of a damning judgment. Because of his actions, Shebna plans to be remembered will not come to pass, for he will be thrown out of the land (v17-18). Shebna is promised death in exile and demotion from his office. 2 King 18:18 shows us that this prophesy was fulfilled, for Shebna wass recorded as having been displaced by Eliakim. It’s easy to categorise this as mere historical fact and quickly move on, but if we think about it, we see that it is testament to God’s decisive and prophesied action in the politics of His people. Political structures of our day to day are flawed and broken, and this picture of God taking a self-seeking official and replacing Him with His godly man, gives us some sense of assurance that God is sovereign even in the realm of politics.
We noticed earlier that Shebna was a leader over God’s nation, but sadly, we see a leader who is corrupt, self-seeking, and self-glorifying. But before we point fingers, we have to notice that this is a clear warning for all of us who occupy any position of leadership? Does this describe you when you serve? Is self-glory in the secret heart of your actions? Do you point to yourself in order to hear the praises of people? Or do you seek to glorify God in your service? We have to ask ourselves whether our glory or God’s glory drives our service.
But there is more than warning to be found here. Our political structures are deeply flawed, and people of injustice rise to positions of power time and time again. This picture of repeated and unabating injustice might cause us to be discouraged and angry, but this text reminds us that judgment is promised to the self-seeking official.
(B) Eliakim: Failure is promised even to God’s chosen servant (Isa 22:20-25)
Eliakim is the next character mentioned. Who was he, what was his new role, and who was the actor in all of this (Isa22:20-21)? We’ve learnt earlier that Eliakim became the new “Prime Minister", and verses 20-21 shows us that this wasn’t mere political shuffling wrought by human effort - God was the actor in all of this! The repeated “I will”s throughout these verses reveal God’s personal action in all of this change. Friends, this is not a God of empty words, but a God of concerned action, and this should help us trust in God’s word! Do we believe it? Do we believe that He acts, and acts decisively? This text reminds us that He does, and in doing so, reminds us that we can trust in the truth of His word.
The “key of the house of David" (Isa 22:22) might sound like a really fuzzy concept, but a plain reading of the text suggests that it carries the authority to make binding decisions in the interest of the King. The image here points to authority over God’s people, and we see that this authority is placed on the shoulder of Eliakim. Unlike Shebna, Eliakim is prophesied to a good leader who is dependable and stable (Isa 22:23-24). A lot seems to hang on him, for he is prophesied to hold the whole honour of his father’s house - a picture of a honourable and faithful leader. References to Is 33:20 and 54:2 show us what it means that Eliakim is a peg. Like a peg, he holds the tent in place, which points to the tabernacle - the very place where the glory of God resides! This is a grand, secure, and flourishing tent (Is 33:20), and under Eliakim, God’s people flourish and grow!
And then we get to verse 25.
It is a confusing verse, and it might even seem like a contradictory verse. We have seen prophecy after prophecy being fulfilled, so how can Eliakim - the good, secure, and flourishing leader - give way, be cut down, and fall?
God is telling us here that even the best of us fail. Even God’s chosen servant who is put in place by God Himself flourishes a bit, but then is cut down and falls.
Friends, the moral failures of Biblical heroes is a harsh but consistent reality. Or heroes of faith inevitably fail, and fail miserably. While this might seem rather disheartening, it is a necessary reminder that the point of their inclusion in the Bible is not that we might model all our lives after theirs. These moral failures are not meant to discourage us, but to show us that even these Bible heroes who are supposed to be God’s chosen people fail. They too are fallen, the same way we are all fallen. Instead, we see that they are types of Christ - people are not Christ, but point to Christ in certain ways. Their failure points us to our need for someone who does not fail, who is not fallen, and who is truly secure. Failure is promised even to the chosen, inadequate leader, and we must look forward to the True and Better leader.
(C) Jesus: The key of David – the right, effective and legitimate government will reign forever (Rev 3:7-8, Lk 1:32-33, Is 9:6)
We see this phrase, “key of the house of David”, again in Revelations 3:7-8. In this letter to the church in Philadelphia, Jesus, the holy and true one, wields this key. This is the True and Better leader that Eliakim points forward to! And the picture of authority that we’ve seen in Eliakim’s hands pales in comparison to what we see here.
We can consider this picture as Christ the true Key who wields absolute power over salvation, and this might be a familiar picture if you’ve been a Christian for awhile. But consider what it really means.
Here, Christ assures us that He is absolutely sovereign over salvation. Whatever He opens cannot be shut, and whatever He shuts cannot be open. How great an assurance, then, that we are His! Consider these words of the familiar Christmas hymn, O Come O Come Emmanuel:
“O come, O Key of David, come
and open wide our heavenly home.
Make safe the way that leads on high
and close the path to misery”
The same idea is repeated here. Christ is not only our way to salvation, but our guarantee of it. He makes it safe, and closes the path to misery. Do you see the assurance that you are saved, and will be saved at the end of the age?
Isaiah’s prophecy concerning Eliakim’s failure (Is 22:25) can also be thought of as a pointer to Christ's second coming where all will be judged. Do you struggle with personal assurance of salvation because of wrongdoing and unworthiness? Do you feel that there is no possible way that Christ can or will save you because of your guilt and sin? See the assurance here! The true Key of David speaks to us, and assures us of our salvation.
Unlike Shebna, Eliakim, or any other ruler, Christ is prophesied to be the Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace (Is 9:6), and eternal ruler (Lk 1:32-33) He reigns forever, and is the True and Better Ruler, True and Better Government, and True and Better authority over His people who will come again. Do we believe that God is active in everything to bring this to fruition? Do we look forward His return?
The temptation during Advent is to have grown used to this story, or get bogged down by the year-end buzz to take leave from work and buy presents. The hustle and bustle might be distracting, so make sure that you don’t miss the promise here: Christ will not fail, will not be cut down, and will not fall. Jesus the Key of David is the holy, true and effective government who will reign forever, and He assures salvation for all who put their faith in Him.