Eliakim or Shebna? Isaiah Devotional Journal 44

Isaiah 22:15-25     Link to LXE Modernized

Does Isaiah 22:25 Refer to Eliakim or Shebna?

Eliakim or Shebna? Today’s readers have a habit of reading chronologically, in a string. We are used to statements that flow sequentially. Latter statements attach to statements made immediately prior. Read this way, Isaiah 22:25 would naturally appear to belong with the immediately prior passage concerning Eliakim, the Lord’s servant. But Isaiah, embedded in the traditions of Hebrew written literature, did not necessarily, nor even by preference, write sequentially, in a string. It is possible that verse 25 refers to Shebna, rather than Eliakim.

An Analogy with “Power Paragraphs”

Can we think back to our early school days here in America? Many school districts required graduating high school students to successfully write an essay on a given topic. The most commonly accepted format was based on a series of “power paragraphs.” The multi-paragraph essay needed to contain a clearly identifiable topic sentence. Near the end of the essay, judges of the paper looked for a conclusion. The conclusion would most often refer back to the topic sentence.

In some disciplines, college students write many papers. These, too, must have a “thesis” statement near the beginning. Near the end of the paper, teachers required a conclusion. The conclusion would often repeat the thesis, but in somewhat different words.

It is possible to outline the structure of Isaiah 22:15-25 (Septuagint) as a “power paragraph.”

I. 15 Thus says the Lord of hosts, …

II. 25 … for the Lord has spoken [it].

The beginning phrase is nearly the same as the final phrase. A fancy word for this structure is inclusio.  Everything that lies between the beginning and ending statements is included in the passage. The beginning and ending statements are like bookends on a book shelf. What makes the argument convincing that such is the case here in this Isaiah passage is the fact that the phrase, “Thus says the Lord,” or, “for the Lord has spoken,” occurs nowhere in-between. So, the entire passage is a packet that opens and closes with the claim that what lies between was spoken directly by the Lord. It’s roughly analogous to an introduction and conclusion, a topic and conclusion, or a thesis and conclusion. Isaiah used a specific structure in his writing.

A Second Inclusio

The entire passage from Isaiah 22:15 to Isaiah 22:25 has two main topics. First, Isaiah prophesies concerning the wickedly prideful Shebna, who is to be deposed. Second, Isaiah prophesies concerning the Lord’s highly favored choice, the one whom he calls, “my servant,” Eliakim. Our outline now looks like this:

I. 15 Thus says the Lord of hosts, …

A. Prophecy concerning Shebna (15-19)

B. Prophecy concerning Eliakim (20-24)

II. 25 … for the Lord has spoken [it].

But, the question still remains, does the content of verse 25 belong with Section A concerning Shebna, or Section B concerning Eliakim? Note that as Christian readers, we are most likely cheering for Eliakim. That makes us potentially biased in our analysis. For example, in verse 25, we don’t want to read that Eliakim, a type of Messiah, “shall be removed… be taken away… shall fall…” and that his “glory… shall be utterly destroyed.” On the other hand, the way we normally tend to read in English appears to make this interpretation possible. We begin to make “excuses” and find reason for this decidedly gloomy portion.

First, perhaps Isaiah is prophesying that the human Eliakim, rather than the future Messiah, is the only one to whom these events will occur? In other words, perhaps this verse alone ceases to be messianic and refers only to a time frame closer to Isaiah’s own day?

Second, perhaps Isaiah is prophesying that Messiah will be cut off during his crucifixion? That would be true. He was. But then, where is his joyful resurrection? And isn’t his glory and kingdom eternal?

So, let’s look at the linguistic structure of sections A and B. Perhaps that will shed some light.

A New Beginning and Ending Phrase

I. 15 Thus says the Lord of hosts, …

A. Prophecy concerning Shebna (15-19)

B. Prophecy concerning Eliakim (20-24)

1. 20 And it shall come to pass in that day,…

2. 24 …they shall depend upon him in that day.

II. 25 … for the Lord has spoken [it].

The section concerning Eliakim, the type of Messiah, both opens and closes with the phrase, “in that day.”  This phrase serves as the bookends for another inclusio. Since the phrase in vs 24, “in that day,” is a bookend, it belongs with the metaphorical books on the shelf. These concern Eliakim, the Messiah. In other words, the opening and closing statements of an inclusio belong with the material included in-between.

A Grammatical Difficulty

When the reader compares several of the biblical translations available today, she will realize that most translators place the period before the phrase, “in that day.” Others place it after. So what? Simply this, if the period falls before “in that day,” then the phrase introduces and refers to verse 25. But if the period falls after the phrase “in that day,” then the phrase closes out the prior section and definitely connects with Eliakim and Messiah in verse 24. Grammatically, it could go either way. It makes sense both ways.

Translations which place, “In that day,” as the introductory words of verse 25 are the KJV, NIV, NASB, ESV, and NET. In other words, seemingly all the versions based on the Masoretic textual tradition read something like, “In that day, declares the LORD of hosts, the peg that was fastened in a secure place will give way, and it will be cut down and fall, and the load that was on it will be cut off, for the LORD has spoken.” (Isaiah 22:25 ESV)

It is important to point out that the “peg that was fastened in a secure place” could conceivably refer to Shebna in any event, period or no period. However, the manner in which we normally read language in strings causes many readers to place the reference upon Eliakim and Messiah.

The Greek text Brenton used places the period after “in that day.” Rahlfs’s Greek text places it before. NETS, the New English Translation of the Septuagint, by Moíses Silva, places the period after “on that day.” He translates the phrase as part of the prior clause, although it falls at the beginning of verse 25.

Where Do I Stand?

Personally, I like Brenton’s translation and the great sense it makes structurally. Further, I like the Greek text upon which his translation is based. It highly favors the presence of Messiah in the books of Isaiah and the Psalms. My eye of faith prefers his edition.

Other Reasons to Find an Inclusio

1. The major reason, of course, to place “in that day” as the concluding phrase of verses 20-24 is that it forms a beautiful inclusio, as outlined above, for verses 20-24.

2. A second reason to interpret “in that day” as descriptive of Eliakim, rather than Shebna, concerns vocabulary. Isaiah says of the wicked Shebna, “Behold now, the Lord of hosts casts forth and will utterly destroy such a man, and will take away your robe and your glorious crown,” ( Isiah 22:17 LXE, CAB). Isaiah calls Shebna “a man.” On the other hand, he speaks honorably of Eliakim/Messiah, “My servant,” (vs 20), “a father,” (vs 21), and “ruler,” (v23). In verses 20-24, Isaiah never refers to Eliakim/Messiah as “man.” However, verse 25 prophesies against “the man” that is “fastened in the sure place,” (Septuagint). (The Septuagint text never uses the word “peg.” That word appears only in the Masoretic.) The use of “man” in verse 25 (LXE) seems to refer back to Shebna, rather than Eliakim.

3. A third reason to place verse 25 back with verses 15-19, rather than with the embedded inclusio of verses 20-24, are the verb tenses. When Isaiah prophesies, who at that time, strictly according to this passage, is in the “priestly chamber” (Silva, NETS)? It is Shebna. The verbs the Septuagint uses throughout verses 15-19, about Shebna, indicate that he is presently in the priestly chamber and will be removed. Contrasting with this, the verbs in the portion about Eliakim/Messiah, verses 20-24, are every one future tense: “will” or “shall.” Verse 25, however, abruptly switches back to present tense, “The man that is fastened in the sure place…” Notice the less-than-admirable subject, “man,” and the present tense, “is.” These combined give strong evidence that the text in verse 25 refers to Shebna, rather than Eliakim/Messiah.

4. Finally, the vocabulary of verse 25 best matches the vocabulary used of Shebna, rather than that used of Eliakim/Messiah. For example, Isaiah writes that this “man” shall be “removed” and “taken away,” and that his glory shall be “utterly destroyed.” Correspondingly, Isaiah writes in verses 17-19, concerning the wicked Shebna, that the Lord will “cast(s) forth and will utterly destroy,” will “take away” his robe and crown, will “cast [throw]” him into “a great and unmeasured land,” where he “shall die.” The Lord will bring his “fair chariot to shame” and the house of his prince would be “trodden down.” He would be “removed” from his stewardship and from his place. Verse 25 fairly sums up and repeats the entire passage from verses 17-19, concerning Shebna.

25 The man that is fastened in the sure place shall be removed and be taken away, and shall fall; and the glory that is upon him shall be utterly destroyed;

5. In conclusion, it appears far more likely that for the reasons of structure and language just given, verse 25 should be applied to Shebna, rather than to Eliakim/Messiah.


Isaiah 22:15-25 presents an inclusio with a second inclusio embedded within. Verses 15 and 25, introduce and conclude the passage. Both of these verses, set off by the phrases, “Thus says the Lord… ” and “for the Lord has spoken,” refer to the wickedly proud Shebna, here a type of Satan.

The second inclusio embedded within the first is Isaiah 22:20-24. The phrase, “in that day,” (beginning of verse 20 and end of verse 24) sets off the boundaries of this inclusio. The first inclusio is about the wicked Shebna. The second refers to Eliakim, a type of Messiah, Christ.


Isaiah, up until now at least, has given predominantly bad news. The section popularly called the prophecies, judgments, or oracles “against the nations” is particularly painful to read. In contrast, the portion of Isaiah 22:15-25 concerning Shebna and Eliakim will relieve and gladden the hearts of tender readers, because Isaiah predicts the good news of a better priest/ruler to come.

First, he is God’s special servant, the whom God approves and sets in place. His authority will be great and his majesty glorious. He will be a father to many, and everyone, from least to greatest, will trust in him.

Second, because Isaiah prophesied of him a good 600 years before his appearance, those who hear know that he was indeed chosen in advance by God. His credentials are real. That Isaiah speaks of a good, faithful, humble, and wise servant/ruler is good news for the whole world.


Love to Hear from You

Scroll Up