The burden of the Valley of Vision: the meaning of that term.
The chapter to which we have now come clearly divides into two parts: the earlier, verses 1 to 14, following in regular course the "burdens" of the previous chapter, on some place emblemed by the title "Valley of Vision"; and then, in verses 15 to 25, apparently an illustrative appendix, breaking into the regular order, which we may call the "burden" of the highest court official in Jerusalem.
As Delitzsch notes, the idea in the grouping of the four burdens is not chronological as to dates of composition, but suggests a storm coming from a distance, first rising in far-away Babylon, and approaching by way of Edom and Arabia till it bursts over Jerusalem in awful fury. That Jerusalem is here the object of the "burden" is assured by the fourth verse.
1: What aileth thee that to the housetopsWe must first ask what is meant by the cryptic title: "Valley of Vision." The context gives a clear answer, for just as in the preceding emblems there have been clear paradoxes in the terms used, as Desert and Sea, Silence and Tumult, so here Valley and Vision are equally paradoxical. If it had been "Mount of Vision" there would have been congruity; but who would expect to get a clear vision of what was far off when in a valley, and that a gloomy one? For the word for "valley," while there are several in Hebrew, is that one used when a threatening idea is to be conveyed. It is Geh, and is found in "The valley of slaughter" (Jer. 19:6), "valley of salt" (2 Sam. 8:13), "valley of death-shade" (Ps. 23:4) and is particularly clear in the awful Gehenna, the "Valley of Hinnom," the word used for the place of everlasting punishment. In verse 7 the word for "valley" is quite another, and has no such gloomy association. We gather, then, from the two contrasted terms, valley and vision, that the object on which this burden falls is characterized by a corresponding contrast; that is, while morally dark and low, as this word for "valley" suggests, there is a claim to high privileges and great intelligence, suggested by "vision." It is that city that well represents the religion of man, Jerusalem as seen in her Pharisaic rulers in the Gospels, and as the prophet foresees in his vision.
There are points in the chapter that must not be passed over without note, as may be for our edification in Christ; yet, as a whole, it calls, as far as my light goes, for no extended comment. The free paraphrase will be enough to give its general bearing.
The scene opens with a city that had been filled with activity, and all those sounds that accompany the daily pursuit of business and pleasure; but the prophet is apparently astonished to see all the populace rushing up to their flat-roofed houses, and asks the question as to the cause. Is it to get a clear view of an advancing army? Or do they hope thus to escape it? It would be a vain hope, for, says the prophet, "My vision goes further, and I see many slain who have not lost their lives in honorable conflict, but have been slain as prisoners. I see rulers taken captive and fettered, while the common people, who have endeavored to flee afar, are ignominiously chained together.
Now note the effect, not of the fact, but of this vision on the spirit of the Seer, and learn from it what the same Spirit of Christ ever works in His people who see, in that Word that gives us the only "vision" that we now have, the coming wrath.
"Therefore I said: Oh, leave me alone! Hinder me not in my bitter weeping! Press me not with comforts! For how can I see unmoved, the destruction of the daughter of my people?" A tender way of speaking of his beloved nation as seen in the fate of its chief city, Jerusalem; and particularly significant in this connection in which his own lips are announcing the judgment he thus bewails. Well may we learn that God takes no pleasure in inflicting judgment on the creatures He has made, whoever they may be. Judgment is indeed His work; but it is His strange work (Isa. 28:21); and the same Spirit by which our prophet sees the coming suffering, leads him to weep over it. So did He who was in Himself the very "outshining of God's glory, the exact expression of His substance," shed tears, as He, too, foresaw and announced that same judgment on Jerusalem, and in utter tenderness bewailed the hardness of heart that refused to be sheltered by His wing. Well may we learn then, again I say, that none even to this day, if under the control of the same Spirit, will speak of the awful penalty awaiting the finally impenitent, with a cold heart or a tearless eye. He who is in communion with God, loves with Him, rejoices with Him, and weeps with Him.
It is to be feared that any who speak callously or harshly of Hell cannot have entered into the compassionate spirit which should mark the servant of Him who wept.
We may discern in this very day a correspondence to that scene of excitement in the doomed city. Even now there is a strange sense of some imminent danger, leading to the ever-recurring question that men pass one to another: "What's coming?" In that unrest we have a parallel to the rushing up to the housetops in Jerusalem. Alas, too, the parallel may be seen still further as we continue.
"For a day of tumult, of treading down, and of confusion, is on the way from Jehovah, and in the Valley of Vision I can see it clearly, and even hear the crash of falling walls, and the cry of despair that beats against the mountains as they fall. For Elam has taken quiver, with chariots and horsemen. Kir has uncovered the shield, and thus it is that thy choicest valleys are full of chariots, and that horsemen threaten thy gates."
Thus in the prophetic vision, in verse 5, Isaiah foresees the chastening of Jerusalem and bringing on her double for all her sins; for while the sins of no individual can be eternally forgiven without the shedding of Blood of such value that God can accept it in expiation; yet the sins of a nation, as such, as an entity with a national responsibility, can be met only upon the earth.3 For there are no nations in eternity, and they must, as evidencing the inflexible righteousness of the divine government of the earth, pass through retributive suffering which they bring upon themselves by those sins; and this is inflicted by mutual antagonisms. Thus God used the Assyrian in his day, and later, the Babylonian in his; still later, Persia is used in the punishment of Babylon, and then Greece in that of Persia; finally Rome displaces in the same way the World-empire of Greece; and Rome, broken up by the Goth, Huns, etc., brings the series to an end for a time, till that fourth empire is again revived, and of this we seem to be on the threshold. But this, too, shall come to its end, not by the substitution of another merely human power—for in democracy fully displayed this form of man's testing comes to an end—but by the smiting by the Stone cut out without hands; that is, the revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ and the setting up of His kingdom that shall never be removed.
8: He takes off the cover that covereth Judah.In verse 8 and following there is an admixture of the historical with the prophetic; for much of what is here foretold was actually done by Hezekiah (2 Chron. 32), but the history eventuated in the deliverance of Jerusalem, the prophecy in its capture; therefore the history does not fulfil it.
The people awaken to the seriousness of the threatening danger and take every precaution within their power, save only that they quite overlook Him in whom alone is there any hope of their deliverance; they "neglect the great salvation" in that they look not to Him alone who is the one effective Defender, whose decree long ago determined this visitation that now threatens them.
In our A. V. the last clause of verse 11 would read as if Jehovah were reproaching the people for not considering him who long ago had made the "pool," the antecedent of "thereof" being a work merely of human engineering. That is, of course, impossible, and is an example of the need of care in finding the antecedent to pronouns in Scripture. The reference is to the calamity that is overhanging it; it is this that has been "fashioned long ago." But, although this has been formed in Jehovah's mind, the very telling it forth thus as by the prophet was that it might not eventuate, but be averted by a timely repentance, as was really the case when a similar threatening was proclaimed to Nineveh by Jonah (Jonah 3).
Yes, the very foretelling the calamity was really a call from Jehovah for that repentance that should avert it; but instead of the weeping, mourning, disheveled hair and sackcloth garments of humiliation that should express the inward sorrow, what does He find? Mirth, pleasure, feasting, and revelry, through the whole scene; saying thus, in deeds if not in words, "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die." This life is all we have, there is nothing either to be feared or hoped beyond it; so let us get all the pleasure from it that we can. The apostle takes up (1 Cor. 15) the same words, and admits that they might be defended if there were no resurrection. "How foolish I myself have been," he says; "if there be no resurrection, like those foolish men who throw away their lives fighting with wild beasts, so have I thrown away my life without the slightest compensation. If it be really true that the dead rise not, then the only path of wisdom is in that wild counsel of despair: 'Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.'"
This brings us, in verse 14, to a very solemn word that verges on the full revelation of truth in the New Testament. "Listen," says the prophet, "for Jehovah hath whispered this solemn sentence into my ears: 'This iniquity shall not be expiated till ye do certainly die.'" That must mean far more than the execution of that primal sentence passed upon all men, and to which all are so inevitably going that it is called, "The way of all the earth"; it means that you shall go out of this life with that iniquity still upon you, and awaiting another death than that which all suffer. It is precisely what the Lord said to the most religious men of His day: "If ye believe not that I am He, ye shall die in your sins." The first death will not exhaust the penalty.
Ever may we, ever should we, rejoice and make our boast in the Lord—always, always. He, and He alone, is a fount of joy that is perennial, never becoming dried, in fine weather or foul. When we consider the one Witness for God upon the earth, the Church, and the utter, complete and most shameful failure that we have all made of that testimony, we may well hear our God calling us to weeping rather than merriment; to repentance rather than boasting; to humiliation rather than pride.
Verses 15 to 25 are almost universally accepted as foreshadowing in Shebna and Eliakim, the future Antichrist replaced by the true Christ, and the use that the Spirit makes of verse 22 in Revelation 3:7 tends to confirm such an application. The one difficulty is that the chapter appears to close with a threat even against Eliakim, who would figure Christ Himself. This impossibility compels us, in this application of the prophecy at least, to see here a return to Shebna.
15: Thus saith Jehovah Tzebaoth: Now goThe word rendered above by "steward" (A. V., treasurer) was used for the most important office in an eastern court. Its occupant, who was said to be "over the house," was in closest intimacy with the king; nor was it beneath the dignity even of the heir to the throne to fill this high position as did Jotham (2 Chron. 26:21); all of which strengthens its applicability to our Lord, the Son of Him sitting on the Throne, and Heir of all things. But the present holder, Shebna, is referred to contemptuously.
Note the threefold recurrence of the word "here" in verse 16. It is strongly emphatic: "Here, here, here; what right hast thou here?" Then in supreme indignation, Jehovah turns from the direct address to Shebna, to tell, as it were, to some imagined on-lookers: "Why, he has actually hewn out his sepulchre high among kings, and thus provided a permanent position of proud superiority for himself even after death!"
Then, once again, directly facing Shebna, Jehovah says: "Behold, take this to heart, for Jehovah will first twist thee into a ball, and then throw thee as a strong man throws it, into a wide far-off country where nothing shall impede thy shameful rolling. Not 'here,' but there shalt thou die; and all these chariots of glory, these trappings that thou hast acquired for thy glory, shall come to an end with thee there, O thou shame of thy lord's house!"
If we pass on without noting the extreme significance attached in that dispensation to the disposal of the body after decease, we shall altogether miss the point of this threat to Shebna. It was not mere sentiment or natural affection that led to an honored tomb being given, or that feared any dishonor to that which was inevitably soon to mingle with, and be lost as a body in its kindred dust.
The disposal of the body after death, inanimate and unconscious as it was, was evidently regarded as a kind of visible reflex of the condition of the departed spirit. Thus, as Jehovah permitted the dust either to be honored or dishonored, so did that express the condition, in the unseen world, of the person who had worn that vestment; and also, in the case of burial, a living hope of the recovery of a clothing of the spirit (which alone completes, and indeed constitutes, a "man") in resurrection.
With such a significance, how could it be a matter of indifference to the Hebrew as to what became of his own body, or the bodies of those he loved? In Israel what strange disproportionate anxiety there seems to have been as to the disposal of the unconscious dust! Could this be due to mere sentiment? Impossible. They that do such things declare plainly their convictions that death does not end the person, and that their God will both care for them in their unclothed condition and also intervene, and not permit that sin-ruined condition of His redeemed to deny the efficacy of the redemption wrought by His beloved Son. These spirits of "just men" must be "made perfect" (Heb. 11:40); and spirit, soul and body, once more united in an eternal association, shall witness forever to the infinite and eternal efficacy of the atoning death of His dear Son. Would, beloved, that we all had more joy in these bright hopes!
Before leaving Shebna, there are two points that are worthy of consideration: the first is the light that the inspired history throws on his subsequent position in the court of Hezekiah. In 2 Kings 18:37 we find him no longer "over the house," but in the comparatively inferior position of "scribe," or secretary. But while this is a fall, it is certainly by no means an adequate fulfilment of the threat we have been considering, nor does any scripture give us such fulfilment. Surely this indicates that the divine Spirit is occupied far less with the historical, than with the prophetic Shebna, the Antichrist yet to come. Just as it is not the historical Eliakim but the prophetic Christ who is the real subject of the prophecy.
The next is of similar import; for wherever the name of Shebna occurs, in marked contrast to all others, nothing is said of his parentage, and he, too, is without father, without mother, without descent, and is thus a kind of imitation Melchizedek (but always in a contrasted way), who was also a figure of Christ. This affords another assurance that we must still look forward and not backward to find the true Shebna.
Shebna's doom is, alas, not a solitary one. What myriads go out of life, as they have lived, "without God and without hope" as to what comes after death. Hearken to that solemn threat in Jer. 25:32, 33: "Thus saith the Lord of Hosts, Behold, evil shall go from nation to nation, and a great whirlwind shall be raised up from the coasts of the earth; and the slain of the Lord shall be at that day, from one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth; they shall not be lamented, neither gathered, nor buried; they shall be dung upon the ground." Note how the solemn threat stays absolutely with the earth. There is not a whisper of a heaven lost, or a hell gained, nor even of the fate of a soul being involved at all; yet, in that distinction between being "gathered" and "buried" (although still without the clear teaching of the New Testament), who could refrain from asking: "If it is the body that is affected by the burial, what is affected by the gathering?" And then we see that this word "gather" is always one of tender consolation to His people, that God gave His saints all through that long period of waiting, and we feel assured that, as certainly as the body is buried, so it is the person, as identified with his spirit, who is gathered. Further, there are three different threats here: the body is affected by the refusal of "burial"; the soul, the seat of the affections, by the refusal of "lamentation"; and what then is left for the spirit, but the refusal of "gathering"? All three speak of complete divine reprobation, and the denial of burial becomes terribly suggestive.
In our day of the bright light of revelation, burial has no longer the significance that it had; and while piety will still confess to the truth of God's Word, and tender human affection will reverently care for the beloved form in committing it to its kindred dust, yet faith no longer lingers over that dust, but rather follows the spirit to its temporary rest in Paradise "with Christ," to await in His company that long-looked-for resurrection morn, when the person shall be clothed with an eternal house that shall fit him for his heavenly environment, as did the body of earth for the earth; that depends on our link with Him whom Eliakim figures.
In this light as to the significance of burial in those days, this threat to Shebna has a solemnity that would otherwise be lacking. It does not speak clearly, it is true, of an awful future awaiting him after death, but it certainly suggests it; and as this magnificent sepulchre, placed high up in the rock amid those of kings, expressed his pride, so was the superhuman nature of that pride evidenced by an ambition that went beyond this life, scene and sphere, and that was distinctly like that of Satan.
Thus, while in Shebna we may see a figure of the future Antichrist, yet behind even him, the servant, we may discern (dimly perhaps through the gloom, yet assuredly, too) his master, the Devil; and, in the doom of the servant, see a foreshadowing of the master's shameful end; for he, too, is "the shame of his lord's house," as our Lord Jesus is its glory.
Now the prophecy turns from Shebna to Eliakim, who shall take his place by divine appointment:
20: In that day will I call to My servant,This reference to the Key of David provides what the Spirit of God shall need as a figure in the day of Revelation 3, when another Eliakim, the only One really true to that name that means, "Whom God establishes," shall present Himself to one of that group of churches that may be discerned in one condition of the Lord's people even this very day. Surely we should be interested in such a theme.
He is writing to the church in Philadelphia, or to interpret the name, "Brotherly-love," so that we may justly conclude that this letter is addressed to all among us who are really "brethren," and as being that, are held closely bound together in "love" by a common divine life and nature. Thus He speaks: "These things saith He that is holy, He that is true, He that hath the key of David, He that openeth and no man shutteth; and shutteth and no man openeth." Aye, many to this hour rejoice to own that He, the Man of Nazareth, is Lord of all, and "over the house," "whose house are we." Nor does He use that "Key" to shut doors against the dweller in Philadelphia, but sets before him an open door of feeding, of fellowship, and of service, that none can shut. Happy dweller in Philadelphia then! More happy dweller in true "brotherly love" now, to whom He is the one attractive Object, being "holy," amid all earth's defilement; "true," amid all earth's falsehoods; and who thus draws His people to Himself as a gathering Center. Those thus drawn have the whole dear family of God as the only circumference of the circle of their affections and fellowship; that, and only that, bears the character of "Philadelphia" today.
We still have to consider the last verse, the application of which has been disputed:
25: In that day, saith Jehovah Tzebaoth,All in these later verses seems quite simple and clear until we get to this. On Jesus, the true Eliakim, does indeed hang all the glory of His Father's House, and all the vessels, i.e., His servants, whether they be small or great, as important as the apostles, or as insignificant as ourselves. All alike do surely hang upon Him, and as long as He is "established of God" they are equally secure. Thus it is impossible to apply this verse and its threat to our Lord. Never shall any that depend on Him fall. Fastened in a very sure place, His are "the sure mercies of David." His is the Key of David too; He shall never, never fall.
Then the verse must apply to Shebna; and we may discern in the very phrase by which it is introduced, "In that day," a suggestion to go back to him; for in that day in which the true Eliakim shall be thus exalted, all connected with and depending on Shebna shall fall with him. This is perfectly true, as we see in Revelation 19:19-21 with regard to the antitype of Shebna, whether Antichrist, or his master, the Devil: absolutely untrue with regard to the Antitype of Eliakim and those who are His.
1 Literally, "with bow bent," "without any need of the bow being drawn" (Delitzsch).
2 A characteristic play on words that I have tried to transfer.All can discern it in the Hebrew mehumah, mebusah, mebucah. "Confusion," "abusing," "delusion," have at least a similar assonance.
3 The reader's thoughts will probably go to John 11:50-53, but there the Spirit of God adopts the words of Caiaphas, altering his use of them and enlarging their scope. The nation undoubtedly has profited, and will profit, by that atonement, but everlasting forgiveness of sins is by personal individual faith.
4 See 2 Kings 20:20; 2 Chron. 32:30.