Shebna’s sin

Shebna’s sin September 8, 2011

Shebna is rebuked for wanting to carve a tomb in Jerusalem (Isaiah 22:16). What could be wrong with that?

Plenty. The repeated questions of Isaiah 22:16, and the emphatic locative (“what are you here ? Why are you here ? You hew a tomb here “) indicate that Shebna is presuming a higher position that he holds. He is planning a tomb among the tombs of the kings, but he is only a steward.

But his arrogance is deeper even than this, rivaling the arrogance of the kings of Assyria (Isaiah 10) and Babylon (Isaiah 14). When Isaiah describes his ambition to “hew” a tomb in Jerusalem, he uses a word hat is most prominent in temple texts. Hewers of wood and of stone are the builders of temples (1 Kings 5:15; 1 Chronicles 22:2, 15; 2 Chronicles 2:2, 18). Earlier in Scripture, the Gibeonites become hewers of wood in service to the tabernacle. Shebna wants not so much a tomb as a shrine.

And the rest of Isaiah’s description points in the same direction. he wants his tomb to be “high” (v. 16), and at the end of the verse the tomb is called a mishkan , a word normally used for the tent of Yahweh. He carves a dwelling-place or tabernacle in the “rock,” and in verse 18 Isaiah describes Shebna as the owner of “chariots of glory,” just like Yahweh. Shebna, in short, has not merely elevated himself to be the equal of the Davidic kings he should serve; his ambition is to elevate himself nearly to godhood.

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