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What the Bible says about Shebna
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Isaiah 22:15-19

Verse 15 introduces a man named Shebna, called the “steward” who was “over the house,” that is, the royal household. The word for “steward” can also indicate the treasurer or the prefect of the palace, both pivotal positions. All indications point to Shebna being the man in highest authority under Hezekiah. He was essentially the king's right hand, not unlike Joseph in Egypt under the Pharaoh.

God gave Isaiah the task of delivering His judgment to Shebna, which began with removing him from office. After this, Scripture refers to him as “Shebna the scribe” instead of “Shebna the steward” (II Kings 18:18-37; 19:2; Isaiah 36:3-22; 37:2), having been given a position of lesser authority. The remainder of God's judgment was that he would be deported to another country—likely Assyria—where he would die.

God's charge against Shebna deals with his ostentation and presumption. He was not the king, yet he presumed to have a burial place among the royal dead, who were interred in sepulchers of prominence on a mountain. He tried to give himself greater honor than had been bestowed upon him—a bold move that indicates his mind's tendency. He was more interested in his own affairs and his place in history than he was in simply doing his job.

His “glorious chariots” of verse 18 illustrate a focus on image and reputation rather than on substance. He was more concerned about his own glory than in the well-being of the nation, which was crumbling around him. Because of his focus on himself instead of God's will, God took away his authority and later removed him from the land altogether.

David C. Grabbe
The 'Open Door' of Philadelphia

Isaiah 22:20-25

After God rebukes and demotes Shebna the steward (verses 15-19), He then fills his office with His servant, Eliakim. Eliakim means “whom God will raise up” or “the resurrection of God,” both of which apply to Jesus Christ. God gives Eliakim the substantial authority and responsibility that Shebna had. Verse 21 says he “shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah,” much as Joseph said, God “has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt” (Genesis 45:8). For both Eliakim and Joseph, their authority was exceeded by only one other person.

Take note of Isaiah 22:22, as Christ quotes it in the letter to the church at Philadelphia: “The key of the house of David I will lay on his shoulder; so he shall open, and no one shall shut; and he shall shut, and no one shall open.” Eliakim's authority to “open . . . and shut” results from “the key of the house of David” being put “on his shoulder.” We can compare this with Isaiah 9:6-7, another Messianic prophecy:

For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this. (Emphasis ours throughout.)

The key of the house of David, then, represents God's governance, specifically His governance over Israel. The Bible even names the royal throne—the throne on which David and Solomon sat—as “the throne of the LORD” (I Chronicles 29:23; see II Chronicles 9:8)! God has sworn that David would always have an heir to sit on that throne (Jeremiah 33:17).

Thus, the key on Eliakim's shoulder represents the power of the government that would ultimately rest on the Messiah's shoulder. It involves the royal line of David and all the authority that resulted from God's covenant and promises to him. The Messiah would come from that same line, and He will sit on that throne when He returns and establishes His Kingdom (Isaiah 9:7).

In his position as second-in-command, Eliakim served as the ultimate gatekeeper, granting or denying access to the house of David at his discretion. He could open the door, and no one could shut it. Having the door opened meant access to the king's presence, and thus to the God-given authority and blessings of the royal line, as well as to all the resources of the treasury and storehouse. But if the steward shut the door, he blocked all of that access, and no one could overrule his decision.

It was a significant position. It is no wonder that God would not tolerate the likes of Shebna in it, who was more interested in his legacy and earthly pomp than fulfilling his office with gravity and faithfulness.

David C. Grabbe
The 'Open Door' of Philadelphia

Isaiah 22:25

The last part of God's declaration through Isaiah is ambiguous in its reference: “In that day,' says the LORD of hosts, 'the peg that is fastened in the secure place will be removed and be cut down and fall, and the burden that was on it will be cut off; for the LORD has spoken'” (Isaiah 22:25). Scholars offer differing opinions as to whom God is referring.

Because this prophecy follows His calling Eliakim “a peg in a secure place,” it seems to imply that Eliakim, too, would become unfaithful and eventually be cut off. However, notice that it is prefaced with “in that day,” just as Shebna's demotion and Eliakim's promotion would happen “in that day” (Isaiah 22:20). This linking of the events to “that day” suggests that the “peg” that is removed and cut off in verse 25 represents Shebna, who would be replaced with a peg that would become glorious, Eliakim.

David C. Grabbe
The 'Open Door' of Philadelphia

Related Topics: Eliakim | Open Door | Secure Place | Shebna


 

Revelation 3:7-8

Christ quotes Isaiah 22:22 in the preamble of His letter to the church at Philadelphia. In identifying Himself to the church, He quotes what He said through Isaiah concerning Eliakim. If we want to understand the letter to Philadelphia, we must begin with this reference. Jesus clarifies that Eliakim's role was a type of the stewardship role that He Himself now fills. In quoting Isaiah, Jesus declares that He is the ultimate fulfillment of Eliakim's position as steward of the house.

In verse 8, Christ announces that He has set an open door before this church and tells them why.

It is imperative to catch the way Jesus says this. The reason they have an open door is because they have a little strength, have kept His Word, and have not denied His name. Thus, He mentions the open door in response to their condition coupled with their faithfulness. We need to grasp this to recognize what the open door is. The Holman Christian Standard Bible captures this aspect well: “I know your works. Because you have limited strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name, look, I have placed before you an open door that no one is able to close.”

What is this open door? The conventional interpretation among those who have come out of the Worldwide Church of God is that Christ has given the Philadelphians an open door to preach the gospel, an idea that is not without merit. In three of Paul's epistles, he uses an open door as a metaphor for an opportunity to preach (I Corinthians 16:9; II Corinthians 2:12; Colossians 4:3). But this metaphor has no connection at all to Christ's quotation of Isaiah 22:22. Even so, we will follow the rabbit hole to see where this typically leads us.

Christ promises to keep the Philadelphians from the hour of trial, boosting the importance of being a Philadelphian because it involves protection during the Tribulation. Consequently, it then becomes imperative to determine which church group appears to have the open door to preach the gospel, because—the reasoning goes—God will protect that group.

Suddenly, a tremendous interest then arises in accumulating “proof” of an open door, since it will apparently establish that a group is Philadelphian and guaranteed protection. The “proof” is then held up as the reason all church members should join that group instead of another. But when this is the primary approach, what people usually focus on are not the things that truly matter but numbers—like how many radio or television stations the group is on, how many new people are attending services, how many subscribers or website hits it receives, or what percentage of its income a group spends on preaching the gospel.

We can add to this heady mix the incongruity of boasting about preaching the gospel with great strength. Remember, Christ identifies the Philadelphians as having only “a little strength”! It cannot be both ways.

The idea has been that, if we want to be protected and to “escape all these things which will come to pass” (Luke 21:36), we have to be with the group whose door to preach the gospel is open just a little wider than the rest. Yet, if our motivation is nothing more than self-preservation, something is dreadfully wrong. Christ specifically warns of this approach when He says that he who seeks to save his life will lose it (Luke 9:24; 17:33).

When the open door is interpreted to mean an opportunity to preach the gospel, the fruit has been exclusivity, comparing ourselves among ourselves (II Corinthians 10:12), division, competition, and a pitiful supply of love—works of the flesh rather than fruit of the Spirit. This occurs largely because people keep pushing God and all He is doing out of the picture. It is easy to focus on the works of men—which harkens back to God's controversy with Shebna the scribe, who was replaced by Eliakim because of ostentation and presumption, focusing on his own affairs and his place in history rather than in simply doing his job (Isaiah 22:15-20).

David C. Grabbe
The 'Open Door' of Philadelphia

Revelation 3:7-8

What is this open door? The conventional interpretation among those who have come out of the Worldwide Church of God is that Christ has given the Philadelphians an open door to preach the gospel, an idea that is not without merit. In three of Paul's epistles, he uses an open door as a metaphor for an opportunity to preach (I Corinthians 16:9; II Corinthians 2:12; Colossians 4:3). But this metaphor has no connection at all to Christ's quotation of Isaiah 22:22. Moreover, the fruit of this interpretation has been exclusivity, comparing ourselves among ourselves, division, competition, and a pitiful supply of love—works of the flesh rather than fruit of the Spirit. This occurs largely because people keep pushing God and all He is doing out of the picture and focusing on the works of men.

When we understand Christ's reference to Eliakim, that He is now fulfilling that role, we can understand the open door without having to force anything. Consider the access He grants, saying in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” Through Christ's blood, we have access to the Almighty, the Most High God.

After the seven letters, in Revelation 4:1, John is shown an open door in heaven. To see what is behind the open door, we must read and meditate on the rest of the chapter. It is profound, describing where we approach in spirit when we pray. Far from suggesting that the Philadelphians are going to heaven, the chapter reiterates the fact of their access to the One in heaven. Through Christ, we have entrance into the Holy of Holies, the dwelling place of the Great God, which we may enter with boldness (Hebrews 10:19).

Notice what Jesus says in Luke 11:9-10, 13:

So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. . . . If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!

If we knock and keep knocking (as the Greek indicates), God opens the door. The Philadelphians have had to knock because they have only a little strength, and they know it. But they also know that the only way to endure courageously (Revelation 3:10) is to seek the strength of God. Thus, the One they seek responds, giving more of His Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the means by which the Father and the Son dwell within the adopted sons of God. By giving the Spirit, He gives more of Himself. No one can shut that open door, though we can certainly ignore it and “neglect so great a salvation” (Hebrews 2:3).

The letter to Philadelphia is not about the mighty works of powerful men. It begins with the tremendous help available to those who are weak, but who keep God's Word, who do not deny His name, and who persevere in faith. Because they consistently knock, Christ reminds them of His pivotal position as second-in-command to the Absolute Deity and that through Him as Steward, they have access to the throne of God.

The Philadelphians' strength is small, but God's is without limit. They are not those who seek after earthly glory, like Shebna, but they are faithful in their responsibilities to the Most High God, like Eliakim—and like Jesus Christ.

David C. Grabbe
The 'Open Door' of Philadelphia


 




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