In Isaiah 13–23, the prophet foretells God’s judgment on the nations (e.g., Babylon, Assyria, Philistia, Syria, Egypt, and Edom). In chapter 22, Isaiah turns to Israel and Jerusalem; sadly, their spiritual condition is similar to the rest of the world. Isaiah condemns them for partying and feasting when they should be weeping and mourning over their spiritual unfaithfulness. The prophetic words are harrowing: “For the Lord God of hosts has a day.”
Notwithstanding, the harshest judgment is reserved for verses 15–25, and it is not against national Israel; it is against an obscure figure named Shebna. Isaiah declares, “Behold, the Lord will hurl you away violently, O you strong man. He will seize firm hold on you and whirl you around and around, and throw you like a ball into a wide land” (Isa. 22:17-18). The imagery is unsettling but amusing: like a ball on a string, God will swing the “strong man” Shebna in circles, then pitch him into a desolate land.
Shebna, the object of God’s anger, was likely the senior-most member of the royal household, second only to the king—similar to Joseph’s position in Pharaoh’s household. The Lord had several grievances against him.
Shebna was too self-important to be worried with the spiritual condition of God’s people or provide fatherly oversight.
Pride. In verse 16, we learn that the high-ranking government official had arranged for a tomb that befitted a king; like the Pharoahs of Egypt, he was concerned with memorializing himself. Shebna had his tomb hewn high in the rocks; in short, he aspired to make a name for himself and be remembered by posterity.
Neglect of duty. Shebna’s preoccupation with being memorialized amounted to tragic misconduct as a leader: he was too self-important to be worried with the spiritual condition of God’s people. Shebna should have called Israel to “be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness” (Jas. 4:9); instead, he was building his legacy. Isaiah prophesied that Eliakim would replace him and “be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Judah” (Isa. 22:21). This is exactly what Shebna should have been doing: providing fatherly, spiritual oversight.
God’s judgment on Shebna is a warning to everyone in leadership, especially those in church offices. God’s anger towards ministerial misconduct is a theme in the prophetic books: according to Zechariah 10:3, “My anger is hot against the shepherds, and I will punish the leaders; for the Lord of hosts cares for his flock, the house of Judah.” In the New Testament, James 3:1 warns, “Not many should become teachers, my brothers, knowing that we will receive a stricter judgment.”
Great leaders are not consumed with the size of their platform; they do not expect a biography to be written about them or a grand ceremony to memorialize them.
Humility. Paul speaks out against those “desiring to be teachers of the law” in order to make a name for themselves (1 Tim. 1:7). He commends those who aspire to the office of overseer, but warns that they should not be a “novice” or “young convert,” “lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil” (1 Tim. 3:6).
Great leaders are not consumed with the size of their platform—how many people attend their church or follow them on social media. Unlike Shebna-like leaders, godly leaders do not expect a biography to be written about them or a grand ceremony to memorialize them. Christlike leaders are serious about Peter’s admonition to those who shepherd the flock: “be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time” (1 Pet. 5:5-6).
Attentiveness. Unlike Shebna, who neglected his duty to provide fatherly oversight to God’s people, godly leaders are attentive. As it is written, “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). Like sheep farmers, Christlike leaders should “know well the condition of your flocks, and give attention to your herds” (Prov. 27:23).
The pastoral charge is not just to preach great sermons, although that is vital; it requires being a neighbor. “Leaders…are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account” (Heb. 13:17). Overseers must have a personal presence in the lives of their people, assess their spiritual condition, and provide guidance and exhortation wherever needed. This day-to-day task is all-consuming and leaves little time for tomb-building.
Pastors must have a personal presence in the lives of their people.
Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. (1 Pet. 5:2-4)
Shebna-like leaders are proud and neglectful; they will be seized by the strong hand of the Lord and cast away from His presence like a ball into a wide land. Christlike leaders are humble and attentive; they will receive the unfading crown of glory. May we labor diligently, trusting in the mercy of the Lord.
Great article. Good read for pastors and leaders.
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