Shebna

SHEBNA (shĕb'na, Heb. shevnā’)

Steward of Hezekiah (Isa.22.15-Isa.22.21) who, in pride, had made a grave for himself. For his pride, the Lord predicted that he would toss him like a ball into a far country where he would die, and his place would be taken by the godly Eliakim (Isa.22.22).A scribe, also in Hezekiah’s time, who went out with others to face the Assyrian field commander, the emissary of Sennacherib (2Kgs.18.1-2Kgs.18.37; Isa.36.3-Isa.37.2).



The oracle against Shebna (Isa 22:15-25) is the only instance in Isaiah of an oracle against a named individual. He is described as a steward (possibly treasurer), a term which is found nowhere else in Israel but which denotes a high official in Assyrian and Phoenician inscrs. The position “over the household” was one of great responsibility and influence, as indicated in v. 22. It prob. included authority over the standing army. The fact that his father’s name is not given and that his own name is Aram. in form may indicate that he was a foreigner. This is not certain, as the name itself occurs in contemporary inscrs., but Isaiah appears to regard him as an upstart. The specific charge against Shebna reveals his pretensions. Rock tombs were normally reserved for the nobility in Judah. Isaiah indicated that Shebna’s tomb would not be used for the purpose intended, since he would be cast out of office, replaced by Eliakim, and die in exile. It is believed that part of the inscribed lintel from this tomb has been discovered. A further allusion to his vanity is in the reference to his splendid chariots (v. 18). Some critical scholars have alleged that vv. 19-23 are a later modification in the light of events, changing a prophecy of violent removal and death (vv. 17, 18) into one of demotion only. Eliakim occupied the position “over the household” (i.e. the station next to the king in rank) and Shebna was “secretary,” an important post, but just inferior to that of Eliakim (36:3). Since nothing is known of Shebna subsequent to Sennacherib’s invasion (701 b.c.), the precise mode of fulfillment of the prophetic oracle is uncertain.


The view that the Shebna of Isaiah 22:15ff. is not the same person as the Shebna mentioned in connection with the events of 701 b.c. is rarely held nowadays. It is inconceivable that there were two officials of the same name, both without any “pedigree,” holding one or other of the two most responsible state offices, in the same general period. The text gives no support whatever to such a view.

Bibliography

D. J. Wiseman, IBA (1958), 59; H. H. Rowley, “Hezekiah’s Reform and Rebellion,” Men of God (1963), 98-132; J. Gray, I and II Kings (1964), 610-632.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)


1. Position in Isaiah 22:


2. Shebna in 2 Kings 18 f:

In 2Ki 18 f = Isa 36 f we find too a Shebna mentioned among the officers of Hezekiah. There he is called the copher, "scribe" or "secretary," i.e. a minister of state of some kind, whereas Eliakim is he "who is over the household." Is then the Shebna of Isa 22 the same as this officer? It is of course possible that two men of the same name should hold high office about the same time. We find a Joshua (ben Asaph) "recorder" under Hezekiah (2Ki 18:18) and a Joshua (ben Joahaz) having the very same position under Josiah a century later (2Ch 34:8). But such a coincidence is rare. Had there been two high officers of state bearing this name, it is most probable that they would somehow have been distinguished one from the other. Shebna’s name is thought to be Aramaic, thus pointing to a foreign descent, but G. B. Gray, "Isa," ICC, 373 ff, denies this. We can perhaps safely infer that he was a parvenu from the fact that he was hewing himself a sepulcher in Jerusalem, apparently among those of the nobility, whereas a native would have an ancestral burial-place in the land.

However, in 2 Kings, Shebna is the scribe and not the governor of the palace. How is this to be explained? The answer is in Isaiah’s prophecy.

3. Isaiah 22:15 ff:

The prophecy of Isa 22 divides itself into 3 sections. The words "against (not as the Revised Version (British and American) "unto") Shebna who is over the house," or palace, are properly the title of the prophecy, and should come therefore at the very beginning of verse 15.

(1) Isa 22:15-18 form one whole. In 22:16 the words "hewing him out a sepulchre," etc., should be placed immediately before the rest of the verse as 22:16a with the rest of the section is in the second person. We thus read (22:15-17): `Against Shebna who was over the house. Thus saith the Lord, Yahweh of hosts, Go unto this steward (Revised Version margin) that is hewing him out a sepulchre on high, graying a habitation for himself in the rock, (and say) What doest thou here and whom hast thou here that thou hast hewed thee out here a sepulchre? Behold, Yahweh of hosts, ....’ etc. G.H. Box (Isaiah) would further transpose some parts of 22:17 f. Shebna is to be tossed like a ball into "a land wide of sides," i.e. a broad extensive land. He is addressed as a disgrace to the house of his royal master. The prophet’s language is that of personal invective, and one asks what had made him so indignant. Some (e.g. Dillmann, Delitzsch) suggest that Shebna was the leader of a pro-Egyptian party, while others (e.g. Cheyne) believe that the party was pro-Assyrian (compare Isa 8:5-8 a). The actual date of the prophecy can only be inferred.

(2) Isa 22:19-23 contains a prophecy which states that Eliakim is to be given someone’s post, apparently that of Shebna, if this section be by Isaiah; 22:23, however, is held by many to be a gloss. These verses are not so vehement in tone as the previous ones. Some maintain that the section is not by Isaiah (Duhm, Marti). It can, however, be Isaianic, only later in date than 22:15 ff, being possibly meant to modify the former utterance. The palace governor is to lose his office and to be succeeded by Eliakim, who is seen to hold that post in 2Ki 18 f.

See Eliakim.

(3) Isa 22:24 f are additions to the two utterances by a later hand; they predict the ruin of some such official as Eliakim owing to his own family.

4. Date of the Prophecy:

There is nothing a priori against believing that these three sections are entirely independent one of another, but there seems to be some connection between (1) and (2), and again between (2) and (3). Now the question that has to be solved is that of the relation of Isa 22:15 ff with 2Ki 18 f = Isa 36 f, where are given the events of 701 BC. We have the following facts:

(a) Shebna is scribe in 701, and Eliakim is governor of the palace;

(b) Shebna is governor of the palace in Isa 22:15, and is to be deposed;

(c) if Isa 22:18-22 be by Isaiah, Eliakim was to succeed Shebna in that post.

Omitting for the moment everything but (a) and (b), the only solution that is to any extent satisfactory is that Isa 22:15-18 is to be dated previous to 701 BC. This is the view preferred by G.B. Gray, in the work quoted And this is the most satisfactory theory if we take (2) above into consideration. The prophecy then contained in (1) had not been as yet fulfilled in 701, but (2) had come to pass; Shebna was no longer governor of the palace, but held the position of scribe. Exile might still be in store for him.

Another explanation is put forward by K. Fullerton in AJT, IX, 621-42 (1905) and criticized by E. Konig in X, 675-86 (1906). Fullerton rejects verses 24 f as not due to Isaiah, and maintains that Isa 22:15-18 was spoken by the prophet early in the reign of Manasseh, i.e. later than 2Ki 18 f, "not so much as a prophecy, a simple prediction, as an attempt to drive Shebna from office. .... It must be admitted that Isaiah probably did not succeed. The reactionary party seems to have remained in control during the reign of Manasseh. .... Fortunately, the moral significance of Isaiah does not depend on the fulfillment of this or that specific prediction. We are dealing not with a walking oracle, but with a great character and a noble life" (p. 639). He then infers from the massacres of Manasseh (2Ki 21:16) "that a conspiracy had been formed against him by the prophetic party which proposed to place Eliakim on the throne" (p. 640). Isaiah he thinks would not "resort to such violent measures," and so the character of Isaiah makes it questionable whether he was the author of 22:20-23. This part would then be due to the prophetic party "who went a step farther than their great leader would approve." This view assumes too much,

(a) that the terms in 22:20-23 refer to kingly power;

(b) that Eliakim was of Davidic descent, unless we have a man of non-Davidic origin aiming at the throne, which is again a thing unheard of in Judah; and

(c) that there was such a plot in the reign of Manasseh, of which we have no proof.