Isaiah Blog 8 – Isaiah 20-22.

Four Burdens and a Siege.

 The might of Assyria was challenged successfully twice by Meroch-Baladan in Babylon, first during Sargon’s rule he rebelled and led an independent Babylon from 721-710 BC. When Sargon retook Babylon in 710, Meroch-Baladan escaped and then on Sargon’s death in 705 he came back and re-established independent rule – though this time Sennacherib (Sargon’s successor) reclaimed the province of Babylon under Assyrian power two years later.

 But Meroch-Baladan’s successful rebellions had put ideas in others’ heads, including Hezekiah and his chief minister Shebna. They formed alliances with surrounding countries in 705 to throw off the dominance of Assyria, then when Sennacherib swiftly retook Babylon they built four fortified cities to stand in his path before he would reach Jerusalem.

Unfortunately for them he swept round and came down the coast approaching Jerusalem from the opposite direction. His forces conquered all the outlying posts and came to besiege Jerusalem in 701BC.

Jerusalem’s greatest vulnerability was its water supply as it was entirely outside the walls from the spring of Gihon. It was carried into the city by an aqueduct, but any besieging army could easily cut off that supply. Hezekiah constructed a tunnel linking the city to the water supply underground which improved the city’s chances. They also flooded the area between the inner and the outer walls to create a moat.

But in the end, it was God who saved them – a mysterious illness swept through the Assyrian army encamped outside the city and thousands died almost overnight[1]; Sennacherib retreated back to Nineveh where he was murdered by two of his sons and succeeded as King by a third son.

Shebna is sacked and replaced by his second-in-command Eliakim and he takes the lower post. The move provides a scapegoat for the disastrous foreign policy that brought Jerusalem close to ruin – but it does not change the policy as the same team is still in charge.

These chapters consist of four ‘burdens’[2] all mysteriously and enigmatically named – the first[3] called ‘a swampland’; the first person speaker in this passage is Shebna the chief minister and the burden recounts the reaction of people in Jerusalem to Sennacherib’s defeat of Meroch-Baladan and recapture of Babylon.

The second[4] is called ‘silence’ and is an enigmatic call to ask the question, even if there is no answer possible at present – people are fearful of what is coming, yet they don’t know what it is that is coming.

The third[5] ‘in the wasteland’ speaks of the destruction of the Kedarite[6] people. The speaker in 16-17 is again Shebna to whom the Lord has revealed what is happening.

The fourth[7] ‘the valley of vision’ depicts the siege of Jerusalem and the water and other defensive works that have been done – and cries out to the people to look to their Maker, who will shortly and spectacularly be shown to be their true and only protector. His call is to repentance but it goes unheeded – a contrast to the startling story of the prophecy of Jonah where the Assyrian city Nineveh repents at the word of the Lord!

The final passage[8] recounts Shebna’s dismissal and Eliakim’s preferment. But as above this is no radical change of direction, simply the finding of a scapegoat. Somehow this seems all too familiar!


[1] See 2 Kings 19  or Isaiah 37

[2] The NRSV translates them as oracles but that loses the import of the word.

[3] 21:1-10

[4] 21:11-12

[5] 21:13-17

[6] The Kedarites caused Sennacherib and his successors a lot of trouble. Sennacherib records defeating Hazail, King of the Arabs/Kedarites. Kedar seems to have been in the Northern part of Arabia.

[7] 22:1-14

[8] 22:15-25