Corruption in positions of authority, respect and morality has horribly and terrifyingly become one of the norms of twenty-first century society. Doctors, Teachers, Politicians, Police and greatly loved and well received celebrities have all caused the public, worldwide and especially in the UK to gasp in horror.
Recently, all within the space of 3 or 4 days it felt like I was bombarded with the thought of societal corruption in high places. Firstly in the news there was an extremely high ranking Policeman suspended from duty for misconduct in a sinister cover up of Police malpractice, which, as I write, even though the final verdict on his case has not been pronounced, the opinion of the general public is quite damning. Time will tell the truth of this case. While this Policeman in the corridors of power was being suspended, there is, of course, a required replacement to run the South Yorkshire Force. Yet within 48 hours, the replacement was removed because they were already being examined for corruption on the job in another Police force. The situation would be suitable for a comedy show on TV if it was not so damning of the present status quo concerning the public and truthful image of the Police forces of the UK. Strangely, the evening that the replacement Chief of Police was moved aside, I watched an old Panorama programme on BBC Iplayer. The title was intriguing about Police and criminals. I was shocked to watch an intensive hour long investigative documentary on the shocking corruption in the Metropolitan Police Force in London. The programme proved with witnesses and evidence that a huge number of officers in “the Met” were in the pay of organized crime, and that the Police were involved even to the point of murder.
As if all the above had not been enough, the following evening I watched the last episode of what has been hailed as one of the greatest modern drama series that the BBC has ever produced entitled “Line of Duty.” It was a gritty and verging on the extremely realistic story of a complex plot of murder, child abuse and intrigue. The plot was a long and winding road of twists and turns leading the viewer to conclude almost every week that a different person was the “baddie.” The point of my highlighting this particular drama is that every single person in the plot line was a Policeman. It is as if the British people take it for granted that the Police can be more corrupt than the criminals – a statement that was actually made by a senior Police chief in the Panorama programme I mentioned above.
I felt burdened after such a 72 hour onslaught on my interest and consciousness to the degree that I concluded I needed to pray against the corruption in high places in British society.
Corruption, it seems is pandemic in Britain. Other sources tell me it is suffocating all societies on the whole planet.
MP’s, Police men and women, Doctors, extremely high profile celebrities and even judges and magistrates have over recent years been in infamous cases of moral, financial, and sexual corruption in the UK. This is the exact same symptoms of society that the prophet Isaiah lived in. This statement can be verified generally by reading Isaiah chapter 1. However, the specifics of the corruption within his society are mentioned bit by bit as one ploughs through Isaiah’s voluminous insights of life in Jerusalem in the eighth century B.C. as noted in the book that bears his name.
Here in verses 15-19 in chapter 22, Isaiah highlights one man in particular who personifies the kind of corruption we are discussing.
Indulgent pride nearly always precedes a moral fall. The false comfort that high office, high salary and high public profile gives a person, injects delusions of safety and grandeur into the hearts of those considered the great and the good of society.
This man Shebna was given what we, today, would call, “a cushy number.” In fact it was the cushiest of cushy numbers. If it was at the palace where he worked he would clearly be meeting and mixing with the Davidic king of his day as well as the whole Royal family, mixing with princes and courtiers, working in a comfy little office in the Royal Palace keeping the books for the nation’s Treasury. He was a wealthy and publicly a well-respected man, embedded in comfort and regal company … as far as man could see. Some think it was at the temple where he was the treasurer. If that was so, it would still expose him to the “high and mighty” of the land, giving him kudos and respect among the masses who would see him standing and talking regularly by the side of the nation’s leaders both civic and religious.
However, God saw him differently than the masses did. And God does nothing without telling the prophets. And so He told Isaiah what He was going to do with Shebna. And in these verses, we are witnesses of exactly what the son of Amoz actually heard from God and then said to the nation’s treasurer.
Shebna was elevating himself in a manner that would cause the general public to think that the people he worked for had raised him up. Shebna however had made and awarded himself all the trappings of greatness and nobody seemed to have perceived His malpractice apart from the Almighty.
He made himself chariots. Chariots were banned in the Levitical commands. Biblical philosophers tell us that this precept was to prevent class distinction and people gaining social clout simply because of wealth. Only the aristocracy and the moneyed people of the time could afford chariots. That is how we know the man was legitimately, or illegitimately, in the money. His position allowed him to create an image of himself in society that the king and courtiers probably never caught a glimpse of. He did these things without asking for Royal permission. If the king or Priestly leaders had OK’d his conduct Isaiah would not have been divinely spoken to about his conduct. But those “beneath” his status in society would simply assume his actions and elevation took place with Kingly sanction, if not Kingly instigation. Shebna had bestowed huge cost on hewing out of a rock face, somewhere in or around Jerusalem, a burial tomb for himself. In a nutshell, he considered himself much more important than he actually was.
Such personal decision making to create an aura of greatness around his person absolutely demanded secrecy of motive, and often secrecy of activity. One needs secrecy in order to be deceptive. Without secrecy deception dies. Indeed, secrecy is essential for long undiscovered corruption. I may be leaning on Isaiah’s silence here, but it seems to me that nobody had a clue what Shebna was doing deceptively. His deception was hidden amongst the work and toil of his daily routine. Nobody would normally question workmen hewing out a crypt from a rock face. Desire for wealth, greatness and public respect without any personal desire for greatness of character is universally engrafted in all political corruption. Shebna wanted posterity to remember him as great, yet, not only had he done nothing to justify his self-invested greatness, but he had no intention of planning to do anything that would attract sympathy to the thoughts of greatness in him. To call a spade a spade, he was a crook wanting to look respectable in the public eye, and fooling his superiors as to his integrity – or perhaps impressing them simply because he was as crooked as they were.
However, the true word spoken to Isaiah by the ever-living, ever-loving Yahweh is that this man Shebna was solidified in his self-inflatedness like quick dry cement in the foundations of a hundred story office block. Nothing is missed by the all-seeing eye of Yahweh. The man nation’s treasury accountant, who would have the whole population think he was God’s gift to Jewish society, was to be, quite literally, thrown away. He was to be the shame of his master. The chariots he had made for himself, perhaps his greatest external display of wealth and splendour, were, in the future, to be owned and kept by those who would take him away in exile, and be used to display the victorious class of people who would become his Assyrian slave master. God was to screw his splendour up into a ball and exile him … to Assyria.
God’s plan was for Shebna to die abroad, and utterly lacking in greatness and/or splendour, his name, his riches and even his occupation was to be forgotten. Where it was remembered, it would be derided, or even denied.
Having explained the story, now, to the text of my own translation:
- This is what the sovereign Lord, Yahweh Almighty of Heaven’s Armies, said to me: “Come, go, confront this scribe cum steward – Shebna, who is the House Administrator cum chancellor and supervisory treasurer and say to him:
Here is the stark message! Isaiah, for the first and only time throughout his 66 chapters, gives a prophetic word against a particular person in Jerusalem. I find it fascinating to note that the Douay Rheims translation has it that Shebna lived, “in the tabernacle” and oversaw, “the Temple,” as opposed to, “the Kings Palace,” which is more commonly interpreted as his sphere of work in early English bibles. Several translations simply say that Shebna’s responsibilities were, “over the house,” which, a strict read of the Hebrew, would prove to be more exact as a translation and much less of an interpretation. It leaves it open as to where it was that Shebna operated.
The prophecy exhibits the darkness he was in and the determination he held to fulfil his evil purpose. The most frightening observation, to me, is that nowhere is Shebna encouraged to repent. This is undoubtedly a word of judgement. His hardness of heart has rendered him incapable of responding positively to God, and/or His prophet.
Shebna was a corrupt, self-sufficient and remarkably self-centred official. Wherever it was that he worked, Palace or Temple, he was manager and keeper of the keys. He was treasurer to either of those splendid facilities and had access and responsibility for huge amounts of money.
As a, “By the way!” the name, “Shebna,” is Aramaic and means, “Tender Youth.” Obviously the dreams that his parents carried for him in naming him in That manner, were never fulfilled. He had deep hardness of heart, and a solidified aged corruption of self. He was neither tender, nor youthful. Because his name is Aramaic, as opposed to Hebrew, he was possibly a foreigner, or even, perhaps, of mixed race. He apparently rose to power by learning how to be sycophantic and please the king in a manner that at any particular moment was required. The term “steward” comes from a root word meaning “to be of use to.” Shebna had made himself useful. Yet he himself owned nothing and was directly accountable to either the king, or the elders of the priests, depending on where it was he worked. The man is also referred to in Isaiah 37:2. Where he is said to be a scribe. Had he been demoted by the time that the events of Isaiah 37 took place.
The words of the Prophet, in allusion to Shebna, lead us to determine that he deeply and personally cherished wicked envy. Nor is it improbable that this prediction of Isaiah’s was uttered, when Sennacherib’s army was discomfited, and Jerusalem was exulting in Sennacharib’s departure.
- What are you doing here? Who are your relatives? As if you were somebody! Who gave you permission to cut out a beautiful and impressive grave for yourself here, hewing your tomb on the height at the choicest location and most prominent site, chiseling a monument as your home or crypt and resting place in the rock?
Shebna was using his stewardship purely to advance his position in society. By arranging a sepulchre high up on a rock face, he was bequeathing to himself posthumously the legend, honour and place in history due to the likes of a king. He was not a true servant no matter who it was that he worked for. He only served his own selfish desire. He was betraying the trust of his superiors, King or the High Priest.
- “Beware, Yahweh is about to grab and take firm hold of you, shake you up and down and hurl you away violently with a mighty captivity, O you mighty man.
Because Shebna had misused his position, the LORD was about to take him down and cast him out. One cannot mistake the sarcasm of Isaiah referring to him as a “mighty man.”
- He will roll you up tightly into a ball and throw you into a large country – a distant barren land. There you will die and there your splendid chariots will remain (perhaps broken and useless)—you are a disgrace to your master and his house!
“Like a ball,” Shebna would be thrown where he would perish outside the city, possibly not Jerusalem, but somewhere in Assyria in exile. He would be buried without ceremony. He was a disgrace to the Palace of Hezekiah, or the Temple – wherever it was where he worked, where he was in charge. His “splendid chariots” were part of his attempt to honour himself as if he were royalty.
- I will depose and remove you from your house and drive you out of office and you will be ousted from your position, brought down from your station.
God Himself would take him from high office. The final fulfillment of God’s judgement on him may have come after his demotion.
It is an awful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God.