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God’s Judgment on Proud Leaders: A Lesson from the Life of Shebna (Isaiah 22:15-25)

In Isaiah chapters 13-23, the prophet foretells God’s judgment on nations such as Babylon, Assyria, Philistia, Syria, Egypt, and Edom. In chapter 22, we read about Israel — specifically, Jerusalem — and, not surprisingly, their spiritual condition is similar to the rest of the world. Isaiah condemns them for partying jubilantly and eating and drinking when they should be weeping and mourning over their sins. The prophetic words are harrowing: “For the Lord God of hosts has a day.”

Notwithstanding, the harshest judgment is reserved until verses 15-25, and it is not against national Israel; it is against an obscure figure named Shebna. Isaiah declares,

15 Thus says the Lord God of hosts, “Come, go to this steward, to Shebna, who is over the household, and say to him: 16 What have you to do here, and whom have you here, that you have cut out here a tomb for yourself, you who cut out a tomb on the height and carve a dwelling for yourself in the rock? 17 Behold, the Lord will hurl you away violently, O you strong man. He will seize firm hold on you 18 and whirl you around and around, and throw you like a ball into a wide land. There you shall die, and there shall be your glorious chariots, you shame of your master’s house. 19 I will thrust you from your office, and you will be pulled down from your station. 20 In that day I will call my servant Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, 21 and I will clothe him with your robe, and will bind your sash on him, and will commit your authority to his hand. And he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. 22 And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David. He shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open. 23 And I will fasten him like a peg in a secure place, and he will become a throne of honor to his father’s house. 24 And they will hang on him the whole honor of his father’s house, the offspring and issue, every small vessel, from the cups to all the flagons. 25 In that day, declares the Lord of hosts, the peg that was fastened in a secure place will give way, and it will be cut down and fall, and the load that was on it will be cut off, for the Lord has spoken.”

The Bad Shepherd

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 imagery in verses 17-18 is amusing. Like a ball on a string, God will swing the “strong man” Shebna in circles, then pitch him into a desolate land. The Lord had several grievances against him.

Shebna was too self-important to be worried with the spiritual condition of others.

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” (James 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” (v.21). This is exactly what Shebna should have been doing: providing fatherly, spiritual oversight.

Good Shepherds

God’s judgment on Shebna has alarming implications for 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 preoccupied with the size of their platform.

HUMILITY

Paul speaks out against those “desiring to be teachers of the law” in order to make a name for themselves (1 Timothy 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 Timothy 3:6).

Great leaders are not primarily concerned 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. They 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 Peter 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, they should “know well the condition of your flocks, and give attention to your herds” (Proverbs 27:23).

The pastoral charge is not just to preach great sermons; it requires being a neighbor. “Leaders…are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account” (Hebrews 13:17, ESV). 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.

The pastoral charge is not just to preach great sermons. It requires being a neighbor.

Peter writes, “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 Peter 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.

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