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Shebna

SHEBNA

sheb'-na (shebhna'; Somnas; but shebhnah, in 2 Kings 18:18,26; meaning uncertain (2 Kings 18:18,26,37; 19:2 = Isaiah 36:3,11,22; 37:2; 22:15)):

1. Position in Isaiah 22:

In Isaiah 22:15 Shebna is referred to as he "who is over the house," or household, apparently that of the king. The phrase is translated "steward of the house" in the Revised Version (British and American) of Genesis 43:16,19; 44:1, and occurs also in 39:4, "overseer"; 44:4. It is used of an officer of the Northern Kingdom in 1 Kings 16:9; 18:3; 2 Kings 10:5. This officer is distinguished from him "that was over the city" in 2 Kings 10:5, and it is said in 2 Kings 15:5 that after his father Azariah was stricken with leprosy, "Jotham, the king's son, was over the household, judging all the people of the land." Again Isaiah 22:15 speaks of "this cokhen," a phrase that must apply to Shebna if the prophecy refers to him. This word is the participle of a verb meaning "to be of use or service," so "to benefit" in Job 15:3; 22:2; 34:9. The feminine participle is employed of Abishag in 1 Kings 1:2,4, where King James Version, margin translates "cherisher"; BDB renders it "servitor" or "steward" in Isaiah 22:15. It occurs also as a Canaanite gloss in the Tell el-Amarna Letters (Winckler, number 237,9). The cokhen was evidently a high officer:

Shebna had splendid chariots (22:18), but what the office exactly was is not certain. The other reference to Shebna in the title of the prophecy would lead one to conclude that it denoted him "who was over the household," i.e. governor of the palace, probably, or major-domo. The word cokhen is thus a general title; others deny this, maintaining that it would then occur more frequently.

2. Shebna in 2 Kings 18 f:

In 2 Kings 18 f = Isaiah 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 Isaiah 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 (2 Kings 18:18) and a Joshua (ben Joahaz) having the very same position under Josiah a century later (2 Chronicles 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, 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:

The prophecy of Isaiah 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) Isaiah 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 Isaiah 8:5-8 a). The actual date of the prophecy can only be inferred.

(2) Isaiah 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, 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 2 Kings 18 f.

See ELIAKIM.

(3) Isaiah 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 Isaiah 22:15 with 2 Kings 18 f = Isaiah 36, 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 Isaiah 22:15, and is to be deposed;

(c) if Isaiah 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 Isaiah 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 Isaiah 22:15-18 was spoken by the prophet early in the reign of Manasseh, i.e. later than 2 Kings 18, "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 (2 Kings 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.

David Francis Roberts


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Bibliography Information
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Entry for 'SHEBNA'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". 1915.