The Saga of Shebna
In the days of Hezekiah, King of Judah, prior to Sennacherib’s siege of Jerusalem, there was an ambitious official in the king’s service whose name was Shebna. Out of an inflated sense of prominence, and perhaps fueled by ambition, Shebna had carved for himself a magnificent tomb from solid rock (a custom usually reserved for royalty). How he must have relished the day of his death!
When Isaiah learned of the deed, he approached the corrupt treasurer and rebuked him. [“The oracle against Shebna (Isa. 22:15-23) is the only instance in Isaiah of an oracle against a named individual”—Cundall, 1975, 5:380.] The prophet informed Shebna that Jehovah would cast him into a far country, and there he would die; accordingly, the dignitary would have no use for his elaborate mausoleum. The record of this exchange is found in Isaiah 22:15ff.
In 1953, an archaeologist by the name of N. Avigad translated an inscription taken from the lintel of a rock tomb in Jerusalem. Written in archaic Hebrew, and dating to the time of Hezekiah, the inscription (with some restoration) said, “This is the sepulcher of [Shebna]yahu [a more complete form of the name], who is over the house [cf. Isa. 22:15]. There is no silver or gold here but only his bones, and the bones of his slave-wife with him. Cursed be the man who breaks this open.”
Some scholars believe this stone lintel is from the tomb of the Shebna rebuked by Isaiah (Blaiklock, 1983; Cundall, 1975, 5:380). Apparently, though Shebna had this inscription made for his tomb, he was never to inhabit his rock-hewn home, since God’s prophet declared that he would be exiled and die in an alien land. Where men propose, God can dispose.
Though we do not deprecate making plans for one’s burial (in fact, such is a wise procedure that will assist one’s children), in the final analysis it is best to focus attention upon eternity!
Blaiklock, E.M. (1983), “Shebna,” New International Dictionary of Biblical Archaeology, ed. E.M. Blaiklock and R.K. Harrison (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan), p. 410.
Cundall, A.E. (1975), “Shebna,” Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, ed. Merrill Tenney (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan), 5:380-381.
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