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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:A Good Change in Government
Text:Isaiah 22:20-23 (View)
Occasion:Ascension Day
Topic:Christ's Kingship

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 47:1,2                                                                                         

Ps 19:5,6                                                                                                          

Reading – Isaiah 22:15-19; Revelation 3:7-13

Ps 18:14,15

Sermon – Isaiah 22:20-23

Hy 19:3,4

Hy 41:1,2,3

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in Christ, a change in government is always a big deal: there are new cabinet members to choose, new policies to begin implementing, new office spaces to move into. The old is quickly shuffled to one side, and the new is put into the spotlight.

In our text today, we see something similar. Isaiah 22 describes a change in leadership, one that had big consequences for the people of Judah. No, there hadn’t been an election. And this was not a change that was going to make headlines at the Babylonian Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). But all the same, this change was significant for God’s people.

God was removing one man from office, Shebna, and He was replacing him with another, Eliakim. The Lord has always shown care for his covenant people through the men and women He calls to service. Our text is another instance of that, as Eliakim is given a position of leadership in Judah, and he is commanded to govern diligently and faithfully.

Now, these few verses are about a very specific moment in history, a particular situation of concern in the days of Judah. Throughout his prophecies, Isaiah has been telling us much about ‘the big picture,’ sketching out God’s grand plan of judgment and salvation. He’s been prophesying events that would be unfolding over the next hundred years, the next five hundred years—even spectacular events that wouldn’t take place until the end of time. But now we zoom in on this passing moment in Judah’s history, a change of leadership that few outside of Israel would’ve noticed, as Shebna is shuffled aside and Eliakim is installed.

What does this matter for our lives today? How are we meant to be instructed and equipped for every good work by this small portion of God’s Word? Stay with me as we explore Isaiah 22, and we’ll see. I preach the gospel from Isaiah 22:20-23 on this theme,

God lifts up Eliakim–and Christ–as the faithful ruler:

  1. He will be God’s chosen servant
  2. He will govern his people well
  3. He will be secure on his throne


1) He will be God’s chosen servant: We can’t really appreciate what God is saying about Eliakim in our text until we go back a few verses and consider what God has first said about Shebna. Look at verse 15; there Isaiah is told, “Go, proceed to this steward, to Shebna, who is over the house.” There is the office or task that’s under question today: ‘steward.’

Most of us are familiar with the word ‘steward.’ We often use it when we’re speaking about the earthly responsibilities that God gives us, like the calling to manage his many gifts and blessings. In our life we aim to be ‘faithful stewards.’

In the time of Isaiah, the position of steward was also a position of management, but quite an elevated position. The steward was a man who held great power, for it was one of the highest offices in the land. Notice how verse 15 says that he was “over the house” (or perhaps, over the palace). The king was ultimately in charge of all the land, of course, but a king always had so much to do. So his chief steward helped him to exercise his rule, like a deputy prime minister. He decided who was allowed to go in to see the king. He collected revenue and paid out expenses. He made decisions about building projects at home, and diplomacy abroad.

The king was on the throne, we said, called to rule God’s people as the LORD’s own representative on earth. And the kings in David’s line were expected to display the justice and righteousness of God through all their character and conduct. So a steward, if he was faithful, could serve that great cause. Or by his wickedness, he could hinder it.  

Shebna has been the steward for a while in Judah. Now, we don’t know anything about Shebna, not even who his father was. What we do know is that he’d been failing to use his position wisely. Starting in verse 15, Isaiah describes how Shebna had been out for his own glory instead of serving for the good of the country. He’d been spending lots of money on himself, driving around Jerusalem on his “glorious chariots” (v 18), and thinking about how he’d be remembered in future generations. He’d even been building himself a sepulchre (v 16), a fine tomb cut out of rock, so that when he was dead, people would still be impressed by him.

In short, Shebna was faithless. He was the kind of politician who ends up in scandal for some scheme to enrich himself, corrupted by power and fame. Self-serving, unstable, a disgrace to his office—Shebna was typical, actually, of the people he was supposed to govern. Judah was a lot like him, being self-interested and forgetful of the Lord’s commands.

And so Shebna, just like Judah, is going to be brought down. This steward is going to be deposed and see his position given to someone else. In verse 19, God says, “So I will drive you out of your office, and from your position [I] will pull you down.” And Shebna will be replaced by a more faithful man for the task.

Isaiah gives a glimpse of this not-too-distant future in verse 20, “Then it shall be in that day, that I will call my servant Eliakim the son of Hilkiah.” Now, something important to underline is how God calls Eliakim as ‘my servant.’ In the Bible, this is always a special title for someone who lives close to God, and someone who is called to carry out God’s will in a certain way. It’s a high honour, because this title isn’t applied to many people at all. Abraham is said to be God’s servant, and Moses, Joshua, David, and some of the prophets. Eliakim, too.

Today we use the phrase more loosely. We say that an office bearer is ‘God’s servant,’ or a missionary is. We might even say that we’re all “servants of the LORD” in that station in life to which God has called us: as friend, or as parent, a spouse or teacher or neighbour.

Not to say we shouldn’t refer to ourselves as God’s servants. It’s a good and even necessary thing for all of us to want, for that to be our identity. But let’s just realize what it means. Being a servant (according to Scripture) isn’t very far from being a slave, someone who is fully devoted to obeying the will of another person. So being a servant of God means we always have to be occupied with the LORD’s priorities, rather than our own desires. It means that we’re focused on his plan and his honour. A servant of God is totally committed to living the LORD’s way, even when that comes at great cost to himself or herself. Beloved, is that how you lead your life?

Such a servant for God this Eliakim will be. Not only in his character but also in his conduct, he will be faithful to the LORD. And from the LORD he’ll receive the outward symbols of authority. God says to Shebna, the steward being ousted from office, “I will clothe him with your robe and strengthen him with your belt” (v 21). God will take the official garments away from Shebna and He’ll give them to Eliakim. Here we can perhaps picture something like the chain of office that a mayor will wear—that ornate band worn over the shoulders which marks someone as holding authority. Eliakim will be given the insignia for his authority, so that there’s no doubt about his position.

And not just the external trappings of office, but he’ll receive real authority: “I will commit your responsibility into his hand.” All of Shebna’s power will be taken from him and placed into the hands of a man more worthy to receive it. For Eliakim will be a steadfast leader: a dependable man, as loving and wise as a father, and highly esteemed.

And so he was. In 2 Kings 18, maybe a few years later, we can read about how Eliakim was the steward under King Hezekiah. He was called to negotiate with the Assyrians who were besieging Jerusalem. Shebna, for his part, is still on the scene in 2 Kings 18. But he is described as “Shebna the scribe”—demoted from his role, just as God said.

In the grand sweep of Judah’s history, this change wasn’t a moment that would stand out as very earth-shattering. But it does show something about the God behind our text. Remember that every word in Scripture reveals the LORD and his character, and this passage does too. It reveals a God who is always concerned for his people, a God who will lead us, who will care for us, who will help us to walk in his ways. Our Father knows we need aid, and He gives it through his human servants. In love for us, God always raises up servants—servants to serve him, and to serve his people. Eliakim was just one more faithful man, sent to assist God’s church.

It’s here too, that we get a hint of the glorious work of our Saviour. Later in Isaiah, the prophet will sing a number of ‘Servant Songs,’ in places like chapter 42 and 53. He will be another of those special men who are called God’s servants. For the LORD has a plan to send his chosen servant to Israel, put his Holy Spirit on him, call him to suffer, and task him with the greatest ever rescue-operation of sinners.

The Suffering Servant, of course, is Jesus Christ. And He’ll be faithful in all his calling, even to laying down his life for the transgressors. And then Christ will rise again, He will ascend into heaven, and He will forever govern his people well.


2) He will govern his people well: When the Bible describes faithful leaders, it uses a number of different comparisons. A leader for God’s people should be a shepherd. He should be a watchman. Indeed, he should be a servant. He should also be a father.

And this is how the good man Eliakim is portrayed: “He shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem” (v 21). Eliakim will have a lot of responsibility, hold real power, but God calls him to exercise it in a fatherly spirit.

A father should have strength, no question. God gives a father authority over his children, and he can make decisions that will impact their life in big ways. But that’s not all that there is to say. A father must also be compassionate and merciful. Like Psalm 103 says, a father knows his children, he should remember the weakness of their frame, and be gentle with them, and gracious. That’s what God the Father is like towards us, and that’s what a fatherly leader must be like towards the congregation. This is how Eliakim will govern: as a “father to…Jerusalem.”

This is very much unlike the way Shebna had been ruling. For Shebna, it was ‘me first.’ ‘Do people see me in my late-model sports chariot? Will they remember my name when I’m gone?’ It’s the temptation that threatens anyone with authority, whether in the church or in the home or in civil government. It’s when I let my focus fall onto what I can gain. How do I protect my position, hold onto power, bend others so that they do what I want? That is leadership which dishonours God and brings his judgment.

But Eliakim is devoted to his people. He’ll show them the tender concern of a father. As he carries out his work as steward, he’ll put their interests ahead of his own, and in this way, he’ll serve God’s people very well.  

Isaiah makes us think here about Christ the Saviour. In chapter 9 how he prophesied the birth of a Child, a holy Son to be given, and “the government will be upon his shoulders” (v 6). And in that passage God also announced the glorious name of the Messiah, whose name will be called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father.” Yes, the Christ will be like a father in his care, one to help the helpless, to pity the sinner, to be gentle towards those who are weak. He will have an everlasting concern for the well-being of his beloved people.

It is natural for us to follow more worldly models of leadership. We’re all inclined to act less fatherly, and more forcefully. To be in our position and to want to be served, rather than to serve. But God will greatly bless Eliakim because he takes the more humbling route, just as God blessed Christ in his humility.

Jesus made himself of no reputation, taking the form of a servant, humbling himself to the point of death, even death on the cross (cf. Phil 2:7-8). By following that lowly path of suffering, Christ received everlasting glory. He was lifted up to the highest place, before whom every knee must bow. And it’s the same today: God brings down the proud, and He exalts the lowly. To people who do not grasp for power, who are willing to follow the example of Christ, He gives the privilege of service, and the honour of his grace.

And now listen to how God describes the authority of Eliakim, his new steward over Judah: “The key of the house of David I will lay on his shoulder; so he shall open, and no one shall shut; and he shall shut, and no one shall open” (v 22). Anyone knows, of course, that a key is important. If you lose your locker key at school, or you lose your car keys, you’ve got a problem. Keys give access, they represent control.

To Eliakim, God will give “the key of the house of David.” Maybe this was an actual key, one that opened the main doors of the palace. More likely, it was a symbolic key—kind of like ‘the keys of the kingdom,’ given to the apostles. Eliakim was getting power from God. Holding the key, Eliakim could make rules and enforce them. He could render decisions and expect to see them carried out. No one but the king could override him.

This key would be laid “on his shoulder.” That describes the entrusting of a serious task—like how we say, ‘He shouldered a lot of responsibility.’ Because you have to get your whole person under it, all your ability, all your strength. Eliakim would be managing the treasures and talents given to the David and his house—a weighty task! And God will make him capable. He will supply him with the strength and wisdom to be a faithful steward.

And this is still where our strength and wisdom for daily service come from. Remember this, and be encouraged: If God calls you, He’ll also equip you. When God commands you, He also commits to your care whatever you need to obey him. We pray: ‘God, as you have called me to do your will, to follow you, to serve you and to serve the people in my life, please help me to answer. Give what you command, and command what you will.’

As each one of us serves God in this present time, we can have great confidence. It’s a confidence in the one who calls us, Christ our mighty King. We read his letter in Revelation 3. And notice how Jesus introduces himself in verse 7: He is the one “who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens.” Clearly an echo of our passage. For Eliakim was just a man, a temporary servant who soon faded from history. But Eliakim points us to Christ, and Christ is eternal.

Christ is seated in the most exalted position in the universe. He’s not just the steward of the house of David, the top administrator—or even a president—but He is the Son of David. He is robed with authority and power, the great Lord who sits in glory. Christ the King holds the keys, with all things in the universe under his feet.

He holds the keys. That was a rich comfort to the believers in Philadelphia; they were a small and struggling church who were being persecuted and pushed out by their enemies. They might’ve been shut out by all the earthly powerbrokers, but that didn’t matter. For God could remove their enemies in a moment. Meanwhile, Christ is the one who holds the key. He closes and opens. He includes and excludes. It’s his judgment that matters, not anyone else’s. And He governs his people so capably, so lovingly. With him in authority, all is well—all will be well!

What a powerful a truth for our day. When there is big change in our life, or in our country, when there is uncertainty, God assures us that Christ is King and Lord of all. Even the most successful enemies of the church are under his command. Christ is Lord even over those who seem to have all the influence today. They’re not running things, He is. They’re not shaping history, He is. What He opens, stays open—what He shuts, will stay shut. None can override him, for Christ holds the keys. He will be forever secure on his throne!


3) He will be secure on his throne: Earthly rulers come and go. Human status is forever subject to change. Which is why verse 23 is good news for God’s servant Eliakim: “I will fasten him as a peg in a secure place.” God will make his position firm!

If you’ve ever hammered in a tent peg, you’ll appreciate this image. You’re setting up your tent for a windy night, and you want to make it secure, so you pound the peg deep into rocky soil. That’s not going anywhere. In fact, you wonder how you’ll get it out!

Whatever else was going on in Judah, whatever Assyria’s looming threat, Eliakim will stand fast. Like a peg, firmly pounded. God wanted him in this role, one to rule wisely and to hold the kingdom firm. Things weren’t easy for Judah. There was lots to worry about. But God will give a good leader, to “become a glorious throne to his father’s house” (v 23).

Stable leadership like this is a must if people will grow and thrive. That’s true in the church, in the home, among the nations. If there’s a leader whom you know is going to stick around, who is consistent—and if they’ll seek to rule according to God’s truth—such a firm leader will bring blessing.

Now, the fact is, even Eliakim didn’t last forever. You can read the final two verses of our chapter to see what happened. It seems like people put too much pressure on him. They hung too many burdens on this peg—and then it snapped. Eliakim served well, but not forever. And then God had to raise up someone else for the job.

But how secure is our great king! Jesus won’t ever get voted out. He won’t change policy, midway through his term. He won’t get complacent in his position after a few years, and He won’t lose interest in serving the good of his people. Christ is our loving king in heaven, and God has fastened him as a peg in a secure place: firm, immovable, undying and sure.

Think of how Jesus showed such a great love for us when He died on the cross. He gave his life as a ransom for many. He put our interests first, and sought our salvation above all. Now that He’s exalted in the heavens, his kindness toward us hasn’t changed. Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever (Heb 13:8). There is nothing in all creation that can separate us from his love, for our King is so dependably devoted to his people.

Today, Christ is seated on his glorious throne, and his kingdom will not fail. We can trust in him with all our heart. We can serve him with all that we are. So let us give him all the glory!  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2022, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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