A Bible study from Faithbuilders Fellowship.
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"THE NAIL"

"And I will fasten him as a nail in a sure place; and he shall be for a glorious throne to his father's house."

--Isaiah 22:23

(We today are blessed with a written perspective not available to the earliest Christians. We have the New Testament, with its keys to an understanding of truths revealed by God through the prophets. This folder considers a message given through Isaiah, the meaning of which becomes clear as the interpretation of New Testament writers is applied.)

IN SETTING this prophecy, God directed Isaiah to a contemporary circumstance which became the background within which to record spiritual promises. The issue of the time was the service of a chief officer "over the house" of King Hezekiah (Isa. 22:15). His name was Shebna, whom the King James Version refers to as "this treasurer." His discharge seems the result of his planned burial site and is described in exaggerated expressions. This suggests that a spiritual meaning is intended. The details in the prophecy yield that meaning when they are viewed as symbols in the light of other Biblical testimony. (In the literal instance that particular 'treasurer' was demoted to the office of a secretary, and he continued as such for some time--Isa. 36:3; 37:2.)

Divine displeasure is indicated. "What hast thou here? and whom hast thou here, that thou hast hewed thee out a sepulchre here, as he that heweth him out a sepulchre on high, and that graveth an habitation for himself in a rock?" Apparently Shebna thought to cut out, or had cut out, his memorial tomb in a high station as though his office was of eternal importance. The intimation was that all who continued to acknowledge and identify with his office would benefit. The customs of the time suggest such motives. The record is that the location of a tomb was significant. It is written regarding King Hezekiah, that he "slept with his fathers, and they buried him in the chiefest [margin, 'highest'] of the sepulchres of the sons of David" (2 Chron. 32:33). A prominent tomb denoted honor.

But Shebna was not a king, and his expectation was presumptuous. Memorable glory had not been attached to his service. "Behold, the Lord will carry thee away with a mighty captivity, and will surely cover thee. He will surely violently turn and toss thee like a ball into a large country: there shalt thou die, and there the chariots of thy glory shall be the shame of thy lord's house. And I will drive thee from thy station, and from thy state shall he pull thee down" (Isa. 22:17-19). Such judgmental language suggests that Shebna and his actions were symbolic representations of the inadequacy of elements in Jewish society. Not only is it apparent that the LORD would not continue Shebna's service, but also that the termination of something else was being foreshown.

The judgment written in verses 17-19 and summarized in verse 25 assures that the identical service in which Shebna was engaged would not be perpetuated in the hands of a successor. "In that day...shall the nail that is fastened in the sure place be removed, and be cut down, and fall; and the burden [i.e., service] that was upon it shall be cut off; for the Lord hath spoken it." Those words show that whatever had been represented by the cut-down 'nail' (personified by Shebna) would come to its end. That nail, though "fastened in a sure place," would be removed, be cut down, "and fall," be discontinued. The formerly assigned work, "the burden that was upon it, shall be cut off."

"In that day"

The spiritual teaching of this prophecy comes into focus with the promise that something else will be fastened as "a nail in a sure place" (verse 23). That which is to be so fastened is also represented by a man, personified by "my servant Eliakim," a name the meaning of which--"God will establish" or "whom God sets up"--draws attention to the purpose of this change of office. The account of Eliakim's installation provides important new details regarding Shebna. The garments and authority with which Shebna had been invested--a 'robe,' a 'girdle,' and a 'government'--indicate that Shebna personified a functioning priesthood. All these are now assigned to Eliakim: "I will clothe him with thy robe, strengthen him with thy girdle, and I will commit thy government into his hand."

Consider now the clearly written answer as to when these distinctly opposite events--the setting up of the one and the cutting down of the other--would take place. The demise of Shebna would be "in that day" (vs. 25). That is the same time that Eliakim is raised up, clothed with the robe, strengthened by the girdle, given the key of the house of David, and installed, fastened as "a nail in a sure place"--"in that day" (verse 19). So the prophecy is presenting much more than the installation of a new treasurer to replace the former. The prophecy promises a change in the order of the priesthood!

It is interesting to note that the prophet, writing for God in the grammatical first person, refers to Eliakim as "my servant," the same title later used by the same writer when he prophesied of Jesus. "Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth" (Isa. 42:1-7). "Behold, my servant shall deal prudently, he shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high" (Isa. 52:13). "By his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities" (Isa. 53:11). And again, "Thou art my servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified" (Isa. 49:3-11). Israel (a name meaning "ruling with God") here signifies Jesus Christ. It could not stand for God's ancient people, directly named in verse 5, nor for their remnant, named in verse 6. The meaning of the name Eliakim suggests, and these "my-servant" texts indicate, that the newly- appointed servant represents Christ Jesus our Lord who assumed his new office at his ascension. The promise in verses 15-19 and completed in verse 25 of the removal of Shebna pertains to the discontinuance of an administration, and Isaiah 22:20-24 describes activities of Jesus in His glorified office.

'Nail cut down, burden cut off'

Keep in mind what is understood of the unprofitableness of the Levitical priesthood (Heb. 7:18) when the prophetic account of its removal is read again: "In that day...shall the nail that is fastened in the sure place be removed, and be cut down, and fall; and the burden that was upon it shall be cut off..." (Isa. 22:25). Eternal perpetuation of the Levitical priesthood was not intended. The graphic expressions in verses 16-19 are more than a description of the self- exaltation and dismissal of a short-lived human steward.

In this prophecy, use of the name Eliakim is followed by an extensive discussion of the new wearer of robe and girdle who becomes father to many and supporter of the glory of his father's house. "And I will clothe him with thy robe, and strengthen him with thy girdle, and I will commit thy government into his hand; and he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Judah. And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; so he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open. And I will fasten him as a nail in a sure place; and he shall be for a glorious throne to his father's house. And they shall hang upon him all the glory of his father's house, the offspring and the issue, all vessels of small quantity, from the vessels of cups, even to all the vessels of flagons" (Isa. 22:21-24). As shall be seen, such language speaks of the rule and administration of the majestic King, Christ Jesus our Lord, who has been raised up, and has been leading His people into "all truth." Jesus as kingly priest has been ruling to our blessing since his ascension.--Hebrews 6:20

It is commonly agreed that spiritual lessons are intended from prophecies quoted by New Testament writers. The words of our Master in Rev. 3:7 reveal the deepest significance of Isa. 22:22: "These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth." Opening, inviting, and approving membership in the spiritual house of sons continues as part of His work as "a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec" (Psa. 110:4, Heb. 5:6, 7:17). It becomes evident from the testimony of Rev. 3:7 regarding the prophetic Eliakim, that Shebna represented the old Levitical priesthood.

The promise, "He shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Judah," is more than a description of the duties and function of the servant-steward-treasurer newly appointed to King Hezekiah's court. It identifies an important blessing for believers in Jesus from their Lord and Master. The word 'father' suggests the spiritual life and continuing counsel which come to those of humble mind when they become united with Christ through faith. And he becomes provider, advisor, and counselor to all believers in Him, as previously suggested by this same prophet in Isaiah 9:6,7. Jesus would have been all this--advisor, guide, trusted helper in time of difficulty or judgment--to all in Israel, when he presented Himself to that nation, but they "would not" receive Him (Matt. 23:37). But to those of faith, "to the house of Judah" (Isa. 22:21), to those citizens of "Jerusalem which is above, which is our mother" (Gal. 4:26), he became all those things; and still He is, and will be to all who hear and accept His salvation.

It is understood that in the literal prophecy 'the nail' in verse 25 refers to Shebna. He is a fitting representation of the Levitical priesthood after the order of Aaron, inaugurated by the ordinances of the old covenant. It was "fastened in the sure place" as an abiding institution, established by the law of commandments (Heb. 7:16,18,21), and sustained by the providence of God over His people Israel, until such time as it was to be replaced by reason of its weakness and its unprofitableness (Heb. 7:18,19). Moses instructed God's house of servants to honor and respect that priesthood. Israel thought it was to endure for ever, failing to note the point of termination. As God's spokesman and lawgiver, Moses was to be heard and obeyed until the time God raised up another prophet like unto him. All who did hear 'that prophet' were obedient to the command of Moses, who had said, "Him ye shall hear in all that He shall say unto you" (Deut. 18:15-18, Acts 3:22,23). But many in Israel were blinded, hardened in heart (Rom. 11:25). They did not hear the testimony of Jesus, which Moses had commanded them to expect and to accept. And still they have not heard Him that "speaketh from heaven" through His apostles and prophets.--Heb. 12:25, Eph. 4:11, 3:5, 2:20

"There thou shalt die"

One purpose of the writer of Hebrews was to establish that the Levitical priesthood was no longer God's instrument of blessing. In Heb. 7:11,12 the Apostle emphasizes why there was need of a different, better priesthood, and thus why the Levitical priesthood would end. "If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law,) what further need was there that another priest should rise after the order of Melchisedec, and not be called after the order of Aaron? For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law" which established the Levitical priesthood. Never could perfection be effected through its arrangement. The Levitical priesthood could not make "the comers thereunto perfect" (Heb. 10:1). So that nail would be removed, though it was to serve for about 1650 years. No longer would be continued the burden or the effort of the Levitical priesthood to bring sinners into harmony with God.

It is noted that the interrogation of Shebna addressed two points: "What has thou here? and whom hast thou here?". The symbology behind these words refers to both the priesthood itself and the people who maintained it: worshippers who believed that the Levitical priesthood was the ultimate in God's relationship with man, and to endure for all time. That expectation was the representation made by Shebna's sepulchure being located in an exalted place.--Isaiah 22:16

The next two verses, 17,18, though poorly translated in KJV, foreshow the Lord's action in the face of such expectation. RSV reads, "Behold, the LORD will hurl you away violently, O you strong man. He will seize firm hold on you, and whirl you round and round, and throw you like a ball into a wide land; there you shall die, and there shall be your splendid chariots, you shame of your master's house." This intense language, not appropriate to the removal of a single human steward, is fitting to what actually happened in the ending of the old arrangement. Jesus warned that great travail would accompany its passing. See Matt. 23:36-38, Luke 23:29-31. Another figure of its passing is given in Psa. 102:26 and Heb. 1:11,12: it would wax old as a garment, be folded up, changed, laid aside.

"The priesthood being changed"

The phrase "there thou shalt die" brings to mind the use of the word 'die' in verse 14: "Surely this iniquity shall not be purged from you till ye die." Preceding verses reveal that Israel was irreverent in their time of judgment. The appropriate responses--prayer, supplication, weeping, and mourning--were not heard. This warning predicted the end of God's exclusive relationship with Israel (Amos 3:2), following which God would open the privilege of sonship to those of any family or nation (Acts 10:34-11:1). The purging away of individual iniquity would then be the blessing of any who would accept salvation through faith in the once-for-all offering of Christ Jesus our Lord.

In Bible lands and times, the secure placement of a strong, long protruding piece of metal was common in construction. This nail was built as part of the walls, and it became a useful part of the structure. The first nail, the Levitical priesthood, was established in a sure place (Isa. 22:25), by the strength or power "of a carnal [fleshy] commandment" (Heb. 7:16). Early Greek texts here use the word sarkinees, also used in 2 Cor. 3:3, which is from Strong $NS4560, sarkinos. (See Thayer, Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich, Vine's, Moulton, Marshall Interlinear, and Wilson Diaglott. Strong and Wigram assign it $NS4559, the word used in more recent, variant texts.)

This "fleshy commandment" is one of the elements of contrast employed by the teaching-by-comparison method used in Hebrews. Its author is not writing of the fleshly unregenerate, but about the non-permanency of flesh as imperfect man possesses it. The comparison is made between the law of a 'fleshy commandment' (that is, a commandment that is temporary and perishable, as is flesh) with an arrangement which draws from the power of an enduring, imperishable life (Heb. 6:16). The superiority of this new priesthood, then, is attributed to the exalted glory of its priest received upon His resurrection. That author makes no reference to the service of God's beloved son as a high priest prior to His ascension. Prior to His resurrection he did not have an imperishable life. But upon His resurrection, He did! Jesus later said of Himself, "I am He who liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore."--Revelation 1:18

The Levitical priesthood, being the nail fastened by a "fleshy commandment," could "be cut down, and fall" because as the Hebrews' author points out, it was established by a law that could give way. It was replaced at the institution of a priestly arrangement of greater power. Of that arrangement it is promised: "I will fasten him as a nail in a sure place; and he shall be for a glorious throne to his father's house" (Isaiah 22:23). The implication is clear that the glory of the former nail was much less than the "glory that excelleth."--2 Cor. 3:7-11

None before or after, in type or antitype

Hebrews 7:20,21 relate to the former discussion, but they contain an additional comparison worthy of note. Its logic is that the priesthood after the order of Melchisedec was superior because its establishment was assured with an oath, whereas the Levitical order was instituted by a law to which no oath was given. Heb. 7:16 focuses on the enduring quality of the Melchisedec priesthood; verses 20,21 emphasize the authority upon which the antitypical order was established.

At the outset of Heb. 7, that writer indicates it was the divine purpose that there be no record of the genealogy or pedigree of Melchisedec's forebears or children. But of course he would acknowledge that every created being has a beginning, and that all people (whether peasants or potentates) have parents. The statement that Melchisedec was "without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life," refers to Melchisedec's office and service as a kingly priest, not to his existence as a person. This establishes that Melchisedec did not get his office as a kingly priest by inheritance from others, nor leave a continuing order to successors. That enabled a representation of the antitypical Melchisedec order, which consists of Christ Jesus our Lord, a priest upon his throne. Scripture clearly sets forth that Jesus became such a priest only after His resurrection and ascension. See Heb. 5:5,6,9,10, Acts 13:33,34, Heb. 8:1.

The administration of Christ Jesus our Lord as a kingly priest will continue until sin, iniquity and unrighteousness are banished from His entire dominion. Never before did such a priesthood exist, except as the type was "made like unto," or "rendered similar" to the priestly service of "the Son of God." After all sin, imperfection, iniquity and unrighteousness is purged from the entire intelligent creation through the administration of that unchangeable priesthood, there will never arise another "priest upon his throne." Never again will there be need for such, so thoroughly and faithfully will have been done the sin- removing work of that "priest upon his throne."

"The offspring and the issue"

In the literal setting, Eliakim's stewardship was in David's 'house' (family), his appointment being to high service under King Hezekiah, who was of the hereditary line of both Judah and David (Isa. 22:21,22). We have seen that the service of Christ Jesus our Lord is identified by the 'nail' promised in verse 23, and that verse 21 says He would be "a father" (thus also a 'wonderful counselor') to all those of Jerusalem and Judah who would accept Him. But a different 'father' is to be understood from two uses of that word in verses 23 and 24. Those verses seem to refer to the LORD God, the father of Christ Jesus our Lord: "he [the nail] shall be for a glorious throne to his father's house, and they shall hang upon him all the glory of his father's house..."

The same writer who identified Jesus as the priest after the order of Melchisedec (Heb. 6,7) also contrasts the 'house of sons' under Jesus with the 'house of servants' under Moses (Heb. 3:1-6). This is another confirmation of the spiritual meaning in Isaiah 22. The acceptance of individuals into membership in the house of sons is made possible by, hangs upon, is dependent upon the atonement which was provided by our High Priest. Thus the rulership of Jesus identified with the 'glorious throne' brings glory to his father's house or family of sons. This is part of His heavenly service as priest. It is affirmed that "If he were on earth, he could not be a priest" (Heb. 8:4). The development in believers of the character likeness of our living Head proceeds under the spiritual direction of that Head, our heavenly High Priest.

These realities are further expressed in Isaiah 22:24. The members of this house are referred to as the 'offspring and the issue.' Consider this as a reference to the entire household of faith which is "being sanctified" (Heb. 10:14, Marshall Interlinear and NAS margin). The firstfruits of such 'offspring and issue' were members of the early church, having been generated through the sowing of gospel-truth seed by our Lord Himself. "The offspring and the issue" include all those who have believed upon the witness given by the "ministers of reconciliation" (2 Cor. 5:18). Faith offspring is meant, as indicated elsewhere by the same prophet. For a further Biblical presentation of such 'offspring,' please consider Isaiah 44:3, 61:9, 65:23.

"Vessels" in this verse are another representation of the various members of God's spiritual house (family) of sons who have differing capacities or capabilities--"from the least of them unto the greatest of them." Interestingly, that expression is the phrase used in the Septuagint in place of 'offspring and issue' in Isa. 22:24. It is probable that the three appearances of 'vessels' here, and as used elsewhere in the Old Testament, moved the Apostle to use that word in his spiritual instruction. In 2 Cor. 4:7 he wrote that "we have this treasure in earthen vessels." And in 2 Timothy 2:20,21, vessels are identified with God's house (family). "In a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour [less honour]." The apostle recognized that all involved in the upward calling do not become identical in all respects in heavenly glory. Referring to the resurrection, he states in 1 Cor. 15:41,42 that as "star differeth from star in glory, so also the resurrection of the dead."

The symbols used to convey spiritual teaching in Isaiah 22:17 continue into verses 18 and 19. The language--"toss you like a ball into a large country"--describes the discontinuance and dissolution of the Levitical priesthood arrangement. "Chariots of thy glory" may refer to the ordinances of that priesthood which, though glorious, were representations or shadows of spiritual realities much more glorious (2 Cor. 3:7-11). Menial compliance, neglect, spiritual drunkenness, and idolatrous admixtures accompanied its unprofitableness. The contrast between the elements of verses 18 and 23 is remarkable. The arrangement which would be tossed away like a ball had caused "the shame of thy lord's house," whereas from the Melchisedec priest would go forth "the glory of his father's house."

"The key of the house of David"

Earlier promises provided a good background to Isaiah's mention of "the house of David." Recall God's notable promise made through the prophet Nathan. In response to David's thought to build a house in which God would dwell, the LORD made a spectacular promise to that king. "I will set up thy seed after thee, which shall proceed out of thy bowels, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build an house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever."--2 Sam. 7:12,13

God affirmed that promise not long thereafter. "Once have I sworn by my holiness that I will not lie unto David. His seed shall endure for ever, and his throne as the sun before me" (Psa. 89:35,36). No wonder the scribes said Christ was to be "the son of David" (Mark 12:35) years before the Luke 3:23 genealogy traced Joseph as the son-in-law of Heli [Eli], Mary's father, of the line of Nathan, David's son. (See also Psa. 110:1, Matt. 22:41-45, Luke 20:41-44.)

History suggests that in the time of Isaiah, locks and keys were large in size and made of wood. Keys were carried visibly around the shoulder, constituting an additional badge of one's office and authority. A key is generally used to open a door; its use affords opportunity for entrance. The promise here is that the key of the house (family) of David would be placed upon a descendant of that house (Isa. 22:22). He who received the key of the house of David was David's son, of the tribe of Judah, Christ Jesus in the "kingdom of the heavens." Christ Jesus is that seed, that descendant. With His authority the door continues open with its opportunity to all for sonship in His heavenly father's family.--Rev. 3:7

"The corner, the nail"

A similar promise is expressed in Zech. 10:3,4, where out of Judah comes "the nail." "Mine anger was kindled against the shepherds, and I punished the goats: for the LORD of hosts hath visited His flock the house of Judah, and hath made them as his goodly horse in the battle. Out of him [that is, out of the tribe of Judah] came forth the corner, out of him the nail, out of him the battle bow, out of him every oppressor ['every ruler'--NAS, NIV; 'every one that driveth on'-- Rotherham; 'every exactor'--Young] together." Strength, counsel, and excellence came through Judah. Who can read this prophecy and not see Jesus as its focus--'the corner,' the corner stone, the chief strong corner of which 1 Pet. 2:7 testifies. A corner is the strongest part of a structure. It bears pressure from the side walls. What titles!-- 'the nail,' 'the battle bow,' 'ruler,' and the conqueror of enemies. They all express the concept of a strong, powerful, prevailing faithful one.

Zechariah delivered another prophecy which also foretold of this very 'nail,' but in different words. He wrote of a servant having the name "The BRANCH." "Even he shall build the temple of the LORD; and he shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon his throne; and he shall be a priest upon his throne: and the counsel of peace shall be between them both" (Zech. 6:12,13). This identifies a priest of Melchisedec's order or kind, a priest who at the same time is a king, 'a priest upon his throne.' This declares that the making of peace is a two-fold work: first the priestly intercession based upon a prior atonement sacrifice; then His rule over believers willingly subject to His kingly authority. Jesus becomes both priest and king on behalf of all who will receive His direction, enabling such to become, through the holy spirit, children of our Heavenly Father, the omnipotent God. We have both peace with God through the atonement (Rom. 5:1), and the peace of God (Phil. 4:7, Col. 1:2, 3:15) through the legacy of peace left us by Jesus Himself (John 14:27). All believers are thus enabled to serve the Lord in newness of life and mind.

"He shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon His throne" (Zech. 6:13). A wondrous promise indeed! It brings to remembrance Isaiah 22:23: "And he shall be for a glorious throne to his father's house." Without use of the word 'nail' in chapter 6, Zechariah describes the unchangeable priesthood which will never be supplanted by another.


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