I believe that the correct interpretation of the 'Valley of Vision' in Isaiah 22 hinges almost entirely upon the correct translation of Isaiah 22:3. The two major views upon this passage relate it either to the abortive siege upon Jerusalem by Sennacherib or to the later successful siege under Nebuchadnezzar. If one understands Isaiah 22:3 to imply that the rulers had fled Jerusalem and been captured then neither occasion fully accords with the account in this passage.
The aim of this paper is to survey some of the agreements and disagreements amongst the commentators on the meaning of this passage and then to discuss the interpretation of Isaiah 22:3 with a view to finding the correct hermeneutic for this vision.
One fact of which all the commentators are in agreement is that the 'Valley of Vision' is Jerusalem. That the vision refers to a city is made plain early within the text. Barnes points out that Isa 22:9-10 then specifies that this city is Jerusalem. JFB shows directly from scripture that whilst Jerusalem is described as a mountain it is also seen to be a mountain surrounded by even higher mountains. Gill believes that it is for this reason that it is referred to as a valley and that the notation 'of vision' refers to Jerusalem as the seat from which the prophets worked. Barnes notes additionally that Jerusalem is referred to as being in a valley in Jer 21:13.
With the exception of Keil and Delitzsch there is also agreement that the people had rushed to their rooftops at a cry of alarm and potentially as a platform from which to flee danger and attack enemies. However I suggest that what is actually being predicted here is a little too confused to yield to any simple description. Whilst the town is clearly described as being stirred or tumultuous it is also described as joyous or as indulging in revelry. It is also clear that whilst there may have been sporadic panic the inhabitants actually had much time to prepare themselves. They did after all manage to conduct a survey of the fortifications and build a reservoir. It would appear that they used the stores laid up by Solomon for their weapons. I believe that there was no predominant movement of the people other than one of confusion and perplexity.
The main question that appears to cause contention is whether this refers to the assault upon Jerusalem under Sennacherib or to the conquest of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar. The principle argument in favor of the former is outlined nicely by JFB. The preparations for the defense outlined here correspond exactly to those taken by Hezekiah and Shebna and Eliakim referred to in Isa 22:15,20 were contemporaries of Hezekiah. This leads to an initial conclusion that the invasion by Sennacherib is in view.
The problem arises from the Isa 22:2,3. These verses appear to suggest that the leaders all have fled the city and been captured. That didn't happen during the invasion under Hezekiah. We know that they stayed within the city and withstood the enemy. The complete loss of leadership appears to be far closer to the calamity under Zedekiah. However Matthew Henry offers an entirely different view of these two verses. He suggests that the rulers did not quit Jerusalem. Instead the rulers quit the outlying towns of Judah and rushed to the safety of Jerusalem. Thus they were not captured in the sense of prisoners of war. Instead there were entrapped as part of the siege of Jerusalem and had not served to slow the enemy down nor were they serving to harass the supply lines. A close analysis of Isa 22:3 shows Henry to be correct; the rulers are described as being bound in thee. Thus they were trapped inside Jerusalem not enemy hands.
One can perhaps now understand the tumult that Jerusalem was in. The population had risen above the normal which would reduce available supplies. The progress of the enemy had not been halted as it should have and those that should have been available to relieve a siege had instead become a part of it. Many preparations had been made and presumably more had been planned when suddenly an influx of scarred and cowardly leaders set the populace into a mixture of fear and fatalism. This corresponds perfectly to the situation under Hezekiah where he was clearly concerned about the mind-set of the people.
Whilst the correct interpretation of Isa 22:3 seals the interpretation of this vision it is for me the second half of Isa 22:11 that actually delivers the point of this passage. Amidst all of the noise both of fear and of feasting, amidst the trembling and the organized preparation for war everyone had forgotten God. In one night of entirely unpredictable and unexpected action God was going to render months of preparations on both sides entirely void. Most of us will never face a threat of the ferocity of the Assyrians but many of us are thrown into tumult and confusion by our own circumstances. For me at least this passage has been a wake up call to remember the One that actually decides the outcome.