Isaiah 20 – Don’t Trust in Egypt
A. Isaiah acts out a sign.
1. (1) The political setting for the sign.
In the year that Tartan came to Ashdod, when Sargon the king of Assyria sent him, and he fought against Ashdod and took it,
a. In the year that Tartan came to Ashdod: This describes the time when the army of Assyria conquered the Philistine city of Ashdod. Isaiah’s sign was a response to this victory of Assyria.
i. This invasion has a concrete marking point in secular history: 711 B.C.
b. He fought against Ashdod and took it: The Philistines were both neighbors and thorns to Israel, and the fall of Ashdod would certainly make Judah think, “We’re next. We need protection.”
2. (2) The LORD gives Isaiah a sign to act out.
At the same time the LORD spoke by Isaiah the son of Amoz, saying, “Go, and remove the sackcloth from your body, and take your sandals off your feet.” And he did so, walking naked and barefoot.
a. Remove the sackcloth from your body, and take your sandals off your feet: Before this, Isaiah wore an outer garment of sackcloth – clothes of mourning. Now, God tells him to remove his outer garment of sackcloth and to take his sandals off.
i. “God would sometimes have his prophets to add to their word a visible sign, to awaken people’s minds to a more serious consideration of the matters proposed to them.” (Poole)
b. And he did so, walking naked and barefoot: We shouldn’t think that Isaiah was nude, completely without clothing. Instead, he only wore the inner garment customary in that day – sort of like wearing only your underwear or a nightshirt. The message wasn’t nudity, it was complete poverty and humiliation. Isaiah dressed as the poorest and most destitute would dress.
i. “One need not imagine that Isaiah walked around stripped for the entire three years or that Ezekiel lay on his side for 390 days without getting up (Ezekiel 4:9). Perhaps part of each day was used for those designated purposes.” (Wolf)
ii. “Not stark naked, but stripped as a prisoner, his mantle or upper garment cast off.” (Trapp)
iii. “Other prophets were asked to go through equally difficult experiences as signs to Israel. Hosea endured a trying marriage, and Ezekiel’s wife died as an illustration for the nation (Ezekiel 24:16-24).” (Wolf)
B. The meaning of the sign.
1. (3-4) The sign announces the judgment and humiliation of Egypt.
Then the LORD said, “Just as My servant Isaiah has walked naked and barefoot three years for a sign and a wonder against Egypt and Ethiopia, so shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptians as prisoners and the Ethiopians as captives, young and old, naked and barefoot, with their buttocks uncovered, to the shame of Egypt.”
a. My servant Isaiah has walked naked and barefoot three years for a sign and wonder against Egypt: Under the command of the LORD, Isaiah dressed in this poor and humble way for three years. It was a message against Egypt because the king of Assyria would lead away the Egyptians as prisoners.
b. To the shame of Egypt: As the Assyrians took the Egyptians captive, they would humiliate them by stripping them and leading them away as prisoners. This would all be to the shame of Egypt.
i. “So dealeth the devil with all his wretched captives, whom he driveth away hellward, naked and barefoot with their buttocks uncovered, the shame of their nakedness exposed to public view for want of the white raiment of Christ’s righteousness that they might be clothed.” (Trapp)
2. (5-6) The sign’s message to Judah.
“Then they shall be afraid and ashamed of Ethiopia their expectation and Egypt their glory. And the inhabitant of this territory will say in that day, ‘Surely such is our expectation, wherever we flee for help to be delivered from the king of Assyria; and how shall we escape?’”
a. They shall be afraid and ashamed of Ethiopia their expectation and Egypt their glory: When God judges Ethiopia and Egypt, it will be evident how foolish it was for Judah to look to them for protection against Assyria.
i. Whenever our expectation is in something wrong, or our glory is in something wrong, the LORD will find a way to make those things disappoint us. Judah set their expectation on Ethiopia, and looked to Egypt for glory, but now they are left afraid and ashamed.
ii. “There is no place of security for the people of God, other than that to be found in the rule of God. All expectation not centred in God, is doomed to disappointment and discomfiture.” (Morgan)
b. How shall we escape? The LORD allowed Judah to be backed into a corner, caught between two mighty Empires (Egypt and Assyria), without being able to trust either one. There was no escape – except in the LORD.
i. Because of the glorious promise of revival and restoration among Egypt in Isaiah 19, Judah might have been even more tempted to say, “Well, we can trust in Egypt. They are all going to come to the LORD someday anyway!” But with the dramatic three-year sign, Isaiah shows Judah how vain it was to make Egypt their expectation or glory.
(c) 2021 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org