Isaiah 20

For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning,
that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4

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A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2006 James Melough

20:1.  “In the year that Tartan came unto Ashdod, (when Sargon the king of Assyria sent him,) and fought against Ashdod, and took it;”


The year was 711 BC, and Tartan was the commander of the armies of king Sargon of Assyria, who had sent him to capture the Philistine city of Ashdod, which he did.


20:2.  “At the same time spake the Lord by Isaiah the son of Amoz, saying, Go and loose the sackcloth from off thy loins, and put off thy shoe from thy foot.  And he did so, walking naked and barefoot.”


The Lord was speaking to Isaiah, who by his obedience would in turn speak in typological language to Israel, his being commanded to remove the sackcloth from his loins implying that his mourning for Israel had led him to wear a sackcloth outer garment. 


His being naked after removing the sackcloth robe is not to be taken literally.  It is generally understood to mean that without his robe and sandals, he would have been half clad, as would a businessman walking on the street today without his jacket and shoes.  His inappropriate dress would arouse the curiosity and attention of the people, and make his message more dramatic.


20:3.  “And the Lord said, Like as my servant Isaiah hath walked naked and barefoot three years for a sign and wonder upon Egypt and upon Ethiopia;”


Some scholars understand this to mean not that the prophet thus testified for three years, but that his manner of dress signified the coming subjection of Egypt and Ethiopia to Assyria for three years.  Jennings, for example, has written, “Nor is it necessary to read the third verse as in our Authorized Version; as if the prophet must thus walk about the city for three literal years; but thus: ‘And my servant said, As my servant Isaiah goeth naked and barefoot, a three years’ sign and wonder against Egypt and against Ethiopia, so shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptians prisoners, etc.;’”


Many others however, understand it to mean that Isaiah did thus witness for three years.


20:4.  “So shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptians prisoners, and the Ethiopians captives, young and old, naked and barefoot, even with their buttocks uncovered, to the shame of Egypt.”


The mention of “buttocks uncovered” indicates that the prisoners of the Assyrians may indeed have been exposed to this humiliation.


20:5.  “And they shall be afraid and ashamed of Ethiopia their expectation, and of Egypt their glory.”


The Jerusalem Bible renders this verse, “You will be frightened and ashamed about Cush in which you trusted, and about Egypt of which you boasted.”  Israel would learn to her sorrow the folly of trusting in anyone except in her God Jehovah, it being written, “... vain is the help of man,” Psalm 108:12.  We too would do well to heed this warning, and to trust implicitly in God alone.


20:6.  “And the inhabitant of this isle shall say in that day, Behold, such is our expectation, whither we flee for help to be delivered from the king of Assyria: and how shall we escape?”


The inhabitants “of this isle” (coastland) were the Israelites and the adjoining peoples.  Other translations of this verse are, “If this is what has happened to those in whom we trusted, those to whom we turned for rescue from the king of Assyria, what chance of escape have we,” Phillips; and, “If this can happen to Egypt, what chance have we?” Taylor.


Worse than the inanity of Israel’s having placed her trust in Egypt, lies the infinitely greater folly of men’s trusting in baptism, church membership, Bible study, moral living, generosity, kindness, etc., to save them from hell, and fit them for heaven.  The only way to heaven is for a man to admit that he is a sinner without a shred of righteousness, and then to believe that Jesus Christ loved him enough to die in his stead for his sins, thus making it possible for God, on a perfectly just basis, to pardon all his sins, and bestow His priceless gift of eternal life.


The writer of the book of Hebrews propounds the vital question, “How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?” Hebrews 2:3. Contrary to popular opinion those in hell are not there because of sins committed, but because they neglected or refused to accept God’s pardon for those sins, offered them as His free but priceless gift, as it is written, “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord,” Romans 6:23.  There is no tragedy greater than to come to the end of life’s journey having to leave behind one’s most treasured possessions because they can’t be taken into eternity, and having neglected to accept that priceless gift of life which is the only thing that can be taken there.

[Isaiah 21]

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     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
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