New European Commentary


About | PDFs | Mobile formats | Word formats | Other languages | Contact Us | What is the Gospel? | Support the work | Carelinks Ministries | | The Real Christ | The Real Devil | "Bible Companion" Daily Bible reading plan

Deeper Commentary

Isaiah 20:1 In the year that Tartan came to Ashdod, when Sargon the king of Assyria sent him, and he fought against Ashdod and took it- Tartan took Ashdod just east of Judah on his way down to attack Egypt. This prophecy was therefore given when the power of Egypt was about to fall to the Assyrians. Judah were trusting in Egypt for help against the Assyrians, and so Isaiah's message is that Egypt were not to be trusted upon in any case, as they were about to fall. They were to trust in Him alone. Tartan was also sent against Judah, later; although "Tartan" may be a title rather than a personal name.

Isaiah 20:2 At that time Yahweh spoke by Isaiah the son of Amoz, saying, Go, and loosen the sackcloth from off your waist, and take your shoes from off your feet. He did so, walking naked and barefoot-
This extraordinary effort was not only to warn Judah that Egypt was going to fall and therefore should not be depended upon for help against Assyria (:1). It was also to appeal to Egypt to repent and turn to Israel's God; for it was the Divine intention that the reestablished Kingdom of God in Judah would include a repentant remnant from all the surrounding nations.

LXX "loose thy sandals from off thy feet" is what was spoken to Moses at the burning bush, because he was on holy ground. The implication could be that if Egypt repented and trusted in Israel's God, then their land too would be incorporated in the holy land of God's reestablished Kingdom, as envisaged at the end of the previous chapter.

God spoke “by Isaiah” when he walked naked and barefoot. Who he was, was to be their example and thereby God’s message.  Receipt of God’s true revelation involved dialogue with God, even disagreement with Him for a moment, response, pleading, speech and counterspeech. It wasn’t a case of merely passively hearing a voice and writing it down. Part and parcel of hearing the word of God and being inspired with it was to react to it in daily life- hence Ezekiel couldn’t mourn for his wife, Hosea had to marry a whore as a reflection of God’s love for Israel, Isaiah had to walk naked, reflecting how Zion would be stripped naked, the punishment for a whore (see on Is. 3:17). Truly “The prophet threw his whole self into his prophecy, and made not his lips alone, but his whole personality, the vehicle of the divine ‘word’” (H.H. Rowley, The Servant Of The Lord (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1965) p. 118.). The inner accord which the prophets had with the mind and word of God led to their personalities being like God’s. And mankind’s laughing them off as crazy, as mentally disturbed, was effectively their rejection and mocking of God Himself. We’re reminded of how the suffering Son of God in His time of dying, the highest and most intense expression of God’s love, was “the song of the drunkards” (Ps. 69:12). The prophets "spoke from the mouth of Yahweh" Himself; and yet the people scoffed at them (2 Chron. 36:12,16 RV). The power of inspiration was and is so great; and to not heed God's word is therefore a personal affront to Him.

Isaiah 20:3 Yahweh said, As My servant Isaiah has walked naked and barefoot three years for a sign and a wonder concerning Egypt and concerning Ethiopia-
LXX "As my servant Esaias has walked naked and barefoot three years, there shall be three years for signs and wonders to the Egyptians and Ethiopians". This would imply that they had a period of three years to repent. As explained on Is. 19:1, the prophetic scenario here with Egypt didn't exactly fulfill at the time. This three year period will perhaps have some fulfilment in the last days, when there appears to be a period of three and a half years testing before the Lord Jesus is revealed.


Isaiah 20:4 so the king of Assyria will lead away the captives of Egypt and the exiles of Ethiopia, young and old, naked and barefoot, and with buttocks uncovered, to the shame of Egypt-
This predicted captivity of Egypt was that which would come upon Judah at the hand of the Assyrians. But a minority did repent and so this was averted; Isaiah's appeal therefore did achieve something. This mass captivity of Ethiopians and Egyptians didn't really happen at the hands of the Assyrians; as explained on Is. 19:1, the prophetic scenario here with Egypt didn't exactly fulfill at the time.

Isaiah 20:5 They will be dismayed and confounded, because of Ethiopia their expectation, and of Egypt their glory-
The grammar is ambiguous. For how could Egypt and Ethiopia be ashamed of trusting in themselves? The ambiguity is because this is an appeal to Judah not to trust in those nations because they would fall, and Judah would be ashamed of their trust in them. The LXX has "And the Egyptians being defeated shall be ashamed of the Ethiopians, in whom they had trusted; for they were their glory". In this case the lesson would be that as Egypt had trusted in Ethiopia and been ashamed, so if Judah trusted in Egypt they would be ashamed.

Isaiah 20:6 The inhabitants of this coast land will say in that day, ‘Behold, this is our expectation, where we fled for help to be delivered from the king of Assyria. And we, how will we escape?’
- The Philistines were the inhabitants of the coast land, and they had trusted in Egypt to save them from Assyria. But now Ashdod had fallen (:1). The men of Judah had likewise fled to Egypt and Ethiopia for help against Assyria (Is. 10:3)- rather than to their God. They had ignored 'Hezekiah', 'Yah is my help'. In other words, Judah gave in to the temptation which we acutely face today- to deal with our fears in the same way as the surrounding world does, rather than fall upon our God. For they had tried to meet their fears of Assyria in the same way as the Philistines had. 

A desire to escape but having no place to run is a feature of all Divine condemnations (Heb. 2:3, quoting Is. 20:6 concerning the inability of men to escape from the approach of the invincible Assyrian army). The rejected will see that the Lord is coming against them with an army much stronger than theirs, and they have missed the chance to make peace (Lk. 14:31).