Isaiah 20: Dismayed and Ashamed
What's gone before...
Isaiah described a future condition of Egypt, a time of major loss, violence and confusion, ending in a radical transformation of their religious foundation. Egypt, with Assyria, would worship the God of Israel.
Now, in Chapter 20...
The LORD commands Isaiah to walk naked and barefoot for three years as a shocking sign against Egypt and Ethiopia.
Isaiah 20:1-6 (ESV) In the year that the commander in chief, who was sent by Sargon the king of Assyria, came to Ashdod and fought against it and captured it — at that time the LORD spoke by Isaiah the son of Amoz, saying, "Go, and loose the sackcloth from your waist and take off your sandals from your feet," and he did so, walking naked and barefoot. Then the LORD said, "As my servant Isaiah has walked naked and barefoot for three years as a sign and a portent against Egypt and Cush, so shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptian captives and the Cushite exiles, both the young and the old, naked and barefoot, with buttocks uncovered, the nakedness of Egypt. Then they shall be dismayed and ashamed because of Cush their hope and of Egypt their boast. And the inhabitants of this coastland will say in that day, Behold, this is what has happened to those in whom we hoped and to whom we fled for help to be delivered from the king of Assyria! And we, how shall we escape?"
Sargon attacked Ashdod, a city of Philistine, near Judea on the west coast of the Mediterranean Sea, the gateway to Egypt and Ethiopia. In 712 B.C. Azuri King of Philistine refused to pay tribute to Assyria, likely with support of nearby Israel and Judah. Sargon moved quickly to quell this rebellion (A History of Israel, Part VI).
As the siege against Ashdod began, the LORD commanded Isaiah to walk naked and barefoot, stripping off the sackcloth from his waist and the sandals from his feet.
Isaiah often spoke of sackcloth:
Isaiah 3:24 (ESV) Instead of perfume there will be rottenness; and instead of a belt, a rope; and instead of well-set hair, baldness; and instead of a rich robe, a skirt of sackcloth; and branding instead of beauty.
Isaiah 15:3 (ESV) in the streets they wear sackcloth; on the housetops and in the squares everyone wails and melts in tears.
Isaiah 22:12 (ESV) In that day the Lord GOD of hosts called for weeping and mourning, for baldness and wearing sackcloth;
Isaiah 50:3 (ESV) I clothe the heavens with blackness and make sackcloth their covering.”
Isaiah 58:5 (ESV) Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the LORD?
Wearing sackcloth was a sign of mourning, an expression of loss or devestation. It was symbolic of a person's desperate attempt to cover their shame with what they had left after a great loss. The only thing more shameful than wearing sackcloth was wearing nothing.
Isaiah 20:3-4 (ESV) As my servant Isaiah has walked naked and barefoot for three years as a sign and a portent against Egypt and Cush, so shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptian captives and the Cushite exiles, both the young and the old, naked and barefoot, with buttocks uncovered, the nakedness of Egypt.
The nakedness of Isaiah was a shocking proclamation of the future exile of Egypt and Cush (Ethiopia). With the gateway of Ashdod smashed open, Assyria would crush the nations to the south of the Mediterranean Sea, taking most of the population captive back to Assyria.
Who is "They"?
Isaiah 20:5-6 (ESV) Then they shall be dismayed and ashamed because of Cush their hope and of Egypt their boast. And the inhabitants of this coastland will say in that day, Behold, this is what has happened to those in whom we hoped and to whom we fled for help to be delivered from the king of Assyria! And we, how shall we escape?
The naked exiles taken prisoner by Assyria would bring dismay and shame to a people referred here as "they", and "inhabitants of this coastland".
This must be a direct reference to the Philistine nation being besieged by Assyria. The Philistines must have been hoping for support from Egypt and Ethiopis.
Indirectly, "they" would also refer to those in Judea who were hoping for Egypt and Ethiopian resistance against Assyria. Judah was still paying tribute to Assyria, but it must have galled them, and they likely would be hoping for insurrection to begin in Egypt and Ethiopia.
This chapter must be considered closely with the preceeding chapter. Previously, the LORD directed Isaiah to prophetically describe a future in which Egypt, Assyria and Israel would join in common worship of the God of Israel. The LORD blessed Egypt as "my people", and Assyria as "the work of my hands", and Israel as "my inheritance". Now, in chapter 20, Egypt is described as being invaded and conquered by Assyria, its people stripped naked and exiled far from their homeland.
What do you think?
By Alex E. Proimos (http://www.flickr.com/photos/proimos/4199675334/) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons