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‘In the year that the Tartan came to Ashdod, when Sargon the king of Assyria sent him, and he fought against Ashdod and took it, at that time Yahweh spoke by Isaiah the son of Amoz, saying, “Go and loose the sackcloth from off your loins, and put your shoe from off your foot.” And he did so, walking naked and barefoot.’
The Tartan (or turtanu) was the title given to the commander-in-chief of the armies of Assyria. When the rebellion took hold he was sent to subdue the rebels, and succeeded. Meanwhile Isaiah had been instructed by Yahweh to provide an acted out prophecy as a grim warning to Hezekiah and Judah of the folly of trusting in Egypt and her promises (which certainly failed on this occasion, and would continue to do so).
Isaiah was to loose the sackcloth that he wore round his loins, probably an indication of his prophetic status (compare 2 Kings 1:8), although it may have been in order to depict his deep mourning at the sins of the people, and also to take off his shoes. Then he was to walk barefoot and clothed only in an undergarment before the people as a stark reminder of the consequences of rebellion. Obediently he did as he was commanded. For three years the inhabitants of Jerusalem were constantly faced with the stark figure of the prophet in his strange garb, walking about the city, a constant warning to them of his message from Yahweh.
‘At that time.’ That is, while everything was going on. His three year sign would be a reminder to all, while negotiations were going on both with Ashdod and with Egypt, that some dreadful end was being indicated, although all probably thought that it was to happen only to Ashdod, and to Judah if they took part.
Chapter 20 The Captivity of Egypt and Cush.
In around 713 BC, continually encouraged by Egypt under her Cushite rulers, the cities of Philistia rebelled against Assyria and sought to embroil Judah, Edom and Moab in the rebellion. We know of the facts through Sargon’s inscriptions. He was aware of the intrigue, and the parties involved, but his subsequent behaviour suggests that Judah in fact took no active part in the rebellion, for the severe treatment meted out to Ashdod and other rebel cities after the three years that it took to subdue them, did not include Judah. It was perhaps due to this activity of Isaiah that that was so.
a In the year that the Tartan came to Ashdod, when Sargon the king of Assyria sent him, and he fought against Ashdod and took it (Isaiah 20:1).
b At that time Yahweh spoke by Isaiah the son of Amoz, saying, “Go and loose the sackcloth from off your loins, and put your shoe from off your foot.” And he did so, walking naked and barefoot (Isaiah 20:2).
c And Yahweh said, “Just as my servant Isaiah has walked naked and barefoot for three years, for a sign and a wonder on Egypt and on Cush” (Isaiah 20:3).
c “So will the king of Assyria lead away the captives of Egypt, and the exiles of Cush, young and old, naked and barefoot, and with buttocks uncovered to the shame (‘nakedness’) of Egypt” (Isaiah 20:4).
b And they will be dismayed and ashamed, because of Cush their expectation, and of Egypt their glory (Isaiah 20:5).
a And the inhabitant of this coastland will say in that day, “Behold, such is our expectation, where we fled for help to be delivered from the king of Assyria, and we, how will we escape?” (Isaiah 20:6).
In ‘a’ the Assyrian general subjugated the rebel Ashdod, and in the parallel other allies of Egypt were dismayed, and asked what hope they had. In ‘b’ Isaiah walks barefoot and naked as a sign of humiliation, and in the parallel that is the kind of humiliation that Egyptian and Cushite captives will suffer. In ‘c’ Yahweh declares that what Isaiah has done is a sign that Egypt and Cushite captives will be treated in this way by the King of Assyria.
‘And Yahweh said, “Just as my servant Isaiah has walked naked and barefoot for three years, for a sign and a wonder on Egypt and on Cush, so will the king of Assyria lead away the captives of Egypt, and the exiles of Cush, young and old, naked and barefoot, and with buttocks uncovered to the shame (‘nakedness’) of Egypt.”
Then at the end of the three years of this continual and remarkable sign came the startling explanation. It was Egypt and not Ashdod at whom the sign pointed. Isaiah’s action was to be a sign of what was eventually going to happen to Egypt and Cush. They would be totally defeated and humiliated. This demonstrated that Egypt could never be trusted to act as deliverer because she too would eventually need a deliverer. For both Egyptians and Cushites would be taken into captivity, and walk naked and barefoot, with their buttocks uncovered, a particular shame to the sophisticated Egyptians. They would be humiliated and shamed.
This sign and wonder would find fulfilment, firstly after the Battle of Eltekeh (in Palestine) in around 701 BC when Egyptian and Cushite captives would be taken and treated in this way, and then nearly fifty years later when Egypt was invaded, first by Esarhaddon who captured Memphis in the north and established Assyrian rule in the areas around, and then by Ashurbanipal who sacked Thebes in the south. The Cushite dynasty was defeated, and captives young and old would be led away never to return again.
‘And they will be dismayed and ashamed, because of Cush their expectation, and of Egypt their glory. And the inhabitant of this coastland will say in that day, “Behold, such is our expectation, where we fled for help to be delivered from the king of Assyria, and we, how will we escape?” ’
Thus would Philistia (‘this coastland’), and all who trusted in Egypt recognise their folly in placing confidence in Cush and Egypt. Cush had been their grounds of confidence, Egypt their strongest resource, in whom they had boasted, and they were to be first soundly defeated, and then invaded and crushed. Thus the Philistines and their allies would recognise that in view of this all hope had gone. They had no way of escape. So let Hezekiah beware of trusting in Egypt.
The warning comes to us to that we should not put our final trust in anything or anyone but God, Who alone will not let us down.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Isaiah 20". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent