10 million Ukrainians without power because of Russia. Help us purchase electrical generators for churches.
Consider helping today!

Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator

Isaiah 20

Verse 1

Isaiah 20:1

In the year that Tartan came unto Ashdod

The purpose of the chapter

Judah, alarmed by the capture of Samaria, and the rapid extension of the Assyrian invasion, looked for assistance from Egypt.

And the aim of this brief chapter is to recall king and people from any such reliance, by the announcement that the King of Assyria would shortly prevail against Egypt, and lead into captivity multitudes of prisoners. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)

The date of the prophecy

The date of the prophecy is assured. The expedition mentioned took place in 711 B.C., and is minutely related in two of Sargon’s own inscriptions.
See Schrader, Cuneiform Inscriptions, vol. 2. (Cambridge Bible for Schools.)

The Tartan,

The Tartan, Assyrian, turtanu, i.e., Commander-in-chief. (A. B.Davidson, LL. D.)

Verse 2

Isaiah 20:2

Go and loose the sackcloth from off thy loins

Isaiah stripped and barefooted

Owing to the great importance which is attributed to clothing from the standpoint of Oriental culture and manners, anyone who appears without the upper garment is already regarded as naked and bare.

Isaiah has to lay off the garment of the preacher of repentance and of the mourner, so that only his tunic remains; and in this dress, and moreover barefooted, he has to appear in public. It is the costume of a man who had been robbed and disgraced, of a beggar, it may be, or a prisoner of war. (F. Delitzsch.)

God’s appointment magnifies mean things

The appointment of God renders those things and actions which in themselves seem mean and contemptible, momentous and useful: it stamps them with real dignity and importance, and makes them truly instructive. View the ceremonial institutions of the Old Testament, such as circumcision, abstinence from particular kinds of food and of raiment, uncleanness contracted by touching certain objects, and sprinkling the tabernacle with blood, and they appear trifling and ridiculous. Contemplate them again as the ordinances of God, infinitely wise and gracious, and you may discern their excellence and extensive utility. Look at our prophet as he is here described, and you see an odd appearance; but consider him acting by Divine commission, that he might represent to his countrymen the future naked and destitute condition to which those nations were to be reduced in whom they foolishly placed their confidence, and every circumstance acquires new consequence. (R. Macculloch.)

Isaiah’s obedience

When we are in the way of our duty we must trust God both with our credit and with our safety. (M. Henry.)

God’s purpose dignifies what might otherwise be scandalous

If the dress was scandalous, yet the design was glorious. (M. Henry.)

Verse 5

Isaiah 20:5

They shall be . . . ashamed of . . . their expectation

Unreasonable expectations

A great deal of the discomfort, a large proportion of the disappointments of the world, may be traced to unreasonable expectations--to the fact that men will persist in expecting what they have no right to expect at all, or to expect in that precise form or degree.

Indeed, so many of the expectations cherished in this world are so vain and unreasonable, involving those who entertain them in such necessary disappointment, that someone has sardonically observed, “Blessed is the man who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.” But, while we would not take so gloomy a view of human life as this, we cannot help feeling that much of the worry and mortification of life may be accounted for by our expecting what we have no right to expect. We all suffer from the same complaint, in larger or lesser degree. The symptoms differ in different individuals; the disease is radically the same. Young and old, rich and poor, learned and ignorant, masters and servants, buyers and sellers, husbands and wives, parents and children, pastors and people--all, in some way or other, and to some extent or other, are the victims of unreasonable expectations. Life with all of them would be a brighter, smoother, pleasanter thing, if they expected less. As we grow older we ought to grow wiser in this respect. Having regard only to the ordinary intercourse and social relationships of life--how many complaints would be hushed, how much irritation would be allayed, how much needless mortification be averted, how much resentment cease, how many fancied slights and injuries appear inconsiderable, if, instead of brooding over our rights, which we imagine have been withheld or invaded, we were to sit down, and quietly, dispassionately consider what, living in a world like this, we might, on the whole, reasonably expect. If we were thus to inquire we should find that we were getting more than we deserved; and that, for the most part, we were being treated by others quite as fairly, honourably, and tenderly as we were in the habit of treating them. (T. M. Morris.)

Unreasonable expectations in relation to religion

The subject of unreasonable expectations is of almost illimitable extent, and in further dwelling upon it I would limit my remarks to three points--

THE THINGS WHICH GOD’S PEOPLE UNREASONABLY EXPECT. Nothing can be more plain than that our expectations as Christians should be limited by the teaching and promise of God’s Word. We are safe so long as we rest in the promise of God.

It is unreasonable to expect that you can place yourselves in any false position, form any unworthy association, engage in any questionable occupation, and be saved from the natural consequences of so doing. Lot was a very good man, but he made a very great mistake. If, in your legitimate business,--if, in sustaining any of the just relationships of life, you meet with danger or temptation, you may reasonably expect that God will grant you all the necessary assistance and protection. But if the danger or temptation be of your own seeking, it is likely that God will teach you wisdom by leaving you to endure the consequences of your rashness or perversity. It is unreasonable for you to expect that you can touch pitch and not be defiled, take fire in your bosom and not be burned, nourish a viper and not be stung.

2. It is unreasonable to expect that you should grow in grace, or realise any very high degree of enjoyment in the Divine life, if all the while you are neglecting or insufficiently using the means of growth, the sources of enjoyment which are placed within your reach.

3. It is unreasonable to expect in Christian life what our Master expressly warns us against expecting. Many seem disappointed because they do not find the way of Christian pilgrimage perfectly smooth and pleasant from its commencement to its close. Your Master tells you plainly that you have to lay your account with suffering and trial, with disappointment and danger. The Christian life is never represented as one of ease and self-indulgence, but rather as a state of warfare. You are treading in the footsteps of those who, in uninterrupted succession, have walked in the same rough way.

4. I might easily enumerate many other unreasonable expectations in which Christians are tempted to indulge. It is unreasonable to expect results from unassisted human nature which can only flow from Divine grace. It is unreasonable to expect from an attempted conformity to the law what can only be secured by a simple dependence on the Gospel. It is unreasonable to expect that we shall find on earth what can be only realised in heaven, or that we can derive from any inferior and created source what can only be found in the centre and sum of all excellency, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.


1. There are those who make it a matter of reproach against religion, and prefer it as an excuse for their unbelief, that the Gospel, the religion of the Cross, does not come up in sundry particulars to their idea of what a religion which claims man’s acceptance and confidence ought to be. Such objections we may dismiss as the fruit of unreasonable expectations, for all, save the most shallow and pretentious of such objectors, are ready to confess that there are “more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in their philosophy.”

2. There are those who do not go so far as to object against religion as unreasonable, who seem to resent it as an injury that any measure of mystery should attach to any of the statements of Scripture. In reply to this, several things may be said. It might be said that, taking into account what this revelation professes to be, it was reasonable to expect that the truths communicated, while intelligible on the one side, should lose themselves in mystery on the other. And it might be further remarked, in reference to many of those who thus object, that they make but very little use of such light as they confessedly have. Is it not the part of reason first of all to inquire whether the Bible be an authentic and authoritative revelation from heaven to earth, and then, if its claims to be so regarded are substantiated to the satisfaction of reason, is it not the very part and office of reason to sit submissively at the feet of the Divine Teacher and learn of Him?

3. There are many who but very slightly interest themselves in the truth which Christians hold, who seem to take much pleasure in narrowly scrutinising the lives which Christians live. The real or alleged inconsistencies of professing Christians do not afford any ground of reasonable objection against the Gospel, or any valid excuse for its continued rejection. In judging of any practical system, we must have reference to what it professes to be, and to accomplish. If you confine attention to those who are the sincere and genuine followers of the Lamb, it is unreasonable to expect that they should manifest in this world an absolute perfection of character. Such perfection, we believe, can be only realised when this body of sin and death shall have been laid aside.


1. It is unreasonable to expect that anything which the world contains can meet the need, or satisfy the desire, of man’s immortal soul.

2. It is unreasonable to expect that in religion anyone can serve two masters. No such thing as neutrality is possible in religion, and, strictly speaking, there is no such thing as indecision.

3. It is unreasonable to expect that sinful men can satisfy the requirements of the law, and avert its penalty, by any obedience they can render, by any penance they can endure.

4. It is unreasonable to expect that those who, enjoying Gospel light, die despising Gospel grace, will be in any wise benefited by the uncovenanted mercies of God.

5. It is unreasonable to expect that you can spend a sinful, worldly life, and men have a comfortable death and a happy eternity.

6. It is unreasonable to expect that, because you pass muster in this world, and occupy a moderately creditable position among your fellow men, that therefore you will do moderately well ]n another world; and that, if you do not shine forth conspicuously with the best, you will go through the gates into the city, unnoticed among the crowd.

7. It is unreasonable to expect that, because sentence is not speedily executed against an evil work, that therefore it never will be; and that, because the present order of things has continued so long, that therefore it will continue forever. (T. M. Morris.)


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Isaiah 20". The Biblical Illustrator. 1905-1909. New York.