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Isaiah chapter 20

What does Isaiah chapter 20 mean?

Chapter 20 concludes Isaiah's oracle from the Lord regarding Egypt (Isaiah 19:1). He concludes with an object lesson to demonstrate that Egypt is not strong enough to save anyone from the Assyrians. Egypt cannot even save themselves. Judah must not put its hope in Egypt.

Isaiah begins by focusing on a devastating event. The Assyrian king Sargon sent his commander in chief—tartān' in Hebrew—to attack and defeat the Philistine city of Ashdod. The king of Ashdod had allied with the Egyptians against the Assyrians. After Ashdod made this alliance, they had apparently stopped paying tribute to Assyria. When the Assyrians arrived to crush Ashdod, Egypt was nowhere to be found. The defeat of Ashdod by the Assyrians in 711 BC is also described in the Assyrian annals and by fragments of a pillar unearthed in Ashdod in 1963 (Isaiah 20:1).

The prophet moves on to say that the Lord had told him to take off his sackcloth outer garment and sandals and to walk around that way. Though the Hebrew term ārom' is often translated as "naked," the main idea is an implication of shame, and not always a complete lack of clothing. It's highly likely the prophet kept a loincloth on but was seen in a humbling state of undress. Given the customs of the day, anyone who saw the prophet in public in this manner of exposure would not forget the image. Apparently, this instruction was given three years before the fall of Ashdod (Isaiah 20:2).

Next Isaiah reveals the Lord's purpose behind his time of public "nakedness." Isaiah spent three years serving as a sign of what the Egyptian captives and the exiles of their neighbor Cush will look like when Assyria defeats them. They will be stripped down and marched into captivity. It was common for prisoners at this time to be stripped as a sign of their defeat and to keep them in line (Isaiah 20:3–4).

When that day comes, all the inhabitants of the coastland who were boasting that Egypt would save them from Assyria will ask each other what hope is for them? How will they escape the crushing assault of the Assyrian army (Isaiah 20:5–6)?

The Lord's message to Judah, both in words and by Isaiah's visual example, was that God's people must not put their faith in other nations to save them from Assyria. They must trust in the Lord and rely on Him alone to protect them.
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