Thursday, January 16, 2014

Isaiah 20

Prophecy about Egypt and Ethiopia

1 In the year that the commander came to Ashdod, 
when Sargon the king of Assyria sent him 
and he fought against Ashdod and captured it,  
at that time the Lord spoke through Isaiah the son of Amoz, saying, 
“Go and loosen the sackcloth from your hips and take your shoes off your feet.” 
And he did so, going naked and barefoot.  
And the Lord said, “Even as My servant Isaiah has gone naked 
and barefoot three years as a sign and token against Egypt and Cush, 
so the king of Assyria will lead away the captives of Egypt 
and the exiles of Cush, young and old, 
naked and barefoot with buttocks uncovered, to the shame of Egypt.
Then they will be dismayed and ashamed 
because of Cush their hope and Egypt their boast. 
So the inhabitants of this coastland will say in that day, 
‘Behold, such is our hope, where we fled for help to be delivered 
from the king of Assyria; and we, how shall we escape?’”

In this short Chapter 20, and very clear (and fulfilled!) prophecy, we also see the unquestioned devotion that Isaiah the prophet had in serving God. There is a time-shift in this prophecy between the first two verses and the rest of the chapter. Isaiah has forthtold the word for three years, and, then, God explains the why of what Isaiah was doing in that time. The details of the prophecies that we have already read about Ethiopia and Egypt are not as defined, so this is a treat, of sorts.

Although this is a prophecy about Egypt and Ethiopia, or Cush, we need to remember that Isaiah was always a prophet to Judah. This message is for Judah as much as it is about those other nations. With verse 1, a timeframe is established, and we need some definitions as we move forward.

The city mentioned, Ashdod, is one of the largest Philistine cities. Philistia was a region located to the southwest of Judah, toward Egypt and Ethiopia. This verse contains the only mention by name of Sargon, the king of Assyria. There is some question among commentators as to which Sargon this refers (there were two) or if 'Sargon' doesn't in fact refer more generically to a king of Assyria. (Meaning, Sennacherib, the king we have mentioned often in posts here, might be the king referred to as Sargon in this passage.) Reading on in verse 1, Ashdod is taken by Assyria. History tells us that this indeed did happen in 711 B.C.

Recall that we have already looked at the reaction of Judah in response to the Assyrian presence. King Hezekiah's staff received a threatening visit from Assyrian commanders prior to their taking down Ashdod.

"Now behold, you rely on the staff of this crushed reed, even on Egypt; on which if a man leans, it will go into his hand and pierce it. So is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who rely on him."
--II Kings 18:21

The Assyrian commanders seemed to be presenting Godly counsel here in that Judah and Egypt were in an alliance. But the Assyrians did not have Godly intent in their hearts. We have come back to this passage in II Kings 18 quite often over the course of looking at these prophecies. Assyria wants to take Judah--however possible--but uses lies and taunts against Egypt and Ethiopia instead.

It is when Assyria moves into Ashdod that God moves in calling Isaiah to a new task. "Go...," He says to Isaiah, in verse 2, and, basically, change your outfit. God tells Isaiah to remove his sackcloth, which is a garment worn by mourners, but may indicate, simply, the uniform of a prophet. This is coming off along with any additional outer garments worn by Isaiah (though he likely would have kept on a basic inner garment, or loin cloth) and his shoes. He was now considered "naked and barefoot." God not only hands Isaiah the tough word about the impending trouble for Egypt and Ethiopia, but He tells Isaiah to live out the news through his wardrobe.

Wearing sackcloth in mourning and out of compassion was already not an easy task. Releasing the outer garments and removing sandals from feet already prone to too much dirt does not land one on the pages of Cosmopolitan Prophet. God wanted Isaiah to fully and completely demonstrate for Judah--as a physical, visible sign--the degree of humiliation and disgrace Egypt and Ethiopia would be brought at the hands of the Assyrians. The Reformation Study Bible suggests that his clothing was to resemble that of the captive going into exile. This is a picture of shame and devastation, for the "young and old." (vs. 4) Egypt, go down in defeat? Exiled to Assyria? It wasn't an option in the minds of those nations (nor in Judah's). But could you ignore the sign? [Sadly, yes. We know the outcome here, too....]
"Three years as a sign and token," God says of Isaiah's getup and ministry. There is also question of interpretation here. Was Isaiah "naked and barefoot" for all three years? That is one interpretation. Another might be that although he did dress that way for a time that it wasn't until three years following this period that people recognized to what the sign referred. Regardless, to me, it meant Isaiah really went the distance for God in trying to get His message to His people. What's the equivalent of being "naked and barefoot" today? If God called you to that, would you go? That's what we have to ask ourselves in the midst of this.
"This was a great hardship upon the prophet; it was a blemish to his reputation, and would expose him to contempt and ridicule; the boys in the streets would hoot at him, and those who sought occasion against him would say, The prophet is indeed a fool, and the spiritual man is mad, Hos. 9:7. It might likewise be a prejudice to his health; he was in danger of catching a cold, which might throw him into a fever, and cost him his life; but God bade him do it, that he might give a proof of his obedience to God in a most difficult command, and so shame the disobedience of his people to the most easy and reasonable precepts."
--Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible

"...'Behold, such is our hope....'" says the "inhabitants of this coastland," or Judah, in verse 5. Her strong, trusted allies are to be hauled off into captivity. The Amplified Bible puts verse 5 this way: "And they shall be dismayed and confounded because of Ethiopia their hope and expectation and Egypt their glory and boast." It is here that we see Judah's fatal error in her alliance with foreign nations. What looks good on paper doesn't always measure up, much less hold a candle, to having a plan from and relationship with Almighty God.

"Thus says the Lord, 'Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,' declares the Lord."
--Jeremiah 9: 23 and 24

Judah had not understood. Indeed, Esarhaddon, who became king of Assyria after Sargon II and Sennacherib, fulfilled this prophecy in 671, taking captives from Egypt and Ethiopia. "...How shall we escape?" Judah asks, in verse 6. Perhaps if Judah had had the revelation the church of Ephesus had received: "But I have this against you, that you have left your first love." (Revelation 2:4) Judah needed an alliance with and an allegiance to God.

"For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will."
--Hebrews 2: 1-4 (emphasis mine)

God had testified to His people--through signs and wonders--that His love for them was real and true, and that He was the strong One who would lead His people to salvation. But His people would remain wanting....

Stand up, stand up for Jesus, 
Stand in his strength alone;
The arm of flesh will fail you, 
Ye dare not trust your own.
Put on the gospel armor, 
Each piece put on with prayer;
Where duty calls or danger, 
Be never wanting there.
--"Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus," lyrics by George Duffield, Jr.   

God has more words for Babylon. Chapter 21 begins next week.  ...'Til next Wednesday!


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Next week:  Isaiah 21: 1-5
Note: I read from the New American Standard Bible translation,
specifically, The MacArthur Study Bible (NASB).
I will quote other sources if used in a post.

I also use Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible
(with notes from the King James Version).