Isaiah Chapter 20


Egypt a symbolic nation of vain-confidence. The three years' sign.
The nakedness not the extreme as with us. The discord of evil.

In conformity with a plan that frequently governs the prophetic writing, after having taken us down to the end of the ways of God with the earth, as far as to millennial blessedness, we are, in this very short chapter, taken back that Israel, seeing the complete humiliation of Egypt, may be warned against putting confidence in a nation that cannot even maintain its own liberty, much less throw an effective shield over others. But as it is a warning not alone needed by that Israel after the flesh, we too may listen with genuine personal interest.

There is one point that is only incidental, but not without its value, as evidencing the absolute accuracy of Scripture. Sargon is a name that does not occur elsewhere in the Bible, and not once in classical writers, so that it is not surprising that Christian commentators concluded that this must be another name for Shalmanezer, of whom we read in 2 Kings 18. "The monuments, however, removed this doubt, and made Sargon a successor, but not a son, of Shalmanezer, and the father of Sennacherib." [Birks on "Isaiah."] Now if my reader will turn to 2 Kings 18:10, he will note that the capture of Samaria is not attributed to Shalmanezer himself, but it is written: "And at the end of three years they took it (Samaria), even in the sixth year of Hezekiah Samaria was taken." That is, the army captured the besieged city, but it was not at that time under the leadership of Shalmanezer. As we learn from our chapter, and as recently the monuments have also shown, the general of the victorious army was the hitherto unknown Sargon. This time, at least, the "monuments" have proved their own correctness by being in accord with the divinely inspired Word of God.

2: Go, loosen the sackcloth from off of thy loins,
From thy foot, too, put off thy sandal.
And he did so, walking naked and barefoot.
3: As My servant Isaiah walked shamefully thus,
Naked, and foot without sandal,
A sign and a wonder of three years in length,
'Gainst Cush and the crafty Mizraim,
4: So shall the king of Assyria lead
Egyptians and Cushites all captives,
With buttocks uncovered to shame them.
5: And all who have placed in the Cushite their trust,
And based their vain boastings on Egypt,
With terror and shame shall be stricken.
6: And this island's dweller shall say in that day,
Behold now what has befallen
Those up to whom we did trustfully look
To be our salvation from Asshur!
Oh, how then can we be delivered?
Thus the prophet Isaiah is commanded to make of himself a symbolic prophecy that shall tell, in that most graphic and appealing way, the fate in store for the nation that is Israel's confidence. He is to go "naked and barefoot." Of course, we must not force into this the literalness that the words convey to us. I again quote Delitzsch, with whom are associated in this all sober commentators: "With the great importance attached to clothing in the East, where the feelings on this point are peculiarly sensitive and modest, a person was looked upon as stripped and naked if he had only taken off his upper garment. What Isaiah was therefore directed to do, was simply opposed to common custom and not to moral decency. He was to lay aside the dress of a mourner, a preacher of repentance, and to have nothing on but his tunic; and in this, as well as bare-footed, he was to show himself in public." Could anything arouse attention and call for explanation more tellingly than that?

Nor is it necessary to read the third verse as in our Authorized Version; as if the prophet must thus walk about the city for three literal years; but thus: "And Jehovah said, As My servant Isaiah goeth naked and barefoot, a three years' sign and wonder against Egypt and against Ethiopia, so shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptians prisoners, etc."; that is according to a principle well understood, if Isaiah had thus walked three days, it would have been a "three years' sign," and denoted the period of Egypt's humiliation for three years, as will be clearly seen by a reference to Num. 14:33, 34; Ezek. 4:1-8.

The result of this humiliation of Egypt, is given in verses 5, 6, on those who have put their trust in her as being too well established, too strong to be defeated. And the inhabitants of this isle, or coast-land (that is, all Palestine) "shall say in that day, Behold, thus it happens to those to whom we looked, whither we fled for help to deliver us from the king of Assyria; and how should we escape?" (Delitzsch).

Whatever near-by fulfilment of this prophecy there may have been, it can but have foreshadowed a far-off one that lies still, even now, in the future. Does not our prophetic book of Revelation tell us of a crisis that corresponds very closely (although in a spiritual sphere, as in accord with the spirit of that book) with this strife between two powers, both of which are equally hostile to God and His people?

As there is harmony and accord in the kingdom of God, so there is antagonism and discord amid the components of the kingdom of the powers of darkness. "Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand; and if Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then shall his kingdom stand?" These words of our Lord must not be forced into denying this, nor in teaching that there is harmony and accord in that kingdom of Satan. In the poor men who are in, and compose, that kingdom on earth, who are not only hateful, but hate one another, we get a sad picture of the discordant conditions that characterize it. It is said that "misery loves company," but even this negative comfort will not be enjoyed by those who refuse the grace of Christ in the gospel, and finally share the penalty prepared only for the devil and his angels. When the devil has derived all the service he can from one instrument, he has no hesitation in abandoning it and destroying it by another. Egypt may have served him well on occasion, when the Lord's people were captives within its borders, but Egypt having thus served his turn, the inherent discord of his kingdom is told out by the destruction of that abandoned instrument by another, Egypt by Assyria. So we read in Rev. 17:16: "And the ten horns which thou sawest, and the Beast, these shall hate the whore, and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh and burn her utterly with fire."

That filthy "woman," this world's Church, which still assumes to be the bride of Christ, has long served, and is still serving her master, Satan, well; but let him cast away his pretension to being an angel of light, and come out in his own true character of Dragon, and he will give that Church short shrift, and use another of his instruments to bring her to her end. God over all, and overruling all, even in permitting him to do this, will carry out His own profound purposes.

Just as Assyria (representative of violence) conquers Egypt (representative of corruption) so shall the Beast and ten horns destroy the woman (religion). That is, the political State (the then "League of Nations" embracing all Christendom) that has supported that woman (the whole religious profession after the rapture), under the devil's control shall utterly destroy every vestige of profession of faith in the Name of Christ, however false it may have been.

Thus this short chapter springs into life, as it were, and historic details in which apparently we can have no possible interest, personally or directly, become, in the light of other scriptures, themselves filled with prophetic light on our own day, path and future.