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(1) In the year that Tartan came unto Ashdod.—Better, the Tartan. The word was an official title borne by the generalissimo of the Assyrian armies, who was next in authority to the king. He may, or may not, have been the same with the officer of the same rank who appears in 2 Kings 18:17 as sent by Sennacherib to Jerusalem.
When Sargon the king of Assyria sent him.—Much light has been thrown by the Assyrian inscriptions on the events connected with this king. Prior to that discovery, there was no trace of his name to be found elsewhere than in this passage, and his very existence had been called in question. As it is, he comes before us as one of the greatest of Assyrian monarchs. He succeeded Shalmaneser VI,, the conqueror of Israel, in B.C. 721, at first as guardian and co-regent of his son Samdan-Malik, and afterwards in his own name. His reign lasted till B.C. 704, when he was succeeded by Sennacherib. Long inscriptions, giving the annals of his reign, were found by M. Botta at Khorsabad, and have been interpreted by M. Oppert (Records of the Past, vii. 21, 9:1, 11:17, 27, 33) and others.
And fought against Ashdod.—The occasion of the campaign is related by Sargon in the annals just mentioned as happening in his eleventh year. Azuri, the king of Ashdod, refused to pay tribute, and revolted. Sargon deposed him, and placed his brother Akhismit, on the throne. The people, in their turn, rose against Akhismit, and chose Yaman as their king. Sargon then marched against the city, took it, and carried off its gods and its treasures as booty (Records of the Past, vii. 40). These events naturally excited the minds of Hezekiah and his counsellors, and led them to look to an alliance with Egypt as their best protection.
(2) Go and loose the sackcloth from off thy loins.—Against these schemes Isaiah was prompted to prophesy in act as well as words. Month by month, for three whole years, he was seen in the streets of Jerusalem as one who was already as a prisoner of war, ready to be led into an ignominious exile. The “sackcloth” was the “rough garment” which, like Elijah (2 Kings 1:8) and John the Baptist, the prophets habitually wore (Zechariah 13:4), and the “nakedness” was confined to the laying aside this outer robe, and appearing in the short tunic worn near the body (1 Samuel 19:24; 2 Samuel 6:14-20; John 21:7). Like instances of prophetic symbolism are the horns of Zedekiah in 1 Kings 22:11, the yokes worn by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 27:2), Ezekiel’s lying on his side (Ezekiel 4:4), and the girdle with which Agabus bound himself (Acts 21:11).
(3) For a sign and wonder upon Egypt and upon Ethiopia.—Apparently Isaiah prophesied in act, but in silence, and did not unfold the meaning of the symbol till the three years came to an end. There are no adequate grounds for limiting his dramatic action to a single day or three days. Egypt and Ethiopia are, as in Isaiah 18, 19, closely connected, both countries being under a king of Ethiopian origin, Sabaco.
(4) So shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptians . . .—The prediction did not receive its fulfilment in the reign either of Sargon or Sennacherib, but Esarhaddon subdued the whole of Egypt, carried off its treasures, and appointed satraps over its provinces (Budge’s Esarhaddon, pp. 111-129). The prophet paints the brutality with which prisoners were treated on a march in vivid colours. What would men say of their boasted policy of an Egypto-Cushite alliance when they saw that as its disastrous issue? It may be noted that Rabshakeh’s scornful phrase, “This bruised reed,” seems to imply that Assyria had ceased to fear the power of Egypt; and Nahum (Nahum 3:8) speaks of No (i.e., No-Amun or Thebes) as having, when he wrote, been conquered, and his people carried into captivity.
(6) The inhabitant of this isle . . .—Better, as elsewhere, coast-land. Here it probably refers to the whole coast of Philistia, which had been foremost in the revolt, and Phœnicia, Tyre also having joined in it (Annals of Sargon in Lenormant’s Anc. Hist., i. 396). Cyprus, the conquest of which Sargon records (Records of the Past, vii. 51), may also be included. The whole sea-board population would find out too late that they could not resist Assyria even with the help of Egypt and Ethiopia.
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Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Isaiah 20". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany