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Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 20

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary


Isaiah 20:0


Prophecy About Egypt and EthiopiaThe Sign Against Egypt and EthiopiaAgainst EgyptThe Sign of the Naked ProphetRelating to the Capture of Ashdod
Isaiah 20:1-6Isaiah 20:1-6Isaiah 20:1-6Isaiah 20:1-6Isaiah 20:1-6

READING CYCLE THREE (see “Guide to Good Bible Reading”)


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compareyour subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

Verses 1-6

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Isaiah 20:1-6 1In the year that the commander came to Ashdod, when Sargon the king of Assyria sent him and he fought against Ashdod and captured it, 2at 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. 3And the LORD said, “Even as My servant Isaiah has gone naked and barefoot three years as a sign and token against Egypt and Cush, 4so 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. 5Then they will be dismayed and ashamed because of Cush their hope and Egypt their boast. 6So 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?'“

Isaiah 20:1 This verse gives modern readers the exact historical setting of YHWH's judgment of the Philistines by the description of the fall of Ashdod (one of the five main city-states of Philistia-Ashdod, Ashkelon, Gaza, Gath, Ekron). The fall of one denoted the fall of all (see earlier oracle in Isaiah 14:28-32).

They were destroyed twice (1) by Sargon II (named specifically in the OT only here, he reigned from 722-705 B.C.), King of Assyria. In 713 B.C. the King of Ashdod, Azuri, revolted and in 711 B.C. Sargon II's army came and stopped the rebellion and (2) by Sennacherib in 705-701 B.C.

However, this chapter does not form a new oracle about the destruction of Philisita (or “coast lands,” cf. Isaiah 20:6), but a continuation of the judgment on Cush/Egypt, started in chapter 18. The humiliation of Ashdod was a foreshadowing of the shameful, humiliating exile of Egyptians by Assyrian armies on several different historical occasions. Segments of the Egyptian army were captured in battle and exiled.

“the commander” The term (BDB 1077) denotes a field general (cf. 2 Kings 18:17 and also note Isaiah 36:2, where the name of the general in 2 Kings 18:0 appears, but not his title).

Isaiah 20:2 Isaiah is told to dress (or better, undress) a certain way to denote current cultural mourning rites (see Special Topic at Isaiah 15:2-3), but also to denote shame, at Assyria's defeat and exile of several nations.

1. Ashdod (Philistia)

2. Egypt

3. Cush or synonym of Egypt of the 25 Dynasties who were Nubian.

What happened to Ashdod would in three years (cf. Isaiah 20:3) happen to Egypt.

NASB, NRSV, PESHITTA“loosen the sackcloth” NKJV“remove the sackcloth” TEV, LXX“take off. . .the sackcloth” REB“strip”

The common VERB (BDB 834, KB 986, Piel PERFECT) basically means “to open.” So the question is, “Does it mean 'loosen' (mourning) or 'take off' (shame)?”

1. “remove,” NIV, Psalms 30:11; NASB has “loose,” but means “remove” in Isaiah 52:2; Jeremiah 40:4

2. “loosen,” Isaiah 5:27

Normally wearing “sackcloth” (BDB 974) would denote mourning, as would being barefoot (cf. Micah 1:8), but it is possible that Isaiah removed the symbol of his prophetic office (“hairy robe,” BDB 12 CONSTRUCT, BDB 972, cf. Matthew 3:4). If this is correct then the text is not talking about nudity (but “naked,” BDB 736 in Isaiah 20:2, Isaiah 20:3, Isaiah 20:4 may, cf. Genesis 2:25). However, most uses of the term “naked” mean partially clothed (cf. Isaiah 47:1-3; 1 Samuel 19:24; 2 Samuel 6:14, 2 Samuel 6:20; Amos 2:16; Micah 1:8; John 19:23; John 21:7).

Isaiah 20:3 “as a sign” The NOUN ,”sign” (BDB 16), is used

1. as a marker of time, Genesis 1:14

2. as a marker of person, Genesis 4:15

3. as a marker of covenant, Genesis 9:12, Genesis 9:13, Genesis 9:17; Genesis 17:11

4. as a marker of a faith promise, Exodus 3:12

5. as a miracle to affirm God's representative (i.e., Moses), Exodus 4:8 (twice), Exodus 4:9, Exodus 4:17, Exodus 4:28, Exodus 4:30; Exodus 7:3; Exodus 8:23, etc.

6. tribal standard, Numbers 2:2; Numbers 2:2; Psalms 74:4

7. as a warning, Numbers 16:38; Numbers 17:10

It is used often in Isaiah.

1. special birth, Isaiah 7:14

2. Isaiah's children, Isaiah 8:18

3. altar and pillar in Egypt, Isa. 19:29

4. Isaiah's dress, Isaiah 20:3

5. harvest, Isaiah 37:30

6. sparing Jerusalem from Assyria, Isaiah 38:7

7. Hezekiah's healing, Isaiah 38:22

8. false signs, Isaiah 44:25

9. agricultural blessings, Isaiah 55:13

10. missionaries to the nations, Isaiah 66:19

NASB“a token” NKJV, PESHITTA“a wonder” NRSV, REB, NJB, LXX“portent”

The term “wonder,” “sign,” “portent” (BDB 68) is synonymous with “sign,” “mark” (BDB 16). It is used often in Exodus and Deuteronomy, but only twice in Isaiah (i.e., Isaiah 8:18 and Isaiah 20:3).

BDB has two main usages.

1. a special demonstration of God's power

2. a token of future events or symbolic acts denoting future events (cf. Zechariah 3:8).

Isaiah 20:4 This verse describes exile.

1. young and old taken (idiom for the entire population)

2. naked (BDB 736, idiom for shame, still had a tight-fitting undergarment)

3. barefoot (BDB 405, idiom for mourning)

4. buttocks uncovered (BDB 1059, only here and 2 Samuel 10:4, idiom of shame)

5. shame/nakedness (BDB 788, see Assyrian wall pictures)

This verse makes it very clear that Isaiah shocked his culture by going partially nude/naked for three years to illustrate a theological truth/prophecy. Nakedness was part of the cursing of Deuteronomy (cf. Deuteronomy 28:48), which reflected exile.

Isaiah 20:5 Because of Cush/Egypt's trust in themselves (i.e., army, wisdom, wealth, religion) they will be

1. dismayed, BDB 369, KB 365, Qal PERFECT, cf. Isaiah 7:8; Isaiah 8:9 (thrice); Isaiah 9:4; Isaiah 20:5; Isaiah 30:31; Isaiah 31:4, Isaiah 31:9; Isaiah 37:27; Isaiah 51:6, Isaiah 51:7

2. ashamed, BDB 101, KB 116, Qal PERFECT, cf. Isaiah 1:29; Isaiah 19:9; Isaiah 20:5; Isaiah 24:23; Isaiah 26:11; Isaiah 29:22; Isaiah 30:5; Isaiah 37:27; Isaiah 41:11; Isaiah 44:9, Isaiah 44:11 (twice); Isaiah 45:16, Isaiah 45:17, Isaiah 45:24; Isaiah 49:23; Isaiah 50:7; Isaiah 54:4; Isaiah 65:13; Isaiah 66:5

Obviously these two terms are a major part of Isaiah's message, both negatively and positively! Judah will suffer the same because she hoped in allies, not in YHWH.

Isaiah 20:6 This verse links Ashdod (Isaiah 20:1) with all the inhabitants of the coastal plain of Palestine. Apparently the Egyptians had promised military aid if Assyria invaded, but they could/did not (cf. Isaiah 30:7; Isaiah 31:3). There was no one to deliver (cf. Isaiah 10:3).

Surely, this chapter bolstered Isaiah's message to Hezekiah not to make an alliance with Egypt (cf. Isaiah 30:1-5; Isaiah 31:1-3).

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Isaiah 20". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/isaiah-20.html. 2021.
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