Isaiah 20

Isaiah 20

A Sign Against Egypt and Cush

20 In the year that the commander in chief, who was sent by Sargon the king of Assyria, came to Ashdod and fought against it and captured it—at that time the LORD spoke by Isaiah the son of Amoz, saying, “Go, and loose the sackcloth from your waist and take off your sandals from your feet,” and he did so, walking naked and barefoot.

Then the LORD said, “As my servant Isaiah has walked naked and barefoot for three years as a sign and a portent against Egypt and Cush, so shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptian captives and the Cushite exiles, both the young and the old, naked and barefoot, with buttocks uncovered, the nakedness of Egypt. Then they shall be dismayed and ashamed because of Cush their hope and of Egypt their boast. And the inhabitants of this coastland will say in that day, ‘Behold, this is what has happened to those in whom we hoped and to whom we fled for help to be delivered from the king of Assyria! And we, how shall we escape?’”


Isaiah 20 Commentary

by Brad Boyles

Let’s first set the stage. Coming on the heels of Isaiah 19 and the oracle concerning Egypt, we now see the unfolding of God’s judgment. King Sargon of Assyria orders his commander to invade Ashdod (one of the largest Philistine cities). This happened in 711 BC. Three years prior, Isaiah was given the command from God to strip his outer garments and sandals and go “naked” symbolizing the humiliation and defeat that would occur at the hands of the Assyrians.

However, that prophecy was not speaking to the Philistines but was predicting the downfall of both Egypt and Ethiopia who would also be crushed by the Assyrians just years later. So, much like a parable, God’s prophet was acting out the fate of both Egypt and Ethiopia.

Personally, I doubt that he walked completely naked during this time. It’s certainly possible he was stark naked. However, I would assume that being nude would have created a great deal of struggle both culturally and practically. The truth is, if God asked him to navigate life fully exposed, then I’m sure He protected and provided for Isaiah along the way.

It is more likely that he removed his sackcloth and sandals but kept his inner garment on. The point was not to be controversial but to illustrate the total poverty and desolation that was coming for Egypt and Ethiopia. Assyria, under the leadership of Sargon, was going to conquer both of these nations and the captives would be marched out in total humiliation.

“the LORD said, “As my servant Isaiah has gone stripped and barefoot three years as a sign and omen against Egypt and Cush, [4] so the king of Assyria will lead the captives of Egypt and the exiles of Cush, young and old alike, stripped and barefoot, with bared buttocks—to Egypt’s shame.”

Isaiah 20:3-4 CSB

What significance does this have for Judah?

“Isaiah’s warning of their defeat and captivity is intended to discourage Judah from looking to Egypt for aid against Assyria. This was 711 B.C. The prediction was fulfilled 11 years later. Sennacherib’s annals for 701 B.C. say: “I fought with the kings of Egypt, accomplished their overthrow, and captured alive charioteers and sons of the king.””

Halley’s Bible Handbook

When Sargon came for the Philistine city of Ashdod, the people of God knew they were in danger. Ashdod was located just southwest of Jerusalem. The temptation for Judah would be to trust in the Egyptians for protection.

The lesson is simple. Do not look for answers to problems in human strength. This was an issue for God’s people throughout the Old Testament and continues to plague believers today. Humans will always fail. God never will. This is the lesson God is trying to illustrate to His people. The same is true today.

Often, God allows us to be put into situations where He is our only hope.

“The LORD allowed Judah to be backed into a corner, caught between two mighty Empires (Egypt and Assyria), without being able to trust either one. There was no escape – except in the LORD.”

David Guzik

How many of us do this today? We feel safe and secure because of how much money is in our bank account or how successful we are at our occupation. We turn to the things of this world so quickly when life gets hard. In addition, we forget how fleeting this “protection” actually is. The things of this world can never give us the peace and security we find in the Lord. We can choose to respond to the Lord today and trust Him over everything or we can continue to trust in worldly things and learn the hard way.

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You have doubts he was naked, while I have no doubts that he was without any covering. It is the contempt that the world has for nudity that creates the image that it is shameful and evil. Yet everyone ever born, even Jesus, was born naked. It is not shameful, we were all created in the Image of God, everyone coming into this world is born totally naked. And in the end we will also leave as we came, naked, with nothing. Nowhere in Biblical text will you find any indication that nudity is wrong, or shameful. It is in fact a gift not to be burdened by constrictions because of evil thoughts, word and deeds.

3Then the LORD said: Just as my servant Isaiah has gone naked and barefoot for three years as a sign and portent against Egypt and Ethiopia,
4so shall the king of Assyria lead away captives from Egypt, and exiles from Ethiopia, young and old, naked and barefoot, with buttocks uncovered, the shame of Egypt.


Thanks for your comment, Jon! As stated in the commentary, I agree with you it is possible he was completely naked. I would not argue with a believer over it, because it certainly could have been true. The NASB is an accurate translation but when you look at the original Hebrew, it is interesting to note that the word ʾārôm can mean totally naked (Gen 2:25) as well as partially naked (Isa 58:7; 1 Sam 19:24; Mic 1:8; cf. also Joh 21:7). In ancient civilization it was common for a partial metaphor to convey a complete message. In other words, partial nudity would have clearly communicated the same point as full nudity. So, ultimately, my basis for leaning toward partial nudity was looking at the Hebrew word and how it is used throughout the rest of Scripture. Ironically, the sign did convey shame as Egypt and Ethiopia would be marched into captivity in total shame (nakedness) as verse 4 states. Thanks for reading!

Last edited 2 months ago by Brad Boyles