In Chapter 20 Isaiah describes how Assyria will overrun Egypt and make her ashamed. This has reference both to ancient Egypt and her modern superpower counterpart, America.1
Verse 1 establishes the time at which this prophecy was received by Isaiah: “In the year that Tartan came unto Ashdod, (when Sargon the king of Assyria sent him,) and fought against Ashdod, and took it—” This event occurred about 711 B.C.2 Ashdod was a city in northern Philistia where a resistance movement against Assyria was fomented.3 “Tartan” means “field marshal,”4 whose name we are not given. The Great Isaiah Scroll renders “commander-in-chief.”5
Verse 2 continues the sentence: “At the same time spake the LORD by Isaiah the son of Amoz, saying, Go and loose the sackcloth from off thy loins, and put off thy shoe from thy foot. And he did so, walking naked and barefoot.” The Lord here is commanding Isaiah to live a parable—to be a “type” for events to come.
Today, walking naked and barefoot in public is beyond the limits of what society will permit, but nudity was apparently viewed differently in Isaiah’s world. On one occasion King Saul was so inclined:
[A]nd the Spirit of God was upon him [Saul] also, and he went on, and prophesied….
And he stripped off his clothes also, and prophesied before Samuel in like manner, and lay down naked all that day and all that night. Wherefore they say, Is Saul also among the prophets?6
The Old Testament prophet Micah, in foreseeing the destruction of Samaria and Jerusalem by the Babylonians, was deeply grieved. Said he: “Therefore I will wail and howl, I will go stripped and naked….”7
Nudity was apparently a common practice among the prophets of that day. Ancient Greece was noted for its public nudity; participants in the ancient Olympics were naked. Our word “gymnasium” comes from the Greek, meaning “a place to train naked.”8 Isaiah’s nudity was apparently not much more than a conversation-starter, to give him an opportunity to tell about Egypt’s foreseen embarrassment at the hands of Assyria.
The foreshadowed event is described in verses 3 and 4. Verse 3 begins: “And the LORD said, Like as my servant Isaiah hath walked naked and barefoot three years for a sign and wonder upon Egypt and upon Ethiopia—”
Verse 4 continues the same sentence: “So shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptians prisoners, and the Ethiopians captives, young and old, naked and barefoot, even with their buttocks uncovered, to the shame of Egypt.” Fulfillment of this prophecy anciently occurred during the lifetime of Isaiah, when the Assyrians overthrew the rebellion that began in Ashdod. Isaiah’s message to Judah was not to participate with Ashdod and Egypt in the rebellion against Assyria.9 In modern times, America will be undone militarily by the modern superpower represented as Assyria. Events for which this ancient event are a type may mark the end of America’s military dominance, following the unfolding of events described by Isaiah in Chapter 19.10
Verse 5 continues: “And they shall be afraid and ashamed of Ethiopia their expectation, and of Egypt their glory.” The glory of Egypt, as used here, means military strength.11 In other words, the people of Judah would be dismayed by Assyria’s power, dispelling any hope of help from the modern equivalent of Egypt and Ethiopia.12
Verses 4 and 5 contain a chiasm:
A: (4) So shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptians prisoners,
B: and the Ethiopians captives,
C: young and old,
D: naked and barefoot,
D: even with their buttocks uncovered, to the shame of Egypt.
C: (5) And they shall be afraid and ashamed
B: of Ethiopia their expectation,
A: and of Egypt their glory.
“Naked and barefoot” correlates with “even with their buttocks uncovered, to the shame of Egypt.” The chiasm leaves little doubt about the literal intent of “naked and barefoot.”
Verse 6 describes the discouragement faced by Judah: “And the inhabitant of this isle shall say in that day, Behold, such is our expectation, whither we flee for help to be delivered from the king of Assyria: and how shall we escape?” With Egypt defeated and humiliated, Judah would wonder where to look for help when Assyria threatens.
Isaiah’s message is that only through the help of the Lord could Judah escape humiliation and slavery. Similarly, modern America can escape humiliation and defeat only by establishing an alliance with the Lord.
1. Avraham Gileadi, The Book of Isaiah: A new translation with interpretive keys from the Book of Mormon: Deseret Book Co., Salt Lake City, Utah, 1988, p. 72-76.
2. See Isaiah 20:1, footnote 1a.
3. Victor L. Ludlow, Isaiah: Prophet, Seer, and Poet: Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1982, p.222-223.
4. F. Brown, S. Driver, and C. Briggs, The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon: Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, MA, 01961-3473, 1996, Strong’s No. 8661, p. 1077.
5. Donald W. Parry, Harmonizing Isaiah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) at Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, 2001, p. 94.
6. 1 Samuel 19:23-24.
7. Micah 1:8.
8. Ernest Klein, A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the English Language: Elsevier Publishing Company, New York, 1971, p. 327.
9. Ludlow, p. 223-224.
10. Isaiah 19; see also pertinent commentary.
11. See Isaiah 8:7; 10:18; 16:14; 17:3-4; 21:16-17; 22:18; 66:12.
12. See Isaiah 20:5, footnote 5a.