The Oracle Concerning Egypt and Ethiopia

20: 1-6

    DIG: Sargon II destroyed Ashdod, a city in revolt against Assyria, in 711 BC. What object lesson was that meant to teach Judah? Public immodesty was culturally unacceptable: What was Isaiah likely wearing? How would that, plus his message, take on new meaning when Assyria triumphed over Ashdod?

    REFLECT: Do you learn better through lectures or object lessons? Why? What object lesson has God provided for you that has contributed to your trusting God more? What is the “Assyria” that seems unstoppable in your life? What “Egypt” are you tempted to rely upon for help? What would it mean, instead, for you to trust the LORD in that tempting situation?

    This passage concludes Isaiah’s oracle against Egypt and summarizes God’s message not to trust in her. Egypt was under judgment so reliance on her was useless. Nevertheless, there were some in Judah who wanted to form an alliance with Egypt and Cush, or Ethiopia. As an example, God allows the Assyrian king Sargon II to capture the Philistine city of Ashdod in 711 BC. The king of Ashdod, Yamani, fled to Egypt to seek asylum. But the Egyptians, faced with an Assyrian army on its borders, completely capitulated and meekly handed over a bound Yamani to the Assyrians. This is the backdrop in Isaiah, prompted by the Holy Spirit, who drew a line in the desert sand. The truth was that Egypt was just as subject to defeat as any other nation, and any reliance on her would be just as foolish as it had been for Ashdod and Yamani.

    This oracle in Isaiah Chapters 19 and 20 highlights the conflict between two world views: the Biblical one and the world view. The temptation for the Jews of Isaiah’s day to embrace the world was just as strong as it is for us today. The fears are the same. But John cuts to the heart of the issue when, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he wrote: Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world – the cravings of the sinful man, the lust of his eyes, and the boasting of what he has and does – comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever (First John 2:15-17). Today, the threat to the universal Church is tolerance. The world believes in syncretism, or that all paths lead to God. The motto of the world is, “All is one.” But it was a lie at the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9), it was a lie in Isaiah’s lifetime, and it is a lie today. The world believes that we are all brothers and sisters. That is also a lie. There are only two families in this life. You are either in the family of the LORD or the family of Satan. And if you aren’t in one, you’re in the other. That’s what the Bible teaches.

    Judah could not be protected from the world by embracing the world any more than we can today. Isaiah’s remedy is our remedy. The Bible commands us to love God and do not be yoked with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial (or false gods)? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the Temple of God and idols? For we are the Temple of the living God. As ADONAI has said: I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be My people. Therefore, come out from them and be separate, says the LORD (Second Corinthians 6:14-17).

    In the year that the supreme commander, sent by Sargon king of Assyria, came to Ashdod and attacked and captured it (20:1). The year that the supreme commander went to Ashdod and captured it was during the reign of Sargon II (Second Kings 18:17). We know his reign lasted from 721 BC to 705 BC. The fall of Ashdod took place in 711 BC. It was necessary for Ashdod to be taken, because it stood in the way of the Assyrian invasion of both Egypt and Ethiopia. So with this one verse the fulfillment of three earlier prophecies begins.

    It is in that year, 711 BC, that Isaiah was commanded to perform a symbolic act. At that time, the LORD through Isaiah son of Amoz, He said to him: Take off the sackcloth from your body and the sandals from your feet. And he did so, going around stripped and barefoot (20:2). Being a prophet was not always an ideal situation. Sometimes you had to do some strange things. Jeremiah and Ezekiel were asked to do some weird things as well. Here Isaiah is acting out the fate of captives, who were frequently stripped and led into captivity. For three years Isaiah did not wear his outer garment of sackcloth, an inner tunic, or sandals. He only wore a loincloth. It would be the equivalent of walking around in your underwear for three years. For most people this behavior would not be easy to undertake. But once Isaiah knew God’s will, he was committed to it. It is the same for us. the LORD probably will not ask you to walk around for three years in your underwear, but He does ask for your obedience to His Word and His will. Indeed, He may ask you to do something that is just as distasteful as walking around in his underwear was to Isaiah.

    Then the LORD said: Just as my servant Isaiah has gone stripped and barefoot for three years, as a sign and warning against Egypt and Cush, so the king of Assyria will lead away stripped and barefoot the Egyptian captives and Cushite exiles, young and old, with buttocks bared – to Egypt’s shame (20:3-4). The beginnings of the near historical prophecies of Chapters 18 and 19 are about to be fulfilled. Isaiah, acting as a mouthpiece for the LORD, said that the way that he was stripped would be a sign and warning against Egypt and Cush (Ethiopia). The concept of a sign and warning is very biblical (Isaiah 8:18; Deuteronomy 13:1-2, 28:46, 29:3, 34:11; Psalms 135:9; Jeremiah 32:20-21). Prior to the Exodus, the signs in Egypt proved that the Hebrews’ God was superior to any Egyptian god. Also Jesus’ resurrection was evidence that He was indeed who He said He was, the Redeemer and Savior of mankind (Matthew 12:40). So here Isaiah’s actions do not guarantee that Egypt will go into captivity, but they are part of the evidence that Egypt is not trustworthy and ADONAI is.

    The Egyptians would be taken captive and the Ethiopians sent into exile, naked and disgraced (Isaiah 3:17; Ezekiel 16:37, 23:10 and 29). At first it seems odd that a revolt by Ashdod should provoke a prediction of Egyptian (and Ethiopian, since the Ethiopian dynasty ruled Egypt) captivity. Furthermore, such captivity did not occur until the reign of Esarhaddon in 671, some forty years later. However, further reflection shows that his emphasis was not so strange. In fact, it dealt with the real issue. For Ashdod’s fate was not the most important thing with which Judah should concern herself. The real issue was the fate of Egypt, the agitator of rebellion. So Isaiah concerns himself with the cause of the rebellion, not the symptom. Not only will Egypt’s lackeys go into exile, he says, but so will Egypt herself. Mighty Egypt, rich in culture and glory, will be carried off in shame.63

    Those who trusted in Cush and boasted in Egypt will be afraid and put to shame. In that day the people who live on this coast will say: See what has happened to those we relied on, those we fled to for help and deliverance from the king of Assyria! How then can we escape (20:5-6)? Those in Judah, who thought an alliance with Egypt and Ethiopia would help them, would eventually be afraid and ashamed. People would realize that if Egypt and Cush had fallen to Assyria, then they had no chance of escape. As Ashdod had looked to Egypt and been betrayed, so would they. She had not been strong enough to save Ashdod. She had not even been strong enough to defy Assyria’s demand for Yamani. All this pointed to the harsh truth that whatever Assyria wanted she would get. Why then, Isaiah would ask, would Judah want to trust Egypt? It could only end in shame as it did for Yamani. Why look to the fading glory of Egypt when they could look to the glory of God.64 Why do we sometimes look to the fading glory of man, when we could look to the glory of ADONAI?


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