Signs and examples help us to grasp difficult concepts. They shed light on challenging truths; this is why preachers use illustrations in their sermons! We understand better through symbols, and so did the people of Judah. All of the other oracles in this section involve rich literary metaphors that are powerful. However, nothing can quite compare with the image recorded in Isaiah 20. Instead of just recording God’s words,Isaiah himself became a living sign to his people.
Ashdod had made an alliance with Egypt for protection against the Assyrians, but Ashdod was still conquered (20:1). The Assyrians also threatened Judah, but God’s people were not to make an alliance with the wicked nation of Egypt. To make His point clear, God commanded Isaiah to walk around naked for three years as a sign for Judah not to place their trust in Egypt or Cush (Isaiah 20:2). This nakedness was representative of how captives of war were led into captivity: vulnerable and naked. Isaiah must have made his people uncomfortable not only by his nakedness, but also through his proclamation that went against popular opinion.
The point of this chapter is found in verse 6. While under attack from Assyria, it may have seemed reasonable to Judah to reach out to Egypt or Cush for help and protection, but these nations themselves would be led away in captivity. It was futile for Judah to trust in another nation. The only source of hope and deliverance was God Himself.
How often do we expect God to work according to our own plans and timing? To make life comfortable for us? Isaiah was a faithful servant of God, but his life was in no way easy. It certainly could not have been comfortable walking around naked for three years. Will we be faithful to respond to God’s call even when it is challenging? Even when it goes against the status quo? Will we trust God to deliver us instead of trusting in the systems and powers of this world?
Isaiah 20 (ESV):
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— 2 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.
3 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,4 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. 5 Then they shall be dismayed and ashamed because of Cush their hope and of Egypt their boast. 6 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?’”