by Rev Hilda Warwick
Welcome to our journey through Isaiah chapter 20. We explore what some of these verses are really about. As we see God speaking through the prophet, through some unusual signs, more familiar to the culture and time in which this was written. What was Isaiah trying to communicate to the people through his words and actions. His unusual attire, commanded by God and for what reason?
The passage begins with a historical reference.
“In the year that Tartan came to Ashdod” This describes the time when the army of Assyria conquered the Philistine city of Assyria. Isaiah’s sign is a response to this victory of Assyria. The prophet’s objective in this prophecy is not primarily to comment on the fate of Egypt and Ethiopia, or indeed on that of Assyria and the Philistines, but to persuade his audience not to put their trust in foreign powers. A recurring theme throughout Isaiah’s ministry. The reference, to sackcloth denotes mourning and comments on the fate of Ashdod. The second reference to nakedness denotes humiliation, helplessness or vulnerability, seen when one is given over to the power of another. God was using the sign of Isaiah to communicate the message that God intended to follow through and asserts His intention. Although for us in our time and space this might seem an unusual way to communicate, the culture of the time would have been familiar with prophets demonstrating their message through their actions as well as words. The prophet represents by his actions the fate of the Philistines in the past and that of the Egyptians and Ethiopians in the future.
So, what was the prophet saying? All hope in Egypt was lost, no matter how strong they appeared to be. It may be that Isaiah spent, possibly part of each day, in this manner, rather than continuously throughout the three years. We don’t know for sure. Either way, the message turns out that, to trust in Egypt, has been uncommonly foolish.
So, what can we learn from this passage? The previously held confidence has proved to be misplaced and now, they find themselves facing the harsh reality of “What now?”. How can we relate this to our current climate? We may not face the threats of foreign nations, in the same way, but our culture often invites us to trust in many things other than God Himself. Today, Egypt might be represented by our culture of consumerism, that invites us to accumulate more and more. Egypt may represent many different things to us in our world. It’s something to consider. In a world where God is not central, “What now?”
Isaiah points as always back to the One we can trust. The One who longs for us to place our hope in Him. The people of God find their rest and security, in God alone. This is the invitation and reassures us that God indeed is greater than our circumstances.
Father we recognise in our world the temptation to find security in the things that we know. Today may we be reminded that all we have comes from You. Help us to celebrate all that You have gifted us, and to use all that we have to further the work of Your kingdom in this place.
In Jesus name. Amen.