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Isaiah 20:1–6 Conquest of Egypt and Cush: Isaiah’s Dramatization
Several Old Testament prophets presented prophecies that were acted out or dramatized, or that consisted of symbolic gestures and movements (we call them nonverbal prophecies). For example, Moses lifted a brazen serpent on a pole (Numbers 21:6–9), symbolizing the lifting of Jesus on the cross; Ahijah ripped a garment into twelve pieces and gave ten pieces to Jeroboam, signifying the division of the kingdom of Israel and Jeroboam’s rule over ten of the tribes (1 Kings 11:29–31); and Ezekiel made slashing movements with a sword (Ezekiel 21:8–17), symbolizing that many from Israel (because of their sins) would die by the sword. In the present text, the Lord instructed Isaiah to remove some of his clothing as a sign to Egypt and Cush that Assyria would take them captive and make them walk naked and barefoot, as slaves. Isaiah’s dramatization, then, prophesies that Assyria will capture and enslave many Egyptians and Cushites. Note that this section is written in prose rather than poetic parallelisms.
In the year that Tartan. That year was about 711 BC. Ashdod was a Philistine port city. On the face of it, it seems that “Tartan” is a name; but it may be a title, signifying “commander in chief.” Sargon II was an Assyrian king who ruled from about 722–705 BC.
the Lord spoke by Isaiah. The Lord is the source of Isaiah’s prophecy. remove the sackcloth/take off the sandals. Sackcloth was an outer garment that signified repentance, humility, or mourning (Psalm 35:13; Matthew 11:21). God commanded Isaiah to remove the sackcloth and his sandals. he did so. This was not a parable; Isaiah did as the Lord commanded. This was an actual prophecy, acted out in view of Isaiah’s contemporaries. walking naked and barefoot. “Naked,” meaning, without this outer garment and his sandals, or without his usual covering. Isaiah, of course, was not nude, which would be completely contrary to God’s teachings regarding modesty. “Naked and barefoot” is mentioned three times in this prophecy for emphasis.
the Lord said . . . sign and a wonder. The Lord explained the meaning of Isaiah’s dramatization, which was “a sign and a wonder for Egypt and Cush”—the cruel Assyrian army would conquer Egypt and Cush and lead their captives away, forcing them to walk “naked and barefoot.” This was a form of extreme humiliation; additionally, walking naked (without either clothing or a soldier’s armor) made the captives vulnerable and defenseless. The word pair “sign and wonder” expresses a great sign from God (Deuteronomy 28:46; Helaman 14:6; 3 Nephi 2:1). In this passage, Isaiah’s action represented a great sign from God that prophesied the captivity of Egypt and Cush.
Those who made Cush their hope, and Egypt their glory. Many of the inhabitants of Judah had placed their hope for deliverance in the mighty and powerful kingdoms of Egypt and Cush. But these hopes were crushed when another dominant kingdom, Assyria, conquered Egypt and Cush. Judah’s inhabitants would then say, “Behold, thus was our hope, and to whom we fled for help to be delivered from the king of Assyria, how will we escape?” (20:6).
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