-Isaiah 20
The Uselessness of Trusting in Egypt and Ethiopia:

Isaiah 20

The historical context, is during the reign of Sargon II, and is therefore before the siege of Jerusalem by his son Sennacherib, which the text says was in the fourteenth year of Hezekiah (see the introduction to chapter 36 for reasons why the events of this chapter are closer to the 14th year of Hezekiah and why the siege under Sennacherib must have been much later.). It sets the stage of Isaiah's object lesson. He is to walk naked and barefoot for three years as a sign of what will soon happen to Egypt and Ethiopia. The sign is concerning Egypt and Ethiopia but is for the Jewish nation who still put their trust in political alliances and not in God. Happily, Hezekiah did heed Isaiah's warning and put his trust in God. Not so the citizens of Jerusalem. During the siege they still hoped for the power of the Ethiopians and Egypt to protect them against the onslaught of Assyria. In the events that transpired Hezekiah's trust in God was rewarded and the Assyrian armies were turned back from the very walls of Jerusalem by divine intervention. This is recorded in Chapters 36, 37. Sennacherib was capturing the cities of Judea when he heard the rumor which turned out to be false, that the king of Ethiopia was coming to attack him. (Isa.37:8) This appears to hasten his decision to attack Jerusalem. Jerusalem was saved, not by intervention of Ethiopian or Egyptian armies, but by the direct action of the Angel of the LORD. Subsequently both nations of Egypt and Ethiopia would succumb to Assyrian might and be led captive and submit to Assyrian government. A short restoration would follow Assyria's last days but the same nations would then become part of the world system controlled by the Babylonians and the Persians for half a millennium. These who appeared to be saviors to the Jews of Isaiah's lifetime would cease to be world powers within living memory of the same generation The LXX translators, who lived during the Greek rule over all the land from "India to Ethiopia" and after these verses could be interpreted in the light of hindsight, make an interesting addition noted under verse 6 below.

1. In the year that Tartan came to Ashdod, (when Sargon the king of Assyria sent him,) and fought against Ashdod, and took it;

Chapter 20 Verse 1: Tartan: Tartan is mentioned in 2 Ki. 18:17 as a military leader under Sennacherib who sent him with messengers to Hezekiah. The passage here is an earlier time that precedes his mention in 2 Kings since here in verse one he is the servant of Sargon who preceded Sennacherib. Thus Tartan was able to survive the change of leadership from Sargon to Sennacherib. The visit of Sennacherib to Jerusalem led by Tartan is the subject of Isaiah chapters 36 and 37. The date of this prophecy in Chapter 20 must be after 722 B.C. which is the first year of Sargon and before 705 B.C. the beginning of the reign of Sennacherib, son of Sargon. There is difficulty in setting the dates since the chronologies of the Bible and the historical record are not possible to synchronize for the whole period. Historians date the reign of Sargon from 721 to 706 B.C. and the reign of Sennacherib from 705 B.C. to 681 B.C. That would make 17 years from the fall of Samaria to the end of the reign of Sargon. According to 2 Ki.18:9,10 Samaria fell in the 6th year of Hezekiah while Isaiah 36:1 seems to say that the attack on Jerusalem which Sennacherib sent Tartan to lead was in the fourteenth year of Hezekiah, which makes, at the most, only 8 years between these events. But this can not be the year of the siege but is the beginning of Sennacherib's campaign. There is no hope of harmonising the year of the siege of jerusalem with the 14th year of Hezekiah. Unless there is overlapping of the reigns of Sargon with the beginning of Sennacherib's reign, perhaps a regency, there does not seem to be any way to harmonize the time. 2 Kings 18:13 makes Sennacherib's first entrance into Judah a campaign to capture the fortress cities. This would mean that the campaign began in the 14th year of Hezekiah but the siege of Jerusalem =was much later. Read on: The fact that the Ethiopians were still a source of hope for the besieged Jerusalem when Sennacherib's armies were at the gates offers the solution that Sennacherib as Regent son of Sargon made the assault on Jerusalem while still Regent and before the death of Sargon and his own accession to the throne. But this breaks down upon further inspection. See Isaiah 37:8. The solution to the chronology of the Assyrian invasion by Sargon, and of Judah by Sennacherib, and the siege of Jerusalem is fully treated in the introduction to chapter 30 and the introduction to chapter 36. Nevertheless, the mission of Tartan mentioned in this chapter dates the events described in this chapter as coming from Isaiah in the reign of Sargon and long before the conquest of Ethiopia and the subjugation of Egypt which was not accomplished until about 675 B.C. by Esarhaddon, son and successor of Sennacherib.

Verse 1: Ashdod: The LXX has Azotus which is the Greek name for Ashdod mentioned only in Acts 8:40.

2 At the same time the LORD spoke by Isaiah the son of Amoz, saying, Go and loose the sackcloth from off your loins, and put off your shoe from your foot. And he did so, walking naked and barefoot. 3 And the LORD said, Like as my servant Isaiah has walked naked and barefoot three years for a sign and wonder concerning Egypt and concerning Ethiopia; 4 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.

Verse 4: Lead away: As noted above the Assyrians did not consolidate their power over Egypt and Ethiopia in the days of Sennacherib. Esarhaddon accomplished the same approximately 30 years after Sennacherib's aborted siege of Jerusalem

5 And they shall be afraid and ashamed of Ethiopia their expectation, and of Egypt their glory. 6 And the inhabitant of this isle shall say in that day, Behold, such is our expectation, where shall we flee for help to be delivered from the king of Assyria: and how shall we escape?

Verse 6: Inhabitants of this Isle: The LXX gives a rendering which speaks better of the "inhabitants of this isle" than the history recorded in Kings and Isaiah does. The KJV rendering places the onus on the inhabitants for making wrong choices and seems to be a good translation of the Hebrew while the LXX mitigates the degree of guilt by an acknowledgment of the inhabitants being fooled. The Literal Hebrew reads: "Behold, Thus (is) our security to which we had fled for help to be delivered from the king of Assyria. How then shall we escape?" The LXX reads "Behold we have surely been persuaded to flee to those for help who are not able to save from the King of Assyria and how shall we be saved?"

Return to Commentary Directory

Go Back to Moellerhaus Homepage