Isaiah 20 COMMENTARY (Pulpit)

Isaiah 20
Pulpit Commentary
In the year that Tartan came unto Ashdod, (when Sargon the king of Assyria sent him,) and fought against Ashdod, and took it;
Verses 1-6. - A PROPHECY AGAINST EGYPT AND ETHIOPIA. The Assyrian inscriptions enable us to date this prophecy with a near approach to exactness. Ashdod was besieged by an Assyrian army twice in the reign of Sargon - in his ninth year ( B.C. 713) and in his eleventh year ( B.C. 711). On the former occasion it is probable that the arms of a general (Tartan) were employed; on the latter it is nearly certain that Sargon made the expedition in person. The capture of Ashdod, here mentioned, is consequently the first capture. Egypt and Ethiopia were at the time united under one head, Shabak, or Shabatok; and the inhabitants of Ashdod looked to this quarter for deliverance from the Assyrian power. Shortly after the first capture, they revolted, deposed the king whom Sargon had set over them, appointed another, and then proceeded, in conjunction with Philistia, Judah, Edom, and Moab, to call in the aid of the Egyptians and Ethiopians. Isaiah's mission on this occasion was to discourage Judaea from joining Ashdod and her allies in this appeal. He was instructed to prophesy that Assyria would shortly inflict a severe defeat on the two African powers, and carry into captivity large numbers of both nations. The prophecy seems to have had its accomplishment about twelve years later, when Sennacherib defeated the combined forces of Egypt and Ethiopia at Eltekeh, near Ekron (G. Smith, 'Eponym Canon,' p. 133). Verse 1. - In the year that Tartan came unto Ashdod; rather, a tartan. The word was not a proper name, but a title of office, equivalent to surena among the Parthians, and signifying "commander-in-chief." The tartan held the second position in the empire. Isaiah has been accused of having confounded together the two sieges of Ashdod (Cheyne); but if one was conducted by the tartan, and the other by Sargon in person, his words would distinguish as perfectly as possible which siege he meant. When Sargon the King of Assyria sent him. The present passage furnished almost the sole trace of the existence of this monarch - one of the greatest of Assyria's sovereigns - until about the middle of the present century, when the exploration of the Assyrian ruins, and the decipherment of the Assyrian inscriptions, presented him to us in the most distinct and vivid way, as king, conqueror, and builder. He was the founder of the last and greatest of the Assyrian dynasties, the successor of the biblical Shalmaneser, and the father of Sennacherib. He reigned from B.C. 722 to B.C. 705. He was the captor of Samaria; he defeated the forces of Egypt; he warred on Susiana, Media, Armenia, Asia Minor, Cyprus; and he conquered and held in subjection Babylon. He built the great city explored by M. Botta, near Khorsabad, which is sometimes called "the French Nineveh." It is now found that Ptolemy's 'Canon' contains his name under the form of Arkeanus, and that Yacut's 'Geography' mentions his great city under the form of Sarghun. But these facts were unsuspected until the recent explorations in Mesopotamia, and Isaiah's mention of him alone gave him a place in history. And fought against Ashdod, and took it. Ashdod was the strongest of the Philistine cities, and one of the most ancient (Joshua 15:47). Its name is probably derived from a root meaning "strength." We hear of its having stood on one occasion a siege of twenty-nine years (Herod., 2:157). It is now known as Esdud. When Ashdod is first mentioned in the Assyrian inscriptions it is tributary to Sargon, having probably submitted to him in s c. 720, alter the battle of Raphia. It soon, however, revolts and reclaims its independence. In B.C. 713 the Assyrians proceed against it; and its capture is implied by the facts that the Assyrians depose its king, and install, one of his brothers as monarch in his room (comp. 2 Kings 23:34).
At the same time spake the LORD by Isaiah the son of Amoz, saying, Go and loose the sackcloth from off thy loins, and put off thy shoe from thy foot. And he did so, walking naked and barefoot.
Verse 2. - Loose the sackcloth from off thy loins. Dr. Kay supposes that Isaiah was wearing sackcloth exceptionally, as during a time of mourning. But it is more probable that the Hebrew sak represents the haircloth ("rough garment," Zechariah 13:4), which, as ascetics, the Hebrew prophets wore habitually (2 Kings 1:8; Matthew 3:4). Walking naked. Probably not actually "naked," for captives were not stripped bare by the Assyrians, but with nothing on besides his short tunic, as the male captives are commonly represented in the Assyrian sculptures.
And the LORD said, Like as my servant Isaiah hath walked naked and barefoot three years for a sign and wonder upon Egypt and upon Ethiopia;
Verse 3. - My servant Isaiah. Isaiah shares this honorable title, "my servant," with a select few among God's saints - with Abraham (Genesis 26:24), Moses (Numbers 12:7), Caleb (Numbers 14:24), Job (Job 1:8; Job 42:7, 8), Eliakim (Isaiah 22:20), and Zerubbabel (Haggai 2:23). It is a great acknowledgment for the Creator to make to the creature, that he really does him service. Three years. Probably from B.C. 713 to B.C. 711, or during the whole of the time that Philistia, Edom, Moab, and Judah were making representations to the Egyptians and Ethiopians, and endeavoring to obtain their aid (see G. Smith, 'Eponym Canon,' p. 130). It has been proposed, by an arbitrary emendation, to cut down the time to "three days;" but a three days' sign of the kind could not have been expected to have any important effect. The supposed "impropriety" of Isaiah's having "gone naked and barefoot" for three years arises from a misconception of the word "naked." which is not to be taken literally (see the comment on ver. 2). The costume adopted would be extraordinary, especially in one of Isaiah's rank and position; but would not be in any degree "improper." It would be simply that of working men during the greater part of the day (see Exodus 22:26, 27).
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. - So shall the King of Assyria lead away the Egyptians prisoners, and the Ethiopians captives. In Sennacherib's annals for the year B.C. 701, twelve years after this prophecy was given, we find the following passage: "The kings of Egypt, and the archers, chariots, and horsemen of the King of Meroe, a force without number, gathered and came to the aid of Ekron. In the neighborhood of Eltekeh their ranks were arrayed before me, and they urged on their soldiers. In the service of Asshur, my lord, I fought with them, and I accomplished their overthrow. The charioteers and sons of the kings of Egypt, and the charioteers of the King of Meres, alive in the midst of the battle, my hand captured" (G. Smith, 'Eponym Canon,' pp. 133, 134). Young and old. The intermixture of young and old, of full-grown males with women leading children by the hand or carrying them upon the shoulder, in the Assyrian sculptures, strikes us even on the most cursory inspection of them. Naked and barefoot. Assyrian captives are ordinarily represented "barefoot." Most commonly they wear a single tunic, reaching from the neck to the knees, or sometimes to the ankles, and girt about the waist with a girdle. It is probable that Egyptian and Ethiopian prisoners would be even more scantily clad, since the ordinary Egyptian tunic began at the waist and ended considerably above the knee.
And they shall be afraid and ashamed of Ethiopia their expectation, and of Egypt their glory.
Verse 5. - They shall be afraid and ashamed. Those who have resorted to Egypt and Ethiopia for aid shall be "ashamed" of their folly in doing so, and "afraid" of its consequences (see the last clause of ver. 6).
And the inhabitant of this isle shall say in that day, Behold, such is our expectation, whither we flee for help to be delivered from the king of Assyria: and how shall we escape?
Verse 6. - The inhabitant of this isle; rather, of this coast (Knobel, Hitzig, Kay); i.e. of Palestine generally, which was a mere strip of coast compared with Egypt and Ethiopia. Sargon speaks of all the four powers who at this time "sought to Egypt," as "dwelling beside the sea" (G. Smith, 'Eponym Canon,' p. 130). Such is our expectation; rather, so hath it gone with our expectation; i.e., with Egypt and Ethiopia.

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