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Isaiah 20:1-6 | Werner Bible Commentary

Isaiah 20:1-6

Submitted by admin on Fri, 2012-01-27 20:03.

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20:1. Masoretic Text: In the year Tartan, whom Sargon king of Asshur [Assyria] had sent, came to Ashdod and warred against Ashdod and seized it —

Septuagint: In the year in which Tanathan entered into Azotos [Ashdod], when he was sent by Arna, king of the Assyrians, and warred against Azotos and seized it,


The designation “Tartan” is not the name of a person but an official title. Assyrian annals indicate that the Tartan (tartanu) occupied a high position, probably next to the monarch, as commander of the military forces. This particular Tartan, in his campaign against the Philistine city of Ashdod (identified with a site near modern Ashdod), acted at the direction of King Sargon II. The event marked the time when Isaiah, in his own person, began to portray a future development respecting Egypt and Ethiopia that would affect the people of the kingdom of Judah. (For an Assyrian representation of Sargon II, see Sargon.)

Preserved annals of Sargon II include references to military action against Ashdod and other Philistine cities. Azuri, king of Ashdod, attempted to get out from under the Assyrian yoke and sent messages to neighboring kings to gain their support. Sargon II took swift action, removing Azuri as king and replacing him with his younger brother Ahimiti, whose rule proved to be unpopular with his subjects. They replaced him with a man who was not from the royal family. Infuriated, Sargon II set out with the warriors who were already at his side and thereafter conquered Ashdod, Gath, and Asdudimmu.

20:2. Masoretic Text: at that time YHWH spoke by [literally, “by the hand of”] Isaiah the son of Amoz, saying, “Go, and loose the sackcloth from your loins and remove your sandals from your feet.” And he did so, going about naked and barefoot.

Septuagint: then the Lord spoke to Isaiah, saying, “Go, and remove the sackcloth from your loin and loose your sandals from your feet.” And thus he did, going about naked and barefoot.

In the Masoretic Text, the word for “sandal” is singular, but it is plural in the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah.


About the time the Assyrians attacked Ashdod, Isaiah was commanded to walk about naked and barefoot. The expression “naked” does not always mean totally without any clothing. In the Targum of Isaiah, the command is expressed differently. Instead of being told to remove the sackcloth he was wearing, Isaiah was directed to bind sackcloth around his loins. In obedience to the divine command, he walked about barefoot and with “torn garments.” This presentation, however, does not have the support of the Masoretic Text, the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, and the rendering of the Septuagint.

Throughout the centuries, many have found it difficult to accept that Isaiah publicly walked about without any clothes. A common view is that he did not wear the customary outer garment and possibly wore only a loin cloth. Ancient pictorial representations of captives of war do depict them both clothed and totally nude. (See clothed and stripped for pictures of prisoners of war.)

20:3. Masoretic Text: And YHWH said, “As my servant Isaiah has gone about naked and barefoot for three years — a sign and a portent against Egypt and Cush [Ethiopia] —

Septuagint: And the Lord said, “In the manner Isaiah my servant has gone about naked and barefoot for three years, signs and portents will occur to the Egyptians and Ethiopians,


Isaiah was to serve as a sign and portent, revealing the disgrace to come upon the conquered Egyptians and Ethiopians. Barefoot and either scantily clothed or stripped in the manner that conquerors led away their captives, Isaiah walked about for three years.

20:4. Masoretic Text: so the king of Asshur [Assyria] will lead the captives of Egypt and the exiles of Cush, young and old, naked and barefoot, and [with] seat stripped — the nakedness of Egypt.

Septuagint: for thus the king of Assyria will lead the captivity of Egypt and of the Ethiopians, young and old, naked and barefoot, exposed — the shame of Egypt.

In the Hebrew text, the word for “captives” and “exiles” are collective singulars and are here rendered as plural nouns.


The Assyrian monarch would prove to be victorious in his warring against the Egyptians and Ethiopians. Shamefully disgraced, Egyptian and Ethiopian boys and men would be led into captivity. No regard would be shown for either the young or the old men among the prisoners of war. Stripped, they would be forcibly led away. Their exposed condition would be the nakedness or shame of Egypt — a disgraceful public display of humiliation.

20:5. Masoretic Text: And they will be terrified and ashamed because of Cush [Ethiopia] their hope and of Egypt their glory.

Septuagint: And the Egyptians, having been overcome, will be ashamed because of the Ethiopians on whom the Egyptians had relied, for they were their glory.


The people of the kingdom of Judah had looked to Ethiopia and Egypt for military assistance in dealing with the threat of Assyrian aggression. Upon witnessing the scene of disgraced Ethiopian and Egyptian prisoners of war, they would be filled with fear and experience the shame that comes from bitter disappointment. The people had hoped that the Ethiopians could be relied upon to protect them. Egypt was their “glory,” for they gloried in or boasted about its military might as being capable of delivering them from the Assyrian threat.

The Septuagint rendering represents the defeated Egyptians as being ashamed of the Ethiopians because their reliance on them led to disappointment. Whereas the Egyptians regarded the Ethiopians as their glory, the ones who would be successful in helping them militarily, the Ethiopian warriors were no match for the Assyrian forces.

20:6. Masoretic Text: And those inhabiting this isle [coastland] will say in that day, Look, thus [it goes] with our hope to whom we fled there for help, to be delivered from the king of Asshur [Assyria] — and how will we ourselves escape?

Septuagint: And those inhabiting this isle [coastland] will say, Look! We were relying [on them], fleeing to them for help, [those] who were not able to save from the king of the Assyrians. And we, how will we be saved?

The Hebrew expression here translated “from” consists of a preposition and the word “face.” When regarded as having a causal significance, this Hebrew expression may also be rendered “on account of.”


In this case, the Hebrew and Greek words that can be rendered “isle” appear to denote the coastland, the territory of the kingdom of Judah. The people of the realm would acknowledge that the Egyptians and Ethiopians whom they had hoped to help them and to whom they had hurried with an appeal for military assistance had been defeated. Militarily, Egypt and Ethiopia were stronger than the kingdom of Judah. Their forces were more powerful. Therefore, the people of the kingdom of Judah would feel that no hope existed of their escaping from defeat at the hands of the Assyrian monarch and his warriors.

Another view is that the Septuagint reference to “isle” applies to the city of Alexandria, Egypt, situated between the Mediterranean Sea and Lake Mareotis (Mariout).