Isaiah 20
Lange Commentary on the Holy Scriptures


This chapter, whose date is exactly determined by the historical notices of Isa 20:1 in connection with Isa 20:3 (comp. the introduction to chapters 17–20), is related to chap. 19, with which it is manifestly contemporaneous, as a completion. Thus chap. 19 speaks chiefly of the visitations that shall overtake Egypt, by means of catastrophes of its inward political and natural life. But to that conversion of Egypt spoken of 19:18 sqq., outward distresses also must contribute. These, according to the political relations that prevailed in the period when chapters 19:20 originated, can proceed only from Assyria. At the same time this weighty lesson resulted from these things, that Judah in its then relation to Assyria and Egypt must not rely on Egypt for protection against Assyria.


1          In the year that 1Tartan came unto Ashdod, (2when Sargon the king of Assyria sent him), and 3fought against Ashdod, and took it; 2at the same time spake the LORD by 4Isaiah 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 3barefoot. And the LORD said, Like as my servant Isaiah hath walked naked and barefoot three years for a sign and wonder 5 upon Egypt and dupon Ethiopia; 4so shall the king of Assyria lead away 6the Egyptians prisoners, and 7the Ethiopians captives, young and old, naked and barefoot, even with their buttocks uncovered, 8to the 9shame of Egypt. 5And they shall be afraid and ashamed of Ethiopia their expectation, and of Egypt their glory. 6And the inhabitant of this 10 11isle 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?


Isa 20:2. One must carefully note that what follows immediately on the formula of announcement, דבר י׳ ביד־ישׁ׳ לאמר is not something that Jehovah spake by Isaiah, but something that He spake to him (לֵךְ וגו). For בְּירַ never has the meaning “in conspcctu,” as some would assume in order to obviate the incongruity between ביר and לֵךְ; it has not this meaning even in 1 Sam. 21:14, and Job 15:23. לֵאמֹר, therefore, as to form connects primarily with the לֵךְ immediately following, but in regard to matter it relates to all that follows. ויאמר י׳ in the beginning of Isa 20:3 like לאמר, is subordinate to the more intensive רִּבֶּר, and introduces the second stage of the revelation announced by רִּבֶּר וגו. The expression בְּירַ for the human organ of the divine revelation occurs in Isaiah only here. In Jeremiah, too, it occurs only 37:2; 50:1.——Note the constr. praegn. in פתחת חשׂק מעל ו׳where the preposition must be connected with a verb understood. Compare GREEN., § 273, 3.

Isa 20:3. שׁלשׁ שׁנימ occasions difficulty. The interpretation is altogether ungrammatical that takes these words in the sense: “in three years shall be fulfilled what this symbolical act signifies.” The words can only be made to relate to הלך, or, according to the accents, to what follows; but in either case must be taken in the sense “for three years.” Regarding the words only grammatically, the nearest meaning that offers is: “like my servant Isaiah has gone three years.” etc. For were it said: “like my servant goes for three years,” why then does it not read הֹלֵךְ? Or if the meaning were: “like my servant will go,” why then does it not read יֵלֵךְ? Although the Hebrew perfect indicates directly only that something actually occurs objectively without reference to the time, still the fact must belong to some time; and if neither an internal nor external sign points to the present nor future, then we are obliged to take the verbal form that designates facta just in the sense of factum, i.e., in the sense of come to pass, done, in respect to time. However some construe הָלַךְ as perfect, but refer שׁלשׁ שׁנים to אות ומפת, so that the sense is: “like my servant has gone naked and barefoot for a type of three years long” (tribus annis completis in exilium ducta erit Aegyptus atque Aethiopia; usque ad illud tempus, quod Isajas semel nudus et discalceatus incessit, typus est,” STADE, l. c. p. 67; thus, too, the MASORETS, JEROME, HITZIG, HENDEWERK, KNOBEL). But to this there is a twofold objection [for the second see under the following Exeg. and Crit. in loc.). First: If it were to be expressly said that Isaiah did not for three years go naked, but only that he was to be a sign for three years by once (STADE) or several times repeated going naked, or more exactly, if the typical transaction itself did not last through three years, but was only to obtain as the sign for the continuance of three years, if therefore שׁלשׁ שׁנים is to depend not on הלר but on אות ומופּת, then must the dependence be indicated corresponding to the sense. The mere Accusative then durst not be used. If Isaiah was for three years long a type, then must he three years long go naked. But did he go naked only once or a few times, and were only the typical significance of this going naked to extend to three years, then it must read לְשָׁלשׁ שָׁנִים or אוֹת וּמוֹפֵת שָׁלשׁ שָׁנִים. The latter construction would not be incorrect, as STADE (p. 68) seems to assume, in as much as אות ומופת, as to sense, form only one notion (comp. Ezek. 31:16).

Isa 20:4. חֲשׂוּפַי is held by EWALD (§ 211, c, Anm. 2: [comp. GREEN, § 199 c] to be a change from חֲשׂוּפֵּי fixed by the Masorets. Thus, too, שָׂרַי Judg. 5:15. Others (DELITZSCH, DIETRICH) hold this form, like (חוֹרַי 19:8), חַלּוֹנַי (Jer. 22:14), גוֹבַי (Amos 7:1; Nah. 3:17), שַׁרַּי (Exod. 6:3), for a singular form with a collective signification. HITZIG and STADE regard our word as an archaic ending of the Construct State, of which the punctuators had availed themselves “in order to avoid the disagreeable sound that would be occasioned by the following שֵׁת.” But then they would often have had to resort to this change. It appears to me of course probable that the pointing ־ַי is to be charged to the Masorets. But שֵׁת did not prompt them to this; it was the foregoing singulars עָרוֹם וְיָחֵף. They supposed they must punctuate חשׂופי as singular to correspond with these. Therefore I believe that חשׂופי is to be regarded as a singular like the הֹרַי, etc., named above, but that it is set in the place of the original חֲשׂוּפֵי by tradition only. But ערם ויחף is partly conditioned by Isa 20:3, partly it is to be treated as an ideal number (24:22).——ערות מ׳ is in apposition with חשׂופי שׁ׳.

Isa 20:5 and 6. מַבָּט, that to which one looks (hoping and trusting) occurs in Isaiah only in these two verses. Beside this in Zech. 9:5.——לעזרה comp. 10:3; 31:1.


1. In the year when the Tartan, i.e. commander-in-chief of king Sargon of Assyria, came against Ashdod to besiege the city—which he also took after a comparatively short siege,—Isaiah received commandment from the LORD to take off his garment made of bad sack linen and his sandals, and to go about naked and barefoot (Isa 20:1, 2). For the incredible thing shall happen that the Egyptians and Ethiopians, shall be compelled to go into captivity naked and barefoot, like Isaiah goes about, (Isa 20:3, 4). Thereupon all inhabitants of the sea-board of Palestine, will, with terror and shame, be sensible how wrong they were to confide in the power and glory of Ethiopia and Egypt (Isa 20:5). They will say: Thus it has gone with the power from whom we expected protection; how now shall it go with us? (Isa 20:6).

2. In the year——barefoot.

Isa 20:1, 2. According to the testimony of Assyrian monuments, Tartan is not a proper name, but an appellative. It is the “Assyrian official name for the commander-in-chief.” In Assyrian the word sounds tur-ta-nu, and is, to the present, of unknown derivation. On the Assyrian list of regents that is communicated by SCHRADER (Die Keilinschriften u. das A. T., Giessen, 1872, p. 323 sqq.) it reads (obIsa 20:9): “Murdukiluya, Tartan, to the city Gozan (obv. 38); Samsulu, Tartan, to Armenia (obv. 48); Samsulu, Tartan, to the city Surat (Reverse 19); Samsulu, Tartan, in the land (Rev. 32); Nabudaninanni, Tartan, to the city Arpad.” Thus the ordering of these high officers to their various posts of administration is designated. The word “Tartan” occurs again in the Old Testament, only 2 Kings 18:17.——As regards Sargon, it is now settled by documentary proof that Salmanassar and Sargon are not one person. The Assyrian canon of regents, which the great work of inscriptions by RAWLINSON, Vol. III., communicates in amended form (comp. SCHRADER, l. c., p. 317) contains as fifth Eponyme of that administration that followed Tuklat-habal-asar, i.e., Tiglath-Pileser, the name Sal-ma-nu-âsir (another form Sal-man-âsir): and RAWLINSON (Athenaeum, 1867, No. 2080, p. 304, comp. SCHRADER in Stud. and Krit., 1872, IV. p. 737) remarks on this: “Salmanassar IV., (for there were three older Salmanassars) ascended the throne in the year 727 B. C., for which year there was already an Eponyme established, so that he could only enter on his Archonship in 723.” But Sargon came to the administration in the course of the year 722 B. C. He is mentioned in the Old Testament only in our passage—whereas the monuments offer just about his reign the richest results. His name in Assyrian is Sarrukin, which by the Assyrians themselves, is construed partly as Sarrukin, i.e. “mighty the king,” or “the right king,” partly as Sarruakin, i.e. “He (God) appointed the king” (comp. יְהוֹיָבִין). Sargon is the builder of North Nineveh or Dur-Sarrukin, now Khorsabad, whose monuments, with their inscriptions of the most various sorts, are a most valuable source of historical information (comp. SCHRADER, Keilinschriften, p. 256 sqq.). The following is the account of the conquest of Ashdod as the Khorsabad inscription gives it according to SCHRADER’S (l. c., p. 259 sqq.) translation. “Azuri, king of Ashdod, hardened his heart to pay no tribute and sent demands to the princes of his neighborhood to revolt from Assyria. Accordingly I did vengeance and changed his government over the inhabitants of his territory. Achimit, his brother, I set over them in the government in his place. The Syrians, that meditated revolt, despised his dominion and raised up Iaman over themselves, who had no claim to the throne, and who, like those, refused to own the dominion. In the burning wrath of my heart I did not assemble my whole power, took no concern for baggage. With my men of war, who separated not themselves from me behind the raising of my arms, I advanced on Ashdod. That Iaman, when he perceived the approach of my army from far, fled to a region (?) of Egypt, which lay on the borders of Meroe; not a trace of him was to be seen. Ashdod, Gimt-Asdudim (?) I besieged, took it; his gods, his wife, his sons, the treasures, possessions, valuables of his palace, along with the inhabitants of his land I appointed to captivity. Those cities I restored; I colonized there the inhabitants of the lands that my hands had conquered, that are in the midst of the East; I made them like the Assyrians; they rendered obedience. The king of Meroe, who in the midst. … of a desert region, on a path. … whose fathers since remote times down to (this time) had not sent their ambassadors to my royal ancestors, to entreat peace for himself: the might of Merodach (overpowered him), a mighty fear came over him, fear seized him. In bonds … iron chains he laid him (Iaman); he directed his steps toward Assyria and appeared before me.” If we compare the annals of Sargon, which register year by year the deeds of this king, we find that in the year of his beginning to reign (722), which is not reckoned as his first year, he conquered Samaria; in the second year (720) he conquered king Sevech of Egypt in the battle of Raphia and took prisoner king Hanno of Gaza; in the eleventh year (711) he made war on Azuri of Ashdod and conquered the city, after which the king of Ethiopia sued for peace (SCHRADER, l. c., p. 264 sq.). In all, Sargon reigned seventeen years (until 705). The monuments and the Prophet mutually complete one another. If from the former we see the occasion, the nearer circumstances and the time of the expedition against Ashdod, the Prophet, on the other hand, informs us that it was not Sargon himself that conducted the undertaking, as might appear from the monuments. It was the constant usage of those Asiatic potentates, to which there are only a few exceptions, to register the deeds of the leaders of their armies as their own on the monuments. Comp. SCHRADER, Stud. u. Krit, 1872, IV. p. 743. Moreover from the contents of the Khorsabad inscription it is seen that Ashdod was not at that time visited for the first by the Assyrians, as also on the other hand it appears that Egypt had already experienced emphatically the might of the Assyrian arm. For without any campaign, merely out of fear of that arm, the Egyptian-Ethiopian king surrendered the fugitive Iaman. As regards the time, our prophecy, according to the inscription, falls in the year 711, thus in the eleventh year of king Sargon’s reign. The siege of Ashdod, for which later Psammetichus required twenty-five years (HEROD. 2, 157), appears not to have lasted long at that time. The capture followed, according to the inscriptions (see above), in the same year. Perhaps the divided state of the inhabitants of Ashdod was to blame for this speedy capture. That there was an Assyrian party among them appears from the inscription communicated above.

The phrase וַיִּלָּֽחֶם וגו, and he fought against, etc., is parenthetical. As to the sense, it is in so far an historical anticipation that the taking did not follow after what is related in Isa 20:2. But in relation to Isa 20:3, that phrase is no anticipation. For the meaning of the typical action, if my interpretation of “three years” is correct, can only have been signified three years later. Consequently the entire chapter can not have been written earlier than three years after the “coming of the Tartan” mentioned in Isa 20:1. In as much as this “coming of the Tartan” is taken as the point of departure for the course of events, while the conquest is only mentioned in parenthesis, as a side affair, the Prophet likely received the command of Isa 20:2, about the time of that “coming,” therefore before the capture. By implication, therefore, there lay in the command at the same time a prediction of that conquest of Ashdod. For the conquest of Egypt presupposes the taking of the outworks. Therefore the point of the prophecy also is directed against Egypt.

At the same time is related to “In the year that the Tartan came” as a wider sphere, as certainly as the notion עֵת is more comprehensive than the notion שָׁנָה. The following contains indeed, information concerning two facts: first concerning the command to go naked, and second, concerning the interpretation that followed after three years. To these refer those two dates, the narrower and the broader, as a matter of course, the first date corresponding to the first fact and the second to the second fact. Therewith is closely connected that the sentence “spake the LORD … saying,” introduces the entire revelation contained in what follows. (See under Text. and Gram.).

It is not accidental that Isaiah is called here by his complete name, Isaiah the son of Amoz. For this happens, beside the present, only 1:1 and 2:1, therefore only in the first and second introduction; then 13:1 (in the beginning of the prophecies against the nations) and 37:21, where is related the comforting reply that Isaiah was the means of giving to Hezekiah after the threatening of Sennacherib. By the designation of the Prophet as “the son of Amoz” is signified, as appears to me, that there exists a contrast between this name and what is related of Isaiah in this chapter. It is likely no error to assume that a “son of Amoz” was a man of importance. And this man of noble descent must for three years, when he let himself be seen publicly, go about like a wretched prisoner in the utmost scanty clothing. For that Isaiah went wholly naked is not conceivable. Anciently, indeed, one was regarded as naked who took off the upper garment (comp. nudus ara, sere nudus in VIRGIL, Georg. I. 299; PETRON. 92; Joh. 21:7; HERZ. R. Ency. VII., p. 725). We observe from this passage that Isaiah constantly wore a sack, as chief and upper garment, i.e. a sack-like garment and made of sackcloth. The sack-garment was sign of deep mourning and repentance generally (3:24; 15:3; Gen. 37:34; Dan. 9:3; Matth. 11:21, and often. It was variously worn: partly next to the skin (1 Kings 21:27), partly over the under-garment, the כְּתֹנֶת “tunic,” as was the case, e.g. with Isaiah, and as appears generally to have been a prophet’s costume. For, according to 2 Kings 1:8, Elijah wore a hairy garment with a leather girdle, which clothing, Zech. 13:4, is described as a prophet’s costume generally. John the Baptist, too, wore it, certainly in special imitation of Elijah (Matth. 3:4; comp. Heb. 11:37; Rev. 11:3). Now when Isaiah received command to take off the sack garment and his sandals, it was that he should make himself a living symbol of the extremest ignominy, and of the deepest misery. Not to Judah, however, but to Egypt is this sorrowful fate announced. Judah is only to draw from it the lesson that it must not lean on Egypt for support. For this was the great and ruinous error of the time of Hezekiah, that men supposed they could only find protection against Assyria in Egypt. Against this the Prophet strives earnestly in chapters 28–32.

3. And the LORD said——we escape.

Isa 20:3-6. [On the construction of “three years,” see under Text. and Gram.; also for a grammatical objection to the sense: “like my servant has gone naked and barefoot as a three years sign,” etc. A further objection is as follows.—TR.] If the typical meaning of the sign was to remain in force only three years, then, too, the fulfilment must actually follow after three years, or the prophecy prove to be false. For what can this mean: the going naked of the Prophet shall be three years long a sign? Only this: after three years the type ceases to be type, and becomes fulfilment. If that does not come to pass, then the sign was an erroneous one and misleading. It is no use here to regard the number three as a round number that is only to be understood “summatim” (STADE, p. 67). For the measures of time of fulfilment, in consequence of the imperfection of our human knowledge about the real length of historical periods, or because of the difficulty of knowing the points of beginning and ending, may very well be represented as only an approximation. But a measure of time which is named as an earnest pledge of a future transaction, must not prove to be incorrect, if the earnest itself is not to be found treacherous. But Egypt was not conquered by the Assyrians three years after the siege of Ashdod, but much later, as will be seen immediately. Therefore the Prophet cannot have proposed a three years validity of that sign. But he went three years naked and barefoot, in order to set before the eyes of his people very emphatically and impressively the image of how wretched Egypt had become. And only after three years followed the interpretation for the same reason. For three years the men of Judah and Jerusalem were to meditate and inquire: why does the Prophet go about in scanty and wretched garb? When at length after three years they learned: this happened for the purpose of parading before your eyes the misery of Egypt conquered by Assyria,—then they could measure the worth and importance of the warning that the Prophet gave them by what it cost him to give it. For the Egyptian policy was the fundamental error of the reign of Hezekiah through its whole extent (comp. the Introduction to chapters 28–33). The siege of Ashdod, that key to the land of Egypt, was assuredly a fitting event, for letting this warning sign begin. And if about the year 708 the interpretation followed, that was the time, too, when Sargon’s rule drew near its end and that of Sennacherib drew near. It was the time when the alliance with Egypt more and more ripened, and when the warning of the Prophet must become ever more pressing.

Sign and wonder is a sort of Hendiadys, in as much as to the first notion a second is co-ordinated, that properly is only something subordinate to that first: sign and portent for portentous sign. In as far as the nakedness of the Prophet represented the misery of the Egyptians generally, it is a sign of it; but in as far as it represented this misery in advance as something future it is a portentous sign.

To the present, nothing definite is known of any invasion of Egypt by the Assyrians. The Assyrian monuments, however, tell us that the kings Esarhaddon and Asurbanipal (Sardanapalus) conquered Egypt. The first on a brick inscription (SCHRADER, l. c. p. 210) calls himself: “king of the kings” of Egypt; and his son Asurbanipal says in his cylinder inscription (SCHRADER l. c. 212) “Esarhaddon—my progenitor went down and penetrated into the midst of Egypt. He gave Tirhaka king of Ethiopia a defeat, destroyed his military power. Egypt and Ethiopia he conquered; countless prisoners he led forth,” etc. Asurbanipal himself seems to have prepared a still worse fate for the Egyptians under Tirhaka’s successor, Rud-Amon. For he relates the following in one of his inscriptions (SCHRADER, l. c. 288): “Trusting in Asur, Sin and the great gods, my lords, they (my troops) brought on him in a broad plain a defeat and smote his troop forces. Undamana (Rud-Amon) fled alone, and went to No, his royal city (Thebes). In a march of a month and ten days they moved after him over pathless ways, took that city in its entire circuit, purged it away like chaff. Gold, silver, the dust of their land, drawn off metal, precious stones, the treasure of his palace, garments of Berom (?) and Kum, great horses, men and women, … pagi and ukupi the yield of their mountains in countless quantity, they bore forth out of it, appointed them to captivity; to Nineveh, my seat of dominion they brought them in peace, and they kissed my feet.” Comp. too, ibid. p. 290. As, according to the Apisstelen Tirhaka died in the year 664, SCHRADER fixes the date of this conquest of Thebes about the year 663 B. C. This monumental notice is of great importance for the understanding of Nah. 3:8–11, and partly, too, for Isa. 19 and for our passage. From this, as also from the other Assyrian communications cited above, we learn that our prophecy, given in the year 708 received a double fulfilment: one in the time of Asarhaddon, who reigned from 681 to 668, the other by means of Asurbanipal about the year 663. Therefore, not after three years, but in the course of the fourth and fifth decade after its publication was it fulfilled

Egypt’s shame [see under Text. and Gram.). Did not the Prophet, who for his own person assuredly wore only the lightest Israelitish costume, have here in mind, perhaps, those costumes of the common Egyptians, that allowed the form to appear prominent, which, seen in foreign lands, were well fitted to provoke scorn for Egypt? Comp. e.g. the illustrations in WILKINSON’S, The ancient Egyptians.

It is plain that in Isa 20:6 the Prophet means the Israelites and their neighbors. It is a sign of displeasure and discontent when one addresses a person that is present in the third person. The expression הָאִי “the isle” in Isa 20:6 is to be noted. The expression (comp. the singular 23:2, 6) is nowhere else used of the Holy land. But the Prophet also means, not merely this, but the entire coast of Palestine, which, because אִי is not a proper name, but appellative, he can very well call אִי. For, as the conquest of Ashdod itself and the preceding events (comp. the Sargon Inscription, SCHRADER, p. 76) testify, the Phœnicians also, and the Philistines, who shared with Israel in the possession of the coast, were become a prey to the Assyrian power.

When the strong power of Egypt and Ethiopia had proved too weak to bear the onset of Assyria, then, indeed, might the anxious thought arise in the hearts of the smaller nations that had joined themselves to Egypt: how is it now possible that we can be saved? STADE is of the opinion that אִי, “the isle, or coast” means merely the city Ashdod, and that Isa 20:6 contains the words of the fugitive inhabitants of Ashdod, especially of Iaman. After the overthrow of Egypt the exclamation is put in the mouth of these: “quomodo nos effugere poteramus,” (p. 43). But the assumption that the conquered inhabitants of the אִי could not say: “how shall we be saved” is erroneous. They were indeed conquered; but as long as, still dwelling in their land, they saw trains of captives led past them, they are still in possession of their land, and can hope for a favorable turn of fortune, and the shaking off of the foreign yoke. Only the captive carried into exile is finally without hope. Only this final and greatest degree of misfortune do the inhabitants of the אִי have in mind when they exclaim, “how shall we escape?”


[13]I will rest or be quiet.

[14]Or. regard my set dwelling.

[15]look on.

[16]Or, after rain.

[17]by daylight.

[18]the bloom.

[19]And the flower becomes a ripening grape.


In the year that Tartan came unto Ashdod, (when Sargon the king of Assyria sent him,) and fought against Ashdod, and took it;
Lange, John Peter - Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical

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