Isaiah 20 Bible Commentary

Jamieson, Faussett, and Brown

(Read all of Isaiah 20)


In the reign of Sargon (722-715 B.C.), the successor of Shalmaneser, an Assyrian invasion of Egypt took place. Its success is here foretold, and hence a party among the Jews is warned of the folly of their "expectation" of aid from Egypt or Ethiopia. At a later period (Isa 18:1-7), when Tirhakah of Ethiopia was their ally, the Ethiopians are treated as friends, to whom God announces the overthrow of the common Assyrian foe, Sennacherib. Egypt and Ethiopia in this chapter (Isa 20:3, 4) are represented as allied together, the result no doubt of fear of the common foe; previously they had been at strife, and the Ethiopian king had, just before Sethos usurpation, withdrawn from occupation of part of Lower Egypt. Hence, "Egypt" is mentioned alone in Isa 19:1-25, which refers to a somewhat earlier stage of the same event: a delicate mark of truth. Sargon seems to have been the king who finished the capture of Samaria which Shalmaneser began; the alliance of Hoshea with So or Sabacho II of Ethiopia, and his refusal to pay the usual tribute, provoked Shalmaneser to the invasion. On clay cylindrical seals found in Sennacherib's palace at Koyunjik, the name of Sabacho is deciphered; the two seals are thought, from the inscriptions, to have been attached to the treaty of peace between Egypt and Assyria, which resulted from the invasion of Egypt by Sargon, described in this chapter; 2Ki 18:10 curiously confirms the view derived from Assyrian inscriptions, that though Shalmaneser began, Sargon finished the conquest of Samaria; "they took it" (compare 2Ki 17:4-6). In Sargon's palace at Khorsabad, inscriptions state that 27,280 Israelites were led captive by the founder of the palace. While Shalmaneser was engaged in the siege of Samaria, Sargon probably usurped the supreme power and destroyed him; the siege began in 723 B.C., and ended in 721 B.C., the first year of Sargon's reign. Hence arises the paucity of inscriptions of the two predecessors of Sargon, Tiglath-pileser and Shalmaneser; the usurper destroyed them, just as Tiglath-pileser destroyed those of Pul (Sardanapalus), the last of the old line of Ninus; the names of his father and grandfather, which have been deciphered in the palace of his son Sennacherib, do not appear in the list of Assyrian kings, which confirms the view that he was a satrap who usurped the throne. He was so able a general that Hezekiah made no attempt to shake off the tribute until the reign of Sennacherib; hence Judah was not invaded now as the lands of the Philistines and Egypt were. After conquering Israel he sent his general, Tartan, to attack the Philistine cities, "Ashdod," &c., preliminary to his invasion of Egypt and Ethiopia; for the line of march to Egypt lay along the southwest coast of Palestine. The inscriptions confirm the prophecy; they tell us he received tribute from a Pharaoh of "Egypt"; besides destroying in part the Ethiopian "No-ammon," or Thebes (Na 3:8); also that he warred with the kings of "Ashdod," Gaza, &c., in harmony with Isaiah here; a memorial tablet of him is found in Cyprus also, showing that he extended his arms to that island. His reign was six or seven years in duration, 722-715 B.C. [G. V. SMITH].

1. Tartan--probably the same general as was sent by Sennacherib against Hezekiah (2Ki 18:17). GESENIUS takes "Tartan" as a title.
Ashdod--called by the Greeks Azotus (Ac 8:40); on the Mediterranean, one of the "five" cities of the Philistines. The taking of it was a necessary preliminary to the invasion of Egypt, to which it was the key in that quarter, the Philistines being allies of Egypt. So strongly did the Assyrians fortify it that it stood a twenty-nine years' siege, when it was retaken by the Egyptian Psammetichus.
sent--Sargon himself remained behind engaged with the Phœnician cities, or else led the main force more directly into Egypt out of Judah [G. V. SMITH].

2. by--literally, "by the hand of" (compare Eze 3:14).
sackcloth--the loose outer garment of coarse dark hair-cloth worn by mourners (2Sa 3:31) and by prophets, fastened at the waist by a girdle (Mt 3:4; 2Ki 1:8; Zec 13:4).
naked--rather, "uncovered"; he merely put off the outer sackcloth, retaining still the tunic or inner vest (1Sa 19:24; Am 2:16; Joh 21:7); an emblem to show that Egypt should be stripped of its possessions; the very dress of Isaiah was a silent exhortation to repentance.

3. three years--Isaiah's symbolical action did not continue all this time, but at intervals, to keep it before the people's mind during that period [ROSENMULLER]. Rather, join "three years" with "sign," a three years' sign, that is, a sign that a three years' calamity would come on Egypt and Ethiopia [BARNES], (Isa 8:18). This is the only instance of a strictly symbolical act performed by Isaiah. With later prophets, as Jeremiah and Ezekiel, such acts were common. In some cases they were performed, not literally, but only in prophetic vision.
wonder--rather, "omen"; conveying a threat as to the future [G. V. SMITH].
upon--in reference to, against.

4. buttocks uncovered--BELZONI says that captives are found represented thus on Egyptian monuments (Isa 47:2, 3; Na 3:5, 8, 9), where as here, Egypt and Ethiopia are mentioned as in alliance.

5. they--the Philistine allies of Egypt who trusted in it for help against Assyria. A warning to the party among the Jews, who, though Judah was then the subordinate ally of Assyria, were looking to Egypt as a preferable ally (Isa 30:7). Ethiopia was their "expectation"; for Palestine had not yet obtained, but hoped for alliance with it. Egypt was their "glory," that is, boast (Isa 13:19); for the alliance with it was completed.

6. isle--that is, coast on the Mediterranean--Philistia, perhaps Phœnicia (compare Isa 23:2; 11:11; 13:22; Ps 72:10).
we--emphatical; if Egypt, in which we trusted, was overcome, how shall we, a small weak state, escape?