Isaiah 20:3
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;
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(3) For a sign and wonder upon Egypt and upon Ethiopia.—Apparently Isaiah prophesied in act, but in silence, and did not unfold the meaning of the symbol till the three years came to an end. There are no adequate grounds for limiting his dramatic action to a single day or three days. Egypt and Ethiopia are, as in Isaiah 18, 19, closely connected, both countries being under a king of Ethiopian origin, Sabaco.

Isaiah 20:3-6. And the Lord — Who here explains and applies the sign, said, Like as my servant hath walked naked, &c., three years — Not constantly, but when he went abroad among the people, to whom this was appointed to be a sign. Bishop Lowth says, probably three days, to show, that within three years the Egyptians and Ethiopians should be conquered and made captives by the king of Assyria, and be in the same condition, and that the town should be taken. But it is objected, that although a day is usually put for a year in the prophetic scriptures, a year is never put for a day. The former interpretation, therefore, is more probable. For a sign and wonder, &c. — Either when this judgment should come, namely, three years after this prophecy was thus uttered, or how long it should continue, namely, for three years: for some have observed, that the Assyrians spent so much time in conquering Egypt and Ethiopia. So shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptians — Like beasts, as ינהגis commonly used. And they shall be afraid and ashamed — Namely, all they that shall trust to them, and glory in them. In which words, “we have the consequence of the divine judgment upon the Egyptians and Ethiopians, and the scope of the prophecy, namely, to convince the inhabitants of Palestine, and among these some factious persons in Jerusalem, of the vanity of the confidence they placed in them; for when they should see the completion of this prophecy, they should then condemn their own folly for placing their expectations on so feeble a defence.” The inhabitant of this isle — Of this land, in which the prophet was, and to whose inhabitants these words were uttered. For the name of isles, or islands, is frequently given in Scripture, not only to lands encompassed with the sea, but also to such countries as were on the sea- coast, as Palestine or Canaan was. Shall say, Behold, such is our expectation — So vain is our hope, placed upon such a people as are unable to deliver themselves, and much more to deliver us: whither we flee for help — To whom we now and usually trust: and how shall we escape — Either by their help, who cannot defend themselves, or by our own strength, seeing they, who were much more potent than we are, could not escape?

20:1-6 The invasion and conquest of Egypt and Ethiopia. - Isaiah was a sign to the people by his unusual dress, when he walked abroad. He commonly wore sackcloth as a prophet, to show himself mortified to the world. He was to loose this from his loins; to wear no upper garments, and to go barefooted. This sign was to signify, that the Egyptians and Ethiopians should be led away captives by the king of Assyria, thus stripped. The world will often deem believers foolish, when singular in obedience to God. But the Lord will support his servants under the most trying effects of their obedience; and what they are called upon to suffer for his sake, commonly is light, compared with what numbers groan under from year to year from sin. Those who make any creature their expectation and glory, and so put it in the place of God, will, sooner or later, be ashamed of it. But disappointment in creature-confidences, instead of driving us to despair, should drive us to God, and our expectation shall not be in vain. The same lesson is in force now; and where shall we look for aid in the hour of necessity, but to the Lord our Righteousness, throne of grace, and serving with each other in the same business of religion, should end all disputes, and unite the hearts of believers to each other in holy love.Like as - That is, as Isaiah has gone stripped of his special garment as a prophet, so shall the Egyptians and Ethiopians be stripped of all that they value, and be carried captive into Assyria.'

Hath walked ... three years - A great deal of difficulty has been felt in the interpretation of this place, from the strong improbability that Isaiah should have gone in this manner for a space of time so long as our translation expresses. The Septuagint renders this, 'As my servant Isaiah hath walked naked and barefoot three years, three years shall be for signs and wonders to the Egyptians and Ethiopians.' The phrase in the Hebrew, 'three years,' "may" either be taken in connection with the preceding part of the sentence, as in our translation, meaning that he actually walked so long; or it may be taken with that which follows, and then it will denote that he was a sign and wonder with reference to the captivity of the Egyptians and Ethiopians; and that by this symbolic action he in some way indicated that they would be carried away captive for that space of time; or, as Aben Ezra and Abarbanel suppose, that he signified that their captivity would commence after three years. Lowth supposes that it means that his walking was for three days, and that the Hebrew text bas been corrupted. Vitringa also seems to suppose that this is possible, and that a day was a symbolic sign for a year. Rosenmuller supposes that this prophetic action was continued during three years "at intervals," so that the subject might be kept before the mind of the people. But the supposition that this means that the symbolic action of walking naked and barefoot continued for so long a time in any manner, is highly improbable.

(1) The Hebrew does not necessarily require it. It "may" mean simply that his actions were a sign and wonder with reference to a three years' captivity of the Egyptians.

(2) It is in itself improbable that he should so long a time walk about Jerusalem expressly as a sign and wonder, when a much shorter period would have answered the purpose as well.

(3) Such a sign would have hardly met the circumstances of the case. Asdod was taken. The Assyrian king was advancing.

The Jews were in consternation and looking to Egypt for help; and amidst this agitation and alarm, there is the highest improbability that Isaiah would be required to remain a sign and wonder for the long space of three years, when decided action was needed, and when, unless prevented, the Jews would have formed a speedy alliance with the Egyptians. I suppose, therefore, that the entire sense of the phrase will be expressed by translating it, 'my servant Isaiah hath walked naked and barefoot, "a three years' sign and wonder;'" that is, a sign and indication that "a three years' calamity" would come upon Egypt and Ethiopia. Whether this means that the calamity would "commence" in three years from that time, or that it should "continue" three years, perhaps we cannot determine. Grotius thinks that it means that it would occur "after" three years; that is, that the war between the Assyrians and Ethiopians would continue during that time only. In what manner Isaiah indicated this, is not certainly known. The conjecture of Lowth is not improbable, that it was by appearing three "days" naked and barefoot, and that each day denoted a year. Or it may have been that he appeared in this manner for a short period - though but once - and "declared" that this was the design or purport of the action.

Upon Egypt ... - With reference to; or as a sign in regard to Egypt. It does not mean that he was in Egypt, but that his action "had reference" to Egypt.

And Ethiopia - Hebrew, כושׁ kûsh - (see the note at Isaiah 11:11). Whether this denotes the African Cush or Ethiopia, or whether it refers to the "Cush" in Arabia, cannot be determined. The latter is the more probable supposition, as it is scarcely probable that the Assyrian would extend his conquests south of Egypt so as to subdue the African Ethiopia. Probably his conquest embraced the "Cush" that was situated in the southern regions of Arabia.

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.

Walked naked and barefoot three years; not constantly, but when he went abroad among the people, to whom this was appointed for a sign. Some think it was only three days, a day being usually put for a year in prophetical scriptures, as Numbers 14:33,34 Eze 4:4-6. But although a day be put for a year, yet a year is never put for a day.

A sign; either,

1. When this judgment should come, to wit, three years after this prophecy. Or,

2. How long it should continue, for three years; for some have observed that the Chaldeans spent so much time in conquering Egypt and Ethiopia.

And the Lord said,.... Here follows the explanation of the sign, and the accommodation of it to the thing signified by it:

like as my servant Isaiah hath walked naked and barefoot; not wholly naked, for that would have been very indecent and dangerous indeed; but without his upper garment, as Saul, 1 Samuel 19:24 and David, 2 Samuel 6:14 or with rent and ragged clothes, and old shoes, as Jarchi (k) interprets it, and which might be only when he appeared abroad; and how long he thus walked is not certain, whether only one day, as some, or three days, as others, or three years, which is not said, though our version inclines to it; but the three years next mentioned are not to be joined to Isaiah's walking, but to the thing signified by it; for the accent "athnach" is at the word which is rendered "barefoot", and distinguishes this clause from the following. The Septuagint indeed puts the phrase "three years" into both clauses, but it only belongs to the latter:

three years for a sign and wonder upon Egypt, and upon Ethiopia; that is, the prophet's walking naked and barefoot was a sign that three years after this Egypt and Ethiopia should be subdued by the Assyrians; or, that so long he should be in subduing them, or their calamities should last such a term of time. This sign was only seen by the Jews, for whose sake chiefly this prophecy was, to take off their dependence on the above nations; though probably this might be made known to the Egyptians and Ethiopians.

(k) T. Bab. Yoma, fol. 77. 1. & Sabbat, fol. 114. 1.

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). Isaiah 20:3It is not till Isaiah has carried out the divine instructions, that he learns the reason for this command to strip himself, and the length of time that he is to continue so stripped. "And Jehovah said, As my servant Yesha'yahu goeth naked and barefooted, a sign and type for three years long over Egypt and over Ethiopia, so will the king of Asshur carry away the prisoners of Egypt and the exiles of Ethiopia, children and old men, naked and barefooted, and with their seat uncovered - a shame to Egypt." The expression "as he goeth" (ca'asher hâlac) stands here at the commencement of the symbolical action, but it is introduced as if with a retrospective glance at its duration for three years, unless indeed the preterite hâlac stands here, as it frequently does, to express what has already commenced, and is still continuing and customary (compare, for example, Job 1:4 and Psalm 1:1). The strange and unseemly dress of the prophet, whenever he appeared in his official capacity for three whole years, was a prediction of the fall of the Egypto-Ethiopian kingdom, which was to take place at the end of these three years. Egypt and Ethiopia are as closely connected here as Israel and Judah in Isaiah 11:12. They were at that time one kingdom, so that the shame of Egypt was the shame of Ethiopia also. ‛Ervâh is a shameful nakedness, and ‛ervath Mitzrayim is in apposition to all that precedes it in Isaiah 20:4. Shēth is the seat or hinder part, as in 2 Samuel 10:4, from shâthâh, to set or seat; it is a substantive form, like בּן, עץ, רע, שׁם, with the third radical letter dropt. Chashūphay has the same ay as the words in Isaiah 19:9; Judges 5:15; Jeremiah 22:14, which can hardly be regarded as constructive forms, as Ewald, Knobel, and Gesenius suppose (although ־י of the construct has arisen from ־י), but rather as a singular form with a collective signification. The emendations suggested, viz., chasūphē by Olshausen, and chasūphı̄ with a connecting i by Meier, are quite unnecessary.
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