The Prophet as a Sign
Isaiah 20:1-6
In the year that Tartan came to Ashdod, (when Sargon the king of Assyria sent him,) and fought against Ashdod, and took it;…

I. THE HISTORICAL CIRCUMSTANCES. The illusion of Egyptian unity had passed away again. The country was broken up under the rule of a number of petty kings, of whom Shabak, or So, or Seve (2 Kings 17:4), was one. Negotiations seem to have been begun between Judah and Egypt, probably as a resource against the Assyrian. Ashdod was laid siege to by the Assyrians about B.C. 713-711, and the inhabitants carried off captives. And Judah's name appears in the Assyrian inscriptions among the nations guilty of treason to Assyria. Isaiah, both as the prophet and the politician, is seen to be opposed to the Egyptian alliance. And his policy seems to have been justified by the event, for Judah was subsequently invaded and subdued. When the tartan, or Assyrian general, came to Ashdod, sent by King Sargon, the spirit of Isaiah was stirred within him.

II. THE SYMBOLIC ACT OF THE PROPHET. He takes his distinctive dress of haircloth from his loins, and is "bare," in that sense in which the Roman soldier was said to be nudus without his armour. So the Prophet Micah says he will wail and howl, and go stripped and naked, because of the desolation of the land. The reader will be reminded of George Fox at Lichfield, and of Solomon Eagle preaching repentance to the people amidst the horrors of the Plague of London (1665), of which scene there was an affecting picture by Poole in the Royal Academy winter exhibition of 1884. The act is:

1. Expressive of strong feeling; suited to Oriental effusiveness, though not to our colder habits. The mind needs, in moments of strong feeling, to see itself reflected in some outward form. We all acknowledge this in connection with the great epochs of life - the funeral, the wedding, The great heart of the prophet throbbing in sympathy with his nation, must signify his grief at its condition by some change in his attire. And then:

2. It is a means of impressing others. We speak, not only by our words, but by our appearance, our apparel, our manners. Though we are not called upon in our time to adopt a peculiar dress, that dress should betoken a serious mind. Inconspicuousness may serve as good an end as conspicuousness in this matter. Let us at least, without straining a point, learn this lesson, that life should be significant. It should mean something; not be neutral, utterly without emphasis; or dubious to the eye and ear, like heathen oracles and heathen symbols. Without affectation and folly, we can find a way to make others feel that we feel and think and have a purpose in existence. But this way of self-manifestation must be adapted to our own constitution, to the taste of others, to the condition of our times.

III. THE APPLICATION OF THE SYMBOLISM. Egypt and Ethiopia will fall into humiliation and captivity. There will be every sign of disgrace. And Judah will see the fallacy of having put her trust in Egyptian alliances. It is a deeply painful picture of a nation's shame that rises before us in these verses. Shameless sins bring shameful punishment. "Conquest and captivity are perhaps the bitterest cup that vengeance can put into the hands of a sinful people." This general lesson, then, may be drawn: The effect not only points to the cause, but the nature of the effect to the nature of the cause. "Of all the curses which can possibly befall a sinner, there is none comparable to this, that he should add iniquity to iniquity, and sin to sin, which the shameless person cannot but do, till he falls by it too; his recovery, while under that character, being utterly impossible. For where there is no place for shame, there can be none for repentance. God of his infinite goodness work better minds in us!" (South). - J.

Parallel Verses
KJV: In the year that Tartan came unto Ashdod, (when Sargon the king of Assyria sent him,) and fought against Ashdod, and took it;

WEB: In the year that Tartan came to Ashdod, when Sargon the king of Assyria sent him, and he fought against Ashdod and took it;

The Date of the Prophecy
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