Today: [Isaiah 20] The Nudist Prophet! In Isaiah chapter 20 we see Isaiah stripping publicly naked and going without clothes from the waist down for three years. He not only does this but he does so as a prophetic act – seen of all the people not to make himself an exhibitionist but to reprove the false respectability of the people for their futile trust in anything other than the living God. Honestly what would you do if your pastor or a minister you respected committed such a lewd act? Would you even remotely be capable of perceiving that perhaps this was something ordered of God and so holy that the record of it would become part of the most venerated and holy book of all human history? Isaiah’s heart and not just his private parts are revealed in this 3-year episode of public humiliation. He so hungers to see the people of God put their trust in Him and not in other things that he puts his life on the line and abandons all pretense of drive home the message of trust in God above all else.
[Isa 20:1-6 KJV] 1 In the year that Tartan came unto Ashdod, (when Sargon the king of Assyria sent him,) and fought against Ashdod, and took it; 2 At the same time spake the LORD by Isaiah 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 barefoot. 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; 4 So shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptians prisoners, and the Ethiopians captives, young and old, naked and barefoot, even with [their] buttocks uncovered, to the shame of Egypt. 5 And they shall be afraid and ashamed of Ethiopia their expectation, and of Egypt their glory. 6 And the inhabitant of this isle 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?
In Isaiah chapter 20 the prophet declares the fate of Egypt and Ethiopia at the hands of the king of Assyria. This is a continuation of the subject of chapter 19 but referencing a later perspective. The invasion that Isaiah predicts comes during the reign of Sargon seven centuries before Christ. Egypt and Ethiopia (traditionally enemies) are united against the common foe of the Assyrians yet Isaiah states that they will experience a devastating defeat. The general over Assyria at this time was so formidable that Hezekiah would not move to throw off the bands of Assyrian rule until after his death. The northern kingdom however is invaded and 10’s of 1000’s of captives (who had trusted that Egypt and Ethiopia would save them) are taken captive and marched into slavery and oblivion. We can see then that this is a time of upheaval and regime change one right after another and in the midst of it the northern kingdom is over run time and again until it is a desolate land without protection or strong government. Isaiah’s warnings have come to pass. Both the northern and southern kingdoms had put their trust in an Egytian / Ethiopian alliance rather than trusting in God and now the glory of Egypt and the pomp of Ethiopia will go into captivity and shame. This is not what the people wanted to hear. The might of Egypt and power of Ethiopia was all the rage among the people of God when Isaiah speaks up declaring that this is a complete and total false hope. The people are reticent and in fact completely opposed to what Isaiah is saying by the Spirit of the Lord so God instructs Isaiah to commit the prophetic act of publically going naked from the waist down for 3 years to drive home the point that trust in Egypt and trust in Ethiopian military strength is a completely futile proposition.
Throughout the book of Isaiah the prophet says time and again that the trust of the people should be in God and not in foreign powers but his words are falling for the most part upon death ears until the reign of Hezekiah and then afterwards Hezekiah’s son will reject the word of the Lord and finally put the aged prophet to death, having him publically sawn in two in order to completely and openly humiliate him and defy his words. Bear in mind that when Manasseh puts Isaiah to death they do not do so announcing their hatred of him because he is so godly. The charges against Isaiah are for prophesying and conducting himself contrary and in contradiction against good public order. Prophets are not always popular. They are often placed in a position of speaking contrary to popular consensus. They can be seen as a stick in the mud, not getting with the program, not jumping on the bandwagon or beating the drum of popular opinion that all the cool kids are declaring. To the people of Isaiah’s time the solutions that the people are looking to are plain, attainable and seem to offer deliverance for a time. Isaiah steps up and declares that only trust in God can save a nation. This is idealism in the extreme. Isaiah haven’t you been watching Fox news? Isaiah don’t you agree with what all the other prophets are saying? They can’t all be wrong can they Isaiah? How does it feel to be so wrong, Isaiah?
To these charges and complaints that he is going against the tide of popular consensus Isaiah has no reply other than to double down on the message that God has given him. His heart is not compromised with political sentiment or influenced by what others conclude. His heart is troubled because he sees the people of Judah selling their confidence and their trust out to something other than complete and total reliance upon God. What is to be the outcome of this? What you allow to come between you and God – God will remove. Thus the people have looked to forming of treaties with foreign powers and the very powers that they look to are going to be brutally crushed by the Assyrians and their proud armies and over-confident kings will be stripped naked as Isaiah goes naked as a prophetic statement and they shall be marched in humiliation into captivity along with over 27,000 Israelite captives from the land of Samaria. To which the prophet Isaiah – an eventual witness to all of this come to pass, silently dons his clothes after 3 years of humiliating nakedness and turns in grief from the northern kingdom who would not listen in hopes that the southern kingdom will finally hear. They will hear Isaiah for a time under the reign of Hezekiah – but only briefly. They too eventually will be decimated, the city destroyed, the temple demolished and the people also led captive. All because they trusted in man rather than trusting in God.
What would be your response if you went to church or were driving to work one day and to your shock as you pass city hall you see your pastor, naked from the waist down screaming like a madman from the court house steps? For Isaiah to go naked was no more acceptable in his day than it would be in ours. In fact, in Isaiah’s day it would have been much more scandalous than the day we live in. No doubt if you pastor did this the deacon board would be meeting that afternoon in the back of the family life building during the youth basketball game. Something would have to be done. The assistant pastor would be there with a furrowed brow, sadly offering his services to stand in as interim pastor since the current pastor had obviously had a psychotic break. Prominent members would have blown up the cell phones of church leadership threatening to withdraw their tithes and their membership if this insane madman is not immediately removed. After all – things must be done decently and in order in the house of God. If this were you would you be capable of looking past all the shrill voices of hypocritical and illegitimate authority and hear the voice of God speaking so clearly that Isaiah’s words stand today as part of the holiest and most venerated book in all time? What an opportunity to locate ourselves and see just how tenuous our fidelity to God and to His word and His servants really is.
As for Isaiah how difficult this must have been. Isaiah was not brought up as a wild-eyed zealot. He was raised very close to power and reared in a life of privilege and great luxury. He was the heart and soul of established respectability and put everything on the line to hear and respond to the voice of God rumbling in his heart. Now we know why in his youth God caused him to see the glory in the temple. We see the heart of Isaiah anguished with his own sin and the sin of the nation crying out that he was a man of unclean lips in the midst of a people with unclean lips. Now we see the power and transforming grace that was visited upon him when the angel that touched his lips with coals from off the altar of God. Now the awful price of that holy moment is exacted in full on the last vestiges of human respectability as the prophet strips naked and steps out in public, his genitalia exposed with the word of the Lord on his lips and the fire of God in his belly. We can only tremble and say help us God to be so committed to you that would we ourselves would pay any price, endure any humiliation in order to obey you and submit to you in all things regardless!
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