Friday, August 19, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 52

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 52

Chapter 20 is a short chapter and it deals with a prophecy against Cush and Egypt combined.

"In the year that the supreme commander, sent by Sargon king of Assyria, came to Ashdod and attacked and captured it---at that time the Lord spoke through Isaiah son of Amoz." (Isaiah 20:1-2a) Ashdod was a city of Philistia and it lay alongside Judah by the coast. The cities of Philistia had up til now been a buffer between Judah and the Assyrians but Azuri, king of Ashdod, decided to rebel against paying tribute to Assyria and founded an anti-Assyrian movement, appealing to Egypt and Cush for help. When King Sargon of Assyria got wind of this plot, Sargon had him deposed and replaced him with his brother Ahi-Miti, who was sympathetic to the Assyrians. But the people of Ashdod would not have him as their king and they took him from the throne and replaced him with a man named Yamani, not of the royal family, who was a leader in the growing anti-Assyrian movement. Yamani invited the rulers of the surrounding Philistine cities to join with him and he also extended the invitation to Judah, Moab, Edom, and Egypt. Sargon sent his supreme commander with an army to quell the rebellion and Yamani fled to Cush as the Assyrians overcame Ashdod and incorporated it into their empire. The king of Cush gave Yamani asylum there but his successor, eager to make peace with Assyria, had Yamani delivered to Assyria in chains.

For a time things went well between Assyria and Cush but later, in the days of Sargon's successor Sennacherib, King Mitinti of Cush formed another anti-Assyrian coalition along with the Philistine kings of Ashkelon and Ekron. It is at that time that Judah, who turned down the previous invitation to join Yamani's rebellion, decided to join the new rebellion and stop paying tribute to Assyria, along with Ammon, Moab, and Edom. During the Ethiopian dynasty, Cush and Egypt were pretty much united together, and King Hezekiah of Judah expected many soldiers, horses, and chariots to come to his aid should Sennacherib attack Judah. Hezekiah's alliance with Egypt is something the prophet Isaiah spoke openly against, warning him to trust only in the God of Israel, warning him that Egypt would be no help. 

Today Isaiah acts out a sign for what will happen to the inhabitants of Cush and Egypt, the people upon whom Judah is relying. He acts it out based on instructions from the Lord. "He said to him, 'Take off the sackcloth from your body and the sandals from your feet.' And he did so, going around stripped and barefoot." (Isaiah 20:2b) There is disagreement among scholars as to whether or not Isaiah was actually naked. Some say the original Hebrew word indicates nudity while others believe Isaiah removed his outer garments and went around in the long linen undergarment that men wore underneath their outer robes during the day and slept in during the night. On the one hand I would prefer to believe Isaiah didn't have to walk around the city shamefully exposed, but on the other hand the remainder of our text indicates that this is the most likely translation.

"Then the Lord said, 'Just as My servant Isaiah has gone stripped and barefoot for three years, as a sign and portent against Egypt and Cush, so the king of Assyria will lead away stripped and barefoot the Egyptian captives and Cushite exiles, young and old, with buttocks bared---to Egypt's shame.'" (Isaiah 20:3-4) The conquering armies of pagan kings had a practice of taking captives back to their king stripped and barefoot, often with their heads and beards shaved, to humiliate the prisoners and remove their sense of identity. They would all have looked pretty much alike, shackled together in a chain, all of them without clothes or hair. They would have lost all that marked them as people of a specific nation: their style of clothing, their style of hair, whether or not they wore beards. It was a method of completely demoralizing them. We find a less drastic method used in our prisons today, where every prisoner must give up his/her street clothing in exchange for a prison uniform, so that they go about dressed identically to every other prisoner. Even our military has a similar custom in which as soon as soldiers arrive for basic training, they exchange their street clothes for identical uniforms and the men's heads are shaved and the women are given a choice of only two hairstyles. The enforced changes in appearances are meant to tell the person that they now belong to a system or a government. This was also the purpose in the way foreign kings treated prisoners: it was a sign to the prisoners that their lives were not their own, that they now belonged to a king and a government.

In Isaiah's day the people of Judah would have viewed Egypt and Cush as formidable. They likely found it hard to envision their fall. But the Lord warns them that a fall is coming and that it's foolish to put their trust in anyone but Him. God cannot be defeated. If He has promised Judah protection from Assyria, Judah need not look for help anywhere else. When Sennacherib's army reaches the walls of Jerusalem, God is going to protect the city, as we learned from our study of the kings. Judah will fall later to Babylon, but not to Assyria. So when Cush and Egypt meet with calamity, all those who formerly fled Judah in fear of Assyria will find they have jumped out of the frying pan into the fire. "Those who trusted in Cush and boasted in Egypt will be dismayed and put to shame. In that day the people who live on the coast will say, 'See what has happened to those we relied on, those we fled to for help and deliverance from the king of Assyria! How then can we escape?'" (Isaiah 20:5-6)

When Judah realizes she is between a rock and a hard place, with the Assyrians advancing and with no help forthcoming from Egypt, she will have to appeal to the Lord for help just as Isaiah has been urging her to do. God is going to fight for His people. At this time the kingdom of Judah is not as neck-deep in idolatry as the northern kingdom of Israel and the Lord is not going to let her fall. When Jerusalem finds itself surrounded by the Assyrian army, with no place to run, the people will have to look up to God for help. And He will answer.

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