Isaiah 20: Prophesying in the Nude

Isaiah 20: Prophesying in the Nude

Original Publication Date
October 21, 2018
Jan 28, 2023 4:56 AM
IsaiahChapter StudyEgyptProphecy
Bible References
Isaiah 20
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This page was originally posted on my Blogger version of the blog on October 21, 2018 The content below has a few minor tweaks for clarity, and additional references, and some updated information.


Isaiah 20 is a very short chapter. Once again, God is pronouncing judgment on Egypt, but this time there's something else to focus on: Isaiah being commanded to make this proclamation in the nude! Isaiah's action was symbolic of what was to come for Egypt, but history is known to repeat itself, and I can see similar trends here in the United States (U.S.).

Command to be Naked

Can you imagine if your preacher showed up to preach a sermon wearing nothing? Most people can't even imagine a preacher in sweat pants and a t-shirt! On the one hand, it would be pretty awkward and strange, but on the other hand, it would definitely draw attention. When Isaiah, known to be a prophet of God, suddenly took to the street naked and barefoot, what do you think people said?

Today's society is probably a little more comfortable with nudity than the Israelite society Isaiah belonged to, and we would still find it strange to see someone simply walking about without clothes, even with clothes but without shoes. There's a man at my job who often walks around sock-footed at work and numerous people have mentioned how odd it is. So we know Isaiah made a statement.

The Prophecy

Today, celebrities pull stunts like this for shock value to get publicity and "stay relevant," but that wasn't God's intention for Isaiah. This act was a sign for the people. God warned that when the Assyrians turned on Egypt and Ethiopia, they would carry the people away naked and barefoot (just as Isaiah had been). Isaiah's testimony was a prophesy and symbol of the humility that was to come.

Perhaps because I’m editing this on the eve of Black History Month, the image of people being carried away naked and barefoot reminds me of the transatlantic slave trade and slavery in the American south. Often when people were auctioned off, they were made to appear naked and barefoot to be inspected by the bidders during the sale.[7] There are many parallels to Biblical prophecy and American slavery, actually.

A Personal Experience

Have you ever gone through something and realized it helped you understand the people around you better? Maybe it makes you more compassionate or less judgmental, or maybe it just makes you thankful for what you've been blessed with. I feel like this particular act would have had the same effect on Isaiah. He would have felt the shame and humility that he was prophesying to come, and that must have touched him in a way that mere words couldn't. Although the Bible doesn't say so specifically, I have a feeling that the experience was not just a sign for God's people, but a learning experience for Isaiah.


Isaiah was given this prophecy roughly between 713 and 711 BC. During this time, Sargon, the king of Assyria attacked Ashdod due to a rebellion started by the Philistines. The Philistines had an alliance with Egypt, which they likely thought would protect them from the might of Assyria. However, Egypt was powerless to defend the Philistines and allowed them to fall to Sargon.[1]

At that time, everyone would have been shocked that Egypt did not help Philistine, so Isaiah's message would have been an answer to this shock. Although he was proclaiming a tragedy to befall Egypt, Isaiah was also reminding Israel not to depend on these foreign nations for protection. Only God can provide us with reliable protection.

Several commentaries mention the fulfillment of this prophecy many years after Isaiah's sign. Modern scholars have found depictions of naked and barefoot slaves among the records left by the Egyptians, as well.[2] Esarhaddon, a descendant of Sargon, successfully defeated Egypt in 671 BC.[3]

In Modern Times

This is very similar to what is happening in the world today. Back then, Egypt was the most powerful and most advanced nation in the world; other nations looked to them for protection and in awe. Since our victories in World War I and World War II (especially after the use of the a-bomb), the U.S. has been in the same position. Like Egypt, the U.S. has fallen away from God and often doesn't actually help those in need. From turning away Jews during the Holocaust to turning away refugees today, the U.S. has proven that it isn't a nation to be depended on.[4][5][6] No Earthly nation can provide protection, comfort, or security. Only God can provide these things.

References and Footnotes

  1. Holman Bible Publishers.Β Holman KJV Study Bible, pg. ?. 2014
  2. "Isaiah 20:4 Commentary".Β Bible Hub; visited October 2018
  3. "Esarhaddon". Encyclopædia Britannica. October 23, 2013
  4. Halimah Abdullah and Phil McCausland. "Trump Signs Order Suspending Admission of Syrian Refugees".Β NBC. January 27, 2017
  5. A. Naomi Paik. "US turned away thousands of Haitian asylum-seekers and detained hundreds more in the 90s".Β The Conversation. June 28, 2018
  6. "The Jewish refugees the US turned away".Β BBC. May 10, 2017
  7. Dahleen Glanton. β€œColumn: Anjanette Young reminds Black women of their ancestors who stood naked on a slave auction block”. Chicago Tribune. December 21, 2020

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