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Before the great and marvelous promises of Isaiah 19 and Isaiah 11, the people first must turn to the Lord so that He can bless them. Until then, they are lost in their own choices and the consequences that come. This chapter is about Assyria conquering Egypt, the natural consequences of their pride and false idol worship, and the consequences the Lord will use to help the people “work out their salvation” (Philippians 2:12).
In verse 1, Isaiah dates for us the time of this prophesy. Tartan was an Assyrian General called during the reign of Sargon, but who served under Sargon’s son Sennacherib (see 2 Kings 18:17). Ashdod is the seventh largest city in Israel, about 20 miles south of Tel Aviv. Sargon became king of Assyria in 722 B.C., and conquered Israel (the northern ten tribes) a year later. Tartan was sent to Ashdod about ten years after that, in 711 B.C.
As Judah watched the Assyrian army conquer the powerful countries to their north, and then even Israel, they wondered if Egypt would be able to hold out against them. Egypt had been a long standing power, and its surrounding territory was defined by the Nile (including “Ethiopia”, which also includes what we now call Sudan). Isaiah is telling the people that not only will Egypt fall, but it will be severe.
The Lord tells Isaiah to remove his shoes and his sackcloth (the clothing of grief and mourning, which Isaiah was wearing as he grieved what happened to Israel and what would happen to Judah if they did not turn to the Lord). He was not “naked” as we think of naked. The footnote says he wasn’t wearing his shirt, the outer layer of clothing people wore over their undergarments. This symbolized slavery, but also revealed those sacred priesthood garments that the people wore underneath their clothes – reminding them of the covenants they had made and the consequences of not following them. The removal of his shoes could also be symbolic, like when Moses removed his shoes when meeting with the Lord by the “burning bush” (Exodus 3), both signifying that Isaiah met with the Lord and calling the people to holiness.
This was done as a “sign” to the people, meaning the Lord’s part of the covenant given to the people to show that He remembers what He has promised (verse 3). The Lord is being gracious to warn the people of Judah before they are destroyed, giving them time to repent and to ask Him for help. All of what Isaiah said would happen came true for the people of Egypt about twenty-five years after Isaiah died (696 B.C.), when they were conquered by the Assyrians and led away to prisons in Ninevah with little food and no clothing (verse 4). This will be great shame for the people who once ruled with such wealth and political power (verse 5).
When all this unfolded, it happened like a chapter in the end of the Book of Mormon. Each king of Assyria became king by assassinating the king before him, and then was himself assassinated, again and again. So Sargon was a usurper of the throne, and was assassinated by his son Sennacherib in 705 B.C. Sennacherib was assassinated by his son Esarhaddon in 680 B.C. This was the king who first invaded Egypt in 674 B.C., conquering both capitals of Egypt in 671 B.C. (Thebes, the upper Egypt capital, and Memphis, the lower Egypt capital). Notice the three years (674-671) showing up again, just as Isaiah had given as a sign. The three years also represent death and destruction, like three days in the tomb, for the purpose of resurrection (and so for the Arab people, fulfilling the promises to Abraham as soon as his descendants turn back to the Lord).
These three years show up again with these people in the Latter-days. “Gentiles” (non-Jews) from the north (Iran, Ethiopia, and Libya (Ezekiel 38:18-23)) will attack Israel following the mass conversion of the Jews (see Isaiah 19). The Jews will be led by a presidency of David (see Isaiah 11) and two counselors (Revelation 11:3-6) (see also Isaiah 55:3-4; Jeremiah 30:9; Ezekiel 34:23-24; and Hosea 3:4-5). The attacking armies will get as far as Jerusalem, even to the outer courts of the temple, laying siege for three and a half years. At the end of the three and a half years, David’s two counselors (“prophets”) will be killed (Revelation 11:7), and their bodies will lie in the streets for three and a half days. They will then be resurrected, and there will be a great earthquake that divides the Mount of Olives and literally gives the Jews an escape route (Ezekiel 38:18-23; D&C 45:48-50; and Zechariah 14:4-5). The Messiah will appear, and the Jews will realize who He is and mourn what they did to Him historically (D&C 45:51-52; Zechariah 13:6; and D&C 45:53). Their testimony will be so strong that the many of the surrounding nations will also recognize the Savior (Zechariah 8:22-23 and Ezekiel 39:21-23). It will probably be after this that a temple is built in Egypt.
Isaiah’s message is about what will happen to Egypt, a warning to those people so that they can repent and turn to the Lord.
But it is also a warning to the people of Judah, showing them what could happen to them if they do not turn to back to the Lord (verse 6). It is not only showing what could happen to them, like what has already happened to Israel. Isaiah is also warning the people of Judah to stop looking for deliverance from external sources, from political allies, and from the environment and people around them. He is telling them to stop being so focused on themselves, stuck in the past, and acting from fear and mourning. He is telling them to let go of sadness and grief, and to focus on the joy and happiness that comes from the Lord. The Lord is the only one who can deliver them, the one who has promised to rescue them, and the one who will fight their battles for them. Instead of relying on others for support and rescue, they need to rescue themselves by relying on the Lord.