When we survey the bare facts in the 20th chapter of the Book of Isaiah, we see that the Lord told Isaiah, “Go, and remove the sackcloth from your body, and take your sandals off your feet.” Isaiah obeyed the command of the Lord, walking around naked and barefoot for three years. This served as a sign against Egypt and Ethiopia, whom the Israelites had put their trust in for deliverance from Assyria.
When the Lord spoke, Isaiah could hear God, and Isaiah listened to what God told him to do. What differentiates ‘hearing’ from ‘listening’? If your mother told you to go and clean your room, you may have audibly heard her instructions as the words exited her mouth from her vocal cords, travelled via the medium of air, and entered your ears and went through the auditory canal to be processed and interpreted by your brain. However, if this did not result in any action, then you merely heard your mother’s request, but you did not listen. ‘Listening’ implies an action: the application of what is heard.
In today’s culture, the spiritual blindness of the age has made many blind and deaf to the things of the Kingdom. This spiritual blindness renders people unable to hear when God speaks, stubborn when He chooses to reveal Himself to them by allowing them to see or hear Him (whether directly or indirectly), and thus unable to accept Him. Hence, they refuse to listen to Him, condemning themselves. Per Romans 8:1, the verse conversely implies that condemnation must be present for those who are not in Christ Jesus, who walk according to the flesh, and not according to the Spirit. This condemnation is not from believers but from God. As a reminder, we were all condemned while we were still unsaved; hence we have no reason to boast, as the workmanship of God (Ephesians 2:8-10).
If God spoke to you, would you be able to hear Him? If yes, would you listen to Him? Biblically, we know what happened to those who ignored God: Moses’ act of hitting the stone at Meribah when told by God to simply speak to it cost him his entry into the Promised Land; Solomon’s refusal to return to the Lord from the worship of foreign gods resulted in the tearing of the kingdom; Jonah’s attempt to run away led to him being swallowed by a fish; and Abraham’s attempt to provide the promised son by begetting Ishmael led to 13 years of silence with God, who walked with Abraham and considered him to be a friend (James 2:23). Conversely, the prophets are a case study in obeying God, even amid tumultuous times: Isaiah named his son ‘Quick Loot, Fast Plunder’; Ezekiel shed no tears for his dead wife; and Hosea married the prostitute Gomer. Why do people disobey God? They are in bondage to their flesh and the desires of this life. Why do people obey God? They fear Him and aspire to something greater than this life.
A pastor with a prophetic gift led a conference in North India, and some brothers were sent to pick up coffee for the crowd. When they returned, he told them in front of the congregation that the Holy Spirit had revealed that they ate snacks and drinks at the shop, which was true. Most churches don’t have or encourage a prophetic ministry because people don’t always like what they hear. It doesn’t profit to be a prophet for the socially ambitious and materially obsessed.
We observe in Isaiah 20 that Isaiah was wearing sackcloth for mourning, which was replaced with poverty (whether he was fully or partially naked). How would society react to Isaiah? People likely called him crazy, and Isaiah was probably not popular. His family and friends probably felt sad, angry, and embarrassed. Yet, why did Isaiah do what he did? Because it was God who told him to do so.
Clothing covers our bodies, protecting it from the elements: heat, rain, snow, and wind. Sandals cover the feet, protecting them from the contents of the ground: stones, glass, broken objects, insects, and other critters. Isaiah lived without both, demonstrating that no protection is relevant without God. Now, the Word of God doesn’t say how long Isaiah was told by God to walk around naked. It only says that God told him to do so, and he obeyed until God permitted him to stop, which was after three years. Thus, Isaiah was preaching, teaching, travelling, and living without being properly dressed for all this time. There may have been funerals for him to attend, weddings to go to, prayer meetings, family gatherings, etc. The Word of God doesn’t say what the people did to Isaiah or how they treated him, but we can speculate that people didn’t want him around anymore, and that other people (perhaps his wife, priest, relatives, etc.) pressured him to give up what he was doing. His family may have been ostracized along with him, and yet his public nudity served as a reminder of Israel’s sins and foolishness.
Isaiah embraced the shame to publicly display the national dishonour that was to come for Egypt & Ethiopia, which would show Israel how foolish it had been to trust in these nations over God for protection against Assyria. Isaiah 20:5 calls Ethiopia “their expectation” and Egypt “their glory”: God would undo this. Those left behind would have no options to fall back on to escape Assyria, a nation greatly feared and hated (hence Jonah’s hesitation to preach to their capital of Nineveh). However, we know that God used Isaiah mightily: numerous times, he references Jesus and is referenced in the New Testament by Jesus and others. He was one of the vessels God used to point His people to the coming of a Saviour that would permanently release them and all humanity from bondage and enslavement, not of people, but of the flesh. Yet, would any of this be possible if Isaiah had not obeyed God when He was told to take difficult steps? Unlikely. Isaiah was faithful to do what God asked of Him, and God, in turn, allowed Isaiah to see things no one had seen before and make prophecies hundreds of years ahead of schedule.
Have you been hearing the voice of God recently? If not, ask Him to speak to you (recall Samuel, who was instructed by the priest, Eli, to say, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening”). Are you listening to the word of God today? If not, repent for your disobedience and strive to follow what He has commanded you. Perhaps you may hear what you do not want to hear and receive silence on the matters to which you seek answers. Nonetheless, seek the presence, word, and protection of God immediately, and cling to Him.