Trust in Jehovah for Guidance and Protection
1, 2. What danger do God’s people face in the eighth century B.C.E., and to whom are many of them inclined to turn for protection?
AS SEEN in earlier chapters of this book, God’s people face a frightening threat in the eighth century B.C.E. The bloodthirsty Assyrians are ravaging one land after another, and it is only a matter of time before they attack the southern kingdom of Judah. To whom will the land’s inhabitants turn for protection? They are in a covenant relationship with Jehovah and should rely on him for help. (Exodus 19:5, 6) That is what King David did. He acknowledged: “Jehovah is my crag and my stronghold and the Provider of escape for me.” (2 Samuel 22:2) Evidently, though, many in the eighth century B.C.E. do not put trust in Jehovah as their stronghold. They are more inclined to look to Egypt and Ethiopia, hoping that these two nations will provide a bulwark against the threatened Assyrian invasion. They are wrong.
2 Through his prophet Isaiah, Jehovah warns that seeking refuge in Egypt or in Ethiopia will be disastrous. The prophet’s inspired words provide a salutary lesson for his contemporaries and contain a valuable lesson for us about the importance of trusting in Jehovah.
A Land of Bloodshed
3. Describe the emphasis that Assyria put on military power.
3 The Assyrians were known for their military might. The book Ancient Cities notes: “They worshiped strength, and would say their prayers only to colossal idols of stone, lions and bulls whose ponderous limbs, eagle wings, and human heads were symbols of strength, courage, and victory. Fighting was the business of the nation, and the priests were incessant fomenters of war.” It is with good reason that the Bible prophet Nahum described Nineveh, Assyria’s capital, as “the city of bloodshed.”—Nahum 3:1.
4. How did the Assyrians strike terror in the hearts of other nations?
4 The war tactics of the Assyrians were unusually cruel. Carved reliefs from those days show Assyrian warriors leading off captives by means of hooks stuck through the noses or the lips. With spears they blinded some captives. One inscription tells of a conquest in which the Assyrian army dismembered its captives and made two mounds outside the city—one of heads and the other of limbs. The children of the conquered were burned in fire. The fear inspired by such cruelty must have served the Assyrians well in a military sense, discouraging resistance by those who stood in the way of their armies.
The War Against Ashdod
5. Who was a powerful Assyrian ruler in Isaiah’s day, and how was the Bible’s account of him vindicated?
5 In Isaiah’s day the Assyrian Empire reached an unprecedented level of power under King Sargon.* For many years, critics doubted the existence of this ruler, as they knew of no mention of him in secular sources. In time, however, archaeologists uncovered the ruins of Sargon’s palace, and the Bible’s account was vindicated.
6, 7. (a) Likely, for what reasons does Sargon order an attack on Ashdod? (b) How does the fall of Ashdod affect Philistia’s neighbors?
6 Isaiah briefly describes one of Sargon’s military campaigns: “Tartan came to Ashdod, when Sargon the king of Assyria sent him, and he proceeded to war against Ashdod and to capture it.” (Isaiah 20:1)* Why does Sargon order an attack on the Philistine city of Ashdod? For one thing, Philistia is an ally of Egypt, and Ashdod, home to a temple of Dagon, is located on the road that runs along the coast from Egypt through Palestine. The city is thus in a strategic location. Its capture can be viewed as a preliminary step to the conquest of Egypt. In addition, Assyrian records report that Azuri, Ashdod’s king, was conspiring against Assyria. Hence, Sargon has the rebellious king removed and puts the king’s younger brother, Ahimiti, on the throne. Still, that does not settle matters. Another revolt breaks out, and this time Sargon takes more forceful action. He orders an attack on Ashdod, which is besieged and conquered. Likely, Isaiah 20:1 is alluding to this event.
7 The fall of Ashdod casts a grim shadow over her neighbors, especially Judah. Jehovah knows that his people are inclined to look to “an arm of flesh,” such as Egypt or Ethiopia to the south. Therefore, he commissions Isaiah to act out a dire warning.—2 Chronicles 32:7, 8.
“Naked and Barefoot”
8. What inspired prophetic act does Isaiah carry out?
8 Jehovah tells Isaiah: “Go, and you must loosen the sackcloth from off your hips; and your sandals you should draw from off your feet.” Isaiah complies with Jehovah’s command. “He proceeded to do so, walking about naked and barefoot.” (Isaiah 20:2) Sackcloth is a coarse garment often worn by the prophets, sometimes in conjunction with a warning message. It is also worn in times of crisis or upon hearing calamitous news. (2 Kings 19:2; Psalm 35:13; Daniel 9:3) Does Isaiah really walk around naked in the sense of being without any protective covering at all? Not necessarily. The Hebrew word translated “naked” can also refer to one’s being partially or scantily clothed. (1 Samuel 19:24, footnote) So Isaiah may have merely taken off his outer garment, while retaining the short tunic that was commonly worn close to the body. Male captives are often represented in this manner in Assyrian sculptures.
9. What is the prophetic meaning of Isaiah’s action?
9 The meaning of Isaiah’s unusual action is not left in doubt: “Jehovah went on to say: ‘Just as my servant Isaiah has walked about naked and barefoot three years as a sign and a portent against Egypt and against Ethiopia, so the king of Assyria will lead the body of captives of Egypt and the exiles of Ethiopia, boys and old men, naked and barefoot, and with buttocks stripped, the nakedness of Egypt.’” (Isaiah 20:3, 4) Yes, the Egyptians and Ethiopians will soon be carried off captive. No one will be spared. Even “boys and old men”—the children and the elderly—will be stripped of all their possessions and taken into exile. By means of this bleak imagery, Jehovah warns the inhabitants of Judah that it will be futile for them to put their trust in Egypt and Ethiopia. The downfall of these nations will lead to their “nakedness”—their ultimate humiliation!
Hope Crumbles, Beauty Fades
10, 11. (a) What will the response of Judah be when she realizes that Egypt and Ethiopia are powerless before Assyria? (b) Why may the inhabitants of Judah be inclined to trust in Egypt and Ethiopia?
10 Next, Jehovah prophetically describes the response of his people as they realize that Egypt and Ethiopia, their hoped-for refuge, has proved powerless before the Assyrians. “They will certainly be terrified and be ashamed of Ethiopia their looked-for hope and of Egypt their beauty. And the inhabitant of this coastland will be certain to say in that day, ‘There is how our looked-for hope is, to which we fled for assistance, in order to be delivered because of the king of Assyria! And how shall we ourselves escape?’”—Isaiah 20:5, 6.
11 Judah seems like a mere strip of coastland when compared with the powers of Egypt and Ethiopia. Perhaps some of the inhabitants of “this coastland” are enamored with Egypt’s beauty—its impressive pyramids, its towering temples, and its spacious villas with their surrounding gardens, orchards, and ponds. The magnificent architecture of Egypt seems to be evidence of stability and permanence. Surely this land cannot be devastated! Likely, the Jews are also impressed by the archers, chariots, and horsemen of Ethiopia.
12. In whom should Judah put her trust?
12 In view of the acted-out warning of Isaiah and the prophetic words of Jehovah, any of God’s professed people who are inclined to trust in Egypt and Ethiopia have some serious thinking to do. How much better to put their trust in Jehovah rather than in earthling man! (Psalm 25:2; 40:4) As things work out, Judah suffers terribly at the hand of the king of Assyria, and later, she sees her temple and capital city destroyed by Babylon. Yet, “a tenth,” “a holy seed,” is left, like the stump of a massive tree. (Isaiah 6:13) When the time comes, Isaiah’s message will greatly strengthen the faith of that small group who continue to trust in Jehovah!
Put Your Trust in Jehovah
13. What pressures affect all—both believers and unbelievers—today?
13 The warning in Isaiah concerning the futility of trusting in Egypt and Ethiopia is not just dead history. It has practical value for our day. We are living in “critical times hard to deal with.” (2 Timothy 3:1) Financial disasters, widespread poverty, political uncertainty, civil unrest, and small- or large-scale wars have devastating effects—not only on those who spurn God’s rulership but also on those who worship Jehovah. The question facing each one is, ‘To whom will I turn for help?’
14. Why should we put trust only in Jehovah?
14 Some might be impressed by today’s financial wizards, politicians, and scientists, who talk of solving man’s problems using man’s ingenuity and technology. However, the Bible plainly states: “It is better to take refuge in Jehovah than to trust in nobles.” (Psalm 118:9) All man’s schemes for peace and security will come to naught for the reason aptly stated by the prophet Jeremiah: “I well know, O Jehovah, that to earthling man his way does not belong. It does not belong to man who is walking even to direct his step.”—Jeremiah 10:23.
15. Where lies the only hope for distressed mankind?
15 It is imperative, therefore, that servants of God not be unduly impressed by any seeming strength or wisdom of this world. (Psalm 33:10; 1 Corinthians 3:19, 20) The only hope for distressed humankind rests with the Creator, Jehovah. Those who put their trust in him will be saved. As the inspired apostle John wrote, “the world is passing away and so is its desire, but he that does the will of God remains forever.”—1 John 2:17.
Historians refer to this king as Sargon II. An earlier king, not of Assyria, but of Babylon, is designated as “Sargon I.”
“Tartan” is not a name but a title designating the commander in chief of the Assyrian army, likely the second most powerful person in the empire.
[Picture on page 209]
The Assyrians used to blind some of their captives
[Pictures on page 213]
Some may be impressed by man’s achievements, but it is better to trust in Jehovah