God commands Isaiah to take off his clothes and sandals!
Isaiah was already wearing sackcloth. Sackcloth as the name suggests, was the cloth used in making sacks. When ancient Israelis mourned, it was traditional for them to put on sackcloth and cover themselves in ashes as a sign of mourning and sometimes repentance. Some commentators like Matthew Henry seemed to believe that sackcloth was almost a uniform for Old Testament prophets. It may have symbolised the hard life of the calling to the office of Old Testament Prophet.
In verse 2 God commands Isaiah to take off his clothes and sandals and go about barefoot and naked. “Really God?” Isaiah might have thought, although Scripture is silent on this point. Was Isaiah really naked for 3 years? Why would God command such a thing? What on earth is going on?
Isaiah may not have been completely without clothes, but likely wore undergarments. Even with undergarments, this was likely to be a powerful visual statement backing up the prophetic words Isaiah was bringing to the people of God. These prophetic words declared how Egypt and Cush (Ethiopia) would be conquered by the Assyrian army. Israel was not to rely on them, but rather trust in God alone.
Often people cover themselves up with clothing when we want to be religious. In this passage, God commands Isaiah in an unusual situation to take off most of his clothes.
Nakedness symbolises vulnerability, as well as spiritual and material poverty. Nakedness or near nakedness was associated with a sense of humiliation, shame and poverty. Being seen only wearing under-garments, made Isaiah like the poorest of people in society.
Being bare-footed is a strong statement of being a slave in Isaiah’s time. Isaiah was prophesying by word and deed about God’s coming judgement against the Egyptians and Cushites (Ethiopians). The Assyrian army was going to turn them into distressed and captive nations under their iron rule.
What is God trying to teach us in the 21st century?
God’s word was not getting through to the people of God so He ordered Isaiah to supplement the spoken prophesy with this powerful visual prophetic demonstration. He did this to try and get the people of God to listen to what He was telling them.
Nakedness is not a good state. In Revelation 3:17 Jesus is critical of the Laodicean church for not realising they are spiritually naked. They were naked because they were lukewarm towards Jesus in their love and deeds. They did not clothe themselves with Christ’s righteousness. Later in the book of Isaiah, God commands us to be clothed in white, (symbolising God’s righteousness in our lives). When we do not seek God’s approval and our hearts lead us astray, we can lose the covering of righteousness over our lives. In this state, we have sin, that has not been put under the blood of Christ and not cleansed from our lives. It is like we are poor and naked in Isaiah’s analogy.
When we put our hopes in mere human beings, in worldly possessions and not in God, we are led astray by such things. This displeases God. We should not be surprised when we are profoundly disappointed, Isaiah in verse 5 uses the word “dismayed”. We are called by Isaiah and others to repent. God is serious about having our attention and allowing His Lordship over our lives.
Suggested prayer: Father God, may You become and remain the first love of our lives. Forgive us when we have put our trust in the wrong people and things. Help us repent and turn to you again. We want to discern Your heart and will and be obedient to Your Word in our generation. In Jesus Name. Amen.