In the year that the supreme commander, sent by Sargon king of Assyria, came to Ashdod and attacked and captured it— at that time the LORD spoke through Isaiah son of Amoz. He said to him, “Take off the sackcloth from your body and the sandals from your feet.” And he did so, going around stripped and barefoot.
Then the LORD said, “Just as my servant Isaiah has gone stripped and barefoot for three years, as a sign and portent against Egypt and Cush, so the king of Assyria will lead away stripped and barefoot the Egyptian captives and Cushite exiles, young and old, with buttocks bared—to Egypt’s shame. Those who trusted in Cush and boasted in Egypt will be afraid and put to shame. In that day the people who live on this coast will say, ‘See what has happened to those we relied on, those we fled to for help and deliverance from the king of Assyria! How then can we escape?’ ” (Isaiah 20:1-6)
Being a prophet is not the glamorous job a lot of people imagine it to be. Sure, it might be nice to have a direct line to God, but on the downside, he doesn’t always call at convenient times. And what he wants you to say is rarely going to be popular or win friends. Certainly you won’t get rich off it; in fact, it is unlikely to be beneficial to your life at all if you’re thinking only in terms of being comfortable.
Israel relied on Egypt to protect them from Assyria. God wanted to show Israel that this was a mistake: Egypt wouldn’t even be able to protect itself from the Assyrians, let alone do anything to help Israel. Trusting in everything and everyone but God would prove embarrassing. The Egyptians would see exile, and those who witnessed it would see more than they bargained for.
God recognized that giving speeches was not the only way to communicate. There was also storytelling, acting, and art. So Isaiah got to be a living parable to illustrate the message God wanted to get across. God was good at communicating and he knew how to get an audience’s attention. Having Isaiah run around without clothes certainly got people’s attention—especially since he did it for three years. Why so long? Perhaps, like any other message, even a naked prophet tended to get ignored. We don’t always like to listen to God, no matter how well he tells the story.