In Isaiah 20:2 (ESV) we read (ESV):

at that time the Lord spoke by Isaiah the son of Amoz, saying, “Go, and loose the sackcloth from your waist and take off your sandals from your feet,” and he did so, walking naked and barefoot.

Most other versions also have Isaiah walking around "naked and barefoot".

But the NET bible has:

At that time the Lord announced through Isaiah son of Amoz: “Go, remove the sackcloth from your waist and take your sandals off your feet.” He did as instructed and walked around in undergarments and barefoot.

What are the reasons for the different translations? (Was Isaiah stark naked for 3 years or just in his undies?)

2 Answers 2


Great question! This is one of those passages in Scripture that causes many first-time readers to choke a bit and say, "Wait -- what??" In fact, some people are positively disturbed by the possiblity that the Lord would subject one of his servants -- one of his precious messengers, no less! -- to such a shameful assignment. It is no surprise that some translators try to "soften" it somewhat and make it less objectionable. Are such translations warranted? From my point of view, the answer to this question must take into consideration both lexical and contextual indicators.

From a lexical standpoint, the word in question (עָרוֹם) is used 16 times in the Hebrew Scriptures. Many of those very clearly refer to being "naked as a newborn baby" (Job 1:21; Eccl 5:15), such as Adam & Eve in the Garden (Gen 2:25). Other references are not as definitive; i.e., they could feasibly be construed to mean "stripped to one's underclothes" (e.g. 1 Sam. 19:24, Amos 2:16), but it is by no means obvious from the context that such an interpretation is intended. In fact, it is important to note that not a single one of the references gives any definitive indication of underclothes or partial garments. (Unlike the Greek word for "naked (γυμνός), which clearly does have that semantic range; cf. Jn 21:7. But that is a different language, so it really bares no weight here.) So, based on the usage of the word itself, the evidence clearly leans toward "completely naked". Although, it should be pointed out that, in the one other reference to somebody prophecying without clothes on (King Saul, in 1 Sam. 19:24; same word there), we're told the on-lookers were more shocked by his prophecy than by his attire. Perhaps they were somewhat accustomed to the eccentricities of the prophets. Indeed, according to Isaiah himself, it was not uncommon in those days to see poor people naked (Isa 58:7).

On the other hand, however, there are some contextual clues that might modify this conclusion somewhat: First, we are told (twice) that Isaiah was "naked and barefoot". The addition of the word "barefoot" is interesting. As Young points out: "Had he been completely naked, there would be no need for this additional description" (source, p. 55). Furthermore, we find out just a few verses later that the actual event which Isaiah is symbolically foretelling is the capture of the Egyptians, who will be led away "with bared buttocks" (Isa 20:4; i.e., not entirely naked). Subjecting prisoners of war to such shame was not uncommon in that region (cf. 2 Sam 10:4). Since this is what Isaiah is predicting, it would make sense that his physical representation would match the condition of those captives exactly. Taken together, these two contextual indicators may suggest that, when Isaiah was commanded to "loose the sackcloth from [his] waist", it may have been only the lower half or the back half of his garment that he was to remove. In any case, it is almost certain that, at the very least, his wardrobe adjustment included a bare butt. But whatever the outfit looked like, it was certainly intended to be a graphical and jarring prediction of a shameful humiliation. Isaiah was not merely stripping down to a tank-top and boxers.

So I can't say my answer is conclusive, but I do believe it is clear that God wanted to grab the people's attention in a shocking and unforgettable way. There is no Biblical warrant to suggest that Isaiah wasn't exposing far more than you or I would ever be comfortable doing. I suppose the cultural implications of his day may not have been quite as objectionable as it would be today if your pastor showed up Sunday in nothing but a g-string, but there is no question that this was a humbling (if not humiliating) assignment for Isaiah. Make no mistake: God's call on a man's life is disruptive, and His commission expects total obedience. Isaiah is an example of a man who was willing to say "Yes" to his King no matter the cost to his own personal reputation or respectability.


The NET rendition is to avoid the misunderstanding that Isaiah was completely nude. It is a more nuanced rendering. The word "naked" can also mean stripped or partially naked. Just as even we today might use the word "naked" to describe a woman in indecent clothing.

Isaiah must have wore a Loin cloth.

Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament says:

It was not after the conquest of Ashdod, but in the year in which the siege commenced, that Isaiah received the following admonition: “Go and loosen the smock-frock from off thy loins, and take off thy shoes from thy feet. And he did so, went stripped and barefooted.” We see from this that Isaiah was clothed in the same manner as Elijah, who wore a fur coat (2Ki 1:8, cf., Zec 13:4; Heb 11:37), and John the Baptist, who had a garment of camel hair and a leather girdle round it (Mat 3:4); for sak is a coarse linen or hairy overcoat of a dark colour (Rev 6:12, cf., Isa 50:3), such as was worn by mourners, either next to the skin (‛al-habbâsâr, 1Ki 21:27; 2Ki 6:30; Job 16:15) or over the tunic, in either case being fastened by a girdle on account of its want of shape, for which reason the verb châgar is the word commonly used to signify the putting on of such a garment, instead of lâbash. The use of the word ârōm does not prove that the former was the case in this instance (see, on the contrary, 2Sa 6:20, compared with 2Sa 6:14 and Joh 21:7). With the great importance attached to the clothing in the East, where the feelings upon this point are peculiarly sensitive and modest, a person was looked upon as stripped and naked if he had only taken off his upper garment. What Isaiah was directed to do, therefore, was simply opposed to common custom, and not to moral decency. He was to lay aside the dress of a mourner and preacher of repentance, and to have nothing on but his tunic (cetoneth); and in this, as well as barefooted, he was to show himself in public. This was the costume of a man who had been robbed and disgraced, or else of a beggar or prisoner of war. The word cēn (so) is followed by the inf. abs., which develops the meaning, as in Isa 5:5; Isa 58:6-7.

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