Barefoot in the Desert

Have you ever felt prompted by the Holy Spirit to go, do, give or say something that made you feel uncomfortable? You would be in good company. Our God of unsearchable understanding (Isaiah 39:28) often assigns uncomfortable tasks. I was recently intrigued by an exchange between God and his prophet Isaiah:

“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. Then the Lord said ‘As my servant Isaiah has walked naked and barefoot for three years as a sign and a portent against Egypt and Cush, so shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptian captives and the Cushite exiles, both the young and the old, naked and barefoot, with buttocks uncovered, the nakedness of Egypt’.” Isaiah 20:2-4

I am struck by the seeming unfairness of God’s request. He did not give any initial explanation or deeper purpose for his command to strip. God did not offer Isaiah incentives or a timeline for his humiliation. He simply said, “go and loose” essentially telling Isaiah to foretell the punishment of shame and exposure by suffering the punishment himself.

I am further struck by Isaiah’s humble response. He didn’t question, argue or complain. I can imagine my response if I were Isaiah, “You want me to do what? I’m already donning sackcloth. You remember I live in a desert? How long am I going to have to walk around like this? This is even worse than naming my son Maher-shalal-hash-baz as a portent for your judgment! I’m so sick of all this doom and gloom. When can I have a different assignment?” Isaiah didn’t say any of that or anything at all; instead he obediently “did so.” For three years, he walked naked and barefoot among his family, friends and enemies unprotected in the blistering desert sun.

How? How could Isaiah walk with such faith and not question God’s goodness or resent the uncomfortable? Isaiah exposes his secret a few chapters later:

“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.” Isaiah 26:3-4

Isaiah’s mind was stayed, steadfast, set on the Lord God: he had spiritual tunnel vision– an eye to the eternal. Isaiah filtered all of life through his intimate relationship with the everlasting God. His relationship bred trust and his trust bred peace because God does not disappoint:

“This God—his way is perfect; the word of the LORD proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him. For who is God, but the LORD? And who is a rock, except our God?—the God who equipped me with strength and made my way blameless.” Psalms 18:30-32

Yes, our God can direct in uncomfortable ways, but our Everlasting Rock steadies our footsteps. His Word proves ever trustworthy. He equips His servants with peace, strength and righteousness. He is an ever-present help and refuge. So that we can join Isaiah in praising through the pain, “Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.”

When God asks us to go barefoot in the desert, may we respond with humble obedience. As we navigate the discomforts and pain of this fallen world, may we look to the Cross; look to the Savior; look to the promised future with our Bridegroom. The more we look, the more we’ll want to look. We’ll look and long and trust and love and yield a perfect peace.

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