William Kelly Major Works Commentary
In that day the LORD with his sore and great and strong sword shall punish leviathan the piercing serpent, even leviathan that crooked serpent; and he shall slay the dragon that is in the sea.Isaiah Chapter 27
This is the closing portion of the series that has been occupying us. It is "in that day," while Isa. 28 manifestly introduces a new part of the prophecy.
The great crisis is arrived. Not only does Jehovah come out of His place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity, and the earth is compelled to disclose her deeds of blood, and her slain shall be covered no more; but there are yet greater things. For "in that day Jehovah with his sore and great and strong sword will visit leviathan, the piercing serpent (or, fugitive), and leviathan, the crooked serpent; and he will slay the dragon (or, monster) that is in the sea" (v. 1).* It is the execution of divine judgement on the power of Satan, figuratively set forth under forms suited to describe his hostility as at work against Israel among the Gentiles. "The day of Jehovah" takes in not only the thousand years of peaceful reign, but a little more.
*Delitzch suggests a reference to the Assyrian and Babylonian powers, answering to the swift and straight river Hiddekel, and the very winding Euphrates respectively. But the serpent in either form points to the subtle foe behind the scene.
Thence the Spirit turns to Jehovah's ways with His own. "In that day [shall be] a vineyard of pure wine; sing concerning it: I Jehovah keep it; I will water it every moment: lest [any] harm it, I will keep it night and day" (vv. 2, 3). His care never failed, whatever the times that passed over His land and people. When earth comes once more into His view, and consequently Israel, His watchful goodness will prove itself unremitting on their behalf. "Fury [is] not in me. Oh that I had briars [and] thorns against me in battle! I would march through them, I would burn them together. Or let him take hold of my strength; let him make peace with me, peace let him make with me" (vv. 4, 5). There seems not a little obscurity in the language, if one may judge from the discrepancies of expositors, and the difficulty of suggesting such a sense as carries the unbiased along with it. But assuming that the substantial force is given in the English Bible, Jehovah on the one hand challenges the adversaries and warns of their sure destruction; on the other He proffers His own protection as the only door of peace and safety. The next verse is transparent, "In future Jacob shall take root; Israel shall bud and blossom, and fill the face of the world with fruit" (v. 6). Such is the purpose of Jehovah, and it shall stand.
It was not only purpose, however: there was patient and persevering discipline in His ways with Israel. "Hath he smitten him, as he smote those that smote him? [or] is he slain according to the slaughter of them that are slain by him? In measure, in sending her away, didst thou contend (or, wilt debate) with her? He hath removed [her] with his rough wind in the day of the east wind. By this, therefore, shall the iniquity of Jacob be purged; and this [is] all the fruit of taking away his sin; when he maketh all the stones of the altar as chalkstones that are beaten in pieces - the Asherahs and the sun images shall not stand. For the fortified city [is] solitary, a habitation deserted and forsaken like a wilderness: there shall the calf feed, and there shall he lie down, and consume its boughs. When its branches are withered, they shall be broken off: women come [and] set them on fire. For it [is] a people of no understanding: therefore he that made them will not have mercy on them, and ho that formed them will show them no favour" (vv. 7-11). Thus, there was indeed a mighty difference in God's ways with Israel and their enemies. Faithfully did He chastise them in their pride, and rebelliousness, and unbelief; but it was not with the unsparing judgement which uprooted and destroyed His and their foes. There was slaughter too; but what was it in comparison of those that are destined to be slain before the day of restitution arrives? In Israel's case judgement was tempered with mercy; His dealing was measured. In His debate or controversy with Israel He deigned to plead; and even when the sorest trial came, there was a gracious mitigation and arrest in His people's favour; and not this only, but also moral profit, when every trace of idolatry should be ground like chalkstones to powder. They must not be surprised, then, if in such mighty changes the works of the men of the earth passed away, the defended city was desolated, the habitation forsaken and left like a wilderness only relieved by pasturage for the calf, and by withered, broken firewood for women to come and set on fire; for oh! the folly of the people and the ruin they bring justly, necessarily, on themselves.
Yet here, as elsewhere, great tribulation is the immediate precursor of a greater deliverance. "And it shall come to pass in that day [that] Jehovah shall beat off from the flood of the river unto the torrent of Egypt, and ye shall be gathered one by one, O children of Israel" (v. 12). The Judge of all the earth must do right; but He will interpose in saving and sovereign mercy. He will sift out and gather the Israelites one by one. Nay more, "And it shall come to pass in that day [that] the great trumpet shall be blown, and they shall come that were perishing in the land of Assyria, and the outcasts in the land of Egypt; and they shall worship Jehovah in the holy mountain at Jerusalem" (v. 13). Those who have accompanied me thus far will have no trouble or doubt in determining the true application. It is the trumpet of Matthew 24:31, not of 1 Thessalonians 4:16 and 1 Corinthians 15:52. The latter scriptures refer to the divine summons to the heavenly saints; our chapter, as well as the passage in the first Gospel, describes the call to Israel to re assemble, from north and south, to worship Jehovah at Jerusalem.
It may be noticed that as Isa. 26 was occupied with Judah and its land, however deep it might go, our chapter which deals with the crushing of Satan's power in various forms goes on to Israel; and this throughout, so as to prove it is not casual.
"We know not" (justly said the eloquent H. Melvill) "with what eyes those men can read Prophecy, who discover not in its announcements the final restoration and conversion of the Jews. It is useless to resolve into figurative language, or to explain, by a purely spiritual [rather, mystical] interpretation, predictions which seem to assert the reinstatement of the exiles in the land of their fathers, and their becoming the chief preachers of the religion which they have so long laboured to bring into contempt. These predictions are inseparably bound up with others, which refer to their dispersion and unbelief; so that if you spiritualize [or, allegorise] any one, you must spiritualise the whole. And since every word has had a literal accomplishment, so far as the dispersion and unbelief are concerned, how can we doubt that every word will have also a literal accomplishment, so far as the restoration and conversion are concerned? If the event had proved the predicted dispersion to be figurative, the event in all probability would prove also the predicted restoration to be figurative. But so long as we find the two foretold in the same sentence, with no intimation that we are not to apply to both the same rule of interpretation we seem bound to expect, either in both cases a literal fulfilment or in both a spiritual; and since in the one instance the fulfilment has been undoubtedly literal, have we not every reason for concluding that it will be literal in the other?"
(Sermon on the Dispersion and Conversion of the Jews, 131, 132 preached at Cambridge in February, 1837)
In that day sing ye unto her, A vineyard of red wine.
I the LORD do keep it; I will water it every moment: lest any hurt it, I will keep it night and day.
Fury is not in me: who would set the briers and thorns against me in battle? I would go through them, I would burn them together.
Or let him take hold of my strength, that he may make peace with me; and he shall make peace with me.
He shall cause them that come of Jacob to take root: Israel shall blossom and bud, and fill the face of the world with fruit.
Hath he smitten him, as he smote those that smote him? or is he slain according to the slaughter of them that are slain by him?
In measure, when it shooteth forth, thou wilt debate with it: he stayeth his rough wind in the day of the east wind.
By this therefore shall the iniquity of Jacob be purged; and this is all the fruit to take away his sin; when he maketh all the stones of the altar as chalkstones that are beaten in sunder, the groves and images shall not stand up.
Yet the defenced city shall be desolate, and the habitation forsaken, and left like a wilderness: there shall the calf feed, and there shall he lie down, and consume the branches thereof.
When the boughs thereof are withered, they shall be broken off: the women come, and set them on fire: for it is a people of no understanding: therefore he that made them will not have mercy on them, and he that formed them will shew them no favour.
And it shall come to pass in that day, that the LORD shall beat off from the channel of the river unto the stream of Egypt, and ye shall be gathered one by one, O ye children of Israel.
And it shall come to pass in that day, that the great trumpet shall be blown, and they shall come which were ready to perish in the land of Assyria, and the outcasts in the land of Egypt, and shall worship the LORD in the holy mount at Jerusalem.