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.
Verse 1. - THE TRIPLE JUDGMENT ON THE POWERS OF DARKNESS. The crowning judgment of all is now briefly described. "In that day" - the day of God's vengeance - when all his other enemies have been put down, Jehovah shall finally visit with his sword three mighty foes, which are described under three figures - the first as "Leviathan, the swift serpent;" the second as "Leviathan, the crooked serpent; "and the third as "the dragon that is in the sea." It has been usual to see in these three monsters three kingdoms inimical to God - either Assyria, Babylon, and Egypt; or Assyria, Egypt, and Tyre; or Media, Persia, and Egypt. But this diversity of interpretation shows that there is no particular fitness in the emblems to symbolize any special kingdoms or world-powers, while the imagery itself and the law of climax alike point to something higher than world-powers being intended. "Leviathan," in Job 3:8, where the word first occurs, represents a supra-mundane power - probably "the dragon, the enemy of light, who in old Eastern traditions is conceived as ready to swallow up sun and moon, and plunge creation in original chaos or darkness" ('Speaker's Commentary,' vol. 4. p. 28); and the "dragon" is a customary emblem of Satan himself (Psalm 91:13; Isaiah 51:9; Revelation 12:7, 9), the prince of darkness. The triple vengeance here is parallel to the triple punishment, in the apocalyptic vision (Revelation 19:20; Revelation 20:10), of "the devil," "the beast," and "the false prophet," who have been termed by commentators "the three great enemies of God's kingdom" (see 'Speaker's Commentary on the New Testament,' vol. 4. p. 802). Verse 1. - The Lord with his sore and great and strong sword. The "sword" of Jehovah is first heard of in the Pentateuch, where it is called" glittering" (Deuteronomy 32:41). It is spoken of by David (Psalm 7:12), and frequently by Isaiah (see Isaiah 31:8; Isaiah 34:5, 6; 46:16). Mr. Cheyne supposes the idea to have been taken from the Baby-Ionian mythology, and seems to think it half material. But it is merely on a par with other anthrepomorphisms. The word rendered "sore" probably means "well-tempered," "keen." Leviathan. Etymologically, the term "Leviathan" appears to mean "that which is coiled" or "twisted," whence it would seem to have been primarily applied, as in the present verse, to serpents. In Job 41:1-34, however, it manifestly designates the crocodile, while in Psalm 104:26 it must be used of some kind of cetacean. Thus its most appropriate English rendering would be "monster." The piercing serpent; rather, the fleet, or fugitive serpent. It is a general characteristic of the snake tribe to glide away and hide themselves when disturbed. Even leviathan that crooked serpent; rather, and also leviathan that crooked serpent. It is quite clear that two distinct foes of God are pointed at - one characterized as "fleet," the other as "tortuous." And he shall slay the dragon. Here is mention of a third enemy, probably Satan himself (see the introductory paragraph to this section).
In that day sing ye unto her, A vineyard of red wine.
Verses 2-6. - GOD'S CARE FOR HIS VINEYARD. This piece may be called a companion picture to Isaiah 5:1-7, or a joy-song to be set over against that dirge. In both the figure of the vineyard is employed to express the people of God, and God is "the Lord of the vineyard." But whereas, on the former occasion, all was wrath and fury, menace and judgment, here all is mercy and loving-kindness, protection and promise. The difference is, no doubt, not with God, "with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning" (James 1:17), but with the vineyard, which is either not the same, or, if the same, then differently circumstanced. The vineyard of Isaiah 5. is beyond all doubt the Jewish Church in the time of Isaiah, or in the times shortly after. The vineyard of the present place is either the Christian Church, or the Jewish Church reformed and purified by suffering. It is not the Church triumphant in heaven, since there are still "briars and thorns" in it, and there are still those belonging to it who have to "make their peace with God." The prophet has come back from his investigations of the remote future and the supra-mundane sphere to something which belongs to earth, and perhaps not to a very distant period. His second "song of the vineyard" may well comfort the Church through all her earthly struggles. Verse 2. - Sing ye unto her. Our translators have, strangely enough, inverted the order of the two clauses, which stand thus in the Hebrew: "A vineyard of red wine; sing ye unto it, "or "sing ye of it." The "vineyard of red wine" is one that produces abundance of rich fruit.
I the LORD do keep it; I will water it every moment: lest any hurt it, I will keep it night and day.
Verse 3. - I the Lord do keep it; or, guard it (comp. Isaiah 26:3; Isaiah 42:6; Isaiah 49:8; Psalm 121:5). Vineyards were considered to require special watching, since they were liable to damage both from thieves and foxes (Song of Solomon 2:15). It was usual to build towers in them, from which a watch could be kept (Isaiah 5:2; Matthew 21:33). I will water it every moment (compare the threat in Isaiah 5:6, "I will command my clouds that they rain no rain upon it"). The Church needs and receives "the continual dew of God's blessing."
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.
Verse 4. - Fury is not in me; i.e. "I am not now angered against my vineyard, as on the former occasion (Isaiah 5:4-7); or at any rate my anger now is not fury." (Isaiah frequently ascribes "fury" to God, as in Isaiah 34:2; Isaiah 42:25; Isaiah 51:17, 20, 22; Isaiah 59:18; Isaiah 63:3, 5, 6; Isaiah 66:15.) Who would set the briars and thorns against me in battle? The "briars and thorns" are apparently unrighteous members of the Church, who have fallen below their privileges. God asks, "Who will set the briars and thorns in array against me?" in a tone of contempt. "Who will dare to do battle against me with such weak material?" And then he adds a forecast of the result in such a case: "I would move forward; I would burn them all together" (comp. Isaiah 10:17).
Or let him take hold of my strength, that he may make peace with me; and he shall make peace with me.
Verse 5. - Or let him take hold of my strength. There is another alternative. If the "thorns and the briars" are not prepared to contend in battle against God, let them adopt a different course. Let them "lay hold of God's strength," place themselves under his protection, and make their appeal to him, and see if they cannot "make their peace with him." A truly evangelical invitation! The enemies of God are entreated to cease from striving against him, and are taught that the door of repentance is still open to them. God is willing to be reconciled even to his enemies. Let them make peace with him, make peace with him. The reiteration constitutes an appeal of extreme earnestness and tenderness, which none could reject but the utterly impenitent.
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.
Verse 6. - He shall cause them that come of Jacob to take root; rather, in the days to come Jacob shall strike root. Jacob, lately the vineyard, is now compared to a single vine, which becomes strong by striking its roots deep into the soil, and then, as a consequence, blossoms and buds, and fills the face of the world with fruit. So the Israel of God, firmly rooted in the soil of God's favor, would blossom with graces of all kinds, and bring forth the abundant fruit of good works.
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?
Verses 7-11. - THE COMING JUDGMENT UPON JUDAH A CHASTISEMENT IN WHICH MERCY IS BLENDED WITH JUSTICE. A coming judgment upon Judah has been one of the main subjects of Isaiah's prophecy from the beginning. It has been included in the catalogue of "burdens" (see Isaiah 22.). It will have to be one of the prophet's main subjects to the end of his "book." Hence he may at any time recur to it, as he does now, without special reason or excuse. In this place the special aspect under which the judgment presents itself to him is that of its merciful character,
(1) in degree (vers. 7, 8);
(2) in intention (ver. 9).
While noting this, he feels, however, bound to note also, that the judgment is, while it lasts, severe (vers. 10, 11). Verse 7. - Hath he smitten him; etc.? i.e. "Has God smitten Judah, as he '(God) smote Judah's smiters?" Judah's chief smiters were Assyria and Babylon. The judgments upon them would be more severe than that upon Judah. They would be destroyed; Judah would be taken captive, and restored. Them that are slain by him; rather, them that slew him (so Lowth, Ewald, Knobel, and Mr. Cheyne). But, to obtain this meaning, the pointing of the present text must be altered. The law of parallelism seems, however, to require the alteration.
In measure, when it shooteth forth, thou wilt debate with it: he stayeth his rough wind in the day of the east wind.
Verse 8. - Our translators have entirely mistaken the meaning of this verse. The proper rendering is, In measure, when thou puttest her away, thou wilt contend with her; he sighed with his keen breath in the day of the east wind. "In measure" means "with forbearance and moderation" - the punishment being carefully adjusted to the degree of the offence. God was about to "put Judah away" - to banish her into a far country; but still he would refrain himself - he would "not suffer his whole displeasure to arise," or give her over wholly to destruction. In the day of the east wind, or of the national catastrophe, when his breath was fierce and hard against his people, he would "sigh" at the needful chastisement. As Dr. Kay well says, "Amid the rough and stern severity which he breathed into the tempest, there was an undertone of sadness and grief."
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.
Verse 9. - By this; i.e. "by the punishment inflicted." God accepts punishment as an expiation of sin; and this punishment of Judah was especially intended to be expiatory, and to remove at once his guilt, and the evil temper which had led him into sin. Its fruit would be a revulsion from idolatry, which would show itself in a fierce determination to destroy all idolatrous emblems and implements, altars, groves, images, and the like. This spirit was strongly shown in the Maccabee period (see 1 Macc. 5:44, 68 1 Macc. 10:84 1 Macc. 13:47, etc.). He maketh all the stones of the altar as chalkstones. A calcining of the stones into lime is probably intended. It was usual to subject the idolatrous objects to the action of fire, and then to stamp them into powder (2 Kings 23:4, 6, 11, 12, 15, etc.). The groves and images (comp. 1 Kings 15:13; 1 Kings 16:33; 2 Kings 17:10; 2 Chronicles 14:3; and see the comment on Isaiah 17:8).
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.
Verse 10. - Yet the defensed city shall be desolate. Though her punishment is in mercy, as a chastisement which is to purge away her sin, yet Jerusalem shall for a time be desolate, void, without inhabitant, left like a wilderness. Forsaken; or, put away; the same word that is used in ver. 8 of Jerusalem. There shall the calf feed. A familiar image of desolation (comp. Isaiah 5:17; Isaiah 17:2; Isaiah 32:14, etc.).
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.
Verse 11. - When the boughs thereof are withered, they shall be broken off. By a sudden introduction of metaphor, the city becomes a tree, the prophet's thought going back, perhaps, to ver. 6. "Withered boughs" are indications of internal rottenness, and must be "broken off" to give the tree a chance of recovery. Samaria may be viewed as such a "bough," if the "tree" be taken as "the Israel of God" in the wider sense. Otherwise, we must suppose a threat against individual Judaeans. The women come. Weak women are strong enough to break off dead branches; they fall at a touch, and "their end is to be burned" (Hebrews 6:8). For it is a people of no understanding. It was folly, madness, to turn away from Jehovah, and go after other gods. Only through having "no understanding" could Israel have been so foolish (comp. Deuteronomy 32:28; 2 Kings 17:15; Jeremiah 4:22). He that made them... he that formed them (scrap. Isaiah 43. ], 7). God "hateth nothing that he has made" (Collect for Ash Wednesday). He made all men, but he "made" and "formed" Israel with exceptional care, and exceptional care leads on to exceptional love. Will not have mercy... will show them no favor; i.e. "will not spare." No contradiction of vers. 7, 8 is intended. God will have "measure" and "mercy" in his punishment of Israel, but will not so have mercy as not to punish severely.
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.
Verses 12, 13. - JUDAH PROMISED RESTORATION. The general practice of Isaiah is to append to gloomy prophecies words of encouragement He does this even when heathen nations are denounced (Isaiah 18:7; Isaiah 19:18-25; Isaiah 23:17, 18); and still more when he is predicting judgments upon Israel (Isaiah 2:2-4; Isaiah 6:13; Isaiah 10:20-34; Isaiah 24:23; Isaiah 29:18-24, etc.). The encouragement in this place is a promise of return after dispersion, and of re-establishment on the "holy mount at Jerusalem" (ver. 19). Verse 12. - The Lord shall beat off; i.e. "gather in his harvest." The metaphor is taken either from the beating of olive trees to obtain the berries (see Isaiah 17:6), or from the beating out of the grain by a threshing-flail (Judges 6:11; Ruth 2:17; and below. Isaiah 28:27). Perhaps the best translation would be, The Lord shall thresh. From the channel of the river; rather, from the strong stream of the river. As usual, "the river" (hannahar) is the Euphrates (comp. Genesis 31:21; Exodus 23:31; Deuteronomy 11:24; Joshua 24:2, 3, 14, 15, etc.). Its "strong stream," or "flood," is contrasted with the scant thread of water which was alone to be found in the "Torrens AEgypti." The stream of Egypt (nachal Mizraim) is generally allowed to be the modern Wady el Arish, which was appointed to be the southern boundary of the Holy Land (Numbers 34:5; 1 Kings 8:65). The Lord would collect within these limits all that were of Israel. He would also, as appears from the next verse, subsequently overstep the limits.
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.
Verse 13. - The great trumpet shall be blown; rather, a great trumpet (comp. Matthew 24:31; 1 Corinthians 15:52; 1 Thessalonians 4:16). This imagery, and the return of the Israelites from Egypt and Assyria, point rather to the final gathering of Israel into the Church triumphant than to the return from the Babylonian captivity. Egypt and Assyria were certainly not the countries from which they came chiefly at that time. But they are the countries from which they will chiefly come when Jehovah "sets his hand again the second time to recover the remnant of his people" (Isaiah 11:11). The outcasts (comp. Isaiah 11:12).