In that day the LORD with his sore and great and strong sword shall punish leviathan the piercing serpent…
We have here a general picture of the events which precede the condition of the inauguration of a new era.
I. THE FIGHT WITH THE MONSTER OR MONSTERS. We cannot enter into the subject of this symbolism, in reference to which, in the absence of definite information, so much of fanciful interpretation has gathered. We cannot refer the serpent or the dragon to the storm-cloud, or lightning, as some have done; nor historically to Egypt and Assyria. Something much deeper seems to be meant, as in the legends of the combat of Apollo, the greatest god of the Greeks, with the Python at Delphi. The dragon is symbolic, in ancient thought generally, of the power of death, of the under-world, into which humanity in its sinfulness and weakness is prone to fall. Jehovah will overcome this fiendish power; such seems to be the meaning of the prophecy.
II. RESTORATION OF ISRAEL TO FAVOR. Here the prophecy passes into song. The Church appears under the favorite image of the vineyard. Jehovah is its Keeper, who waters and watches it by night and by day. His feelings are those of pure love, and his wrath is reserved for those who would injure the sacred enclosure. Were such thorns and thistles before him, he would set them on fire. These are figures of the enemies of the Church (see 2 Samuel 23:6, 7). Yet if ever these yield themselves, they may find mercy. "A truly evangelical belief that God is willing to be reconciled, even to his enemies. Its presence has given the prophecy a spiritual superiority over the other prophetic descriptions of the judgment upon the hostile nations, e.g. Isaiah 66:16. Even according to Isaiah 19:22, Egypt must be first smitten in order that it may be healed" (Cheyne). As the proverb says, "The Name of the Lord is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is safe" (Proverbs 18:10). So here the meaning is, "Let the unrighteous man take sanctuary with Jehovah, and become by penitence and obedience a servant of his." And the elect nation will take root, and throw its sheltering foliage over the nations - a tree of healing (Revelation 22:2); and the blessings of salvation shall be diffused over the world (cf. Isaiah 37:31; Hosea 14:6). The union of Jew and Gentile seems foreshadowed, and the removal of the distinction between them. Salvation was of them and for the world (John 4:22; Ephesians 2:14).
III. THE MITIGATION OF DIVINE CHASTISEMENTS. The punishment of the people has not been so severe as that of their enemies. There was and ever is "measure" in the afflictions of God; they do not exceed the bounds of justice nor the limits of man's enduring power. "He never smites with both hands;" he sifts, but does not destroy. (For the threshing-floor, cf. Isaiah 21:10.) He was wroth, but not without love; has banished, but not put an end to, his people. And now, as ever, he would "reason together" with them, and proclaim the terms upon which he will mercifully accept their repentance as an atonement for guilt. They must destroy the emblems of idolatry, and put an utter end to it; and thus, purged from its filth, be prepared for salvation. Punishment will cease when sin ceases, but not before. And when the sin is honestly put away, it may ever be said to the sinner, "Do as the heavens have done, forget your evil; with them, forgive yourself."
IV. THE FATE OF THE WORLD'S METROPOLIS. For it seems better so to understand the allusion than to Jerusalem. Its fortifications will be razed, its population be dismissed, and the cattle will browse upon the deserted scene. In contrast to the magnificent parks and gardens of the great cities, there will be but stunted bushes, affording firewood to the poor women who come to pick it up (Cheyne). Others, however, understand the prophecy to refer to Jerusalem itself. The reason assigned for the doom is ignorance, as so often in Scripture - guilty ignorance. As the "beginning of wisdom 'is not prudence, policy, science, or philosophy, but the "fear of God," so irreverence and contempt of Divine laws, leading to sensuality and vice, are identical with ignorance and folly. "Such ignorance does not excuse men or lessen the guilt of their wickedness; for they who sin are conscious of their sinfulness, though they are blinded by their lust. Wickedness and ignorance are therefore closely connected, but the connection is of such a nature that ignorance proceeds from the sinful disposition of the mind" (Calvin). Oh "to be wise and to understand" (Deuteronomy 32:29)! How dark and dreadful the ignorance which seems to shut out the favor and compassion of the all-compassionate God!
V. ORACLE OF COMFORT. The hand that smites and brings low is also the hand that raises up; it scatters in judgment, but recalls and gathers together again in mercy. From the great river of Assyria to that of Egypt the children of Israel will be gathered one by one. A great trumpet, signaling the Divine interposition, will be blown (cf. Isaiah 18:3; Isaiah 11:12; Matthew 24:31), and the scattered abroad will be seen throning to the holy mount in Jerusalem. Thus again there rises upon us that glorious vision of a united and redeemed Church, gathered out of all nations, for which change and suffering, conflict and sifting, prepare. All Christian prayer, activity, waiting, and watching point toward the coming of the Christ, the Deliverer, to the spiritual Zion, to turn away ungodliness and to found the new and enduring empire of righteousness. - J.
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.