Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
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.XXVII.
(1) Leviathan the piercing serpent.—Rather, fleet, or fugitive. The verse paints in vivid symbolic language the judgment of Jehovah on the great world-powers that had shed the blood of His people. The “sword of the Lord” (primarily, perhaps, representing the lightning-flash) is turned in its threefold character as sore, and swift, and strong, against three great empires. These are represented, as in Ezekiel 17:3; Ezekiel 29:3 Daniel 7:3-7, by monstrous forms of animal life. The “dragon” is as in Isaiah 51:19; Psalm 74:13-14; Ezekiel 29:3; Ezekiel 32:2, the standing emblem of Egypt: the other two, so generically like, that the “leviathan” (“crocodile” in Job 41:1, but here, probably, generically for a monster of the serpent type) serves as a common type for both, while each has its distinctive epithet, may refer respectively to Assyria and Babylon, the epithets indicating (1) the rapid rush of the Tigris and the tortuous windings of the Euphrates; and (2) the policy characteristic of each empire, of which the rivers were looked upon as symbols, one rapidly aggressive, the other advancing as by a sinuous deceit. By some commentators, however, Egypt is represented in all three clauses; while others (Cheyne) see in them the symbols not of earthly empire, but of rebel powers of evil and darkness, quoting Job 26:12-13 in support of his view.
In that day sing ye unto her, A vineyard of red wine.(2) In that day sing ye . . .—The prophet appears once again, as in Isaiah 26:1, as the hymn writer of the future day of the triumph of the redeemed. He had chanted a dirge over the vineyard that was unfruitful, and therefore given over to desolation. He now changes the wailing into a poem. The word translated “red wine” (comp. Deuteronomy 32:14) signifies “fiery,” or “foaming.” The LXX. seems to have followed a different text, giving (with the alteration of a single letter) the meaning, “a pleasant vineyard.”
I the LORD do keep it; I will water it every moment: lest any hurt it, I will keep it night and day.(3) I the Lord do keep it.—The words imply a distinct reversal of the sentence passed in Isaiah 5:1-7. Instead of abandonment, there is constant care. Instead of the clouds being commanded to give no rain, the vineyard is watered whenever it requires watering. Instead of being wasted by the wild boar or by spoilers, Jehovah tends it both by day and night.
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.(4) Fury is not in me.—Better, There is no wrath in me. Who will set briars and thorns before me? With war will I go forth against them; I will burn them up together. The reversal of the sentence is continued. Wrath against this vineyard has passed away from Jehovah. Should briars and thorns (symbols of the enemies of His people, as in Isaiah 9:18; Isaiah 10:17; 2Samuel 23:6-7; Ezekiel 2:6) spring up, he will do battle against them, and consume them utterly.
Or let him take hold of my strength, that he may make peace with me; and he shall make peace with me.(5) Or let him take hold of my strength.—Or, Let him lay hold on my fortress: let him make peace with Me. The thought implied is that even the enemies of Jehovah, if repentant, may find in Him “their castle and deliverer.” To them, too, there is the gracious invitation to make peace.
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.(6) He shall cause them that come of Jacob . . .—Better, In the days that come Jacob shall strike root. The figure of Israel as the vine of Jehovah’s vineyard is carried to its close. The true Israel of God shall go through its normal stages of growth, and its restoration shall be as “the riches of the Gentiles” (Romans 11:12; Hosea 14:6). With this picture of blessedness the psalm of the Church of the future comes to an end.
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?(7) Hath he smitten him . . .—The pronouns are left in the English Version somewhat obscure, but the use of capitals makes the meaning plain: “Hath He (Jehovah) smitten him (Israel) as He smote those that smote him; or is he slain according to the slaughter of those that are slain by Him?” A slight alteration in the last clause in the text gives, according to the slaughter of his slayers. In any case the thought is that Jehovah had chastised the guilt with a leniency altogether exceptional. They had not been punished as others had been. The words admit, however, of another meaning, which is preferred by some critics, viz., that Jehovah doth not smite Israel with the smiting like that with which his (Israel’s) smiters smote him—i.e., had not punished, as the oppressors had punished, ruthlessly and in hate, but had in His wrath remembered mercy.
In measure, when it shooteth forth, thou wilt debate with it: he stayeth his rough wind in the day of the east wind.(8) In measure . . .—Literally, with the force of iteration, with measure and measure. The verse continues the thought of the preceding. The word for “measure” is strictly definite: the seah, or third part of an ephah (comp. Isaiah 5:10), and therefore used as proverbial for its smallness, to express the extreme moderation of God’s chastisements.
When it shooteth forth, thou wilt debate With it.—Better, When thou didst put her away, thou didst plead with her. The prophet falls back upon the thought of Hosea 1-3, that Israel was the adulterous wife to whom Jehovah had given, as it were, a bill of divorcement, but against whom He did not carry the pleadings to the furthest point that the rigour of the law allowed. Comp. for this meaning Isaiah 1:1; Deuteronomy 24:1; Malachi 2:16.
He stayeth his rough wind . . .—The words have become familiar, as expressing the loving-kindness which will not heap chastisement on chastisement, lest a man should be swallowed up of overmuch sorrow, which keeps the “rough wind” from completing the devastation already wrought by the scorching “east wind.” That rendering, however, can scarcely be maintained. The word translated “stay” is found elsewhere in Proverbs 25:4-5, and there has the sense of “separating,” or “sifting.” And this is its sense here also, the thought expressed asserting, though in another form than the traditional rendering, the compassion of Jehovah, in that He sifts with his rough wind in the day of east wind; though punishment come on punishment, it is reformatory, and not simply penal, to sift, and not to destroy. A rendering accepted by some critics gives, He sigheth with His rough wind, as though with a sorrowing pity mingled with the chastisement.
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.(9) By this therefore shall the iniquity of Jacob be purged.—The pronoun may refer either to the chastisement of the previous verse as the instrument of purification (preferably), or to the destruction of idols which follows as the result and proof of that purification, the end contemplated by Jehovah in His chastisements.
This is all the fruit to take away his sin.—Better, of taking away his sin. The words repeat the thought of the previous clause. The fruit of repentance and forgiveness will be found in rooting out all vestiges of idol-worship. The LXX., “when I shall take away their sins,” is quoted by St. Paul in Romans 11:27.
The groves and images.—Literally, as elsewhere, the Asherahs, or the sun-images, the two leading features of the cultus which Israel had borrowed from the Phœnicians. In the action of Josiah (2Chronicles 34:3-4) we may, with little doubt, trace a conscious endeavour to fulfil the condition which Isaiah had thus proclaimed. He sought to “purge” Judah and Jerusalem from the “groves and the carved (sun) images, and molten images.”
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.(10) The defenced city shall be desolate . . .—The key to this prediction is found in Isaiah 25:2, where the same words occur. The “defenced city” is that of the strangers, who are the enemies of God’s people, and its destruction is contrasted with the restoration of the purified Jerusalem of the preceding verse. To see in the “defenced city” which is to be laid low Jerusalem itself is at variance with the natural sequence of thought. The picture of desolation—calves feeding in what had been the busy streets of a populous city—is analogous to that of the “wild beasts of the desert,” roaring among the ruins of Babylon, in Isaiah 13:21-22.
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.(11) When the boughs thereof are withered . . .—The picture of the wasted city receives another touch. Shrubs cover its open spaces (perhaps the prophet thinks of the gardens and parks within the walls of a city like Babylon), and women come, without fear of trespassing, to gather them for firewood.
For it is a people of no understanding.—The words are generic enough, and may be applied, like similar words in Isaiah 1:3; Jeremiah 8:7; Deuteronomy 32:28, to Israel as apostate, or to the world-power, which was the enemy of Israel. In this case, as we have seen, the context turns the scale in favour of the latter reference. So taken, the words are suggestive, as witnessing to the prophet’s belief that the God of Israel was also the Maker and the Former of the nations of the heathen world.
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.(12) The Lord shall beat off . . .—The English Version conveys scarcely any meaning. The verb used is that which we find in Isaiah 28:27 for the “beating out” of seeds from their husks, as a form of threshing. In Deuteronomy 24:20 it is used of the beating down of the olive crop. So understood, the words imply a promise, like that of Isaiah 17:6, but on a far wider scale. Instead of the gleaning of a few olives from the topmost boughs, there should be a full and abundant gathering, and yet each single olive, “one by one” should receive an undivided care. Judah and Israel should once more be peopled as in the days of old, and the ideal boundaries or their territory should be restored.
The channel, or flood of the river, is the Euphrates.
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.(13) The great trumpet shall be blown . . .—The symbolism had a probable origin in the silver trumpets which were used in the journeys of the Israelites “for the calling of the assembly and for the journeying of the camps” (Numbers 10:1-10), and which were solemnly blown in the year of Jubilee on the eve of the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 25:9). It re-appears in the Apocalyptic eschatology of Matthew 24:31; 1Corinthians 15:52; 1Thessalonians 4:16, standing there, as here, for any great event that heralds the fulfilment of a Divine purpose. That purpose, in this instance, is the proclamation of the Year of Redemption, the restoration of the dispersed of Israel from the countries of their exile, of which, as in Isaiah 11:11; Isaiah 19:23, Assyria and Egypt are the two chief representatives. (Comp. Zephaniah 3:10.)