THE BOOK OF ISAIAH
Defeat the Forces of Evil
Isaiah 27:1-8 SCC 7/7/13
This is the final part of the “Little Apocalypse” of Isaiah 24-27. It moves into eschatological events, spanning the time from Isaiah’s present days through the first return to the land all the way to the end of the age with the great return and the new creation. So much evil in the world and much of what use to be evil is now acceptable, tolerated, and lawful. The fulfillment of the promises that bring blessing and peace will only be possible with the destruction of evil—the wicked on the earth and the evil spirit forces that are using them.
The LORD will destroy the forces of evil (1).
Verse 1: The final deliverance of God’s people must begin with the victory of the evil forces that sought to destroy her. The verse begins with “in that day” which is an expression often used by the prophets for eschatological predictions, usually end-of-the-age predictions. Here the “sword of the LORD” is the means of the victory. Elsewhere in Scripture this is clarified as the decree that comes from His mouth, the Word of the LORD. The “weapon” is powerful: hard and great and strong. The threefold description of God’s powerful word underscores the certainty of His victory over evil.
Leviathan was something very horrific (Job 3:8). It seems to have been a water beast that actually existed (Job 41). The psalmist used it figuratively to describe Egypt, a powerful and deadly enemy of Israel (Psa 104:26). Thus Leviathan was a symbol of immense power enraged against the Lord’s people. Here Leviathan’s descriptions suggest that this dragon-like creature glides swiftly (possibly through the air, as a spirit being), that it is a deadly foe (like a coiling serpent), and that it inhabits the sea (a place notoriously uncontrollable by humans). In short, it seems to stand for the strong spiritual enemies of God’s people. Another view is that the swift serpent is an allusion to the fairly straight Tigris River, the coiling serpent to the more twisting Euphrates River, and the dragon by the sea to Egypt (the Nile River). Thus Assyria, Babylonia, and Egypt are in view. The passage pictures God’s punishment of Israel’s enemies at the Second Coming.
Evil carries three descriptions here as well: Leviathan the gliding serpent, Leviathan the crooked serpent, and the monster that is in the sea. The term “serpent” is also used here, with the adjectives of “crooked and twisting.” The serpent was venerated in Egypt (especially as the sacred cobra), Phoenicia (as the mother goddess of all living), and in Canaan (with snake worship). Of course, in the Bible the serpent is the representation of evil and death, or connected with death.
The punishment of these elemental forces seems to be regarded as a necessary preliminary to the establishment of a new order, especially if they figuratively describe Assyria and Babylon respectively, and the spirit/gods behind them. The LORD will put down all enemies, including the evil or Satanic spirits who had become false gods that the pagans feared. For Isaiah, God’s power over the nations could only be complete when the gods the nations worshiped were destroyed. So in a passage on judgment it tells how the LORD intervenes to destroy.
The LORD will preserve His people (27:2-6).
This section also begins with “In that day,” announcing an eschatological message. Using the allegory of the vineyard, the prophet describes God’s care for His people Israel (2-6). The same figure was used in chapter 5, but there it led to judgment. Here the theme is hopeful throughout.
Verse 2: literally says, “Sing about a vineyard of wine.” The imagery of vines and branches is a motif introduced in Genesis 49 where God promised a king through the line of Judah (v. 10). But when the One comes “to whom [the scepter] belongs” and the obedience of the nations will be his, “He will tether his donkey to a vine, his colt to the choicest branch; he will wash his garments in wine, his robes in the blood of grapes; His eyes will be darker than wine; his teeth whiter than milk.” This early prophecy about the “Messianic Age” uses language of splendor and abundance. Accordingly, Jesus’ first sign in John 2 was to turn water into wine, a harbinger of the coming Messianic Age and an announcement that Messiah had come.
Verse 3: Isaiah says that God watches over His vineyard, i.e., Israel. He waters it continually. As part of the allegory we would have to conclude that watering the vineyard refers to the provision of the Word of the LORD through the prophets. How else could God nourish a holy nation?
Verse 4: the allegory continues with a mention that if only briers and thorns were confronting Him, He would burn them out easily. This is an internal problem, not a reference to invasion. It refers to paganizers within the nation of Israel. But burning them out is tempered with a desire for them to come to Him in faith. God judges, but He offers the opportunity of refuge in the covenant.
Verse 5: This alternative for peace is actually extended before the section on judgment to follow. It is the message throughout Scripture—God offers His enemies peace! This, in the context, it could refer to both unbelieving Israel and the foreign oppressors.
Verse 6: also announces that “in the days to come” the people of God will flourish. Here is the climax to the little allegory. “Israel” is used because the prophet means both Israel and Judah will flourish. He now changes the image slightly to make Israel a plant rather than a vineyard. It starts off with normal growth—planted, takes root, and buds. Since the prophet is addressing the nation of Israel that already was in the land, a prophecy about coming days must be something in the future when Israel will be brought back to the land. But his imagery takes an unusual turn: “and fill all the world with fruit.”
Restored Israel will lead to the blessing of the whole world (as Gen. 49 said). Daniel also saw the kingdom of Messiah as a tree, and as a stone, that filled the whole world. In John 15 Jesus, the true Israel is the vine, and His disciples the branches. That, at the very least, was the beginning of the fruit that would spread throughout the world. Paul in Romans 11 makes it clear that the Gentiles are wild branches that have been grafted into the tree. And so we now can witness the expansion of the Gospel. But He adds that God still has a purpose for Israel after the fullness of the Gentiles comes in; and it is to that purpose that the prophets speak.
The LORD will purify His people (27:7-11).
In this section the prophet address the nation as a whole, as “Jacob”. All Israel, both kingdoms, would be exiled; and many of their main cities demolished. The language is general enough to be applied to both Samaria and Jerusalem, meaning, the two captivities of Israel by the Assyrians and Judah by the Babylonians. God would use exile to purge Israel and make her into the holy nation and kingdom of priests that she was supposed to be.
Verse 7: the LORD is the subject of the sentence. The questions asked (reminiscent of Paul in Romans) expect a “No” answer. God did not strike Israel down. Rather, punishment would be tempered by mercy, for in exile, cruel as it was, people would survive. There was a future for Israel.
Verse 8: (“with his fierce blast”) and (“as on a day the east wind blows”) the prophet refers to the invasion from the east, from Mesopotamia—Assyria and/or Babylon. The judgment will be like the swift east wind that scorches the land.
Verse 9: this will be the way that God will make Israel deal with her sins. The point is that through this the sins will be atoned for. He is not referring to the objective basis of atonement, but the practical side of the experience. In exile they would come to penitent awareness of guilt. In other words, the people were removed so that sins would be removed. They will have a new attitude to the will of God. The verse is like Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Ezekiel 36:24-31.
The penitent and purified nation will show the fruit of its “atonement” by the destruction of pagan influence “makes all of the altar stones like pulverized chalk”. They will return to do what they were supposed to do from the beginning. Unfortunately, it would take the Babylonian captivity to purge them of idolatry and make them fiercely loyal to God.
Verses 10-11: All that is described in here are the effects of war—abandoned cities, animals moving freely throughout, people gathering dry twigs, and the like. Isaiah sees the effects of war as the reversal of civilization.
NB: The reason for all of this is the lack of understanding in the people—they are for the most part spiritually blind. So because of inner blindness—which led to pagan corruption, God would withhold His compassion and favor—even though He made them. Of course, as Hosea announced, when they turned to the LORD in faith, then He would show them pity but before that is fierce judgment.
The LORD will restore His people (27:12, 13)
The passage closes with two complementary images drawn from the Feast of Tabernacles. The first deals with the great harvest to be threshed. From beyond the Euphrates and from beyond the Wadi of Egypt (these are the boundaries of the Land), Israelites would be re-gathered. Never did Israel have the Land of Promise according to the biblical dimensions; and certainly never did a pure Israel possess it.
Verse 12: Here God will “thresh” through the lands of oppression, the chaff will be discarded, but the good grain re-gathered into the barn. Paul in Romans 11 carries the theme to its clear statement: “All Israel will be saved.” Ezekiel will explain in his vision of the dry bones that Israel will be re-gathered at the end of the age in two steps, first physically re-gathered (the bones come together), meaning restored to the land as a nation but in unbelief; and then there will be the spiritual quickening (the Spirit breathes life into the bones) in which the surviving Jewish people will come to faith in massive numbers.
Verse 13: The second image here is of the trumpet blast. The image, quite possibly the Word of God like a trumpet blast, calls or summons the people to the holy mountain, which he says now, is in Jerusalem. The apostle Paul used the image of the trumpet for the end of the age ingathering at the coming of the LORD.
When the LORD gave Israel victory over Assyria, Babylon, and Egypt when He restored them to their land in 536 that was a great deliverance. But this passage was not fulfilled at that time (although it could have been used to explain the victory); in fact, the prophets wrote some of the oracles of these end times, after the return from the exile. Evil still existed, Israel was not pure, and their stay in the land would not last but a few centuries and they would be scattered again. The fulfillment still lies in the future.
The prophecy serves as a comfort and a warning for us today as well as it did for ancient Israel. As Paul said to the Romans, if God did not spare the natural branches, they should take heed lest he not spare them either. Believers are to learn from Israel’s mistakes. We have been grafted in; we are a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation. We are the branches of the vine. And even though our participation in the New Covenant in no way nullifies a future blessing for believing Israel, our concern in applying this passage is with us today primarily.
(1) This is a prophecy for Israel, and for the great future victory over evil forces in the world, human and demonic. When that victory comes God will fulfill all His promises, especially those He made to Israel.
(2) We know the end times will begin with a great celebration of victory over Satan and all his forces; and we know that the people of God will be preserved through the judgment, and will emerge purified to serve in the heavenly city. Thus, we can speak about an application in terms of how this hope purifies us (the apostle said whoever has this hope purifies himself), or in terms of bearing fruit throughout the world to demonstrate we are in the kingdom (our LORD said the kingdom was taken from them and given to a people bearing fruit). But we also know that in the future that hope will become reality. There is great evil in the world, demonic evil; and it will be destroyed completely, and the people of God purified and glorified to serve Him in the new heavens and the new earth.