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MORE ON THE FINAL JUDGMENT
As Jamieson noted, "This chapter is a continuation of Isa. 24; Isa. 25; and Isa. 26,"F1 and therefore a conclusion of Division III, all four of these chapters dealing with the eternal judgment.
The outstanding and most challenging thing in the chapter is the very first verse where it is revealed that "in that day" Almighty God will take his terrible sword and slay the principal three enemies of God. The day when that will occur is the final judgment. The scholars like to talk about mythical creatures called Leviathan; and it seems to be certain enough that the three terrible dragons suggested by this passage constituted a part of the mythology of the ancient world; "But it is equally clear that Isaiah is here using these names metaphorically, to describe historical enemies of God."F2
We are able absolutely to identify these three terrible enemies because of the Revelation to the Apostle John, the last half of which (with the exception of the last two chapters) introduces those three terrible enemies one at a time, and then, in the reverse order, describes the final and total overthrow of each one of them. Thus (1) The great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns was the first introduced and the last to be destroyed.
Rev. 12:9 identifies that "Great Red Dragon" as "The old serpent, he that is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world."
(2) The second of God's three greatest enemies was the sea-monster, the terrible enemy of God appearing here (Rev. 13) in the very image of the Devil himself, having "seven heads and ten horns." This creature came up out of the sea and in Revelation is called "the beast," that is the "sea beast" who worshipped the Devil; and the Devil gave his power, his throne, and his authority to the sea beast (Revelation 13:2-8).
(3) The third great enemy of God and of all mankind who was introduced in the Apocalypse of John was also a beast, "coming up out of the earth" (Revelation 13:11); but his horns like a lamb, along with his lying miracles, identify him as a religious beast, referred to subsequently in the Apocalypse as "the false prophet." As someone said, "He was the land-beast, i.e., the dirty one!" His utility, however, was exactly that of the sea-beast; he caused all men to worship the sea-beast, and both of them were effective allies of the Devil.
Now it is not difficult to see the correspondence between these three enemies and the three terrible creatures appearing here in Isa. 27:1. Oddly enough, these three great enemies appear here in the same order that their destruction is prophesied in Revelation. The use of the name "serpent" for the first two (the swift serpent and the crooked serpent) refers to the "beast" and the "false prophet" in Revelation; and the use of "dragon" (KJV), one of the specific names of the Devil himself (Revelation 12:9), refers to Satan.
One of the most exciting and interesting things in all the Bible is the apocalyptic account of the destruction of these same three enemies, in the reverse order of their introduction. Thus (1) the false prophet (false religion) was destroyed in Rev. 17--18; (2) the sea-beast (apostate government hostile to God) was destroyed in Isa. 19; and (3) the Devil himself was destroyed in Isa. 20. How were they all destroyed? By being cast into the lake of fire. They were not destroyed separately but all alike simultaneously were cast into hell. The horrible meaning of this is that hostile human government, apostate religion, and the operations of Satan shall continue until the end of time. Anyone who may be interested in the pursuit of this subject will find several hundred pages on the subject in Volume 12 of my New Testament Series of Commentaries (Rev. 12--20).
Thus we find right here in Isa. 27:1 what might serve as the topic sentence of the last half of the Book of Revelation!. It is not necessary to suppose that Isaiah himself had any inkling of the full meaning of what God revealed in this verse through Isaiah.
Note that there are three descriptions of God's sword: hard and great and strong. Of course, men know almost nothing about the "sword" of God; but one does not proceed very far in the Bible until it is encountered. Cheyne identified it with the "turning sword by the cherubim,"F3 which God placed eastward in the Garden of Eden "to keep the way of the tree of life" (Genesis 3:24). It is of interest that sea-monster in our version is rendered "dragon" in the KJV and that this is one of the names of Satan (Revelation 12:9).
The mythological background of these great enemies points to the sea, or the Nile river (the same being called the `sea' frequently in scripture) and to two other great rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates. Dummelow pointed out that:
"The powers hostile to God's people are here symbolically represented as monsters. Leviathan the swift serpent perhaps stands for Assyria, watered by the rapid Tigris, and Leviathan the crooked serpent stands for Babylon, whose river was the winding Euphrates. The dragon (sea-monster) or crocodile stands for Egypt as in Isa. 51:9."F4
Cheyne agreed with this, stating that, "Most critics believe that three separate kingdoms are referred to under these symbols, i.e., Assyria, Babylon and Egypt."F5 It is significant that none of the critics have ever supposed for a moment that Isaiah gave any credence whatever to any of the myths. Their terminology indeed appears here and there in the Bible, but always in a symbolical or metaphorical sense.
Any argument from passages like this to the effect that Satan is a myth must rank as the height of absurdity. Christ taught his disciples to pray, "Deliver us from the evil one!" (Matthew 6:13).
Kidner believed that the graphic description of the destruction of God's triple enemies on earth, i.e., Satan, False Religion, and God-hating Government, as depicted in this verse, "Is the same all-embracing judgment as in Isa. 24:21, where `the host of heaven' corresponds to `Leviathan' here, as indicated by, `The Devil and his angels' (Rev. 12:7ff)."F6
"This is a joy-song, set over against the dirge recorded in Isa. 5:1-7."F7 Both regard the Lord's vineyard; but the one in Isa. 5:1-7 is the object of God's disapproval and judgment; and the one here is a vineyard approved and protected by the Lord. "The first one of these is beyond all doubt the Jewish Church in the times of Isaiah";F8 and the one here in this chapter is just as certainly identified with the New Israel of God, namely, the Church of Jesus Christ our Lord. "In the end of the age there will be occasion for a counterpart to the Mournful Vineyard song of Isaiah. Redeemed Israel will be the vineyard that a holy God may properly protect from its foes."F9 The mention of God's watering and caring for the vineyard is the same promise found in Matt. 28:18-20.
The text in this portion of the chapter has suffered somewhat, and many have pointed out that it is very difficult in places. Gleason's rendition of Isa. 27:4 here appears to be a viable option in meaning: "The Berkeley Version translates this verse 4 thus: `There is no wrath now with Me. Should I find thorn-bushes and briers in it, I would fight them and burn them altogether.'"F10
Make peace with me; yea, let him make peace with me
(Isaiah 27:5). Many have observed that in this verse is revealed God's purpose of converting his enemies into friends and of saving, if possible, even those who oppose his plans. God's enemies he is willing to spare if they will surrender their hostility.F11
Isa. 27:6 speaks of "filling the face of the world" with the fruit of Israel; but this is a reference to the efforts and success of Christian evangelism throughout the world. As Hailey expressed it, "The first vineyard is national Israel in the past; and the new vineyard is the spiritual Israel,"F12 that is, the kingdom-church of our Lord.
Isa. 27:7-11 speak of God's judgments against his people and of desolation and captivity brought upon his people by their sins and transgression; but they also speak of God's mercy, God's partiality, and God's purpose in those privations, designed not to destroy but to redeem his people. There seems to be no well organized paragraph in this passage, so we shall note the implications one verse at a time.
Such questions in Hebrew require negative answers; and this verse means that God's punishments have not been as severe as they might have been. Proof of this is seen in the fact that, whereas, Sodom and Gomorrah were utterly destroyed from the face of the earth for their wickedness; Israel which became `worse than Sodom and Gomorrah' (Ezekiel 16:47), was dealt with much more leniently.
This verse is ambiguous. Cheyne stated that `in measure' here or `in exact measure' means, "dealing out punishment in carefully adjusted quantities";F13 The Hebrew word used for dry measure here is "`[~seah],' meaning one-third of an ephah."F14 This surely reminds us of the judgments connected with the trumpets in Rev. 8:7,8 and 10, where we read that only "one third" was allowed in the various destructions prophesied.
In this light, we find it difficult to believe that only God's judgments of Northern Israel are in view here. It appears to us that this is simply a promise of restraint on God's part in those judgments poured out on mankind in general during the Messianic age, that clearly being the teaching in the great judgment passages of the Apocalypse.
The mention of "forgiveness" in this passage is a positive indication that the era of the New Covenant is spoken of, and not the history of pre-Christian Israel. There was no forgiveness whatever under the old covenant. For this reason, the crushing of the altars of idols and the cessation of adoration for the Asherim, etc., were indeed the "fruit" of Christianity and positively did not result from God's pardoning ancient Israel prior to such things and being, in fact, the cause of them. On the other hand, the abolition of idol worship was a direct result, not of anything Israel ever did, but as a result of the gospel.
Here also is a positive and convincing evidence that this portion of Isaiah must be identified with the eighth century (when Isaiah lived) and not with the period of the exile, to which time the critics would dearly love to assign it. "This mention of the Asherim is not what we should expect from a writer living during the Babylonian exile."F15 It is disappointing, however, that Cheyne at once declared that, "The phenomenon is not decisive."F16 But, of course, it is decisive and carries the positive imprimatur of the times of Isaiah.
This is once more a reference to that time-period mentioned in Rev. 16:9, near the close of the dispensation of the grace of God, when the "cities of the nations" shall fall. This will occur at a time when Adam's race shall almost have run its course, and when, due to rampant wickedness, God will have no moral choice available except to destroy the sinful world.
This is once more a picture of the judgment of mankind at the last day. It is incorrect to limit this to racial Israel, because racial Israel is not to be destroyed in the total sense until the final reckoning and destruction of all of Adam's sinful race, except the redeemed of God.
There are a number of things that positively identify this passage as a concluding reference to the final judgment. (1) There is the double mention of "in that day." (2) Also, the sound of the mighty trumpet must be invariably associated with the final judgment. Our Lord said:
"And he shall send forth his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other" (Matthew 24:31).
Many of the comments encountered seem to overlook some of the most important conclusions mandated by this passage. Note that no "nation" whatever is mentioned as being gathered in, that no "race" is included; but that the saved shall be gathered "one by one," that is, individually. "Every man shall receive the reward of the deeds done in "his body" (2 Corinthians 5:10). Note also that the return from Assyria and the outcasts of Egypt refer to different generations, pointing to a simultaneous judgment of all peoples and nations at one time, as indicated clearly by Christ in Matt. 25.
Beat off his fruit
(Isaiah 27:12). is a reference to the manner of harvesting such things as olives, which were harvested by threshing the tree, that is, beating off the fruit.
Rawlinson has an interesting interpretation of this passage, stating that, "The imagery here points rather to the final gathering of Israel into the Church triumphant than to the return from Babylonian captivity."F17 This is correct of course in the sense that the return from Babylon is simply not in the passage; but the error of it is in not seeing the final judgment here. Remember the `great trumpet!' God never did blow the big trumpet when some Jew was converted to Christ! That is an event connected with the second advent and the end of the world.
(The end of Division III)
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.