Leviathan; its meaning and application. What the close scales stand for.
Rome's scales; Rationalism's scales. Israel as the fruit-bearing vine of
the future. The nation, but not the same individuals, restored.
This is the closing chapter of this part of Isaiah; the next evidently introduces another sub-division. Whilst the strange mystic language of the first verse evidently has direct reference to Israel's literal enemies, we should really miss much of the divine intent were we to stop there, and not discern in this Leviathan that mighty fallen angel, who is as surely the deadly foe of our whole race as the malignant world-powers, which he uses, have been, and shall be again, of God's beloved Israel on earth. It is thus that a value—we might say a glory—becomes attached to the events of earth as recorded in the Scriptures, when they are recognized as a part of that "enigma" (1 Cor. 13:12, marg.) through which we may discern, dimly indeed, but not doubtfully, eternal spiritual verities—the seen providing us with pictures of the unseen, the temporal of the eternal. But let us consider the chapter.
Again it clearly divides into the significant three parts thus:
1: Verses 1 to 6: The song of the vineyard expressing God's care.The first verse appears to complete the previous chapter, for it is not a part of the song. This is a martial chant, and may be rendered thus:
1: In that day shall Jehovah, with His sharp, great and strong sword,"In that day" must refer to that day in which Jehovah comes forth to deal with the evils of the earth, and sends forth His angels to gather out of His kingdom all things that offend. But that involves not only rebellious men, who are but the pawns on the great chess-board, but that mighty spirit who is behind and who moves them; and who is plainly called "the Old Serpent" and "Dragon" in chap. 12 of that book which is the "Revelation" of what is behind the veil of the visible. Here another name is added—Leviathan.
This strange word must surely have some significance worthy of its being found in a divine revelation. Let us seek to discern what it is. It is a compound, made up of "levi," "joined," and "than" a "dragon," or "serpent," so the whole would be, "The joined dragon." But that is not very intelligible, and we must seek further. Turning then to Job 41, we get a description of a leviathan—a description that has universally been recognized as applying to the creature we know as the crocodile—and verses 15-17 will throw much light on the word itself:
His scales are his pride, shut up together as with a close seal! One is so near to another that no air can come in between them. They are joined one to another, stick close, and cannot be sundered.In these words we see the basis of the word "leviathan." It is the monster with joined scales, which are the expression of his pride and by which he defies every weapon formed against him. The description closes with the suggestive sentence, "He is a king over all the children of pride!" (Job 41:34). With the light thus given by Job let us again turn to Isaiah, and we shall see who it is that the Spirit of God designates by the word leviathan. That it is used emblematically cannot be questioned, for Jehovah does not contend with literal crocodiles. But of whom, or of what is it thus used? Let us grant that Delitzsch is correct, and that the "swift-flowing serpent" is Assyria, represented by the swift Tigris; and that "the crooked serpent" is Babylon, represented by the winding Euphrates; and that the "dragon in the sea" is Egypt, represented by the Nile, termed a "sea," as any expanse of water was; yet we have "leviathan" as an addition to all these, or rather as uniting them, for this leviathan is both the swift and the crooked serpent. Can there be a doubt as to who is meant?
Have we not learned that every beautiful, majestic, useful creature has been made with the ultimate purpose of expressing some corresponding loveliness in our Lord Jesus?—for thus God would ever attract us to Him, and awaken our thirst to know Him well. Thus in the lion is pictured His royal dignity; in the ox, His patient, gracious ministry; in the dove, His holy purity; so we must discern in every noxious creature, with offensive characteristic, some corresponding repellent evil in him who is the enemy and moral antithesis of that blessed One. What then can be so apt an emblem of that creature who introduced that primal sin of pride (for that was the "crime—Gr., krima—of the devil,"1 Tim. 3:6), a sin that is still all-pervasive among the race brought under his sway, as that leviathan that can be called "king of all the children of pride"?
It is the antitypical leviathan behind the systems that express, in opposite ways, the antagonism of the devil to Christ, and His claims to man's earth and to man's heart, as based on His atoning sufferings. It is this leviathan who is behind "Modernism," which, in its developed form, denies those very foundation truths on which Christian faith rests. Can you find any space between the scales of the pride of any form of Rationalism that will admit the arrow of conviction of error? Error! Why, it is the very leader of science, or knowledge, and it would need to be a new creation before it could possibly confess that after all it did not "know."
It is leviathan too that can be discerned behind that opposite wickedness, headed up in Jezebel—"Rome," the Papacy. How is it possible for one who claims infallibility to confess to being fallible? "She wills not to repent," says our Lord of her inRev. 2:21(R. V.). Do not such close-set scales of pride resist all conviction of truth that humbles? Indeed, she is the true daughter of Eth-Baal (1 Kings 16:31), that is, "the very Baal"; but Baal is but one of the many names by which the king of all the children of pride is known—the prince of the demons, the devil.
It is he too who is behind the world-empires that have oppressed Israel, and it is he who shall at the last unify all the discordant characters of evil into one spirit of hostility to all that is of God on the earth. He, the devil, is leviathan, the dragon or serpent of the joined scales!
The sword that Jehovah uses has three stern qualities; it is "sharp," i.e., keen, incisive; "great," as able to overcome all forms of evil; it is "strong," as being effective and thorough in its work. Our book of Revelation gives us its name as proceeding out of His mouth; it is the Word of God.
But now for a more cheery note in another song. It begins with the repetition of the words "In that day," and then, at once, in intensely dramatic form, bursts out with a joyous lilt:
2: A pleasant vineyard—sing it!1Leviathan being slain, or, as the clearer light of the New Testament tells us, the devil being shut up in the bottomless pit, we naturally have joy expressed in song. But here it is the Lord Himself who sings, and celebrates the attractions He now finds in His vine, Israel. And how blessed a contrast it is to the song of chapter 5 of our book. There it soon lost all its joy, and turned into the minor note of disappointment, for that vine brought forth only repulsive grapes. Here Israel is a new creation, identified with her true Messiah; and solely because of this, there is nothing but delight in the vineyard.
It is a lovely vineyard, giving even to God its wine of joy. Oh, celebrate it in song! It shall have no meaner Husbandman than Jehovah Himself, who will refresh it constantly with the waters of His blessing; and lest any unwelcome visitor should threaten it, He will keep constant watch over it night and day. His wrath is all gone now, and He defends those with whom He was once angry. That righteousness which was once against, is now for them. As a mail-clad warrior presses through obstacles, so here Jehovah even invites opposition that He may press through it. But what can oppose these purposes of His love? Thorns and briars would do that, for they are the tokens of the curse on the earth that followed man's sin, and ever resist man's blessing. Resist Him now! He marches through them as if non-existent, as indeed they are, for He has put away the sin that brought the curse.
Do we not see this very story retold in Rev. 5? Who can open that fast-closed book, completely and effectively sealed with seven seals? In other words, who can bring Israel to her place of blessing? Search heaven, earth, and the underworld. Nowhere in the universe is one found who is able to open that book. Dost thou too grieve at all creature-helplessness? Weep not! The Lion of the tribe of Judah has prevailed! See, He marches through thorns and briars of interposing sin, and breaks seal after seal, for He has put away the sin, for He is "a Lamb as it had been slain"!
But is this blessing to be for that one favored nation alone? Not at all. If there be anyone, anywhere, at any time, who feels and confesses his guilt and need, let such give full honor to the strength, the ability of God to save now; hang dependent entirely on God in Christ, and at once there is peace.
What a beauteous, harmonious, and still clearer ray of light does our New Testament throw on this: "He hath made peace by the blood of His cross." And we, poor sinners as we are, take hold of His strength, His power to save, and under the shelter of His blood we too "have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ."
Note too the deep emotion under which God speaks that is told in that repetition: "Make peace with Me! Peace make with Me!"2 God (with reverent joy let us take it), thus repeats, to express the depth of His Heart's longing with which He would press this, the only way of Peace, on us all.
Thus ends the song, but verse 6 is still attached to it as a far outlook on the future of Israel. The whole earth shall be blessed through her. The gracious favor of Jehovah, although focussed on herself as identified with her Lord, shall yet radiate to earth's remotest bounds, and fill it with the fruit that is sweet to the taste of God. Then Love shall abolish all armaments of war. Joy shall displace all present groanings of sufferings that Discord engenders, while Peace shall reign over the whole scene with a very sabbath-calm.
7: Hath He smote him as his smiters He smote?Jehovah's dealings with Israel have not been as those with her oppressors. They have indeed been sharp and long, but they have been in the way of chastening, as she indeed sings: "The Lord hath chastened me sore, but He hath not given me over unto death" (Ps. 118:18). Nay, more, He has most carefully measured and limited that chastening. Rough was the wind that scattered her from her Homeland, for it was the day of the east wind, which ever tells of suffering: but what was the final aim of that rough wind? It was that the iniquity of that nation, termed "Jacob," might be purged. The fruit of that severity was its sin taken away!
It is a strange thought that "Jacob's" sin could be expiated by Jacob's own suffering. To understand this we must bear in mind the peculiar place that people has amid the nations of the earth. It is the only one with which He has entered into a blood-based covenant relationship, as He says: "You only have I known of all the families of earth, therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities" (Amos 3:2); that is, I will chasten you because I take a tender interest in you as a father in the child he punishes. Jacob has already been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb in and from Egypt, but that does not take him out from, but puts him under, the government of God. Just as we believers in the Lord Jesus, in the same external way are sanctified by that precious blood (Heb. 10:29), and are not taken from, but introduced to the divine government. This is directly the teaching of 1 Cor. 11:32: "We are chastened of the Lord that we should not be condemned with the world."
Thus today, it is in virtue of the blood of Christ that Israel is preserved, and after His heavenly work is accomplished, the same grace will bring the Jewish nation through waters of deep sorrow to repentance; the sincerity of which will be evidenced by casting down all forms of idolatry, never to be set up again (ver. 9). This will show that the severe chastisement has brought forth its expected fruit, the furnace of affliction has done its work.
I beg my readers not to pass this over hastily: it is a principle that will aid in many a difficulty. Sin is put away forever from before God, not by any amount of suffering here on the part of the sinner, but alone by the value of the atoning blood of the divine Lord, who alone is "the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:2).
But under the government of God upon the earth, unrepented sin brings the chastening of love, as He says: "As many as I love I rebuke and chasten" (Rev. 3:19); and when this has led to penitence, as it always does in every true child of God sooner or later, it has then borne its fruit, and sin is "expiated" under that government.
10: For the fenced city all desolate lies—Ever and again the prophecy returns to the city-building of men upon the earth, but here the builders are the Jews, and their banishment from their city, with its consequent desolate condition, is told in the picture drawn in these verses. In the place of a busy throng of men, herbage grows amid its ruins. There the calf feeds on the sprouts that nature ever throws quickly to cover the disfiguring ruins. There women come and gather the dry sticks for kindling-wood. In that condition it tells as clearly of Jehovah's attitude toward it, as did the fig-tree that was thus cursed in the day of Mark 11. But it also witnessed to the folly of the people; they were foolish enough to turn from the true Source of all their wealth, and what could be expected but this real poverty? It is to be feared that we too in our day have lacked understanding and have been very foolish, for we are very poor (Rev. 3:17). But wait! Let penitence displace pride and He will respond quickly, as the closing verses show, and as all His blessed ways with penitent men ever disclose:
12: And it cometh to pass in that day,Jehovah has a threshing-floor on which, by the blows of His flail, He will separate the wheat from the chaff. It lies between those boundaries that marked the land promised to Abraham (Gen. 15:18), the flood of the river Euphrates on the north east, and the torrent of Egypt, that is, the Nile or one of its mouths, on the south-west. This is Jehovah's threshing-floor, and it is here that He winnows3 Israel, for that beloved people shall not be swept into everlasting blessedness in a mass, not by fifties, nor even five in a rank, as from Egypt, but "one by one." Thus is here pictured as the blows of a flail that Tribulation that is termed "the great one." God is making use even of the devil then upon the earth, through the persecution of Beast and False Prophet to manifest His true people. That "one by one" means that each individual evidences personal penitence and personal faith, and is personally embraced in the tender acceptance of Jehovah.
Again I say, let us not rob Israel, the Jew, of his portion. We have a lovely spiritual counterpart to this, for our land (for us, our Lord) lies between those two enemies, Corruption and Superstition (Egypt) on the one side, and Violence, Infidelity, Atheism (Assyria) on the other; and we too are led individually to constant repentance, and individually do we receive the Father's kiss.
Verse 13 records what follows chronologically. After the separation is effected between the false and the true in the land, then those who are still outside those bounds are remembered who remain among the Gentiles. Are they to be left there? Far from it, for now we hear of a trumpet-blast which recalls them all from every quarter of the earth. It is true that only two countries are here named, Assyria and Egypt, but all through this part of our book these represent by characteristic moral qualities all the lands outside Israel's borders, as we shall see more clearly later.
A "trumpet" is spoken of frequently in the Scriptures. What does it refer to here? Let us first eliminate what it is not. It is not that "trump of God" that awakens all the dead in Christ (1 Thess. 4:16) at the Lord's return; nor is it that "last trump" of 1 Cor. 15:52. These two (if they be not the same) are the antitypes of those in Num. 10:1-7. Nor is it that trumpet that introduced the seventh month, for that precedes the day of "affliction of souls," the "great tribulation"; nor can it be found in that series of seven trumpets of judgment that we hear in Revelation, for they all shall precede the one that we have in view in Isaiah. This then is Israel's trumpet, calling her outcasts home, and we may find it in Matt. 24:31: "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, and from one end of heaven to the other." That is the trumpet of verse 13.
This, then we may say, completes the resurrection of long-buried Israel. First, there is the return in unbelief, which even our eyes are permitted to witness; amongst those returning there will develop a remnant, manifested by the "winnowing" of that great tribulation. To these He comes in the hour of their direst need (Zech. 14); then those still buried among the Gentiles are gathered by this "trump" of angelic ministry, and the resurrection of that beloved people is complete! They worship the Lord in His holy temple in Salem, for The Holy of Holies is anointed (Dan. 9:24).
Is it not sure? Is it not as clearly taught as words can make it? Is not the past history and present position of the Jew a seal of its certain accomplishment? Unquestionably it is. Then in that sure and certain hope of Israel's resurrection, we may see our own. For as God will not rest till this earth sees the one nation that He has redeemed express the righteousness of His government in being recovered from the dust of death in answer to the Blood of the Lamb, so will He not rest till the heavenlies see His heavenly saints recovered to a still more glorious, a more joyous, resurrection than that of Israel.
This of course does not mean that the same individuals that were buried in captivity in the day of the Roman conquest shall return to the land; it is the nation as such, that ever maintains its identity on the earth, as belonging to Christ, who, having found that "treasure" (Matt. 13:44), has bought the "field" (the "earth") in which it was, and hiding it there till His return as still belonging to Him; for He calls it, as we have seen, "My dead body." It is His always, and although the components change, the identity is secured by what is divine. The same nation, Israel, shall be raised effulgent with divine glory, the identical Israel that was buried. So shall every one in Christ be "made perfect" in spirit, soul, and body, in every part of his being, in resurrection glory; that body of glory having a real true identity with his present one as the future Israel shall have with the past.
The parallel is perfect and shows how valuable these Old Testament parables are—not as teaching, but illustrating, the doctrines of the New. In her millennial glory Israel shall be a worthy witness to the value of Christ's atoning work, and every member of Christ shall also be (in the glory that shall be revealed in their very bodies, heavenly in their source, 2 Cor. 5:1) worthy witnesses to the value of the same precious Blood. This will be "the adoption, even the redemption of our body" (Rom. 8:23), for which we wait.
1One letter in the text is doubtful; the alternative would be, "A vineyard of red wine—sing to it."
2The words and the order are precisely as thus rendered into English.
3"Winnow," that is the force of the word rendered "beat off"; it is used of a threshing by which the grain is separated from the husks (see Ruth 2:17; Judges 6:11). Thus it is not the waters of these rivers that are here being driven back, but Jehovah is doing the work of a Thresher in the land.