- In that day, the LORD will punish with his sword, his well-tempered, fierce, great and powerful sword, Leviathan the fleeing, gliding serpent, Leviathan the winding, coiling serpent; he will slay the monster of the sea. (Isaiah 27:1)
Talking about God’s displeasure is not common at all these days. I have actually seen some people in some churches shake their heads whenever the subject of final judgement is brought up. How sad is that! Some people see God as a nice, jolly, “Father Christmas” type figure, and read only the scriptures about the, “nice,” “soft” and loving Father in Heaven, and in so doing ignore and/or write off huge swathes of scripture. “God is Love,” they say, as if there is no room for any other attribute in the infinite character of the Almighty.
Ah well! I might lose some of my thousand a week readers here, but something has to be said.
I agree one thousand per cent that “God is love.” It’s a biblical and apostolic statement. No problem! But I tell you what else: God dislikes some things about peoples’ attitudes and lifestyles. In fact, the God-breathed scripture tells us that, actually, He hates some actions and motives. And, to tell it as it really is – hold on to your seat belts – God truly gets angry with some repetitive evil and damaging activities on the planet that He says are actually an “abomination.”
There! I’ve said it!
The scary old-fashioned phrase concerning these abominable things are those activities and mind-sets that bring hate, death and curses among man-kind. Evil is a diversion from God’s purposes. God’s response to these “abominations” are revealed by certain turns of phrase in the Hebrew and the Greek (Ah! Yes! It’s in the New Testament too!). The old King James translation refers to it as, “The wrath of God.” If we don’t have a shiver down our back bone when we read this phrase, I promise you, we don’t understand the truth, or the concept, or the weight of what we are discussing. This is not just a few lines from a “Systematic Theology” book, or just another tenet to our list of beliefs, this is an insight into God’s love and character that should facilitate us to see His love through clearer eyes.
Contemporary widespread revelation concerning the love and grace of God and the believer’s identity in Christ has made discussion concerning God’s anger almost a non-entity – a subject that seems to negate other stuff that is commonly taught in the church today. There is no truth that negates any other truth. God’s anger and God’s love are two facts concerning the one divine character of Yahweh – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. These thoughts concerning judgement, or even eternal damnation, seem to have paled into insignificance in recent times. It is generally perceived as a most “inconvenient” teaching of the scripture, reduced by many as a metaphorical symbolic series of statements that have nothing but allegorical significance. Ah! If only!
The emphasis on grace, acceptance through Christ, and the believer’s authority in Him has even driven some to the extreme nonsense of what is known as “Universalism.” “God’s acceptance is so total and full in Christ,” these people shout, “How is it then conceivable that God could condemn anybody – especially those without faith – into hell?”
How insipid and unbiblical can a Bible reading believer get? It is this writer’s conviction that Universalism has raised its ugly head again in our generation simply because of a neglect of the Old Testament and a general lack of reading the whole arc of biblical truth in the complete canon of scripture. A straight forward, logical study through any bible concordance will clearly demonstrate that there are many more references in Scripture to the anger, fury, wrath and judgement of God, than there are to His love and tenderness. And this is NOT just because the Old Testament is more voluminous than the New. Jesus talked of the wrath of God in John 3:36. Paul talked of the wrath of God (Romans 1:18. Romans 2:6-11. 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9 for a simple starter). John, the “Apostle of love,” wrote the book of Revelation concerning the judgement of all judgements, the eternal fire and loss of the unsaved.
So many Christians seem to withdraw into an apologetic type tone when the subject of God’s anger and judgement is raised. It is as if they wish it wasn’t there in the book. I have talked to some who seemed to me to be Christian believers yet consider it a blot on God’s character for Him to be angry – or even blasphemous for me to have said so. It would seem that they consider God’s wrath to be a huge wart on the face of Almighty Yahweh. I can only discern it as a fact that some cannot imagine being wrathful without being out of control, and therefore deny that God could have such an emotion. They ignore the fact that the New Testament exhorts us to be like Christ Himself when it says, “Be angry and sin not.” Jesus was angry when he upturned the business tables in the Temple. And – have you ever read Matthew 23? There is no way that, “Gentle Jesus Meek and mild,” could talk lovingly and kindly what is written in that chapter. The seven “woes” that Christ Himself uttered over the Pharisees were flaming swords of terrifying divine judgement.
I have even discussed the issue of God’s wrath with some Christians who have told me that they feel unworthy and incapable of negotiating even the concept of God’s anger in their minds. God does not conceal the facts – and whatever is revealed to is in scripture needs confronting and acceptance. The entire canon of scripture requires our application.
So! What does the Bible actually say? We cannot but make the obvious observation that Yahweh is not at all ashamed to make it known that, “Vengeance and fury belong to Him.” See Romans 12:19. He is blatantly unashamed to declare in the book, “See now that I myself am he! There is no god besides me. I put to death and I bring to life, I have wounded and I will heal, and no one can deliver out of my hand. I lift my hand to heaven and solemnly swear: As surely as I live forever, when I sharpen my flashing sword and my hand grasps it in judgment, I will take vengeance on my adversaries and repay those who hate me.” (Deuteronomy 32:39-41). Wow! Who says that God should speak to us more directly. Is it possible to be more direct that that? Allegory? Metaphor? Poetry with mystical meanings? I think not. This is God Himself speaking plainly.
Because God is pure, clean and spotless, He hates all sin because it detracts from man’s purpose and destiny. Because He hates all sin, His pleasure and purpose is to save completely those who believe and pursue Christ, and judge the severity of sin that is not dealt with by the unbeliever (Psalm 7:11). We need to get a firm grasp of the biblical idea that God’s anger is indeed as much a divine perfection as is His faithfulness, power, mercy and love. It cannot be anything else. “In Him there is neither variableness nor shadow of turning.” There would be a character defect in God Himself if “wrath” were absent from His being! His response to sin must be as pure and holy as His love towards people. Indifference to sin is a moral blemish. It is part of man’s sin to be as indifferent against God’s take on our existence.
I think it was Spurgeon in one of his sermons that cried, “How could He who is the Sum of all that is excellent look with equal satisfaction upon virtue and vice, wisdom and folly? How could He who is infinitely holy disregard sin and refuse to manifest His “severity” (Rom 11:22) toward it?”
There cannot possibly be any perfection of attribute and characteristic within God’s Person that is less perfect than another. As Pink succinctly says, “The wrath of God is His eternal detestation of all unrighteousness.” God’s wrath against sin is the unending righteous motivation of His judgement against wilfully lost mankind. Sin is a wilful living of life in a manner that is contrary to the desire and plan of God for mankind – whether it be external actions or inner thought and motivation. One psalmist sai, “If I cherish sin in my heart, God will not hear me.” If that one liner doesn’t shake us concerning our worldview and lifestyle, there are some claims of our Christianity that must be rendered questionable.
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven” (Romans 1:18). This statement proves that it is part of the gospel message. Again, the revealing of God’s wrath is something He does not hide from. Psalm 95:11 says: “Unto whom I swore in My wrath.”
The bold and radical statement of Isaiah 27:1 (our verse for today) needs to be seen in the light of all we have said above.
Isaiah 27 is the conclusion of a complete section that starts at Isaiah 24:1. It is a section that encapsulates the entire metanarrative of the consummation of earth’s history as declared by Isaiah and other prophets. It comprises the horrors of the last judgement, and the divine wrath as demonstrated in this world and in the time line of this life, that is – as far as judgement can go in this existence. The divine judgement will not be complete until the Christians stand before the judgement seat of Christ, and the unsaved of all generations stand before the Great White Throne. And then Isaiah predicts the power and the glory of the Messianic millennial reign, formulating a graphic word picture of our planet that we simply have never yet seen. Here we are talking of Isaiah’s breath-taking vision of the earthly reign of Yahweh, consolidated by John’s vision in the book of Revelation. The curse will be removed off animals and the physical world in general, as well as much of the invisible world becoming visible. For the resurrected, the mortal putting on immortality begins here in earnest.
Two forces have been, are, and will be until the end of time, running contra to each other concurrently. The devil working against God; the people of God conflicting with the devil and the kingdom of darkness; and the war between all things of divine origin and purpose and all things demonic. As much as many people would relish the thought of a middle section that is referring to those who are neither Godly, nor anti-God, the bible clearly affirms that there is no such class of humanity. Every single person who has ever lived is in one of two criteria: Saved or unsaved. In the light or in darkness. In Christ or lost eternally.There is no third category.
First of all there was the universal judgement described in the horror filled text of Isaiah 24. Then followed a joyful song of laudation for that judgement in chapter 25. There then follows a Hymn praising God for His infinite farsightedness and the works He had performed on behalf of the righteous in response to their faith. Now – here in chapter 27, we have a look at both sides of the scenario. After the overthrow of the worldly powers, Isaiah explains how Zion, amazingly referring to both the physical city of Zion as well as the heavenly simultaneously, the temporal as well as the eternal, are blessed with the physical presence of Christ. It is a revelation of a truth that needs pondering, praying over and meditating on. Oh! Isaiah! Isaiah! I cry out to God to see as you saw, to know as you knew, to perceive exactly what you grasped.
My own take on this seminal verse of scripture is expressed in my own paraphrase, as in:
In that coming day, far in the future, in the days of the earthly reign of Messiah, Yahweh will punish the foul unclean demonic ruling spirit of the power of the air that dominates and rules the controlling nations and empires of this present world, with His sword. His well-tempered, fierce, great and powerful sword will castigate and destroy (a) Leviathan the fleeing, gliding serpent of Assyria, (b)Leviathan the winding, coiling serpent of Babylon, and He will also slay (c) Egypt, the same dragon monster of the sea.
Yes indeed! Judgement, violent and absolutely final, for Leviathan. Leviathan? Who is this? Where does he – or it- come into the picture?
This single first verse talks of the divine judgement and destruction of a nasty sounding creature referred to as “Leviathan.” He is referred to as in three different manifestations or areas. “Leviathan!” What a juicy and expressive title. “Leviathan” is a term interpreted by some as a species of sea creature or river monster, as, for instance, the whale. What utter nonsense! In Psalm 104:26, the NIV has it as, “There the ships go to and fro, and Leviathan, which you formed to frolic there.” The NET Bible however translates the same Hebrew text as, “The ships travel there, and over here swims the whale you made to play in it” (Bold italics are mine of course). Fascinatingly interesting? No! Fascinatingly ignorant more like. Does it have any value or credibility in proper translational principles? No comment! The Douay Rheims version goes further, rendering the same statement as, “There the ships shall go. This sea dragon which thou hast formed to play therein.” Where the “whale” and “sea-dragon” comes from all depends on how one researches the word. But neither the NET nor the Douay Rheims version is consistent at all. I say that because the word is repeated a couple of times more in the Old Testament. This writer has failed to find any other translation that ventures to interpret Leviathan as a creature that we know of. The NET bible, having translated it as a “whale” in the Psalm 104, leaves the word well enough alone in Job and simply refers it to an anglicized transliteration of “Leviathan.” Douay-Rheims does the same. Why can’t these translators be consistent?
My own logic and biblical reading rubbishes any thought of a whale as the phrases that immediately following in Isaiah 27:1 refer to a coiling and gliding serpent. So, how could a “whale” even enter into the discussion?
In the NLT Job 3:8 says, “Let those who are experts at cursing–whose cursing could rouse Leviathan–curse that day.” And by the logistics of that verse, the whale doesn’t fit the definition of Leviathan at all. Men cursing and rousing whales has never been a choice of mankind. How on earth can a whale be roused? Leviathan is also mentioned in Psalm 74:14. In the NIV this verse reads as, “It was you who crushed the heads of Leviathan and gave it as food to the creatures of the desert.” How could it be that a whale, with a plurality of “heads,” (true to the Hebrew text) feed the creatures of the desert, and not those of the sea? One also wonders whether the dragons, as mentioned in Psalm 74:13, are equivalent to the Leviathan of verse 14.
Why do I sound so cocksure and confident about this “Leviathan” creature? Simply because I have read Job 41. Although it seems to have been ignored by a lot of translators, it clearly describes what Leviathan is. Read it for yourself and see.
It is this writers opinion that Leviathan was a truly incredibly sized, and awesomely built fire breathing dragon of Job’s day, that spoke fear into all who ever encountered it. Allow me to verify my thoughts. I shall refer to Leviathan as a “he:
- Remember Job is commonly believed to have been written in a time before the flood, explained in the story of Noah, took place, in the early chapters of Genesis. From Job 41 we learn that Leviathan was as follows:
- The language of verse one suggests that he spent some of his time in the sea, and that people have attempted to catch him there. Tying down his tongue was perceived as a helpful strategy for safety, but was impossible to effect. (Job 41:1)
- Leviathan had a nose by which he could be conceived as being caught with a cord through its nostrils. It also has a jaw that could be imagined as being hooked in order to catch (41:2). The question, put by God Himself seems rhetorical. The sense and meaning of the questions seems to be constantly asking Job if he could do things that were absolutely humanly impossible, but were, obvious to Job, a simple matter for Yahweh to govern. As if God was saying something like, “Can you stoke the fires that comprise the sun?”
- Job 41: 3 – 6 seem deeply sarcastic in its six questions. One cannot but see that God Himself – for it is God who is speaking in this description of Leviathan – sees it as inconceivable that any man, or group of men could render Leviathan vulnerable or submissive. Leviathan would never ever be in need of mercy (3a). The concept of any human being enslaving Leviathan is ridiculous (4). The thought of giving an enslaved Leviathan (if it were at all possible to catch him) as a pet to one’s daughters was laughable (5a).
- There was obviously some sort of impenetrable skin that Leviathan was clothed with, especially around his head. Harpoons and fishing spears are mentioned, hinting that he lived in the sea (41:7).
- His incredible strength and hardiness is obliquely stated in 41:8 when God says, “If you lay a hand on it, you will remember the struggle and never do it again!”
- God says that it is impossible for anybody to subdue Leviathan and that one would be overpowered at the very sight of him (41:9).
- The Almighty then states that this breath-taking creature was virtually so large, so strong, so wild and so impenetrable as to any physical weakness that there was nobody and nothing on earth that could in any way rouse his anger. (41:10a). The point that God’s logic was making was that this huge sentient being, this monster named Leviathan was the most awesomely wild and hugely powerful beast of the whole of creation, so huge and fearsome that nothing physical in the cosmos could match him or even arouse his anger, apart from the fact that Leviathan was meekly and weakly submissive to God Himself. Thus, the last phrase of 41:10, “Who then is able to stand against me?” and the whole context of verse 11.
God refers to Leviathan’s grace of movement and strength of limb (41:12) and the fact that it not only has a tough impenetrable covering of skin, but a second coat of armour (41:13) – namely a layer of scales shaped as military shields (41:15). Or is God referring to a spinal line of defensive plates as suggested by paleontological opinion of the Stegosaurus (41:15). The point being, as far as my readers and I are concerned, that this Leviathan was like nothing that is alive on the planet in this day and age, and frighteningly unique in Job’s day.
There were probably no specimens of Leviathan alive in Isaiah’s day.
- The fearsomeness of Leviathan is enlarged even further as God asks – again, rhetorically – of Job, concerning attempts to prize Leviathan’s mouth open with greatfear of the mouth that was ringed with sharp and dangerous looking sets of teeth (41:14), the bad rationale that would cause anybody to attempt close up contact with the beast.
- There is no aspect of physical weakness in Leviathan (41:15-16). His scales are jagged and provide foolproof protection both above and beneath him (41:30). Those scales are air tight and water tight, closed so tightly that nothing known to man could penetrate between them.
- Then we have the revelations of verses 18 -21. Leviathan breaths out flashes of light when he snorts. What is that light? It is flames of fire pouring from his mouth. There are sparks, flames and smoke that all come shooting out. Leviathan’s breath sets coals ablaze. It’s all there in black and white.
- Leviathan’s neck is particularized as a major centre of his strength. It suggest to me that his neck was either incredibly long, or remarkably sturdy. In stating that dismay goes before him, my inner eye sees a greatly prolonged neck that is long enough for the head to confront people long before his feet are seen.(Job 41:22).
- His skin and scales are such that even where the skin folds they are immovable for air and water (41:23).
- The verses in the latter 10-11 verses of Job 41, complete the picture f Leviathan’s strength and appearance. He had a check as hard as a lower millstone (v24). He has a tail that he thrashes when he rises, and is terrifying to man (v25). Those that have ever got near enough to Leviathan to strike him with sword, spear, poisoned dart and/or javelin, have discovered that all three weapons have absolutely no impact or effect on him (v26). When he is struck with iron, whether it be by sword or girder, it bends as it strikes Leviathan, as if he is unaware that he has been struck, and wooden beams also split and crack and break up like rotten wood (41:27). Arrows don’t move him, and sling shots are like dust in the wind (v28). Being struck with a machete club Leviathan considers as a piece of straw. War cries and the rattling of multifarious battle lances humour him (v29). One cannot attack him from beneath without the fear of death for being beneath him. His undersides are like jagged pottery that drag on the floor like a threshing sledge. (v30). He leaves snail like slime behind him and by the heat of the fire within him when he steps into the sea or deep water it starts steam arising as if from a boiling kettle or cauldron that leaves a glistening silver wake behind him (v 31-32). He leaves strands of matter behind him that makes people think the water has white hair.
It is, therefore, no wonder at all that God says to Job, “Nothing on earth is its equal – a creature without fear. It looks down on all that are haughty; it is king over all that are proud” (Job 41:33-34). We have the quote from Psalm 74 to add, which refers to Leviathan’s “heads,” and then the description of Isaiah 27:1 and we have a picture.
We conclude that whatever Leviathan is (or was) – it was clearly a monster like, dragon like, multi headed giant creature which moved by “gliding” and “coiling.” It is portrayed by the combination of its usages in the Old Testament as a huge, frightening creature that was to be greatly respected and kept clear of. I am persuaded that it is the safest route to simply anglicize the Hebrew word and leave it as “Leviathan.” It is clearly an “aka” of the devil, and/or the powers of hell in general, as far as Isaiah was concerned. I am saying that Leviathan (twice) and the dragon of the sea, in Isaiah 27:1, are the same creature. And the creature Leviathan is likened to the power that ruled over Assyria, Babylon and Egypt, in the same manner Daniel talked of beasts and bears when referring to the rose of Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome.
So! What does all this verbosity mean in the context of Isaiah 27:1, where commentators are split whether it is the last thought of the context of Isaiah 26, or the opening statement of the thoughts contained in chapter 27? Nobody, it seems, wants to suggest that Isaiah 26 and 27 should actually be one whole chapter – which is my opinion. For me, this first verse of 27 stands alone as both the conclusion of chapter 26 and the hinge to the contents of chapter 27.
Meditating over Isaiah’s use of “Leviathan,” when referred to as the “gliding serpent,” it seems to me to point towards Assyria on the Tigris River. The phrase “the coiling serpent,” suggest to me Babylon on the Euphrates. The word translated as “dragon” or “monster” of the sea is the same Hebrew word that Ezekiel used in a later generation when referring to Egypt, as in Ezekiel 29:3, and 32:2. These three nations were the chief enemies of Israel in Isaiah’s day, and together they are representative of all the enemies who are against God and His people.
Isaiah saw a day coming when God would punish the megalomaniac power of Assyria, Babylon and Egypt “with His sword.” The destruction of these powers will be total, complete and absolute never to rise again on this earth in the manner in which they did in the time Isaiah lived. The repetition of the creature, three times, emphasizes the supernatural character of the punishment. Their chastisement is a foretaste of the complete punishment to come on all ungodly nations during the Great Tribulation at the end of this age.
I believe Leviathan to have been a true fire breathing creature of Job’s day, and that his usage in Isaiah 27:1 is a parable from a factual creature, of how the spirit world ran the three empires of which the whole of the middle eastern world was terrified, and set for judgement.