Posts Tagged ‘Isaiah 27’

In a book as saturated with the concept of justice as this book called Isaiah, it is challenging to reconcile that commitment with a harsh passage like this:

On that day the LORD with his cruel and great and strong sword will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan the twisting serpent, and he will kill the dragon that is in the sea.

Isaiah 27:1 (NRSV)

It is essential at the first to recognize that this oracle occurs just before two more extended declarations of Jacob/Israel’s restoration, the first of which is a resounding reversal of an earlier parable of the vineyard that was painted in much darker hues. Arguably, the verse before us clears a space for those two agriculturally-imaged visions that await their moment.

Additionally, two considerations may at least place us in a position to engage verse 1 of this twenty-seventh chapter with a measure of methodological sympathy.

The first is the Isaianic conviction that enmity with YHWH’s purpose is both real and enduring. In a world less intoxicated by comfortable relativism than our own, this hardly requires expression. But in our day, it can be a truth we glimpse only dimly and from a distance. Nonetheless, the persistence of iniquitous rebellion is a conviction of deep rooting in the text before us. Little sympathy is expended on YHWH’s most insistent foes, even when there is muscular mercies available to those who find it in themselves to ‘return’ to YHWH and to his governance.

Second, judgement in Isaiah and even the wider biblical purview is not in my view primarily punitive. It is rather a necessary precursor to shalom, wherever this breaks out or is installed or becomes the object of divine or human cultivation. Judgement is itself a space-clearing exercise, taken in hand when those who resist YHWH’s determination to create communities of shalom become so recalcitrant that the project requires their removal.

This, in the context of Isaiah’s vision, is true of Leviathan, the fleeing and twisting serpent.

Leviathan stands in for all those nations, all those people, who will not have Jacob’s restoration except over their dead bodies, as the dismal expression runs.

Then does YHWH unsheath his ‘cruel and great and strong sword’. Then does YHWH of Armies—YHWH Seba’ot—gird on the full armor of that title.

Tragically, Leviathan will have it no other way. And there is a vineyard that needs tending.


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