The prophet is here singing of judgment and mercy,
I. Of judgment upon the enemies of God’s church (Isa. 27:1), tribulation to those that trouble it, 2 Thess. 1:6. When the Lord comes out of his place, to punish the inhabitants of the earth (Isa. 26:21), he will be sure to punish leviathan, the dragon that is in the sea, every proud oppressing tyrant, that is the terror of the mighty, and, like the leviathan, is so fierce that none dares stir him up, and his heart as hard as a stone, and when he raises up himself the mighty are afraid, Job 41:10, 24, 25. The church has many enemies, but commonly some one that is more formidable than the rest. So Sennacherib was in his day, and Nebuchadnezzar in his, and Antiochus in his; so Pharaoh had been formerly, and is called leviathan and the dragon, Isa. 51:9; Ps. 74:13, 14; Ezek. 29:3. The New-Testament church has had its leviathans; we read of a great red dragon ready to devour it, Rev. 12:3. Those malignant persecuting powers are here compared to the leviathan for bulk, and strength, and the mighty bustle they make in the world,—to dragons for their rage and fury,—to serpents, piercing serpents, penetrating in their counsels, quick in their motions, and which, if they once get in their head, will soon wind in their whole body,—crossing like a bar (so the margin), standing in the way of all their neighbours and obstructing them,—to crooked serpents, subtle and insinuating, but perverse and mischievous. Great and mighty princes, if they oppose the people of God, are in God’s account as dragons and serpents, the plagues of mankind; and the Lord will punish them in due time. They are too big for men to deal with and call to an account, and therefore the great God will take the matter into his own hands. He has a sore, and great, and strong sword, wherewith to do execution upon them when the measure of their iniquity is full and their day has come to fall. It is emphatically expressed in the original: The Lord with his sword, that cruel one, and that great one, and that strong one, shall punish this unwieldy, this unruly criminal; and it shall be capital punishment: He shall slay the dragon that is in the sea; for the wages of his sin is death. This shall not only be a prevention of his doing further mischief, as the slaying of a wild beast, but a just punishment for the mischief he has done, as the putting of a traitor or rebel to death. God has a strong sword for the doing of this, variety of judgments sufficient to humble the proudest and break the most powerful of his enemies; and he will do it when the day of execution comes: In that day he will punish, his day which is coming, Ps. 37:13. This is applicable to the spiritual victories obtained by our Lord Jesus over the powers of darkness. He not only disarmed, spoiled, and cast out, the prince of this world, but with his strong sword, the virtue of his death and the preaching of his gospel, he does and will destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil, that great leviathan, that old serpent, the dragon. He shall be bound, that he may not deceive the nations, and that is a punishment to him (Rev. 20:2, 3); and at length, for deceiving the nations, he shall be cast into the lake of fire, Rev. 20:10.
II. Of mercy to the church. In that same day, when God is punishing the leviathan, let the church and all her friends be easy and cheerful; let those that attend her sing to her for her comfort, sing her asleep with these assurances; let it be sung in her assemblies,
1. That she is God’s vineyard, and is under his particular care, Isa. 27:2, 3. She is, in God’s eye, a vineyard of red wine. The world is as a fruitless worthless wilderness; but the church is enclosed as a vineyard, a peculiar place, and of value, that has great care taken of it and great pains taken with it, and from which precious fruits are gathered, wherewith they honour God and man. It is a vineyard of red wine, yielding the best and choicest grapes, intimating the reformation of the church, that it now brings forth good fruit unto God, whereas before it brought forth fruit to itself, or brought forth wild grapes, Isa. 5:4. Now God takes care, (1.) Of the safety of this vineyard: I the Lord do keep it. He speaks this as glorying in it that he is, and has undertaken to be, the keeper of Israel. Those that bring forth fruit to God are and shall be always under his protection. He speaks this as assuring us that they shall be so: I the Lord, that can do every thing, but cannot lie nor deceive, I do keep it; lest any hurt it, I will keep it night and day. God’s vineyard in this world lies much exposed to injury; there are many that would hurt it, would tread it down and lay it waste (Ps. 80:13); but God will suffer no real hurt or damage to be done it, but what he will bring good out of. He will keep it constantly, night and day, and not without need, for the enemies are restless in their designs and attempts against it, and, both night and day, seek an opportunity to do it a mischief. God will keep it in the night of affliction and persecution, and in the day of peace and prosperity, the temptations of which are no less dangerous. God’s people shall be preserved, not only from the pestilence that walketh in darkness, but from the destruction that wasteth at noon-day, Ps. 91:6. This vineyard shall be well fenced. (2.) Of the fruitfulness of this vineyard: I will water it every moment, and yet it shall not be overwatered. The still and silent dews of God’s grace and blessing shall continually descend upon it, that it may bring forth much fruit. We need the constant and continual waterings of the divine grace; for, if that be at any time withdrawn, we wither, and come to nothing. God waters his vineyard by the ministry of the word by his servants the prophets, whose doctrine shall drop as the dew. Paul plants, and Apollos waters, but God gives the increase; for without him the watchman wakes and the husbandman waters in vain.
2. That, though sometimes he contends with his people, yet, upon their submission, he will be reconciled to them, Isa. 27:4, 5. Fury is not in him towards his vineyard; though he meets with many things in it that are offensive to him, yet he does not seek advantages against it, nor is extreme to mark what is amiss in it. It is true if he find in it briers and thorns instead of vines, and they be set in battle against him (as indeed that in the vineyard which is not for him is against him), he will tread them down and burn them; but otherwise, “If I am angry with my people, they know what course to take; let them humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and so take hold of my strength with a sincere desire to make their peace with me, and I will soon be reconciled to them, and all shall be well.” God sees the sins of his people and is displeased with them; but, upon their repentance, he turns away his wrath. This may very well be construed as a summary of the doctrine of the gospel, with which the church is to be watered every moment. (1.) Here is a quarrel supposed between God and man; for here is a battle fought, and peace to be made. It is an old quarrel, ever since sin first entered. It is, on God’s part, a righteous quarrel, but, on man’s part, most unrighteous. (2.) Here is a gracious invitation given us to make up this quarrel, and to get these matters in variance accommodated: “Let him that is desirous to be at peace with God take hold of his strength, of his strong arm, which is lifted up against the sinner to strike him dead; and let him by supplication keep back the stroke. Let him wrestle with me, as Jacob did, resolving not to let me go without a blessing; and he shall be Israel—a prince with God.” Pardoning mercy is called the power of our Lord; let him take hold of that. Christ is the arm of the Lord, Isa. 53:1. Christ crucified is the power of God (1 Cor. 1:24); let him by a lively faith take hold of him, as a man that is sinking catches hold of a bough, or cord, or plank, that is within his reach, or as the malefactor took hold of the horns of the altar, believing that there is no other name by which he can be saved, by which he can be reconciled. (3.) Here is a threefold cord of arguments to persuade us to do this. [1.] Time and space are given us to do it in; for fury is not in God; he does not carry it towards us as great men carry it towards their inferiors, when the one is in a fault and the other in a fury. Men in a fury will not take time for consideration; it is, with them, but a word and a blow. Furious men are soon angry, and implacable when they are angry; a little thing provokes them, and no little thing will pacify them. But it is not so with God; he considers our frame, is slow to anger, does not stir up all his wrath, nor always chide. [2.] It is in vain to think of contesting with him. If we persist in our quarrel with him, and think to make our part good, it is but like setting briers and thorns before a consuming fire, which will be so far from giving check to the progress of it that they will but make it burn the more outrageously. We are not an equal match for Omnipotence. Woe unto him therefore that strives with his Maker! He knows not the power of his anger. [3.] This is the only way, and it is a sure way, to reconciliation: “Let him take this course to make peace with me, and he shall make peace; and thereby good, all good, shall come unto him.” God is willing to be reconciled to us if we be but willing to be reconciled to him.
3. That the church of God in the world shall be a growing body, and come at length to be a great body (Isa. 27:6): In times to come (so some read it), in after-times, when these calamities are overpast, or in the days of the gospel, the latter days, he shall cause Jacob to take root, deeper root than ever yet; for the gospel church shall be more firmly fixed than ever the Jewish church was, and shall spread further. Or, He shall cause those of Jacob that come back out of their captivity, or (as we read it) those that come of Jacob, to take root downward, and bear fruit upward, Isa. 37:31. They shall be established in a prosperous state, and then they shall blossom and bud, and give hopeful prospects of a great increase; and so it shall prove, for they shall fill the face of the world with fruit. Many shall be brought into the church, proselytes shall be numerous, some out of all the nations about that shall be to the God of Israel for a name and a praise; and the converts shall be fruitful in the fruits of righteousness. The preaching of the gospel brought forth fruit in all the world (Col. 1:6), fruit that remains, John 15:16.