Chapter 27 begins with a description of the Lord’s conquest over evil using the mythological creature Leviathan, representing the forces of chaos that opposed the creation, as the personification of evil. Following her gathering Israel will blossom, bud and fill the earth with the blessings of the gospel. Israel will be gathered one by one, the influence of the Holy Spirit working upon individuals.
The Lord’s defeat of Leviathan follows the Passover warning, foretold in the previous chapter, to “enter…into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee: hide thyself as it were for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast.”1
In verse 1, the prophet foresees the Lord’s triumph over evil: “In that day the LORD with his sore and great and strong sword shall punish leviathan the piercing serpent, even leviathan that crooked serpent; and he shall slay the dragon that is in the sea.” The Lord’s “sore and great and strong sword” represents His omnipotence and His ultimate power over Satan. The original Hebrew meaning for “sore” is “severe” or “sharp.”2 “Piercing” is mistranslated from a Hebrew word that means “fleeing” or “put to flight;”3 Satan will be put to flight by the Lord’s unfaltering onslaught. “Leviathan” comes from the Hebrew livyathan, meaning “sea monster” or “dragon;”4 Isaiah’s repetition of “leviathan the piercing serpent” and “leviathan that crooked serpent” in parallel phrases is for emphasis, to increase the emotional impact.
Satan, the personification of evil, is characterized throughout the scriptures as the serpent or dragon. Compare this description of events in the Garden of Eden:
Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?…
And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:
For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil (emphasis added).5
“Leviathan the piercing serpent” and “leviathan the crooked serpent” may also be types for Assyria and Babylon, respectively, typical of Isaiah’s characteristic multiple meanings. “The dragon that is in the sea” may represent the curse upon the waters in the latter days.6
Verses 2 through 6 are a psalm, or song of the vineyard of the Lord. The psalm is about Israel, anticipating the ultimate fulfillment of her destiny following the defeat of evil. In verse 2, the Lord invokes: “In that day sing ye unto her, A vineyard of red wine.” The vineyard is the world; “red wine” represents the blessings of salvation that will fill the world upon the fulfillment of Israel’s destiny; compare the symbolism of the sacramental wine.7 “In that day” means the latter days—the time the prophecy is to be fulfilled.8
In verse 3, the Lord continues: “I the LORD do keep it; I will water it every moment: lest any hurt it, I will keep it night and day.” The Lord in His benevolence will protect and care for His vineyard continuously. “Water it every moment” means to provide continuing inspiration and revelation for His people.9
In verse 4, the Lord attests: “Fury is not in me: who would set the briers and thorns against me in battle? I would go through them, I would burn them together.” Here, as elsewhere in Isaiah, briers and thorns represent false doctrines that arise in the Lord’s vineyard, or the world.10 The Lord will turn His anger away from Israel at the foreseen time of gathering and will burn and trample false doctrines, together with those who propagate them. The battle described here is between good and evil, as established in verse 1.
Verse 5 continues the Lord’s speech: “Or let him take hold of my strength, that he may make peace with me; and he shall make peace with me.”11 The “him” referred to here is the evil one, the same who would “send briers and thorns against” the Lord in verse 4. The evil one, had he any sense, would make peace with the Lord because of His strength.
Verse 6 concludes the psalm, now with the prophet speaking: “He shall cause them that come of Jacob to take root: Israel shall blossom and bud, and fill the face of the world with fruit.” “He” in this verse is the Lord, chiastically equivalent to “the LORD” in verse 3. The fruit represents the blessings of the gospel, taken to the world by the Lord’s latter-day servants.
Elder Bruce R. McConkie proclaimed the following to Church members in Peru regarding the gathering of Zion:
Isaiah prophesied that the Lord “shall cause them that come of Jacob to take root; Israel shall blossom and bud, and fill the face of the world with fruit.” The Lord’s promise is: “Ye shall be gathered one by one, O ye children of Israel.”12
That is to say—Israel shall be gathered one by one, family by family, unto the stakes of Zion established in all parts of the earth so that the whole earth shall be blessed with the fruits of the gospel.
This then is the counsel of the Brethren: Build up Zion, but build it up in the area where God has given you birth and nationality. Build it up where he has given you citizenship, family, and friends. Zion is here in South America and the Saints who comprise this part of Zion are and should be a leavening influence for good in all these nations.
And know this: God will bless that nation which so orders its affairs as to further his work.13
Verses 2 through 6 contain a chiasm:
A: (2) In that day sing ye unto her, A vineyard of red wine.
B: (3) I the LORD do keep it; I will water it every moment: lest any hurt it, I will keep it night and day.
C: (4) Fury is not in me:
D: who would set the briers and thorns against me in battle?
E: I would go through them,
E: I would burn them together.
D: (5) Or let him take hold of my strength, that he may make peace with me;
C: and he shall make peace with me.
B: (6) He shall cause them that come of Jacob to take root: Israel shall blossom and bud,
A: and fill the face of the world with fruit.
The chiasm teaches that the Lord will protect His followers, provide inspiration, fill the earth with the blessings of the gospel and remove false doctrines. “A vineyard of red wine” is equivalent to “fill the face of the world with fruit.” These matching phrases provide the interpretation of the metaphor of the Lord’s vineyard, which represents the world. “I the LORD do keep it” equates with “he shall cause them that come of Jacob to take root: Israel shall blossom and bud;” the Lord’s nurture and care cause Israel to flourish. “Who would set the briers and thorns against me in battle?” complements “let him take hold of my strength, that he may make peace with me,” meaning whoever experiences the Lord’s military strength will be motivated to make peace; and “I would go through them” is equivalent to “I would burn them together,” which mean the Lord would destroy false doctrines.
Verse 7 begins: “Hath he smitten him, as he smote those that smote him? or is he slain according to the slaughter of them that are slain by him?” In these rhetorical questions “he,” the subject, is the Lord and “him,” the object of the sentence, is Israel. The two questions are parallel in meaning, describing the Lord’s mighty power to smite and slaughter Israel’s enemies but which He restrains from using against Israel during the foretold time of gathering.
Verse 8 continues: “In measure, when it shooteth forth, thou wilt debate with it: he stayeth his rough wind in the day of the east wind.” The Lord will permit Satan and his minions to harass those who accept the gospel; however, the Lord will temper the “east wind” for the benefit of these “tender shoots,” until they become strong enough to resist on their own. In Palestine the east wind is hot and dry, coming from the desert lands to the east. It quickly causes crops to wilt and wither, bringing on famine and want.14
Verse 9 states: “By this therefore shall the iniquity of Jacob be purged; and this is all the fruit to take away his sin; when he maketh all the stones of the altar as chalkstones that are beaten in sunder, the groves and images shall not stand up.” The fruit, or blessings of the gospel, will take away Jacob’s sins by overcoming her idolatry—represented by the altar, the groves and the images. The altar stones, weakened as chalkstones which rapidly deteriorate and the groves and the images that will not stand up, typify the demise of idolatry under the onslaught of truth and the worldwide spread of the gospel. Compare Isaiah’s statement earlier, in Chapter 1: “For they shall be ashamed of the oaks which ye have desired, and ye shall be confounded for the gardens that ye have chosen.”15 “The groves” is a biblical euphemism describing the idolatrous practice of ceremonial illicit sex.16 The groves consisted of gardens with shade trees, prepared as a pleasant setting for carnal acts. Reference in this verse is to sexual sin, whether or not it is part of idolatrous worship.
Verse 9 is paraphrased by Paul in the New Testament: “And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob” (emphasis added).17 Paul’s paraphrasing clarifies Isaiah’s meaning.
Verse 10 describes the destruction meted out by the Lord against those of the house of Israel that refuse to be gathered: “Yet the defenced city shall be desolate, and the habitation forsaken, and left like a wilderness: there shall the calf feed, and there shall he lie down, and consume the branches thereof.” The walled stronghold would provide little resistance for the Lord, who will leave it without inhabitant like a wilderness. Thereafter, it would only be suitable for grazing.
Verse 11 describes the ripening process of iniquity among those of Israel who reject the gospel: “When the boughs thereof are withered, they shall be broken off: the women come, and set them on fire: for it is a people of no understanding: therefore he that made them will not have mercy on them, and he that formed them will shew them no favour.”18,19 As branches of the tree ripen in iniquity they wither and dry; then they are broken out of the tree and set on fire.20 Despite their having been of the covenant people of the Lord, the Lord will show them no mercy because they sinned against great knowledge.
Verses 12 and 13 describe the gathering of Israel in the latter days. Verse 12 foretells: “And it shall come to pass in that day, that the LORD shall beat off from the channel of the river unto the stream of Egypt, and ye shall be gathered one by one, O ye children of Israel.” “The channel of the river” refers to Assyria, the river being the Euphrates.21 Israel will be gathered from Assyria to Egypt, or from all the lands in which they have been scattered. The phrase “the Lord shall beat off from the channel of the river unto the stream of Egypt” has reference to the harvesting process. A sheaf, or bundle, of wheat is beaten against the ground or other hard surface to separate the wheat from the straw. But the gathering, or harvest, will not be done precipitously—the work of the missionaries and the testimony of the Holy Spirit bring each person, one by one, to the point of conversion. Each must know for himself.
The scattered children of Israel are lost in two different ways: First, the world at large does not know their identity; and second, they themselves do not know who they are. The process of gathering, brought about on an individual basis, consists of their being converted to the true gospel and their lineage being revealed to them through their patriarchal blessings. Compare an earlier statement by Isaiah, in Chapter 18:
In that time shall the present be brought unto the LORD of hosts of a people scattered and peeled, and from a people terrible from their beginning hitherto; a nation meted out and trodden under foot, whose land the rivers have spoiled, to the place of the name of the LORD of hosts, the mount Zion.22
Israel will be gathered to Zion, the fruit of the labors of the messengers who went forth to gather them.
Verse 13 describes the culminating event, the gathering of Israel: “And it shall come to pass in that day, that the great trumpet shall be blown, and they shall come which were ready to perish in the land of Assyria, and the outcasts in the land of Egypt, and shall worship the LORD in the holy mount at Jerusalem. ”Egypt” and “Assyria” are code names for two latter-day superpowers.23 “The great trumpet” comes from the Hebrew showphar, a ram’s horn used as a ceremonial trumpet.24 The “holy mount” at Jerusalem is the temple, where those gathered would worship the Lord and make sacred covenants.
Verses 12 and 13 contain a chiasm:
A: (12) And it shall come to pass in that day, that the LORD
B: shall beat off from the channel of the river unto the stream of Egypt,
C: and ye shall be gathered one by one,
C: O ye children of Israel. (13) And it shall come to pass in that day, that the great trumpet shall be blown,
B: and they shall come which were ready to perish in the land of Assyria, and the outcasts in the land of Egypt,
A: and shall worship the LORD in the holy mount at Jerusalem.
“Shall beat off from the channel of the river unto the stream of Egypt” is the same as “they shall come which were ready to perish in the land of Assyria, and the outcasts in the land of Egypt;” “the channel of the river” means the Euphrates and “the stream of Egypt” is the Nile. These phrases describe the Lord’s harvesting and gathering process. “Ye shall be gathered one by one” is complemented by “O ye children of Israel.” The process of gathering will be one person at a time, as sheaves are beaten to release the grains of wheat. All who are thus gathered will receive the blessings of the gospel, including those of the temple.
1. Isaiah 26:20.
2. F. Brown, S. Driver, and C. Briggs, The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon: Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, MA, 01961-3473, 1996, Strong’s No. 2389, p. 305.
3. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 1281, p. 138.
4. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 3882, p. 531.
5. Genesis 3:1, 4-5. See also Genesis 3:13-14; Job 26:13; Isaiah 51:9 (2 Nephi 8:9); Revelation 12:3-4, 7-9; 13:2-4; 20:2; 2 Nephi 2:18; Mosiah 16:3; Doctrine and Covenants 76:28; 88:110; Moses 4:5-10, 19-20.
6. See Doctrine and Covenants 61: Introduction; 4-5.
7. See Matthew 26:27-28; Mark 14:23-24.
8. Compare Isaiah 11:10-11.
9. See Isaiah 12:3; 35:6-7; 55:11; 58:11.
10. See Isaiah 55:13; 5:6; 9:18; 10:17; 32:13 and pertinent commentary.
11. Verse 5 contains a chiasm recognized in the original Hebrew: With me/make/peace/peace/make/with me. In Donald W. Parry, Harmonizing Isaiah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) at Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, 2001, p. 260.
12. Isaiah 27:6, 12.
13. Bruce R. McConkie, “Come: Let Israel Build Zion,” Ensign, May 1977, p. 115.
14. See Ezekiel 17:10.
15. Isaiah 1:29; see also Isaiah 57:5 and pertinent commentary.
16. See Exodus 34:13; Deuteronomy 7:5; 12:3; Judges 3:7; 1 Kings 14:15, 23; 2 Kings 17:10-11; 18:4; 23:14; 2 Chronicles 14:3; 17:6; 19:3; 24:18; 31:1; 33:3, 19; 34:3-4, 7; Jeremiah 17:2; Micah 5:14.
17. Romans 11:26.
18. Verses 7 through 11 contain a chiasm: Hath he smitten him/he smote those that smote him/slain according to the slaughter of them that are slain by him/when it shooteth forth/he stayeth his rough wind/iniquity of Jacob be purged/to take away his sin/the groves and images shall not stand up/consume the branches thereof/he that made them/will not have mercy on them/he …will shew them no favour.
19. Verse 11 contains a chiasm recognized in the original Hebrew: Will not have mercy/that made them/that formed them/will shew them no favour. In Parry, Harmonizing Isaiah, 2001, p. 260.
20. See Jacob 5:9; see also Isaiah 1:7, 28; 30:27, 30, 33; 33:11-12 and pertinent commentary.
21. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 5104, p. 625.
22. Isaiah 18:7.
23. See Gileadi, pp. 72-73.
24. Brown et al., 1996, Strong’s No. 7782, p. 1051.