Rev. Andrew Ratcliffe
In that day the Lord with His severe sword, great and strong, Will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan that twisted serpent; And He will slay the reptile that is in the sea. - Isaiah 27:1
The Leviathan-while perhaps not the great sea monster or dinosaur-like creature from Job-might easily be seen as a great dragon, fierce and breathing the fires of hell. Many interpret this image, this passage as referring to the devil, the prince of the world, the one who, according to Matthew 25, is destined for the eternal, unquenchable lake of fire.
In Luther's morning and evening prayer he invites us to approach our heavenly Father, asking that, through the guard of His angels, the Wicked and Evil Foe would have no power over us. While the devil and his evil is always at work in the chaos around us, Luther looks at this reference to Leviathan and sees an historical reference in the lives of God's people. He writes, "It seems to me the prophet is speaking about the kings of Syria, of the Egyptians and others." Depending on the point in history, the Egyptians, the Assyrians and the Babylonians are all a sort of Leviathan as they devoured other nations, subjecting them to their rule and assimilating them into their cultures, practices, and beliefs.
Regardless of what, or who, this Leviathan is, Isaiah 27 comes with a promise. The inevitable outcome is that the Lord, our Lord, with His hard, great and strong sword, will slay Leviathan-the dragon that is in the sea. Historically we might note that Roman rule was swift to use the sword, and they ushered in a peace throughout the world, as they subjected kingdoms to their rule. Yet everything will be made subject to Christ and His rule, and then, in turn, to God who is our Father (The Lutheran Study Bible, 1131). It is the Lord, our Lord, who controls, restrains, and ultimately defeats evil.
And so we turn toward the tragic events in Paris. With 129 confirmed dead, 352 others injured, and 99 in critical condition, it appears that at least two attackers came to France as Syrian refugees. Although the opportunity to save lives and to witness the Gospel has grown exponentially through this immigration, the work of ISIS in France over the weekend is certainly comparable to the dominating, threatening and frightening efforts of those empires, like Egypt and Rome, that have advanced against God's people and against the world in the times such as what Isaiah highlights. ISIS certainly qualifies as a leviathan.
But the picture Isaiah gives is not one of impending doom or ensuing chaos. His news report doesn't dwell on the terror these attacks are meant to cause. Instead of death, there is life. Instead of fright, there is faith. Instead of destruction, there is deliverance. "In that day, 'A pleasant vineyard, sing of it! I, the LORD, and its keeper... Would that I had thorns and briers to battle! I would march against them, I would burn them up together... Or let them make peace with me'" (Isaiah 27:2, 4-5).
Of this promise Luther writes, "It is as if [God] were saying, 'My Christian is indeed in difficulties, but I will go to war and battle for him and defend him. Therefore he [must believe]... much more that I am a waterer and defender and that a 'bruised reed I will not break, and a dimly burning wick I will not quench.'' Therefore with these words He... comforts His own, so that they might take refuge with Him in all tribulations." Do not despair! Do not be tempted to believe that Christ is not able to preserve us! Again Luther writes, "It is as if He were saying, 'Let no one despair of Me, but let him have peace in Me, though in the world he may have distress. I want peace.'" Thus the Jesus' words in John 14:27, "Peace I leave you; My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid."
Isaiah says to us, to you, "Be at peace." Isaiah announces to us, to you, "You have peace." We are reminded of this peace each Sunday in the "peace be with you," of the forgiveness of sins. It's the "peace that passes all understanding" that we receive from His Word. It's the "depart in peace" having received His very body and blood in His meal. It's the peace secured, sealed and delivered when sin, death and the devil were defeated at Calvary. Colossians 1:20 declares this victory, your victory, "And through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross."
In light of something as terrible and tragic as what Paris faced, there is the bittersweet reality that those who reject God and His grace will face the consequences. There is a day of reckoning. But on that Day the Lord will gather all His people to Himself. He has planted His vineyard: you. He waters and cares for, forgives, sustains and strengthens His vineyard, you. He produces faith and fruit in His vineyard: you. And you, His vineyard, grow from your connection to the vine, which is Christ. Through Him, Jesus, your guilt, your doubt, your fear, your sin has been atoned for, removed and put away. His sword, the Word, defeats all that intends to frighten, threaten and destroy, for on the cross of Christ He has been victorious. And His Word, a double-edged sword, also uplifts, gives life, and life that you have to the full.
Not a serpent, but a Savior. Not ISIS or crisis, but a cross and His care. Through Isaiah, God says, "Let them make peace with Me." Jesus says, "You have peace, because of Me." In Jesus' name. Amen.
Almighty, everlasting God, through Your only Son, our blessed Lord, You commanded us to love our enemies, to do good to those who hate us, and to pray for those who persecute us. Therefore, we earnestly implore You that by Your gracious working our enemies may be led to true repentance, may have the same love toward us as we have toward them, and may be of one accord and of one mind and heart with us and with Your whole Church; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. (Collect for Our Enemies, from Lutheran Service Book)
Rev. Andrew Ratcliffe is Pastor for Christian Nurture at St. John's Lutheran Church, Seward, Nebraska.
Created: November 27th, 2015