Verse 6 of Isaiah 27 presents the picture of the seed of Jacob budding and filling the face of the earth with fruit. This is the glorious destiny reserved for Abrahamʼs natural seed, but the verses which follow review Yahwehʼs correction and discipline of His people and the reasons for His mercy being withdrawn. However, this phase has an end and the last two verses present a positive picture in which “the children of Israel” are gathered one by one when the great trumpet proclaiming the year of jubilee will be blown. Upon restoration “Jacob” shall recognise Yahweh and worship Him in Zion.

27:7–11 Israelʼs Sin is Purged by Severe but Tempered Judgment

Verse 7 “Hath he [God] smitten him [Jacob], as he [God] smote those that smote him [Jacob]? or is he [Jacob] slain according to the slaughter of them that are slain by him?” (RSV ʻor have they [ie the seed of Jacob] been slain as their slayers were?ʼ)

In this verse a significant question is asked: Who has suffered the most, Jacob or Jacobʼs persecutors? When the future prosperity of Israel, so glowingly foretold in verse 6, is measured against the terrible judgments to be poured out upon her enemies (Isa 26:20,21; 27:1), the question resolves itself in favour of Israel!

A quotation from the pen of Brother CC Walker helps to give the sense, “To appreciate the full weight of the implied negative answer, we must know and meditate upon Israelʼs divine history, and compare the fate of rival powers with that of Israel. Where is Egypt? Where is Assyria? Where is great Babylon? Where are Persia, Greece and Rome—the world-empires of the past? Gone, so that they are merely a memory. But where is Israel? Preserved though punished, and waxing mighty again to the consternation of ʻthe Modern Pharaohʼ and his kingdom” (Ministry of the Prophets: Isaiah page 439).

Verse 8 “In measure, when it shooteth forth, thou [God] wilt debate with it: he [God] stayeth his rough wind in the day of his east wind.”

This verse is the Divine answer to the question posed in verse 7. Israelʼs sufferings have been tempered by mercy and controlled. Two figures are used here to demonstrate Yahwehʼs restraint in His chastisement of Israel.

In the first figure the vine, representing Israel, is pruned by the husbandman, Yahweh. The vinedresser is judicious and measured in his pruning. Only unwanted branches are severed. Every cut is made with a view to increasing the yield (cp John 15:6; Heb 12:11). Every cut is the result of a conscious decision, a judgment, the result of a mental ʻdebateʼ.

In the second figure used to illustrate Yahwehʼs measured treatment of His people, the east wind is referred to. The east wind blows upon the land of Israel bringing devastation as it is strong and hot. It is often used of a destroying power (eg Hab 1:9; Jer 18:17; Ezek 17:10; 19:12). So whilst the east wind blows all before it, Israel was never subject to its full blast; His “rough wind” was controlled or “stayed”. Some fruit of the vine may have been lost as wind-falls.

The precise idea behind this verse is also found in Jeremiah: “For I am with thee, saith Yahweh, to save thee: though I make a full end of all nations whither I have scattered thee, yet will I not make a full end of thee: but I will correct thee in measure [with judgment, mishpat], and will not leave thee altogether unpunished” (30:11).

Verse 9 “By this [ie verse 8] therefore shall the iniquity of Jacob be purged; and this is all the fruit to take away his sins; when he maketh all the stones of the altar as chalkstones that are beaten in sunder, the groves [Heb asherah] and images [RSV ʻincense altarsʼ] shall not stand up”.

“By this therefore shall the iniquity of Jacob be purged” (RSV ʻtherefore by this shall the guilt of Jacob be expiatedʼ). The “this” refers to the correctional judgments of verse 8, which are further elaborated in the judgments of verses 9–11.

“and this is all the fruit to take away his sin” (LXX ʻwhen I shall have taken away his sinʼ. Greek hotan aphelomai ten hamartian autou).

This portion of verse 9 is directly quoted by Paul in Romans 11:27 from the LXX. It is cited in conjunction with Isaiah 59:20,21 in a highly significant context in which Israelʼs ultimate reconciliation with Yahweh is taught. This provides us with an infallible key in interpreting the meaning of this verse and chapter—“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: For this is my covenant unto them [Isa 59:20,21], when I shall take away their sins [Isa 27:9].”

There are other allusions in Romans 11 to this great chapter on Israelʼs conversion and restoration to Divine favour.

1 The term “Jacob” is used of the natural seed (v9, Rom 11:26).

2 Yahwehʼs mercy was removed from His people on account of their lack of understanding (v11), but in Romans 11 the mercy of God will be made available to all, both Jew and Gentile (vv31,32).

3 The figure of boughs being broken off to describe the judgment of Jacob is common to both chapters (v11, Romans 11:17–20).

The phrase “this is all the fruit to take away their sin” is also in keeping with the figure of Israel as a vine. The fruit referred to is that which is lost by pruning on the one hand and to the “east wind” as windfalls, on the other hand (v8).

The later part of verse 9—“when he [God] maketh all the stones of the altar as chalkstones…”—returns to the way in which Yahweh will purge Jacobʼs sin, by the destruction and burning of the Temple and by laying waste the land (Luke 21:6).

“the groves and images shall not stand up”

This phrase speaks of the removal of pagan influences as well as Judaism which had been corrupted (cp Isa 65:4; 66:3,4).

Verse 10 “Yet [RSV ʻforʼ] 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 [RSV ʻstripsʼ] the branches thereof”.

Some have said that the “defenced city” is Babylon and that reference is being made to its fall, but the context requires that Jerusalem is the city referred to. Verse 10 continues the theme of how Jacobʼs sins are purged by Yahwehʼs chastisement. The allusions in verses 9–11 to Romans 11, already referred to, and “a people of no understanding” make the application of the words to Jerusalem clear.

Fulfilment of these words took place when Jerusalem was destroyed and made desolate by the Romans under Vespasian and Titus in AD70. A later Jewish revolt against the Romans under Simon bar Kochbar, who claimed to be Messiah, took place in AD132. The Emperor Hadrian put down the revolt and utterly decimated Jerusalem. He sowed the city with salt, changed its name to Colonia Aelia Capitolia and threatened any Jew found in its precincts with crucifixion.

Jesus referred to the destroying Roman power as “the abomination of desolation,” and forecast the day of Jerusalemʼs desolation and the captivity of her people (Matt 24:15; 23:37–39; Luke 21:22–24). Micah also foretold of these days: “Therefore shall Zion for your sake be ploughed as a field, and Jerusalem shall become heaps [ruin], and the mountain of the house as the high places of the forest [ROTH ʻlike mounds in a jungleʼ]” (3:12).

“there shall the calf feed”

The picture is of rural life spreading over the place where once urban life prospered. In Isaiah 7:21–25 there is a similar idea. In the place of organised agriculture, briars and thistles now grow and the few people left are poor and live off dairy produce.

“and consume the branches thereof”

The vine is no longer tended and cattle consume all of its foliage. It is a picture of neglect and deterioration of Yahwehʼs vineyard (cp v3).

Verse 11 “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…”

When the foliage has been plucked off, the twigs of the vine wither and dry up. The next stage is for the women foraging for kindling to come and snap off the branches.

This figurative description is coupled with the literal reason for such desolation at Yahwehʼs hand, “for it is a people of no understanding”. That is the blindness of the Jews and their failure to see that Jesus was the Son of God as witnessed by his words and works. This led to their rejection of him, the crucifixion, and ultimately their ruin (29:10–14; 6:9,10; Rom 11:7–10). It was a replica of the situation in Hoseaʼs day: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (4:6).

“therefore he that made them will not have mercy on them, and he that formed them will show them no favour”.

This is a most unnatural thing. One who makes and forms something would normally jealously guard and protect it. Why then has Israel been forsaken by her Maker? Because of her ignorance and apostasy. This explains their rejection and desolation.

But happily the situation will change and those who had not obtained mercy shall receive it (Hosea 2:20–23).

There is a beautiful allusion to these words in Romans 11 when both Jew and Gentile need and receive Divine mercy: “For as ye [Gentiles] in times past have not believed God, yet have now obtained mercy through their unbelief: Even so have these [Israel] also now not believed, that through your mercy they also may obtain mercy. For God hath concluded them all [Jew and Gentile] in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all (v30–32).

Isaiah 27:12,13 The Trumpet of Jubilee

Verse 12 “And It shall come to pass in that day, that Yahweh shall beat off from the channel of the river [nahor, Euphrates] unto the stream of Egypt [nachal, Wadi El Arish], and ye shall be gathered one by one”.

“ … that Yahweh shall beat off”

The Hebrew verb chabat means to beat out or off. It is used of grain (Ruth 2:17; Judg 6:11), of fitches (dill 28:27) and of olives (Deut 24:20).

The ideas of Isaiah 27 are carried over by the apostle Paul in Romans 11. There Israel is likened to an olive tree whose branches are to be grafted in again. Therefore the beating of the olive tree seems to be an appropriate figure in this context. It is a beautiful picture of the reversal of Israelʼs fortunes. The land from the Euphrates to Egypt, the land originally promised to the patriarch of the nation of Israel (Gen 15:18) is likened to one great olive yard and the precious fruit, the seed of Jacob, shall be carefully gathered.

Dr Thomasʼ translation of the verse sums up the matter: “Yahweh shall make a gathering of his fruit from the flood of the river [Euphrates], to the stream of Egypt; and ye shall be gleaned one by one”.

Verse 13 “And it shall come to pass in that day, that the great trumpet shall be blown, and they shall come that were ready to perish in the land of Assyria, and the outcasts in the land of Egypt, and shall worship Yahweh in the holy mount at Jerusalem”.

There are a number of references to the blowing of the trumpet subsequent to Christʼs return. It will be used to wake the dead (1 Cor 15:52; 1 Thess 4:16); for the gathering of the saints (Matt 24:31), as a manifesto to the nations calling for submission (Isa 18:3); to be sounded before Israelʼs armies.

In Isaiah 27:13 it is the great trumpet of jubilee that sounds, for every man shall return to his possession (Lev 25:9).

“that were ready to perish in the land of Assyria”

This is a significant phrase, being the exact language of Deuteronomy 26:5. Here Israelites are called on to remember their former estate before they were preserved and redeemed by Yahweh. Their plight was desperate and without His intervention they would have passed into oblivion. So the use of this language in this context is highly significant, for again Yahweh has intervened to deliver His people from dire peril and to give unto them the promised land.

“and shall worship Yahweh in the holy mount at Jerusalem”

The final picture is of the “outcasts” of Israel restored, forgiven, brought from the extremities of the earth (represented by Assyria and Egypt; cp 11:16; 19:24,25), and worshipping their God and Saviour in the holy mount at Jerusalem. The disposition Moses sought to engender, of thankfulness in recognition of the goodness of Yahweh, will at length be evident (Deut 26:1–10), and will lead to spontaneous joyous worship in Zion.

Conclusion

Isaiah 27 is very much focused upon the national seed of Israel. There are numerous figures and metaphors in this chapter and it is sometimes a challenge to discern exactly what is meant. This is part of Godʼs will, that we should be exercised by His Holy Word (Heb 5:14). “It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honour of kings is to search out a matter” (Prov 25:2).