Chapter 27 of Isaiah opens with this striking verse:
“In that day the LORD with his hard and great and strong sword will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan the twisting serpent, and he will slay the dragon that is in the sea” (Isaiah 27:1).
In the ancient world Leviathan was a mythical sea creature, a terrifying monster who was a source of evil and chaos. He appears in pagan mythologies as well as in the Old Testament (Job 3:8, 41:1; Psalm 74:14, 104:26; Isaiah 27:1). But when Isaiah spoke of Leviathan he wasn’t endorsing those mythologies or expressing his belief that Leviathan was a literal monster who lived in the ocean. Rather, the great dragon represented beings and powers whose existence is all too real: Satan and his demonic host.
That Isaiah borrowed the figure of Leviathan to symbolize the Evil One is apparent from the way he twice applies the word “serpent” to the sea monster. He is “the fleeing serpent” and the “twisting serpent” (note how Isaiah pictures the dragon desperately trying to escape the punishing sword of God). When the devil tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden, he appeared to her in the form of a serpent (Genesis 3:1). There can be no doubt what Isaiah’s original audience thought of Leviathan – he was a symbol of “that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan” (Revelation 20:2).
Isaiah thus spoke of the coming destruction of the devil (and with him, all the powers of hell) by the blade of the Lord. We know from other Scripture this ultimate defeat of Satan will come at the end of history. When Christ returns to judge the living and the dead, he will throw the devil into the “lake of fire and sulfur” where he will be tormented “day and night forever and ever” (Revelation 20:10). Satan’s reign of terror on earth will one day come to an end; his days are numbered.
But even now, the devil is a defeated foe. His future doom is guaranteed by the victory Christ has already secured by his crucifixion, death, and resurrection. In the context of Jesus’ death on the cross, Paul tells us that God triumphed over the “rulers and authorities” (that is, demonic powers), “disarming” them and putting them “to open shame” (Colossians 2:15). Satan’s back is broken; all that remains is for Jesus to speak “one little word” to “fell him” (to borrow Martin Luther’s language).
For now, the devil is still active in the world. Just as the mythical Leviathan troubles the waters with his evil works, so Satan continues his evil activity on earth. But he on a leash; he can only inflict harm insofar as God, in his mysterious but wise and holy providence, allows him. The Scriptures depict the Lord’s absolute control over Satan in an almost humorous way in Psalm 104. In speaking of the sea, the Psalmist says, “There go the ships, and Leviathan, which you formed to play in it” (Psalm 104:26). The fearsome sea dragon is nothing more than God’s plaything.
As Christians, our fight is against the devil and the forces of evil (Ephesians 6:12). These enemies are real and dangerous. But in Christ, we have nothing to fear. Our conquering Kings keeps Satan from inflicting on us any eternal harm. And one day he will slay him for good by his “hard and great and strong sword” (Isaiah 27:1).
Soli Deo Gloria!