Revelation 12:16 MEANING

Revelation 12:16
(16) And the earth . . .--Translate, And the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened her mouth, and drank up the river, &c. This is generally understood of some earthly power which is raised up to protect the Church against persecution. Just as Persia was raised up to aid Israel after they had been swept away by the flood of Babylonish conquest, so does help come to the persecuted Church through the cultured Roman world, or through some other worldly power, "barbarian and godless in its beginning, but destined in due time to embrace, in name at least, the faith once abhorred, and to introduce that new order of things which should make a nominal Christianity the religion of states and nations, and secure it for ever against the risk of a repetition of bygone persecutions" (Dr. Vaughan). The passage seems to want a wider interpretation. By the flood or river we understand all great popular movements against Christianity: the earth swallows up these; they diffuse themselves for a time, but mother earth absorbs them all, for the earth is the Lord's and the fulness thereof, and no movement hostile to truth can permanently succeed: the eternal laws of truth and right are ultimately found stronger than all the half truths, whole falsehoods, and selfishness which give force to such movements. In a mysterious way, every devil-born flood of opinion, or violence, or sentiment, will sink beneath the surface; they rise like a river, they are tasted, and then rejected. The laws of the earth are against their permanent success. The finest epic of the world might have for its motto: "The earth helped the woman." Creation is ultimately a witness for righteousness and truth. It is not one nation, one age, which is represented here; it is an eternal law.

Verse 16. - And the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed up the flood which the dragon cast out of his mouth; swallowed up the river (Revised Version). "The earth" frequently, but not invariably, in the Revelation signifies "the wicked." It is doubtful, therefore, how far the figure here employed should be pressed. What is certain is that the writer intends to express the idea that the Church is preserved in a wonderful and even miraculous way from the efforts of the devil. Further than this we cannot proceed safely. Possibly we may see in the passage an allusion to the world embracing Christianity, by which the instrument of Satan's ill will became a defence to the Church; though an earlier period and earlier deliverances seem more likely to be intended (such as the conversion of St. Paul); for after endeavouring to destroy the woman at one stroke, the dragon proceeds to war with her seed. The words recall another incident in the history of the Israelitish flight from Egypt and sojourn in the wilderness, viz. that of the destruction of Korah and his company; though, of course, the nature of the incidents is not the same in both cases.

12:12-17 The church and all her friends might well be called to praise God for deliverance from pagan persecution, though other troubles awaited her. The wilderness is a desolate place, and full of serpents and scorpions, uncomfortable and destitute of provisions; yet a place of safety, as well as where one might be alone. But being thus retired could not protect the woman. The flood of water is explained by many to mean the invasions of barbarians, by which the western empire was overwhelmed; for the heathen encouraged their attacks, in the hope of destroying Christianity. But ungodly men, for their worldly interests, protected the church amidst these tumults, and the overthrow of the empire did not help the cause of idolatry. Or, this may be meant of a flood of error, by which the church of God was in danger of being overwhelmed and carried away. The devil, defeated in his designs upon the church, turns his rage against persons and places. Being faithful to God and Christ, in doctrine, worship, and practice, exposes to the rage of Satan; and will do so till the last enemy shall be destroyed.And the earth helped the woman,.... By opening itself, and taking in what the serpent cast out, so that it could not reach the woman, and annoy her, as follows:

and the earth opened her mouth; as it did when it swallowed up Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, Numbers 16:30; to which history this may have some respect:

and swallowed up the flood which the dragon east out of his mouth; if the flood refers to the Arian persecution, then the earth helping the woman, the church, and swallowing up this flood, may respect the Goths, who broke into the Roman provinces, under their king, Athanaricus, and fell upon the Arians, with great rage and cruelty, and infested the Roman provinces, which were nearer; they seized upon Thrace, which was the occasion of tranquillity to the orthodox; for Valens being moved by these things, desisted from persecuting them, and, leaving Antioch, he went to Constantinople to form measures for the carrying on of the war against the Goths (a); and thus the earth helped the woman. But if, by the flood, the errors and heresies of those times are meant, then the councils may be intended by the earth; which, though they consisted of men that were earthly, and greatly apostatized in other things, yet opposed, refuted, and condemned these heresies and errors, and so were the means of preserving the church from them, as some think; though others are of opinion that the barbarous nations are in this also designed, who embracing Arianism, and the corrupt religion, where they came, by which they were, in, some measure, mollified and reconciled to the Christians, did not seek to root them out, and destroy them, as Satan hoped they would; but since they themselves, with the Mahometans, are meant by the flood, the earth must be interpreted of the corrupt and antichristian church, the idolaters which sustained the force of this inundation, and for some time repelled it, and so secured the true church; and when the western empire was overrun by it, as by the Goths, &c. idolaters, earthly minded men, and carnal professors, were the sufferers, and bore the shock of it; and when the eastern empire was overrun by the Saracens, the tormenting locusts, the green things, grass and trees, were not hurt by them; none of the sealed ones, only those who were not sealed, Revelation 9:4; and the Turkish inundation was a scourge upon the antichristian party: so that it was the earth, or earthly part of professors, the idolaters, that bore the fury and force of this flood, and broke it off from the church. And so sometimes wicked men are helpful to the saints, as the Philistines were serviceable to David, to screen him from the fury of Saul; and Lysias, the chief captain, and Felix and Festus, Roman governors, were instruments of preserving the Apostle Paul from falling into the hands of the Jews, his enemies; and the Christians that were scattered by the persecution at Jerusalem found refuge and safety among the Gentiles.

(a) Hist. Eccl. Magdeburg. cent. 4. c. 3. p. 80.

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