In my last post, I asked the question, “Who is the beast?” According to Merriam-Webster, a beast is a contemptible person or something formidably difficult to control or deal with. Dictionary.com says it’s the crude animal nature common to humans and the lower animals. Both of these sources imply a connection between the word beast and human nature. The biblical beast, a dragon introduced in Revelation 12, is imagery profoundly linked to the challenges of being human.
In Revelation 12, the break between judgments continues with another of John’s visions. It begins in heaven where we find a woman, a dragon, and a male child. When I read the description of the woman, I immediately thought it was Mary. She is described exactly like the queen mother images so prevalent in Catholicism: clothed with the sun, the moon under her feet, a crown of twelve stars on her head and ready to deliver. Other interpretations say the woman represents Israel or God’s people. For me, Mary represents the mother of all humanity.
Just when the pregnant woman is about to give birth, an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns appears and starts flinging stars to earth and threatening to devour the child as soon as it is born. The dragon, also referred to in this chapter as the ancient serpent, the devil, the accuser and Satan, is imagery representing evil. It occurred to me that the red dragon could be symbolic of Rome or King Herod since Herod wanted the infant Jesus dead.
A male child (Jesus) who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter is delivered and immediately snatched up to God and to his throne. The woman then flees to a place prepared for her by God in the wilderness where she will remain protected for 1260 days. Numerology would reduce 1260 to nine which is the number of completion. Do you think this has something to do with the time it will take for humanity to achieve spiritual maturity? The word wilderness is often used to symbolize the place we all navigate internally to, like the Israelites, reach the Promised Land.
War breaks out in heaven. Michael and his angels defeat the dragon. Based on how much art and literature is out there depicting Archangel Michael throwing Lucifer out of heaven, I am surprised that one verse covers the whole event.
The great dragon was hurled down-that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him. Revelation 12:9
We next find Satan taking up residence on earth and pursuing the postpartum woman. Finding her out of his reach in the wilderness, he puts together a plan of attack.
Then from his mouth the serpent spewed water like a river, to overtake the woman and sweep her away with the torrent. But the earth helped the woman by opening its mouth and swallowing the river that the dragon had spewed out of his mouth. Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring. Revelation 12:15-17
This last passage is what I found most interesting in the lesson. Water is often used as a metaphor for emotion, ocean-emotion. The imagery of Satan spewing water to overtake the woman and sweep her away made me think of how emotions can overtake us and sweep us away, especially negative ones. I’ve heard people refer to depression as the beast, but I think the beast could be any illness one battles.
Have you noticed how the medical industry uses military language? Our cells are invaded by bacteria or attacked by viruses and we fight back using chemical warfare (pharmaceuticals). I believe that complete healing is only acheived when we overcome the emotional and spiritual components of illness. Sometimes it’s the wounds we don’t see that fester and facilitate physical discomfort or malaise.
There’s a lot going on with mouths in this passage: from his (serpent) mouth spewed water, the earth helped by opening its mouth, spewed out of his (dragon) mouth. The earth helps and the beast spews. Maybe this is a message about staying grounded when there’s a lot of bad information coming at you or when you are in a cycle of negative self talk.
Perhaps the great dragon hurled to earth is the human ego. Isn’t it ego that leads the whole world astray? I could say, “Anger made me scream obscenities in traffic.” or “Greed made me cheat on my taxes.” or “Gluttony made me take the biggest piece of cake.” or “Lust made me make a derogatory comment.” How about “Pride kept me from apologizing.” or “Envy kept me from offering congratulations.” or “Complacency kept me from weeding my garden.”? If I replaced the words anger, greed, gluttony, lust, pride, envy, and complacency with the word Satan in any one of these statements, I’d be talking like a native southerner. Flip Wilson in drag saying, “The devil made me do it.” keeps popping into my head right now.
Here in the south, Satan gets blamed for a lot. There are those who believe Satan is an actual entity. I guess that would make his angels like little parasites that latch on to people when they are vulnerable and suck the life out of them slowly. He (the devil) is filled with fury because he knows that his time is short (Revelation 12:12). Like spiritual terrorists, Stan (a friend’s nickname for Satan) and his buddies may wreck havoc for a while, but according to Revelation, they have already lost the battle.
As a little girl, I was a worrier. When troubled by something, my Aunt Dolly would tell me, “Reject that thought!” I think of her often and what a wise, wise woman she was. Harmful and unloving patterns of thought only gain momentum when you let them.
Two thousand years ago, the elderly Apostle John had visions while in exile on the Greek island of Patmos about concepts he may have had no frame of reference for. He described these visions through his lens and to the best of his ability. The biblical imagery in this chapter may be an attempt to describe the relationship between the Holy Spirit or sacred part of ourselves and the human ego needed to navigate survival on earth. Perhaps it is a message for humanity about the spiritual battles we’ll experience while we’re here and how the outcomes of those battles will impact us.
What’s the moral of the story this week? Resist the beast and his buddies and there is no battle; the war is over. You’ll be at peace.