aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,

Excursus on The Woman in Revelation 12

I mentioned recently that I've been working on a commentary on Revelation for some time. It has been much delayed. Here is a section I just drafted, though, containing certain of my thoughts.


The Woman and the Dragon are described as a portent, a sign never before seen, heralding the last days. This sign is given in the heavens, and is the heavenly counterpart of the Two Witnesses’ testimony on earth. Before the execution of God’s final judgment on creation, we are to be given a last explanation of what has moved God to do this.

The Woman is “clothed with the Sun,” that is, wearing it like a cloak about her. This probably refers to her being surrounded by the shekinah, the glory of God. It doesn’t come from her, as it does from the Risen Christ – she is not, herself, divine – but divinity has enfolded her, and her borrowed glory is little less than that of the one who has bestowed it upon her.

She has the Moon “under her feet.” This is a common expression showing the conquest of something, of its subjection to the one who is over it. Psalm 110, a Messianic psalm, contains the promise of God to his Chosen, “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet’” (Ps. 110:1). On the other hand, “feet” is a common Biblical euphemism for the lower part of the body. The seraphim in Isaiah’s vision (Is. 6:2) have six wings, but only use one pair for flight; another pair shields their eyes from looking directly at God (a demonstration of their humility – they are not guilty of pride), while the third pair covers their “feet,” meaning the lower part of their bodies. Angels are not sexual creatures, so far as we know, but in Isaiah’s vision nevertheless display a creaturely modesty before their Creator. This euphemism also shows up in the story of Ruth and Boaz (Ruth 3), where Ruth sneaks onto the threshing floor to “uncover his feet.” This is another way of saying, “got into bed with him and offered herself to him as a sexual partner.” She does so not because she is wanton, but because she wants Boaz to fulfill the Levitical law of replacing her dead husband and giving her children. Seeing that the Woman in Revelation is pregnant and in the act of giving birth, an interpretation that took account of the sexual euphemism would not be out of court.

And this is the Moon, the Moon that by its monthly waxing and waning has always been seen as a symbol of womanhood. So perhaps instead of a footstool, we should see this image as a birthing stool. This is the Woman who has willed her own Necessity, and thus has been freed from subjection to it. The one who says, Ecce, ancilla Domini -- “Behold, the handmaiden of the Lord” (Lk. 1:38) is freed from the curse pronounced upon her ancestress in the Garden (Gen. 3:16). This is not strange; the only way anyone is freed from the necessities of our human reality – of sin, of sexuality, of hunger, of aging, of death – is to freely will for oneself the will of God as pronounced for oneself. (To be able to do that freely while under the compulsion of necessity is the mystery of grace.)

She wears a crown – a stephanos, a crown of victory, not royalty – of twelve stars. Twelve is the number of the People of God, and stars standing for the children of Israel appear in Joseph's dream (Gen. 37). She is not the Queen of Israel, but she is certainly its representative, its heroine. Her victory is the victory of the People of God, and all their hopes are focused and transmitted through her.

At this point, the resemblance of the Woman to Mary the Mother of Jesus is obvious. But she could also be taken as the representative of Israel, the nation from which Messiah comes, or even the Church. And she could also be taken as Eve – Eve as she should have been, or Eve redeemed – indeed, as Woman in a redeemed and redefined Humanity.

In any case, she brings forth a son “who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron.” Except he does not immediately proceed to do so. Instead, her child is “caught up to God and to his throne, and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which to be nourished for one thousand two hundred and sixty days.” Jesus ascended to heaven after his resurrection, and is not yet returned to fulfill his destiny to rule the nations; meanwhile, the People from whom he came and who center around him – Israel/the Church – must hide from the devil, though assured of God’s protection, until the judgment. The 1,260 days is half of seven years, i.e., the whole time between the Resurrection and the Return of Christ.

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