Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Woman, the Dragon, and the Baby Born King--James Hamilton

Can you imagine anything more vulnerable than a woman laboring to give birth? Women in labor are completely occupied with giving birth. They are not thinking about defending themselves. They cannot strategize about how to escape from danger. They are focused on one thing: giving birth. The process of giving birth is a colossal struggle for life. The whole of a woman’s mental energy, emotional strength, and bodily power are focused on what seems impossible and is nothing short of miraculous. A human being is about to come into the world out of her body, and the baby seems bigger than the birth canal. It looks impossible. It is a miracle of frantic human determination and astonishing divine design.
Can you imagine anything more frightening or threatening than a huge dragon? Let me suggest a way to make a dragon even more dreadful: give it seven heads. Put a horn on each head, and on three of the heads have two horns, so there are seven heads and ten horns.
Put the two images together and you have a drama. A pregnant woman in the process of giving birth, and she is threatened by a massive dragon who wants to eat her baby the moment he is born. She cannot run. She cannot hide. What hope does she have?
Do you want to heighten the desperation and urgency of the situation? The child about to be born, sure to be eaten by the dragon, is the world’s last hope. This is an epic pageant of intense, unprotected goodness confronted with a shocking evil that looks powerful, inevitable, devastating.
John writes in Revelation 12:1–2, “And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth.” The first thing we should note is that this woman is a “sign.” She is a portent of symbolic significance. So the symbol is a pregnant woman about to give birth, and she is clothed with the sun.
Imagine a woman wearing the sun as a garment. She has the moon under her feet, and she has a crown on her head. The crown is of twelve stars. These heavenly bodies are reminiscent of Joseph’s second dream in Genesis 37:9, where Joseph says, “Behold, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” Joseph’s father Jacob, a.k.a. Israel, interprets the dream in 37:10 saying, “Shall I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves to the ground before you?” So in Joseph’s dream, Jacob/Israel is the sun, Joseph’s mother Rachel is the moon, and Joseph’s eleven brothers are the eleven stars, with Joseph evidently the twelfth.
When God created the heavens and the earth he made the two great lights on the fourth day, the greater light to rule the day, the lesser light to rule the night with the stars (Gen 1:16), and they were “for signs and for seasons, and for days and years” (1:14). Portraying the family of Israel as these “ruling signs” seems to communicate that Israel will rule the world, and the patriarchal luminaries of Israel bow to Joseph. Revelation 12:1 seems to evoke Genesis 37:9–10 to portray Jesus as a new and greater Joseph.
As for the woman being pregnant, Micah 4:10 presents the “daughter of Zion” being in labor and it seems that Israel will remain in exile until the child is born in Bethlehem (5:2). Micah 5:3–4 says, “Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who was in labor has given birth; then the rest of his brothers shall return to the people of Israel. And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth.” Psalm 72:8 and Zechariah 9:10 also speak of the Messiah reigning “to the ends of the earth.” So this woman seems to symbolize the nation of Israel in general and in particular Mary, the maiden of Israel, daughter of Zion, who gave birth to Jesus. The birth of Jesus is interpreted here as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies that point to the birth of the child bringing redemption for God’s people and ruling over all the nations of the earth. This child is the hope of the world.

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