“The LORD God said to the serpent, Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen 3:14-15).
By Stephen W. Hiemstra
One of my favorite paintings as a young person was Saint George and the Dragon by Raphael (1504-1506) which hangs in the National Gallery of Art in Washington. In this myth, a young evangelist happens to come by when a town plagued by a dragon was about to feed the king’s daughter to the dragon. The evangelist slays the dragon and the king leads the town in committing their lives to Christ. While the myth of Saint George does not follow the story in Revelations 12, it picks up on the spiritual warfare theme and, of course, involves a dragon.
In a similar manner, scholars believe that the Apostle John adapted a myth of the goddess Leto well known in the middle east to communicate biblical truth. In this myth, the Leto was pregnant with Apollo, the son of Zeus, when she was attacked by the dragon, Python, who knew that Apollo was prophesied to slay him. Zeus sends strong winds to carry her to a safe island which the god Poseidon hid under the water. Python could not find the woman and when Apollo was four days old, he found Python and slew him (Beale, 624). Not bad for four days old! Other commentators see parallels with the propaganda of Rome where the goddess Roma plays the part of Leto and her child, the emperor, plays the part of Apollo (Keener, 317).
While some might question John’s use of a pagan myth to communicate God’s word, the power of stories is obvious. Stories communicate deeply held, emotional truth. Author, John Savage (77-100), lists five genetic types of stories that people tell: a reinvestment story (like economist becomes pastor), rehearsal stories (past events informing present challenges), the “I know a man who” stories (project your story on a third person), anniversary stories (grief or passion that comes around periodically), and transition stories (stories with an obvious beginning, middle, and ending). Most biblical stories take the form of a rehearsal story—something from our communal past with ongoing meaning.
In working as a chaplain, identifying the story that someone is telling you allows you to connect with them on a deeper, emotional level. The same is true of groups, like committees and even churches. Individuals and groups all repeat their most important stories on a regular basis. Identifying these stories and relating them to scriptural stories helps give these stories greater spiritual power and comparing the two may help identify areas of potential growth. One church that I know, for example, is clearly a Barnabas church sending many young people in pastoral ministry, missions, and careers in Christian education. How might the story of Barnabas help them in their own self-understanding?
What can we learn from the story of the dragon in Revelations 12? First, the woman, thought by many to symbolize Mary the mother of Jesus, is protected by God (vv 5-6, 14, 16) and the angels (v 7). Second, the dragon has many names: devil, Satan, deceiver, and ancient serpent (Gen 3:14-15). Third, the dragon loses the battle in heaven and is thrown down to earth (Luke 10:18). Fourth, although the dragon roams the earth, the kingdom of God has triumphed (v 10). Fifth, the dragon continues to pursue God’s people (v 17). For a church under persecution, Revelations 12 provides hope that God offers protection and is actively present in this world, in spite of the dragon.
What stories do you repeat? Which biblical stories are most meaningful in your walk with the Lord?
Beale, G.K. 1999. The New International Greek Testament Commentary: The Book of Revelations. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Keener, Craig S. 2000. The NIV Application Commentary: Revelations. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
Savage, John. 1996. Listening and Caring Skills: A Guide for Groups and Leaders. Nashville: Abingdon Press.
- What constellation comes to mind in verses 1-3?
- Virgo means virgin in Latin. What virgin comes to mind?
- Who knows the myth of Leto and Apollo? What happens?
- What serpent (dragon) is being referred to? (Hint: Genesis 3:14-15).
- Who is the dragon a symbol for? (v 9)
- Who wins the battle in heaven? (v 10; Luke 10:18). How is he defeated?
- Who wins the battle on earth? (v 10).
- What is the point of all this?
Chapter 12 of Revelation: The Woman and the Dragon
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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.
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