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LECTURE LXVIII. .
THE WOMAN'S FLIGHT INTO THE WILDERNESS.
Rev. xii. 13.-17. And when the dragon saw that he was cast
unto the earth, he persecuted the woman which brought forth
the man-child. And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that
she might fly into the wilderness, into her place; where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent. And the serpent cast out of his mouth water as a flood after the
woman, that he might cause her to be carried away of the flood. 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. And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make
war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.
The concluding scenes of the warfare of the church with the dragon are described in the verses now before us, in which we have an account of a new expression of his resentment, as in ver. 13., And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman which brought forth the manchild.-- In the early periods of this war, the measures of the dragon were directed chiefly against the offspring of the wo man; he stood before her to devour her child as soon as it might be born : but when he was cast down to the earth, he thought of nothing short of the extermination of the whole society at once. He would not content himself with harassing and distressing individuals, or with cutting them off one by one, or in small detached parties ; this method of extermina
tion was too slow for the gratification of his rage. Hence the woman herself, or the church as a body, is here represented as the object of his resentment. While he continued to prosecute his quarrel with individuals, he never failed to make the warmest professions of regard to the church as such ; and he did not cease, even after he was cast down to the earth, to make the same professions of friendship to that numerous society, which, by worldly men, was still called the church. But to the woman, or true church, as distinguished from the false, he no longer made these professions. At the time of his fall, error and superstition were established by law in every part of the empire. Till this point was gained, he professed the warmest regards to the interests of genuine Christianity, and therefore persecuted no man under the formal notion of his being a Christian. But it was no sooner settled as the law of the state, that every subject should profess adherence to the national creed, and conform in every punctilio to the rites of the national worship, than he commenced a warfare of extermination against every society, and every individual, that presumed to differ. And as the woman was a non-conformist, all the individuals of that society of which she is the symbol were the avowed objects of his resentment.
Satan, in the preceding verse, is represented as having come down in great wrath among the inhabitants of the earth and of the sea ; and here he is described as prosecuting with vigour a warfare against the church, at the very time in which he was disturbing the peace of civil society, and overturning the established order of things in all countries. There is no absurdity in supposing that both undertakings were managed at once, especially when it is understood that the same end was meant to be served by both. When he brought hordes of barbarians from the ends of the earth to throw down the mighty fabric of the Roman state, his grand object was not the extinction of imperial Rome, but that the whole society of the faithful scattered throughout the provinces might perish among the ruins of her fall.
It would not have gratified the cruelty of his disposition, nor met the object he had in view, though the Roman territory had been left without a human being to tenant it, unless every true son of the church had been cut off in the general massacre. And when we consider the confusions of the times,-how the bands of all political associations were broken, and the greater part of those regions which had been the seat of the church, were peopled with a new race of inhabitants, few of whom knew any thing of Christianity but the name,-we are surprised to find that even a remnant was spared who might convey the knowledge of the truth to the new settlers, and transmit it to the generations which were to follow them. Their wonderful preservation is satisfactorily accounted for in the next verse, where we are told, that
To the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place.—We were told in ver. 6., of the woman's flight into the wilderness. Here the same subject is introduced, in order to explain the means by which it was accomplished. She was furnished with the wings of a great eagle, on which she mounted up far above the reach of the dragon, and was safely transported to her destined place of residence in the wilderness.—The eagle was called the bird of Jovė, and being consecrated to Jupiter, the Romans, when they adopted it as the principal device on their standards, meant to alarm all their adversaries, by assuring them that they fought under the banner of the supreme ruler, and therefore that their enemies could have no hope of success against them. And as the eagle continued to be the Roman standard till the dissolution of the Roman state, it has been supposed that there is an allusion to it in this text; and that though Satan meant nothing but harm to the church by means of the state, yet in one shape or another, even in its last stages, it was made subservient to the church, as if the means of her flight had been furnished by the kindness and at the expense of the state.—But as the dragon is the symbol of the Roman empire, it is impossible that there can be an allusion here to the eagles of the Romans; for in this case the kingdom of Satan would be divided against itself, and while he pursued with all the fury of a dragon to destroy, he would lend all the assistance of a friendly power that the woman might escape. The description of her flight is manifestly borrowed from the account of the retreat of the children of Israel from the dragon of Egypt; · Ye have seen,' says God to Moses, ' what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles' wings, and brought you to myself, Exod. xix. 4. The figure, in allusion to the eagle carrying its young upon its wings, is intended to describe the affectionate care which God exercised about his church, and the powerful protection which was afforded her in a time of the most imminent danger.
The period of her sojourning in the wilderness was also mentioned in verse 6., and was said to be a thousand two hundred and threescore days. Here it is likewise noticed, but mentioned in different chronological terms from the former, being called a time and times and half a time. The language is borrowed from Daniel, where, in answer to a question, · How long shall it be to the end of these wonders ?" the man clothed in linen sware,
that it should be for a time, times, and an half,' Dan. xi. 6, 7. This text as well as the former is intended to describe the period of the woman's residence in the wilderness, and therefore the time, times, and an half, must be equivalent to a thousand two hundred and threescore days. A time is the same with a prophetic year, which consisted of 360 days; times and a half are meant of two such years and a half. The amount of these chronological terms therefore is three prophetic years and a half, which is equivalent to 1260 prophetic days.
How the society of the faithful, symbolized by the woman, were to be sustained in the wilderness, was likewise mentioned in verse 6.; and of this we are also reminded in the text before us. She was nourished from the face of the serpent. It is clear from chap. xi. 3., that the witnesses were to prophesy during the whole period of their sackcloth condition; she would therefore have the bread of life continually set before her in the dispensation of the means of grace. In this way she was to be furnished with all that might be necessary for her subsistence, and likewise with that measure of comfort which might be consistent with her wilderness condition.
Having presented us with a general view of the warfare between the church and the dragon, the prophet next enters upon a more detailed account of the measures which Satan employed in the prosecution of this war, as in verse 15. And the serpent cast out of his mouth water as a flood, after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away of the flood.—A flood of water is the symbol of a multitude of people. The waters upon which the whore sitteth are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues, chap. xvii. 15. If you understand the figure as denoting a multitude of people, this text will corroborate what was formerly stated respecting the designs of Satan, to overwhelm the church by the inundations of the barbarians of the North. These floods, like a second deluge, overflowed the whole of the Roman territory in the West, and rose superior to the highest mountains of political strength within these limits, and unless the church had been shut up in some ark of safety, she had undoubtedly perished.-But this is not the only sense in which the figure is used in Scripture ; it is taken to denote errors and delusions, such evils as are poisonous and destructive to the souls of men. Thus we are told, that when the enemy cometh in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him, Isa. lix. 19. In this sense the figure must be understood here, because this flood is represented as proceeding out of the mouth of the serpent. Errors of the most dangerous character were industriously propagated during the whole period of the dragon-state of the empire. This mighty flood increased with its progress, till it seemed to threaten nothing short of universal destruction to the souls of men. A select few were removed out of the course of this torrent; they were lodged in a wilderness, where the sands with which they were surrounded seemed to swallow it up as it ap