And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars: And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered. (Revelation 12:1)
The visions of Prophets recorded in the Bible are God-given revelations, that we might see spiritual realities otherwise hidden. Often these apocalypses,(“unveilings) use symbolism and metaphor to reveal abstract truths to God’s people.
In apocalyptic imagery, a woman is often a symbol for a spiritual body.
Thus faithful Israel is often referred to as “the daughter of Zion”, or the “wife of Jahweh”. Unfaithful, or backslidden Israel is likened unto a harlot in prophetic imagery.
How is the faithful city become an harlot! it was full of judgment; righteousness lodged in it; but now murderers.(Isaiah 1:21)
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.(Zechariah 9:9)
In the New Testament also, the believing church is called “The elect lady”, and “The Bride of Christ”.
Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready;(Revelation 19)
For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ.(2 Cor 11:2)
The book of Proverbs and the book of Revelation have this in common (among other things), that both texts present to the reader a choice between two women.
In Proverbs we overhear the godly counsel given to the Son of David, warning him of the choices he must make, particularly between two women. The young man is presented with the harlot, the strange woman who flatters with her mouth, but whose guests end up in hell.The father expressly writes to deliver his son from her;
To deliver thee from the strange woman, even from the stranger which flattereth with her words; Which forsaketh the guide of her youth, and forgetteth the covenant of her God. For her house inclineth unto death, and her paths unto the dead. None that go unto her return again, neither take they hold of the paths of life.(Proverbs 2:16-19)
All through the book we see her, or hear her crying out to the simple, her false message of wisdom,”Stolen waters are sweet and bread eaten in secret is pleasant”(Proverbs 9).
We read Proverbs hoping that the young man will make the right choice and are relieved at the end when he does, for there the ultimate virtuous woman is revealed;
Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies. The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil. She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life.(Proverbs 31:10-12)
She too has been woven throughout the entire narrative of he book, we see her diligently setting a table, and calling out in the streets to redeem the simple, and honoring her husband before others.
This is about more than wisdom to marry right, nor is it merely an exhortation to sexual morality. The two women are two spiritualities, only one of which is true and saving. Will we choose the true church or the harlot? Will we buy into God’s or man’s philosophy? Will we be spiritual on our own terms or according to God’s Word? Which worldview will we embrace? Will we hold to a God centered view of life or a Humanistic wisdom?
Get wisdom, get understanding: forget it not; neither decline from the words of my mouth. Forsake her not, and she shall preserve thee: love her, and she shall keep thee. Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding. Exalt her, and she shall promote thee: she shall bring thee to honour, when thou dost embrace her. She shall give to thine head an ornament of grace: a crown of glory shall she deliver to thee.(Proverbs 4:5-9)
The Revelation is structured similarly. In Revelation we encounter “That woman Jezebel, which teaches my servants to commit fornication…”, and we see a gaudy harlot, dripping with wealth, clothed in scarlet, and holding a chalice as if she is the bearer of some sacred mystery. But we note that on her forehead are the names of blasphemy, for this woman is horrifying.
So he carried me away in the spirit into the wilderness: and I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication: And upon her forehead was a name written, Mystery, Babylon The Great, The Mother Of Harlots And Abominations Of The Earth. And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus: and when I saw her, I wondered with great admiration(Revelation 17:3-6)
But all along, in the Revelation there is presented another more virtuous woman.Though despised and persecuted by the world and by the harlot, she will be revealed to be the Bride of Christ,prepared and purified by tribulation, that she might be made ready to have and to hold to the groom, Christ, the Lord.
Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints. And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of God.(Revelation 19:7-9)
The woman in the vision, is generally a picture of the true people of God. They wait for Him, and believe in Him, and are willing to bear all suffering for His truth. On one level this is the meaning of the woman.
There is also a more specific identification to this woman, for often apocalyptic visions have layers of meaning. Fortunately we don’t have to speculate who she is, because there is a principle of interpretation that teaches us to let scripture interpret scripture. In the next article we will take a closer look at who she is and what the vision is telling us.