Mud on the Wall: Brainstorming the Apocalypse (XXVII)

April 14, 2010

So far in our explorations of the seven beatitudes of the Book of Revelation, which are found in 1:3, 14:13, 16:15, 19:9, 20:6, 22:7, 14, we have proposed the existence of three highly purposeful inverted parallel layers of a “spread chiasm.”  It is undoubtedly largely because of the seemingly unbalanced spread of the beatitudes that such a chiastic arrangement has not been pursued in any depth previously—at least not that I have been able to find.

In fact, from what I have seen, the very concept of “spread chiasm” in the entire Bible is still not that far beyond a question mark.  By comparison, working with standard inverted parallelism has made a quantum leap in the past 20-25 years.  When I first started working with, and publishing, chiastic studies in the earlier 1990s, there was still tremendous suspicion about whether such structures were real or imagined—sometimes reflected by wording like “seeing a chiasm under every bush” (which, of course, is possible, but not nearly so big a danger as some traditionalist scholars imagined at that point).  In the last few years, however, I have noted more and more chiastic structures being included in articles and commentaries.  Will something similar happen in the time ahead with spread chiasms?  I hope so.

The first personal experience I had with spread chiasm was in 1997, when I was asked to step in for Paul Feinberg of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, who was having severe health problems, to write a chapter called “Israel and the Nations in God’s Redemptive Plan” for the book Israel: The Land and the People (Kregel).  As I worked with four successive blessing statements related to the development of the primarily unconditional, but secondarily conditional nature of the Abrahamic Promise in Genesis, I noticed a mirroring effect.  In trying to perceive what was going on in those passages, I learned quite a bit about spread chiasm.

In my opinion, a quick review of the dividends of that study in Genesis will be helpful before we look at the relationship between Revelation 16:15 and 19:9.  Thank you for your patience with this aside.  I believe that it will be a brief, but profitable, excursion!

A (12:2-3) In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed (Promise/ Unconditional)

B (22:18) In your seed all the nations shall be blessed, because you obeyed my voice (Faith Needed/Conditional)

B’ (26:4) In your seed all the nations shall be blessed, because Abraham obeyed my voice (Faith Had Been Displayed/Condiitional)

A’ (28:14) In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed (Promise/Unconditional)

After writing that chapter, though, I continued to think about that inverted parallelism.  At some later point, it occurred to me to consider that, since 22:18 and 26:4 form a sort of “twin peaks” effect, perhaps I should also consider what is between those two peaks, as if they might also be bracketing material in between that is relevant to the point the spread chiasm is making.

Here’s what occurred to me as I carefully (re)considered that material: Abraham had passed the great test of his faith that is emphasized in both Hebrews 11:17-19 and James 2:21-22.  Isaac was allowed to live and now he and his “seed” would be the ones through whom the Divine promise would be worked out.  For that to happen, though, certain transitional events had to take place.

That’s what happens between 22:18 and 26:4: 1) the preview in regard to Rebekah’s family (22:20-24); 2) the death of Sarah (ch. 23); 3) the Divine provision of a wife for Isaac: Rebekah (ch. 24); 4) the mention of Abraham’s other wives and children–all of whom were also “blessed” (25:1-6; see 12:2-3 and 22:18); 5) Abraham’s blessing of Isaac, then his death and burial (25:7-11); 6) the life and family of Ishmael, Abraham’s other blessed–just not as much as Isaac–son (25:12-18); and 7) the births of Esau and Jabob to Isaac and Rebekah and the beginning of the birth order reversal (seen so frequently in Genesis) that would lead to Abraham’s descendants being named after Jacob/Israel (25:19-34).

Is it merely a coincidence that a spread chiasm of blessing statements in the first book of the Bible is highly significant and there is also one in the last book of the Bible?  I certainly don’t think that is the case.

Let’s take a quick look at Revelation 16:15 and 19:9 and what lies between the blessing statements in those verses.  Then, we will be in a much better position to decide whether it is indeed significant that such an intriguing exhortation is located in 18:4.

As we saw in the last post, in the contexts of both 16:15 and 19:9 are echoes of Jesus’ wording in Matthew 24-25 related to being on the alert because no one knows when Christ is coming back.  However, Revelation 16:17-19:5 appear to add another major reason to be on the alert before the coming of Christ: Babylon the Great.

The most amazing this about this is that Babylon the Great is not even mentioned in the Apocalypse until 14:8 and, at that point, we have no clue what is being referred to.  In fact, it’s not until the section nestled between the two mirroring beatitudes in layer C (i.e., 16:15 and 19:9) that we really get a bead on Babylon the Great.  Boy, do we!

Let’s take the quick tour of that section of Revelation: 1) The seventh bowl of wrath is poured out on Babylon the Great (16:17-21); 2) the relationship between Babylon the Great, the Beast and the kings of the earth is portrayed, culminating in Babylon’s destruction (ch. 17); 3) the destruction of Babylon the Great is described with “woes!” from those dependent on her, as well as a fuller description of her killing of “the saints” (ch. 18, esp. vv. 20, 24; see 17:6); and 4) the “great multitude” of God’s people from 7:9ff., singing the Hallelujah Chorus of praise for the judgment of Babylon the Great (19:1-5).

What, you may ask, is the “alert” factor in this section?  It is that Babylon the Great is already at work, all around us.  If nothing else, the statement in 18:24–that “the blood of prophets and saints, and all those slaughtered on earth, was found in you” (HCSB)–should convince us of that.  Also, from the research related to the Evangelical Theological Society paper I did several years ago with Emily Hunter McGowin, “Getting in Touch with the ‘Feminine Side’ of the Apocalypse: The Function of Female Figures in Revelation," it is extremely likely that the false prophetess Jezebel in the church at Thyatira (2:18-19) is a preview/microcosm of Babylon, thus getting across that the spirit of Babylon, so to speak, is even present in churches--a constant present-tense danger.

In that light, for the wording in 18:4 (“Come out of her, My people, so that you will not share in her sins…” [HCSB]–which echoes similar ideas written to the Jewish people in the latter part of Jeremiah, when the Neo-Babylonian Empire was about to fall) to be found at the precise midpoint between 16:15 and 19:9 can hardly be by chance.  Separation by God’s people, for the purpose of maintaining spiritual purity, is a very important biblical principle (see 2 Cor. 6:14-18, where “come out from among them and be separate” apparently alludes to Isa. 52:11, just a few verses before the great portrayal of the Messiah’s atoning death in ch. 53).

In conclusion,  it seems fair to say that the centered inclusion of Revelation 18:4, halfway between the “stay alert” beatitudes in 16:15 and 19:9 is to get across that a primary way for God’s people to stay alert is to separate from the Babylon the Great influence all around them, including the (perhaps subtle) Jezebel influence in their churches.  Next time, I will look at the seemingly “dangling” remaining beatitude of the Book of Revelation in 22:14.  As will be seen, it turns out to be the spiritual “icing on the cake” of the entire set of seven blessing statements in the Apocalypse.


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