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In Revelation 17:1 it is written,

One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me,"Come i will show you the punishment of the great prostitute,who sits on many waters.

I have come to understand that the "many waters" refer to men from every people,tribe,nation and language who are the followers of God.

What does the word "sit" mean in the above scripture?

Does it mean to rest,oppress, burden etc.?

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I believe "sit" in Rev 17:1 is intended to convey the settledness of a potentate in pomp (as also seen in an earlier answer). This sitting/setting needs to be seen in the immediate context, and in relation to John's use of the Hebrew scriptures.

Principles for interpretation

I'll start with two general principles for interpreting the book of Revelation (the two most helpful for this question; there are others, of course!), then proceed to apply them to Rev. 17:1, and draw out the nuance that, to my mind, best suits the verse.

  1. The visions of the book of Revelation are presented in picture language. The details are of interest, however the details often cannot be pressed. This question about Rev 17:1 offers one stark example along the way.
  2. John of Patmos, presented as our book's author, uses a vast array of traditions from the Hebrew Bible (the Christian Old Testament) with which to paint his pictures. The opening vision of the risen Christ in Rev 1:12-16 is a good example. In those few verses you hear echoes of Exodus, Daniel, Ezekiel, and Zechariah -- it's breathtaking. This is pervasive in Revelation. If we move to a musical metaphor: you can listen to a song with pleasure and be moved, but if you hear in it strains of other music, that experience is deepened. So too with Revelation: catching the resonances of the Hebrew scriptures can deepen our understanding and appreciation of what John is trying to convey. It isn't all about finding his sources though. In G.B. Caird's memorable phrase, often you might as well try to "unweave the rainbow".

It should be obvious that these two principles go hand-in-hand: the palette that John uses to paint his pictures with is the Hebrew Scriptures (less metaphorically, his visions are formed and informed by OT imagery).

Text of Rev 17:1

Just for clarity and ease of reference (English provided is WEB; the NET notes are also handy), even though it's only the last line/phrase or two that we're interested in:

Καὶ ἦλθεν εἷς ἐκ τῶν ἑπτὰ ἀγγέλων τῶν ἐχόντων τὰς ἑπτὰ φιάλας
Kai ēlthen eis ek tōn hepta angellōn tōn echontōn tas hepta phialas
One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came

καὶ ἐλάλησεν μετ᾽ ἐμοῦ λέγων·
kai elalēsen met’ emou legōn:
and spoke with me, saying,

δεῦρο, δείξω σοι τὸ κρίμα
deuro, deixō soi to krima
“Come here. I will show you the judgment

τῆς πόρνης τῆς μεγάλης
tēs pornēs tēs megalēs
of the great prostitute

τῆς καθημένης ἐπὶ ὑδάτων πολλῶν...
tēs kathēmenēs epi hudatōn pollōn...
who sits on many waters...”

OT precursors

There are three elements in the picture here that constrain how we interpret "sit": (a) the "great prostitute"; (b) her deportment, "who sits"; and (c) "many waters". (I'll worry about the preposition later.) I won't pursue (a) here, but it will intersect with "who sits" and "many waters", as we'll see.

"who sits": Obviously "sitting" is a pervasive, every-day action. But there are a few OT settings that have quite a bit of resonance with our Revelation text:

Isa 47:1, 8
1 “Come down, and sit in the dust, virgin daughter of Babylon.
Sit on the ground without a throne, daughter of the Chaldeans. ...
8 “Now therefore hear this, you who are given to pleasures,
who sit securely, who say in your heart,
‘I am, and there is no one else besides me.
I shall not sit as a widow,
neither shall I know the loss of children.’ ...

This text, like Isaiah 46 preceding it, is about the great reversal of Babylon the splendid being reduced to humiliation in divine judgment. In ch. 47 this is accomplished through personification as a woman. Note especially in the verses cited how this movement is precisely around two kinds of "sitting": the arrogance of Babylon in her pomp (v. 8) shall give way to desolation of sitting in the dust (v. 1).

Other OT texts echo this motif: I'll just mention Ezekiel 23:41 -- another reversal, personification of nation-as-woman, this time the sisters Samaria and Jerusalem, also at the point of self-delusion leading to destruction.

Life is short, so I'll go on to the next item:

"many waters":

Jer 51:13
You who dwell on many waters, abundant in treasures,
your end has come, the measure of your covetousness.

Babylon is being addressed here, as in Isaiah 47 (notice the pattern). This comes into Greek as kataskēnountas eph' udasi pollois = "dwelling upon many waters". The echo between this text and Rev 17:1 is fairly obvious, but the echoes ripple out.

Isa 17:12-13
12 Ah, the uproar of many peoples, who roar like the roaring of the seas; and the rushing of nations, that rush like the rushing of mighty waters! 13 The nations will rush like the rushing of many waters: but he will rebuke them, and they will flee far off, and will be chased like the chaff of the mountains before the wind, and like the whirling dust before the storm.

Not about Babylon this time, but still in Isaiah's foreign nation oracles, this one addressed to Damascus (Syria), if that address is still in force here, later in the chapter. Notice how the "mighty waters" theme mutates into a mountain metaphor around the conglomeration of people who come to destroy.

More widely, the "many waters" motif usually has to do with the roar and power of the primeval sea. This is especially prevalent in the Psalms (see, e.g., 29:3; 77:19, of the exodus waters; 93:4). It is this note that really frames, almost, the whole book of Ezekiel (compare 1:24; 43:2 when the glory of the Lord returns to the renewed temple; via a double-duty literal-metaphorical judgement of Tyre (by the sea) in 26:19). This aspect of the motif also appears in Revelation (1:15; 14:2; 19:6), and in these cases it's the sound that is the important aspect -- just like the Psalms and Ezekiel parallels.

Back to Revelation 17

You'll appreciate that I'm trying to keep this a bit brief (but losing), and there is more to be said about those two OT motifs (I might need to come back for an edit) ... but I think we're in a position to see how these come to bear on Revelation 17, so now it's time for the immediate context.

First, we need to be clear that sitting is not restricted to this occurrence in verse 1:

  • 1: the great prostitute who sits on many waters
  • 3: a woman sitting on a scarlet-colored animal
  • 9: The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits.
  • 15: “The waters which you saw, where the prostitute sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations, and languages.”

And to these need to be added one from the next chapter:

  • 18:7 For she says in her heart, ‘I sit a queen, and am no widow, and will in no way see mourning.’

The first three in ch. 17 give the woman three different "things" to sit on: the waters (v. 1), the beast (v. 3), the "mountains" (!, v. 9). Only then does John's angel explain what this is about, but by returning to the scenario of v. 1.

This is where the two "principles for interpretation" come back into play. John's vision is a technicolour picture drawn from a set of related OT texts. The details are distinctive even while those distinctions seem not to be of great importance to the vision. Woven into John's vision, though, are elements from both of Jer 51:13 and Isaiah 47.

The amalgamation of "sea" and "mountain" might seem especially strange, but even this is explained by OT usage, where (in a related set of images) the LORD "treads on the backs [al bamothey = waves] of the sea" (Job 9:8), or "treads on the backs [al bamothey = heights] of the earth" (Amos 4:13; cf. Micah 1:3). "Waves" are waters' "mountains", in other words, and YHWH treads on them both. (Hebrew "bamah" is difficult here; see Crenshaw in the bibliography below for the standard treatment of this language.)

Drawing it together

So! With those principles and observations in mind, with (1) and (2) most important for OP:

(1) "sit", then, is echoing especially Isaiah 47, in tandem with Jer 51:13. It's clear that the whore's proud perch is a prelude to punishment. In 17:1, though, she is in her pomp and power. This also explains where the odd "epi" (upon) preposition comes from, and (to my mind) its precise nuance is less important than its scriptural source. There is plenty in in Revelation that doesn't quite make literal sense, and we shouldn't be too literalistic about it. (Maybe that's "Principle for interpretation 3"!)

(2) The broad movement of the chapter, then, is of pride going before the fall, in the most dramatic way. The string of "sitting" references trace this movement. Earlier in Revelation, "sitting" mostly has to do with God (or the elders) on his (or their) throne(s) - e.g. (not exhaustive, there are many!) 4:2-4, 9-10; 5:1; 7:15; 14:14-16; 20:11. This reinforces the impression that Whore Babylon's sitting is hubristic pretension to divine status. (This would require greater space to work out in full, though.)

(3) The "many waters", so often associated with the Lord's coming in majestic power (esp. Psalms, Ezekiel), here further promote the idolatrous presumption of Whore Babylon. It is also a point at which different strands of OT imagery get overlaid, because in Revelation 17, it also resonates with the Isaiah 17 text (cited above) in which this metaphor (some would root it in "myth" - deep mysteries of the supernatural realm) is not only the unruly chaotic force over which the Lord reigns supreme (the pattern in Psalms), but also that threatens to overflow in destructive power on human existence (so Isaiah 17). Both nuances occur here, one in Rev 17:1, the other in its explanation in v. 15.

(4) [Bonus!] The interpretation of 17:15, far from associating a multitude with the people of God (as in Rev 7:9) are those in league with the "ten kings" who turn against "Babylon"(/Rome?). The association of "Babylon" with "Rome" in the symbolism of the vision is fairly widely shared among commentators, and also helps to explain the "mountain" references (around Rome) as pictorial and realistic features coalesce at various points. The emperor in mind is often thought to be Nero, but these things are debated.


(Very) Select Bibliography

G. R. Beasley-Murray, The Book of Revelation (New Century Bible; London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1978; now reprinted by Wipf & Stock).

G. B. Caird, A Commentary on the Revelation of St. John the Divine, 2nd edition (Black's NT Commentary; London: Black, 1984).

James L. Crenshaw, "wedorek 'al-bamotê 'arets," Catholic Biblical Quarterly 34 (1972) 39-53 [on the motif of the Lord "treading the heights"]

James Moffat, "The Revelation of St. John the Divine", in The Expositor's Greek Testament, ed. by W. Roberston Nicoll (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1897), vol. 5, see pp. 449-455.

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This is an awesome answer! Thanks for taking the time to write it! –  Dan Jan 12 at 23:46
    
@Bagpipes - yes, you read me correctly. These are people groups over whom the Whore sits with authority (so, this vs should be taken with v. 18). In the wider context, these are the peoples represented by the kings of 16:14. As Beasley-Murray points out, in ch. 17 the kings are included with the people; in ch. 16, the people are subsumed under the kings. Brian Blount, in his fine commentary, explains this language in a comment on 10:11 (hope that link works! should open p. 200 of Blount's commentary). ... [1/2] –  Davïd Jan 13 at 13:56
    
[2/2] ... Essentially, the positive uses in 5:9 and 7:9 -- those whom Christ has redeemed -- give way at 10:11 to negative uses (those who fail to repent: e.g., 11:9; 13:7; 14:6, etc.), until the final appearance of the language in chs. 21-22 when the nations have submitted to the full and final authority of God and the Lamb. So, to me, it makes most sense to see in 17:15 the "nations" in this (negative) light as well. Let me know how that strikes you! –  Davïd Jan 13 at 14:01
    
+1 @David - 1.) - I agree with the parallels you made! 2.) - However, prophetic interpretation, especially of Revelation is kind of off limits for me--especially considering the curse an all. ;) - 3.) - Kinda makes me wish for the good ol' days when we had apostles and prophets to interpret this stuff for us 4.) - Christians always said the Jews "missed it," with all their traditional interpretations, etc -- I wonder if the Christians will have it figured out in time. :) –  e.s. kohen Nov 28 at 3:22

The imagery at the beginning of Revelation 17 is of the "great prostitute," who is a symbol of spiritual apostasy and idolatry. Another term for her is Babylon the Great. Constable suggests she is sitting beside, not on, many waters, since beside is perhaps a better translation of the Greek word epi (cf. John 21:1, where Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, meaning on the shore). "Many waters" is a symbol for the sea of humanity, since the kings of the world and their billions of subjects have been seduced and deceived by the harlot.

In answer to your question, then, in chapter 17, which addresses primarily the "religious branch" of the two Babylonian systems of world domination, the religious and the commercial (as in chapter 18), this "God substitute" sits on the shore looking out over the sea of humankind, reveling in the power she wields in the kingdoms of this world. She is sitting, I suggest, because she has accomplished a "great" work, and she delights in surveying her handiwork, having deceived so many people.

According to other New Testament texts (which I believe are related to the topics and themes of Revelation), these kingdoms (plural) comprise but one kingdom, and that kingdom is Satan's counterfeit of the one true kingdom (see Mt 12:25-29; cf. the "cosmos" of 1 John 2:15-17). According to these texts, the one true kingdom is the Kingdom of God (or the Kingdom of Heaven), which Jesus illustrated with many metaphors and analogies ("The kingdom of heaven is like . . .," as in Mt 13:24,31,33,44,45,47).

After the same angel who promised John he would show him the great harlot's judgment (v.1), the imagery changes, as the angel carries John into the wilderness where the woman is now seated on a scarlet beast with seven heads and ten horns. On her forehead in just 14 words (in our English versions, that is) is the mystery of who she is, and when John sees her she is drunk with the blood of God's holy ones and God's witnesses.

In conclusion, when a potentate sits, he or she rests having accomplished a great work.1 The great prostitute is resting, temporarily, as she surveys what will soon—unbeknownst to her—come crashing round about her when the kingdom of this world will give way to

"the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever" (Rev 11:15).


1 We read, for example, of Jesus who was seated (and sits) at the right hand of God (Lk 22:69; Eph 1:20; Col 3:1) until His enemies are made a footstool for His feet (see, for example, Psalm 110:1). He sits because the great work of redeeming humankind from the penalty and power of sin, once and for all, was finished at the cross when He cried out with a loud voice, "Accomplished!" (Greek, tetelesthai, Jn 19:30).

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@rhetorician,O.K.,but are you saying that the Greek word epi means by the waters and not on the waters?So in the next event when she sits on the beast,what is the Greek word for sit?it cannot be epi as that means by,as you have said.Or am i missing something@ –  Bagpipes Jan 9 at 21:47
    
@Bagpipes: Yes, epi could mean "beside" or "by" or "next to" the waters, though the NIV and the NET, for example, translate it "on." The word for sits or sitting, in Greek, is kathēmai. See Rev 4:9,10; 5:13; 6:16; 7:10; 7:15. –  rhetorician Jan 9 at 23:48
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Why can 'waters' not mean waters? Why must it mean 'men' or 'humanity'? If it meant waters, it would imply maritime control or control of trade, something John would have been familiar with. Then the two verses are easier to understand. –  gideon marx Jan 10 at 9:10
    
@gideonmarx: A preacher I heard recently suggests that in addition to the highly metaphorical language so ubiquitous in Revelation, John is also using a form of CODE which his audience would be able to decipher, but which outsiders, including the powers that be who put John on Patmos, would not. The economic aspect, vis a vis the maritime trade you mention, is still an important element in Revelation, but it is addressed in chapter 18, not 17, where the focus is on the religious apostasy inherent in Babylon (which BTW was obviously a real kingdom but is CODE in Revelation for something else). –  rhetorician Jan 10 at 15:10
    
I asked because my King James links Rev 17: 15 with 18: 17 so it is a point that has been raised before and that cannot be dismissed out of hand. Maybe the King James translators are wrong as they are in other instances. –  gideon marx Jan 11 at 17:54

The Greek verb κάθημαι occurs in two ways in the Christian New Testament:

(a) to sit down somewhere (figurative and literal)
(b) to sit down somewhere to exercise authority (figurative and literal)

The figurative and literal occur for each case.

For example, in Acts 20:9 we find someone simply sitting with no figurative connotation; that is, the young man Eutychus falls asleep sitting on an upper storey window sill. (He was listening to the Apostle Paul preaching into the late night.) After falling asleep he leaned over and fell to his death. There are also figurative examples, such as found in Matthew 4:16 (or its parallel passage in Luke 1:79) where people are found sitting in darkness due to spiritual blindness. The allusion is not literal, but figurative.

Now sitting also carries the implication of authority, and the most obvious example are those who are kings or magistrates. In the Christian New Testament, the literal references to those sitting in authority include Pontius Pilate, who took his seat of judgment in order to exercise judicial authority (Matt 27:19). Another example is Caiaphas the high priest, who sat in judgment in order to exercise his priestly authority (Acts 23:3). These individuals literally took their seats in order to exercise their authority.

There is also the figurative use of the Greek word, which indicates that someone "sits" in authority, and of course there is really no literal implication that such a person is necessarily physically sitting. A perfect example is the Office of the President of the United States. We often hear in history class that Richard M. Nixon was the first sitting president who ever resigned from the office of the President of the United States. We know that our presidents elect need not necessarily have to recline in a chair in order to exercise their authority, however the idea of sitting carries the figurative connotation of the exercise of authority. So we say our sitting president to refer to the current president-elect (although he does not have to recline in a chair in order for us to call himself the president). So the exercise of authority also carries the figurative connotation of sitting as well.

This figurative sense is what we find in Revelation, where this woman of ill-repute is exercising her authority over the beast who is both the head of state and the nations over whom the head of state exercises his authority. (In the Hebrew Bible, there is precedent that the head of state is the "head" of the state according to Isaiah 7:8-9, and so there is the connotation that the state and its head are one corporate body.) This woman, who is commercialized religion, is exercising her authority over this corporate body, which is both the state and its head.

Now what is so backward about this arrangement is that this woman is the analog of the corporate body of Christ. (The body of Christ are those followers of Jesus in all lands and peoples around the world, and the "head" of this corporate body of believers is Jesus Christ according to Ephesians 5:23 compared to Ephesians 5:29-32.) That is, this woman is the apostate body of Christ, who is now the bride of the beast. Since she is apostate, she is an adulteress from the divine perspective of John, who wrote the Revelation.

So under the correct arrangement of the divine order, it is the woman who is under the authority of the man (1 Cor 11:3), who in turn "nourishes" and "cherishes" his wife as his own body (Eph 5:28-29). The church or body of Christ is therefore under the authority of the head, Jesus Christ. Neither a man in a marriage, nor Christ in relation to his body (the church), ever "sits" on her. On the contrary, the biblical authority stems on the basis of love, since the divine mandate for men is to love their wives (Eph 5:25, Col 3:18, and 1 Pet 3:7). Women are encouraged to learn to love their husbands (Tit 2:3-4), but they are never commanded in the Christian New Testament to love their husbands per se (as men are commanded), but instead to respect and submit to them (Eph 5:33, Col 3:18, and 1 Pet 3:1).

Thus the woman sitting on the beast does not respect him, which is why he eventually destroys her (Rev 17:16). That is, she engaged in fornication with the nations of the entire world from whom she derived her power and wealth ("drunk" in world commerce and finance), and her unfaithfulness to her erstwhile husband (the head of state and his immediate domain) was why he destroyed her. So the adulteress (apostate body of Christ) is eventually destroyed for being unfaithful to her paramour husband (the beast).

For further background and information on the divine order, and how the divine order goes "flip-flop" at the end times by the beast and the apostate church, please click here.

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"The Prostitute who sits on many waters"

This is the symbology of the book of Revelation, a harlot who sits on many waters. 'Sitting can have many different meanings, but in the link below, a similar type of sitting is described.

See example at: http://www.businessinsider.com/stocks-gop-congress-sitting-democrat-president-2014-11

The terms used are 'sitting President" and mean one who is 'in office' and 'on the job', 'engaging in the tasks of their position.'

κάθημαι kathēmai- is the root , translated here and elsewhere as 'place', and 'dwell', so with these meanings we can put together - "the sitting Harlot (is in office) in her place where she dwells and engages in activity from."

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