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In Revelation 12 the serpent opens its mouth to sweep away the woman, but the earth protects her by opening its mouth.

Revelation 12:15-17 (NASB)
15 And the serpent poured water like a river out of his mouth after the woman, so that he might cause her to be swept away with the flood. 16 But the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and drank up the river which the dragon poured out of his mouth. 17 So the dragon was enraged with the woman, and went off to make war with the rest of her children, who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.

What does it mean that the earth helped the woman since it “opened its mouth”? What is its mouth?

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How one understands Rev. 12:15 depends on how one interprets the key nouns therein. The verse is, of course, metaphorical and there are several possibilities as to how στοματος ("mouth") might be understood. –  Pat Ferguson May 15 at 20:32
    
hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/8221/… may find this helpful. –  Bagpipes May 16 at 19:24

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So shall they fear the name of the LORD from the west, and his glory from the rising of the sun. When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the LORD shall lift up a standard against him(Isa. 59:19).

The Context for undertanding this passage is Figurative, as the "Woman" and "Dragon" are representitive of another reality, and not 'Literally' "a woman", or "a dragon".

The "Dragon", from the previous verses (vs. 3) is,

And there appeared another wonderb in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads.

The "7 Head and 10 Horns" are kingdoms; we see Rev. 17:10 are kingdoms,"

And there are seven kings: five are fallen, and one is, and the other is not yet come; and when he cometh, he must continue a short space.

We see also that the "horns" are kingdoms also,"

And the ten horns which thou sawest are ten kings, which have received no kingdom as yet; but receive power as kings one hour with the beast(vs 12)

Crucial to understanding this question is understanding the "Crowns"; from Rev. 17:12 we see that "power is given to them for 1 hour"-obviously not "60 Minutes" but a shorter period of time, so the Crowns indicate WHO is reigning at the point of time the vision is seen. In Rev. 12 the "Head" kingdoms are reigning; in Rev. 13, the "Horn" kingdoms are reigning.

"And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered , for to devour her child as soon as it was born . 5And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne".(Rev. 12:4-5)

The man-child who "rules all the nations with a rod of iron" is Christ; Ps. 2:6-9 says,"

Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion. 7 I will declare the decree: the Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee. 8 Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. 9 Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel.

The "woman" must be understood in Figurative context, since the rest of the chapter is understood figuratively. Mary, of course, was Jesus's earthly mother, and Christ's appearance on earth was during the Roman Empire, this is described to John as a "Head that is"(Rev. 17:10," And there are seven kings: five are fallen, and one is." Satan can be seen as 'empowering' the dragon; 'red' is the color of blood. In the following verses, Satan and his angels are removed from Heaven,"

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.(vs 17)

From this verse we see the "Woman" is more than Mary, although she is a type; "her seed" are all the believers of Jesus as the Son of God, she is "Spiritual Israel", or the 'mother' of all those who believe the promises of God,"

And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.(Gen. 3:15)

It is this backround which we must lay 1st before addressing the question: "What does the earth opening it's mouth mean?"

Twice in this chapter God protects the woman by bringing her to the wilderness; the 1st time, in vs 6 she is there for 1260 days. This can be the time Mary and Joseph, who being warned by an angel, fled to Egypt(Matt. 2:14) although historians differ about the length of time, judging from the death of Herod. The distinction must be made from the "1260 days" which at least approximates the time in Egypt, to the 'time, times and a half', which describe a period of time, but not the same time as "1260 days".

The 1260 days also roughly approximate the time of Jesus's earthly ministry; since we have ascertained that the 'woman' was Spiritual Israel, she was protected, so that "none were lost, except the son of perdition"(John 17:12); each time there was a threat, Jesus 'withdrew to the wilderness',

"Jesus therefore walked no more openly among the Jews; but went thence unto a country near to the wilderness, into a city called Ephraim, and there continued with his disciples."(John 11:54)

The "wilderness" was the place where God sent His prophets to encounter Him(think Elijah, Moses, John the Baptist, etc.) and also the place we encounter God. Since the "woman was given "2 wings of an eagle"(vs 14), symbolic of God's Sovereign protection,

"Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles' wings, and brought you unto myself.(Ex. 19:4)

God had given the 'woman' the ability to survive the onslaught of persecution from the "Roman Empire/Antichrist nations/Beast" which came during the 1st 3 centuries of Christianity largely by preserving it's doctrinal integrity in the 'wilderness'; the Desert Fathers in Egypt, John on Patmos, the various places that Christianity(Asia Minor, Macedonia, France, Brittain, etc.) all because of the persecution that had sent the Church out of Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. Just as the "earth opened it's mouth" and prevented Herod from pursuing Joseph and Mary, so also did the earth "open it's mouth" and prevent Christianity from being destroyed at any major population center, causing instead Christianity to "flee to the wilderness" to be re-invigorated with a fresh perspective from God.

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Most commentators regardless of wether they are preterist, historicist, symbolic or futurists take the water and the earth's mouth to be symbolic. However some futurists take even this literally to represent arid desert regions around Israel that will protect Christians who flee there after an invasion on Jerusalem. Those futurists might also take the first fulfillment to be the christians fleeing the first destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans.

Forgetting one's personal bias for a moment, what is the 'mouth'? The mouth is simply an origin of something coming from, or being absorbed by, some entity. The serpent has a mouth and something is coming from it, water. Possibly it is similar in picture to a big creature first sucking up water then turning its head and spitting it out in a torrential blast. The earth on the other hand simply seems to act normally by absorbing the water like a sponge. The mouth is just figurative language for all the cracks and little holes with which it is able to absorb water.

Preterists therefore think the water in the invading Roman army attacking Israel when some Christians are believed to have escaped following the Lord's warning via the desert. Symbolically the desert then helped absorb the attack. Symbolic views just treat the water as whatever persecution or false doctrine against the church and via references to Exodus motifs, the desert is a dry place where God sustained the church. Futurists can predict whatever they want as it is all in the future but will focus on a future literal Israel nation and refer to the same motifs.

My own bias in under the historicist camp which sees the dragon as Pagan Rome fallen to the earth by the rise of Roman Christianity. The Devil subsequently sucked into his mouth Goth invaders and heretical doctrines to blast the church and in many ways succeeded as the true church became almost invisible under the wider Roman Catholic institution which rose up in her place. This desert time of the church was basically the time where Popery was first established and strengthened until Luther. The reason for this view is the basic idea that in prophetic literature the heavens usually represent political powers, waters are invading armies and the earth are the average people. In this case therefore, the two wings of protection are the original east and west portions of the Roman Empire in which early Christianity was protected from paganism. When Goths invaded Rome, they were basically absorbed into the culture of the average Roman citizen as the Roman people and the impact that true Christianity had on her, could not be totally wiped out. In other words although the ecclesiastical structure became corrupt, not every monk, or every baker and common man, denied the true gospel, so the earth (the mass of average non powerful Roman persons) preserved early Christianity, in spite of foreign heresies, invasions, and the resulting Christian/Pagan superstitious Roman Catholicism that was formed, to the great anger and frustration of the Devil.

Here is a good summary of this view:

As to the fury of the flood, it was such as, throughout the length and breadth of the empire, to sweep away all the political bulwarks of Roman authority before it: and thus might well have been deemed sufficient to sweep away also the Christian Church, and Christianity itself, the professed religion of the empire. In fact the Pagan remnant, at Rome and elsewhere, were still not without their hopes of this result. The thought cheered them amidst their own sufferings; and, to accelerate it, they excited the enmity of the invaders against their Christian fellow-citizens. All showed that the spirit of the old Dragon, fallen though he was, directed the raging inundation.—But God had his own means of preserving the Church visible, and within it his true Church. The Christian,—the Trinitarian faith, had been so inwrought into the national minds and habits, as well as institutions and laws, especially from the effects of Theodosius’ reign, (for the two wings of the great eagle still helped the Woman,) that to sweep Christianity away it needed to sweep away the Roman population itself. And to effect this, though not unthought of by some of the Gothic conquerors, seemed to them not only of doubtful policy, but beyond their power. For, as the Apocalyptic figuration proceeded to foreshow, “the earth helped the woman, and swallowed up the flood.” Superstitious and earthly though the Roman population had become, yet, thus far, they did service to Christ’s Church in her present exigency. In those continuous and bloody wars of which the Western world had been the theatre, the barbarous invading population was so thinned, so absorbed, as it were, into the land they had invaded,3 that it needed their incorporation as one people with the conquered, to make up the necessary constituency of kingdoms. And, in this incorporation, not only was much of their original institutions, customs, and languages absorbed, but their religion altogether. The successive tribes, whether of Visigoths, Ostrogoths, Heruli, Huns, Vandals, Burgundians, abandoned their Paganism for Christianity.—At first indeed it was for the most part Arian pseudo-Christianity. Such was their profession in France, Spain, Africa. But, after a century or more of the flux and reflux of the invading flood, this too was abandoned for the more orthodox Trinitarian Christian faith. (Elliott, E. B. (1862). Horæ Apocalypticæ; or, A Commentary on the Apocalypse, Critical and Historical (Fifth Edition., Vol. 3, pp. 62–64). London: Seeley, Jackson, and Halliday.)

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Just like no one would say, when David was delivered from his enemies and Saul, that he was literally surrounded by cords, and waves, and snares as described in Psalm 18:4, so in Revelation 12 we should not think so literally.

So the flood the serpent pours out is probably the deceit of someone like Korah from Numbers 16, who did not want the Israelites to follow what Moses (God's chosen leader) was saying for them to do. Notice that in Rev 12:17 the serpent goes after her children who keep the commandments of God. Korah experienced a judgement where the earth swallowed him and his companions up. So the Exodus motif comes into play here where God is rescuing his people from destruction. As long as the people hold to the testimony of Jesus they will conquer the serpent (see Rev. 12:11).

See Grant Osborne's commentary on Revelation part of the Baker Exegetical Commentary Series.

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