What the Bible says about
Woman as Symbol of System of Beliefs
(From Forerunner Commentary)
The woman in the Parable of the Leaven is interesting because in all the other parables a man is the main character. What is "a woman" in Scripture?
In Revelation 12, a woman is symbolic of the nation of Israel, and in Revelation 17 and 18 she represents the false system of Babylon. In Isaiah 47, a woman is again symbolic of Babylon (whether the nation or the system of Babylon). In Galations 4:21-31, Paul uses "women" to symbolize the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. In Ezekiel 16, God uses a woman to symbolize Israel: "Aholah" is the kingdom of Israel and "Aholibah" is the kingdom of Judah.
What can we understand from this? Every time a woman is used as a symbol, the common denominator is the idea of a system of beliefs and practices that influence other people. A church or religion is a system of beliefs and practices. A nation has a character and way of doing things. This world as a whole has a system of beliefs and practices that go contrary to God. To find out what kind of system is being referred to, we must look at the context to see how the system works, how it reacts, and what it does.
What are the characteristics of this woman in the parable? First, she took leaven. This is the common word used to mean "to come into possession of." It is a common Greek word, but it can also have the connotation of "to seize," "to take by force." The text does not say which connotation is correct here.
The next verb is "hid" (Greek, enkrupto), an interesting word. It means "to hide in" or "to mix." Enkrupto is used only this way here. Enkrupto is the same word from which we get our word "encrypt." A general tells his lieutenant, "Encrypt this message and take it to the colonel at the front line." What does the lieutenant do when he encrypts it? He mixes up the letters according to a code, and only a person with the key to the encryption knows what the message is saying.
The root word for enkrupto is krupto, which means "to cover, to conceal, to keep secret." Its major connotation is "to be sneaky" or "to be secret, covert, or surreptitious." It seems from the usage of these words that this woman is up to no good whatsoever. First, she takes something, then she hides it. She is a bad lady, a bad system.
She hides the leaven "in three measures of meal." That Jesus uses the very phrase "three measures of meal" is quite interesting—and it is a key, because this told His Jewish audience something that He did not have to explain, as they were familiar with it. It was a normal practice and meant something to them.
It has been suggested that He used this amount because it is the average quantity of meal a housewife would employ in her daily baking. This suggestion is pretty ridiculous when we consider that three measures of meal equal about two gallons of meal (7.3 liters)! That seems like a lot of bread each day.
An average loaf of bread contains about three cups of flour. Two gallons of meal, which is the equivalent of about eight quarts or thirty-two cups, would make nearly eleven loaves! Even the most bread-gorging family on this earth would not eat eleven loaves each day. Normally, one loaf would suffice for one person for a day, if he ate nothing else. Jesus, then, is probably speaking of a special occasion.
Genesis 18 contains the first biblical usage of "three measures of meal." This is the occasion when the One who became Jesus Christ and two angels came to Abraham, and he made them a meal. Jesus tells him in verse 5, "Go ahead and make a meal." "So Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah and said, 'Quickly, make ready three measures of fine meal'" (Genesis 18:6).
What was "three measures of meal"? There is a principle of Bible study (the law of first mention) that says, "The first time a thing—a word, a phrase—is mentioned in the Bible influences how it should be interpreted throughout." Here, "three measures of meal" is used in the context of a fellowship meal—giving hospitality, in this case, to God—so it has a spiritual connotation.
The law of grain offerings in Numbers 15:8-9 provides some instruction. We need to learn a little bit about Israelite dry measures. The smallest unit of measure is an omer. Three omers equal one about one seah. This seah is what is translated "measure" in Matthew 13:33, except it is in Greek saton. There is also the ephah, which is ten omers. Three seahs made up of about three omers equal one ephah. These verses show that the smallest meal offering that could be given was one seah, one-third of an ephah. It had to be of fine flour. Abraham gave three seahs, three measures. He went above and beyond what was required for the meal offering.
Judges 6:18-19 shows Gideon's offering to the Lord. How much did he give? Gideon gave an ephah, three measures of meal. I Samuel 1:24 tells of Hannah's thank offering. How much? Hannah's offering was one ephah, three measures of meal. In Ezekiel 45:24 and 46:5, 7, 11 are the offerings given at the Feast during the Millennium. How much is given? An ephah, three measures of meal, is given.
With these examples in mind, we can understand that Christ's use of this phrase would have made His Jewish audience think immediately of the meal offering in Leviticus 2, and they would have been absolutely shocked out of their shoes to find that someone had the audacity, the blasphemy, to put leaven in a meal offering! That was not kosher! It simply was not done! A person who did so could expect to be zapped by the next lightning bolt out of heaven. It was sin. What, then, would the normal Jew have thought? He would have understood immediately that the Kingdom of Heaven would be subverted. Something good had been corrupted.
"Three measures of meal," the meal offering, represents the offerer's service and devotion to fellowman, and it is typified by what Christ did throughout His whole life by offering Himself in service to fellowman. Symbolically, it represents the second great commandment, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." It is devoted service toward others.
If "three measures of meal" represents our love, service, and devotion to fellowman, this parable warns us that the false system will make a concerted and covert effort to corrupt the true church through false doctrine aimed at how we treat each other. It will lunge directly at the church's jugular—how we treat one another.
The "three measures of meal" represents the church's teachings. This squares with our understanding of what Christ is. He is the Word, and one of His titles is "the Bread of life." The church's teachings come from the Word of God, which is our daily bread. Fine meal is the major component of bread. Satan would try to corrupt the word, the teaching, so that church members would not treat each other well, offend one another, and maybe some would lose their salvation.
And the woman succeeds! Jesus says, ". . . till it was all leavened!" Sobering, is it not?
The church has been fairly successful in guarding the major doctrines that have to do with its identity: the Sabbath, the nature of God, the identity of Israel, the holy days, God's plan. Where has the church shown its greatest weakness? In the area of personal relationships. What do we hear about among and within the congregations? Distrust, offense, marriage problems, disunity, selfishness, gossip, rumor, tale-bearing, judging and condemning, comparing ourselves among ourselves, giving place to wrath, etc. These are the works of the flesh—they reflect how we treat one another. All of these are part of the meal offering—our service and devotion to each other. In these areas we need to focus our greatest attention, overcoming how we treat each other, growing in our devotion and service. We must get along with one another as God intends, or we might not be around to enter His Kingdom.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Parables of Matthew 13 (Part 2): Leaven
Physically, leaven is a lump of old dough in a high state of fermentation, or a substance that causes dough to rise (yeast). A natural reason for leaven's negative symbolism is the idea that fermentation implies a process of corruption. In the Old Testament, it is generally symbolic of sin and evil. In every instance that leaven appears in the Bible, it represents evil; the only exception, some say, is Jesus' use of leaven in this parable. Knowing its Old Testament significance, however, He would have used the symbol in the same way.
While some commentaries interpret this parable as depicting the spreading influence of the gospel, such explanations go against Jesus' use of this symbol. He uses it to refer to the evil doctrine of the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and Herod (Matthew 16:6-12; Mark 8:15), and this could easily apply to later corruptions of doctrine by those who place more importance on the traditions of men than on the Word of God.
Paul uses leavening as a type of sin in its development (I Corinthians 5:6-8). His reference to Christ's sinless sacrifice, and his statement that believers, as such, are unleavened shows the typical significance of leaven. In Galatians 5:7-9, its diffusive quality describes the harmful effects of false doctrine. He calls leaven a persuasion, something that exerts a powerful and moving influence, that hinders people from obeying the truth. Such a thing, he declares, is not from Him who calls us.
In the parable, the leaven alone is not what relates to the Kingdom, but the entire concept in the parable, the progress of the church in history. The leaven is hidden in the meal, representing the way Satan subtly strikes against the truth. Leaven is symbolic of things that disintegrate, break up, and corrupt. The leaven of the Pharisees was hypocritical formality. That of the Sadducees was skepticism. Herod's was of shameful self-indulgence in worldly desires. The leaven of those who have distorted doctrine down through the ages has been greed, pride, control, and worldly desires.
Whenever we find the symbol of a woman in the Bible, she represents a system of beliefs and practices that influence other people. Nations or political groups and religions or churches have specific unique beliefs. All human-based belief systems go contrary to God because "the carnal mind is enmity against God" (Romans 8:7). What the woman does and how she acts determines what belief system she is representing.
The woman in the parable takes leaven and hides it in the meal (Matthew 13:33). Hid is translated from the Greek word enkrupto, from which comes the English word "encrypt." The root word, krupto, means "to conceal" or "to keep secret." Hence, this woman is surreptitiously placing the leaven of false doctrine in the church. She is an opponent of Christ and infuses His church with corrupting ideas. Elsewhere she is called "Wickedness" (Zechariah 5:7-8), "Jezebel" (Revelation 2:20), and the "great harlot" (Revelation 17:1).
Three measures of meal would be a huge amount even for a large family - perhaps as much as is needed to make about a dozen loaves of bread. More importantly, most of the Jews listening to Jesus would have recognized the three measures of meal (an ephah) as the meal or grain offering (Leviticus 2). This offering was never allowed to contain leaven (Leviticus 2:5). The meal offering represents the offerer's service and loyalty to his fellow man and is typified in how Jesus Christ offered Himself in service to mankind (Matthew 20:25-28). It portrays the second great commandment of Matthew 22:36-39: love of our fellow human beings. Thus, the three measures of meal represent love, service, and loyalty to others, specifically our brethren in the church.
Jesus warns in this parable that false doctrines would be infused by stealth into the church, and these evil beliefs would corrupt, erode, and destroy relationships. If the false doctrines are allowed to grow, affection and loving concern in service to one another are thwarted. The phrase "till all was leavened" is a sobering indication that the church would be plagued by insensitive, uncaring, self-absorbed, self-centered attitudes that would spread through the church just as leaven spreads through bread dough. The apostle Paul tells us "through love serve one another" (Galatians 5:13), an antidote to the woman's devious subterfuge.
Martin G. Collins
The Parables of Matthew 13 (Part Five): The Parable of the Leaven
This male (not female) religious personage actively promotes worship of the Beast and does miracles in the context of religion to deceive people. Nothing in Revelation 17 and 18 shows the Woman doing miracles of any kind. In fact, these chapters contain no religious context at all, with the exception that she is revealed to be responsible for killing the saints.
In Revelation 17, the Woman is controlling the Beast, not bringing about its worship. She and the Beast are, in fact, antagonists competing against each other. Furthermore, she is heavily involved in politics (influencing kings), manufacturing, shipping, craftsmanship, and merchandising. There is no mention of anything similar in reference to the two-horned lamb.
The Woman indeed has a relationship with the Beast, but she is not part of the politics, economics, religion, or military of the Beast. She and the Beast are separate entities, even though both are part of the overall Babylonish system. The Catholic Church has always been part of the Beast, influencing it from within. Conversely, the Woman is portrayed as an external influence, competing with, riding, and at some point exercising control of the Beast.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beast and Babylon (Part Five): The Great Harlot
It is interesting that God labeled this woman as a mystery. He goes on to say, through the angel, "I will show you the mystery of the woman, and of the beast." Revelation 17 and 18 contain many clues as to her identification.
Now the word mystery is Strong's #3466 in the combined Strong's Concordance and Vine's Expository Dictionary. The word is defined there as: "Mystery is that which denotes, not the mysterious (as with the English word), but that which, being outside the range of unassisted natural apprehension, can be made known only by Divine revelation, and is made known in a manner and at a time appointed by God, and to those only who are illuminated by His Spirit."
In other words, a "mystery"—in the biblical sense, in the Greek sense—is something that is unattainable by common human research but is revealed by God so that His children, His people, can understand.
This word then parallels Daniel 12:10, which says that at the end "the wise shall understand." Here we are, in the end-time, and God has revealed where Israel is. Israel is a mystery to those in the world. They do not believe, even though they are told. They do not believe that the people of Northwest Europe, the United States, Australia, South Africa, Canada, and New Zealand are the descendants of Israel. It just does not sink in. They can be presented with proof, not from the Bible, but from the world—from historical researches and such—and they still do not believe it. It is something that has to be revealed.
This revelation is not something that is just contained in words, but it is something that God gives to the heart and mind of His children so that they are desirous to believe it. And they do. It does not take a lot of brain power, but it takes instead a gift from God to believe, which His children will do.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Where Is the Beast? (Part Four)
Now what about this statement that this woman is the mother of harlots? In the past we have referred to her harlot children as being the Protestant churches that revolted from the Catholic church; however, there is a weakness in this concept found in the Bible's use of the terms "daughter," "son," "harlot," and other similar terms.
God had Hosea physically act out what had happened to God in God's relationship with Israel. He says, "Plead with your mother" (Hosea 2:2). Who would be the mother of Hosea and all the people of Jerusalem? It would be Jerusalem, or in a larger context, Israel.
"Plead with your mother, plead: for she is not my wife." This makes it clear that He is talking about all of Israel. God did not marry just Jerusalem; He married all of Israel. Does Israel only consist of men or women? No, both. We are beginning to see that the term "wife" can include both male and female people, depending on the context in which it appears. And, obviously, so does the word "children" indicate both male and female.
The word "daughter" also includes men, the word "son" also includes women, and the word "harlot" means both men and women. It does not mean just women, because Israel was made up of men and women. Children are made up of men and women. The Bible uses these terms interchangeably, and one gender almost always includes the other.
Consider Hosea 2:2-4 and Hosea 4:11-13. Were women the only ones who committed whoredom? No. The men committed whoredom too. And spouses? Was it only women who were committing whoredom? No. "Spouses" includes men and women who were sinning. Hosea 7:4 says they were all adulterers—male and female.
Daughters, in Ezekiel 16:44-48, includes everybody within the city.
Ezekiel 16:53-55 describes the Jews coming back to their former estate in Jerusalem. Was it only women who came back? Can we see the way "daughters" is used? It is being used in a collective sense.
In Lamentations 3:51, God also refers to all of Jerusalem's inhabitants, male and female, as "daughters." Why is this true? The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, page 194, speaks about "daughters" or "daughters of":
The Hebrew idiom reflects a double metaphor common in the culture of the ancient Near East. A capitol city was personified as a woman, and the inhabitants of that city collectively as her daughter. Jerusalem remains distinct as she whose Husband is the One God, Yahweh. Thus her daughters, the collective inhabitants, depended on her for identity, but also shaped her future by their action.
Thus the terms "sons," "daughters," "children," "harlot," as well as other descriptive terms like "seed," "adulterers," and "liars" are used collectively without regard to specific gender when the sense of the term is "those showing the characteristics of." That is what a child does. A child shows the characteristics of its parents regardless if it is a male or female. And so the inhabitants of Jerusalem showed the characteristics of Jerusalem. That is why Hosea is told to write "they are all adulterers." Male and female.
Thus in Revelation 17, the city is Babylon (symbolically a woman) and is said to be the mother of harlots, which is used in the same way as "daughters"—that is, collectively, including the male gender; thus all of her offspring—male and female—are to be considered as harlots. It is not something limited to church denomination.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Where Is the Beast? (Part Four)
It is interesting that God labels this Woman a "mystery." Is her identity the mystery, or is it her character? Is she a nation or a church of old that resurfaces as an influential power in the end time? We are not left to guess because the angel says, "I will show you the mystery of the woman and of the beast." Revelation 17 and 18 contain many clues to the identification of the Woman.
Vine's Expository Dictionary defines "mystery" (Strong's #3466) as that which
denotes, not the mysterious (as with the Eng[lish] word), but that which, being outside the range of unassisted natural apprehension, can be made known only by divine revelation, and is made known in a manner and at a time appointed by God, and to those only who are illumined by His Spirit.
Speaking of the same period as Revelation 17, Daniel 12:10 parallels the need for divine revelation: "Many shall be purified, made white, and refined, but the wicked shall do wickedly; and none of the wicked shall understand, but the wise shall understand." Elsewhere, the wise are defined as those who keep the commandments, so we trust that we are the wise, and God will make this mystery known to us.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beast and Babylon (Part Four): Where Is the Woman of Revelation 17?
In the past, we have been taught that this refers to the Roman Catholic Church. Yet, does this truly refer only to a church, or is it something more politically, economically, and militarily powerful and influential? Notice her identification contains the name "Mystery." (I Corinthians 2:7-9 also uses this term.)
A biblical mystery is something that God must reveal for one to understand. It is not something right on the surface that anybody looking into Revelation can stumble across and quickly understand. This Woman's identification is not something easily seen. Of "mystery," William Barclay's The Letters to the Corinthians says: "The Greek word musterion means something whose meaning is hidden from those who have not been initiated, but crystal clear to those who have" (p. 26). Thus, commentaries are of virtually no help in identifying the Woman of these chapters.
Protestant biblical commentators pay little or no attention to the end-time twelve tribes of Israel. To them, that Israel does not exist! Conversely, evangelical writers and a few mainstream groups focus exclusively on the tiny nation of Israel in the Middle East. However, the Mystery Woman of Revelation 17 and 18 is much more than what that nation displays.
Commentators wholly disregard God's promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to make Israel into a populous, powerhouse nation both physically and spiritually—promises that affect both race and grace. Ignoring the race aspect altogether, they teach that the promises of grace were fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
However, God, as a blessing to His church, revealed the knowledge of the end-time location of Israel to Herbert Armstrong through other men who were seeking to find the "lost ten tribes." God did this so the church can make better sense of what is happening regarding the fulfillment of prophecy as the return of Christ approaches. In Daniel 12:10, God promises that the wise would understand, and the wise are those who keep the ways of the Lord (Hosea 14:9).
Almost all Protestants claim, as Herbert Armstrong did, that the Woman is the Roman Catholic Church, against which they have a prejudice. But Revelation 17 and 18 are a continued revelation of the same Woman, Israel, who appears in chapter 12!
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beast and Babylon (Part Five): The Great Harlot
Revelation 18:9-11 adds to the description of a nation, not a church, as it describes a huge, worldwide merchandising and manufacturing entity that men weep over when destroyed. Religious entities do not manufacture and merchandise. This is vital to understand because Revelation 18 must coordinate with the identity of the Woman in Revelation 17. Thus, Revelation 18, describing what nations involve themselves in, provides another major reason why the Woman cannot be a church.
The Woman of Revelation 17-18 may be religious, but she is far more interested in what produces power and influence in this world. Remember, Israel rejected God, becoming a nation of this world (I Samuel 8). In Revelation 18, the emphasis is on her financial aspects, as the merchants, manufacturers, and shippers of products bewail her destruction, seeing their wealth going up in smoke. No church is manufacturing and merchandising as chapter 18 describes.
The Woman's wealth is a major foundation of her power, enabling her to influence so readily; her economic power adds strength to its other worldly powers. Follow the money, verses 9-11 urge. They clearly portray globalization and all the outsourcing it implies. The Woman is depicted as a huge, worldwide merchandising powerhouse that has promoted the spread of industry all over the world so she might consume what others have manufactured through their craft.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beast and Babylon (Part Eight): God, Israel, and the Bible
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