The song of the twenty-four elders in Revelation 11:17-18 begins with thanksgiving for God’s exertion of power that inaugurates His reign. Verse 18 describes how that reign comes to pass. It is a complexly organized verse.

It begins and ends with lex talionis judgments against God’s enemies, and in the middle certain groups of people are rewarded:

A. Wrathful ( orgizo ) suffer wrath ( orge )

B. Rewards

A’. Destroyers destroyed

The central section is a tight little knot of its own.

For starters, there are six terms used to describe those who are rewarded, who are given their wages: servants, prophets, saints, Name-fearers, small, great. Syntactically that list subdivides into three groups:

1. Servants the prophets

2. Saints

3. Fearers of the name (subdivided into small and great)

That sort of list puts us in mind of various Psalms that exhort different groups to praise (Psalm 115:9-11; 118:1-4; 135:19-20). Sometimes there are three (Israel, house of Aaron, God-fearers) and sometimes four (Israel, house of Aaron, house of Levi, God-fearers). Those lists lay out the holiness structure of ancient Israel: priest, priestly people, God-fearing Gentile. And it seems we can import that distinction into Revelation 11: Servants/prophets (and perhaps saints) are Jews who receive reward; the God-fearers (whether small or great) are Gentiles.

And once we recognize that a Jew/Gentile distinction is operative in the central section of the verse, then we suspect it might be at the edges too. The wrathful who receive wrath are “nations”; the destroyers specifically destroy the “land.” That leaves us with this more complex structure for the verse:

A. Wrathful Gentiles receive wrath

B. Jewish servants rewarded

B’. Gentile God-fearers rewarded

A’. Jewish destroyers destroyed

Though it is chiastic as regard to the actions (wrath v. reward), it alternates as regard the recipients (Gentile, Jew, Gentile, Jew).

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

Loading...