The serpent (snake) and the dragon in this passage both mean the devil (verse 9). People considered the snake to be a very clever animal (Matthew 10:16), and the dragon to be a very powerful and cruel animal. The devil is both powerful and clever; he is a terrible enemy.
Some snakes, called cobras, spit poison; that is, they send it out suddenly, as a liquid, from their mouths. However, people probably considered the dragon to be one of the great sea animals. When one of those, for example the whale, rises up, it pours out vast quantities of water from its mouth. Perhaps John again combines both ideas; the attack is both sudden, and like a flood.
Elsewhere, the Bible uses the word-picture of a flood to describe an especially cruel attack (Psalm 124:1-5). The desert may seem an unlikely place for a flood but, actually, floods do happen in the deserts near Israel. When they happen, they are sudden, severe, and dangerous. Of course, they happen only occasionally, but that makes the flood an even greater surprise.
Revelation 12:15-16 describes well how the devil uses sudden, severe attacks against Godís people. However, the particular meaning is an attack against Israel, in the period just before Christís return.
We often say that the devil rules this world. However, here the earth recognises that God is its real master. As it defended Godís holy things in Numbers 16:28-34, so it defends Godís holy people here. Both passages say that Ďthe earth opened its mouthí. In other words, the flood, or the evil people, disappeared into the ground. Moses described the event that he saw as a truly extraordinary event, something completely new (Numbers 16:30).
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© 2016, Keith Simons.