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Poole on Revelation 7:5-8: The 144,000 (Part 2)

Verse 5:[1] Of the tribe of Juda were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Reuben were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Gad were sealed twelve thousand.

Verse 6:[2] Of the tribe of Aser were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Nepthalim were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Manasses were sealed twelve thousand.

Verse 7:[3] Of the tribe of Simeon were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Levi were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Issachar were sealed twelve thousand.

Verse 8:[4] Of the tribe of Zabulon were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Joseph were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Benjamin were sealed twelve thousand.

[Out of the tribe of Judah twelve thousand] The number twelve always gave much pleasure to the Jews on account of the offspring of Jacob. Therefore, the twelve wells of Elim, Exodus 15:27; the twelve columns around the altar of Moses, Exodus 24:4; the twelve loaves προθέσεως, of showbread, Leviticus 24:5; the twelve gems on the breastplate of the High Priest, Exodus 28:21; the same number of stones in the Jordan, Joshua 4:2, 5; sacrifices often in the same number, Numbers 7; 29; and many instruments of the Temple, Numbers 7:84, 86; the twelve Prefects by Solomon, 1 Kings 4:7; under the Brazen Sea twelve oxen, 1 Kings 7:25; on the throne of Solomon were standing twelve Lions, 1 Kings 10:20; the twelve cubits of the altar with respect to lenth, the same with respect to width, Ezekiel 43:16. There were twelve sons of Jacob: but where it is treated of successors, the Levites are omitted, and from Joseph there are two lines, Ephraim, and Manasseh, according to the testament of Jacob; which also here is observed. But here Levi is reckoned, for in Christ this Tribe has an equal right with the others (Grotius). [But some things here are to be asked:] Question 1: Why is the number out of the individual tribes equal here, one of which nevertheless far surpassed the other with respect to the number of men? Response 1: Because God chose the Israelites, not because of themselves, but because of their fathers, the holy Patriarchs, Romans 11:28, to whom this pertains no more than that (Ribera). 2. Here he had regard to the twelve Apostles, the preachers of the Gospel, through whom the Jews came to be saved, etc. (Pererius out of Andreas Cæsarius); no less grace was present to one of them than to another, but to each complete grace for the sealing of the elect (Cluverus out of Andreas Cæsarius). 3. God wished to show that He was ἀπροσωπολήπτην, without respect of persons, towards all believers, Romans 4:12, and that there was a dissimilar condition of Israel carnal (in which one tribe stood out before another) and spiritual (Cluverus); and that His will and predisposition was equal toward His Church, of whatever order it might be, either of time or number (Gravius). Question 2: Why did not John preserve here the right order of the Tribes (Pererius)? Diverse is the method of enumeration, Genesis 29; 35; 46; 49 (Cluverus); but here it is altogether diverse from the others and singular (Cluverus, similarly Mede): neither is the order of birth preserved here, nor of the dignity of parentage, nor of habitation, but all are mixed, etc. Wherefore it is not at all to be doubted that some mystery lies hidden here (Mede’s Works 564). What is to be said? Response 1: The right order is not preserved in other places, as in Genesis 49; Numbers 2; 10; and in the book of Joshua more than once (certain interpreters). 2. No order is kept here because all are equal in Christ (Grotius, similarly Cluverus, Piscator, Durham); both in this sealing (Cluverus), and in the matter of eternal salvation (Piscator), carnal prerogative avails nothing (Piscator, similarly Cluverus, Durham): See Galatians 3:28 (Durham); 5:6 (Piscator). 3. God thus wished to show that, not carnal, but mystical Israel is here traced out by Him (Cluverus). 4. Here is preserved the order of spiritual birth, and of conversion unto Christ; whence the first place is to Judah, and thence it is understood that the judgment is the same concerning the rest (Ribera). Indeed, concerning Judah this is probable, but concerning the rest no such thing is evident, but this is said without justification (Pererius). 5. While the sons of Leah, both natural and adopted, are eight, the sons of Rachel only four, this order is observed, that four sons of Leah were given alternately with two sons of Rachel: now, in both cases those Tribes will be preferred to the rest as superior, which some deed, their own or of their own, mentioned in the Sacred books, had commended concerning the true worship of God (Mede’s Works 565). 1. The troop here (as in the camps, Numbers 2 [Cotterius]) Judah leads, for out of Judah is Christ our (Cotterius, Mede) στρατηγός/general. But Reuben and Simeon on account of their sins lost the primogeniture (Durham), which was transferred unto Judah, 1 Chronicles 5:1, 2 (Cluverus). 2. Reuben follows; and 3. Gad: whom that illustrious protestation concerning the altar ennobled, Numbers 32; Joshua 22. 4. Aser, from which was both the widow of Zarephath, 1 Kings 17, and Anna the prophetess, Luke 2. Unto almost the last place are Simeon, Levi, Issachar, and Zabulon driven back, namely, as adorned either with no, or with fewer, names, or afterwards stained by some sin. Among the posterity of Rachel are preferred Nepthalim and Manasses; for the former was noble on account of Barak, Judges 4, and Hiram, 1 Kings 7:14 with 2 Chronicles 2:14; the latter for Gideon[5] and Elijah.[6] Indeed, Nepthalim, although the son of a handmaid, the glory of the residence of Christ in its city of Capernaum raised above Manasses, etc. Joseph (who is here Ephraim) and Benjamin were cast into the last place, by the Idolatry and Apostasy of the former, and of the latter the maledictions of Saul the Benjamite against David (as the progenitor and type of Christ) and Shimei against the same[7] (Mede’s Works 565). Question 3: Why is Dan passed over here? Responses: 1. For the perfection and roundness of that number, one hundred and forty-four thousand, one tribe was to be passed over altogether (Cluverus). Now, Levi here was obliged to be mentioned, for they had a portion, although not in the land of Canaan, yet in Christ (Hammond), and an equal right with the rest (Grotius). 2. Because he through negligence fell from his right; and his inheritance, some ages after it had fallen to him, he had still not reclaimed from enemies[8] (Cotterius). 3. Because Antichrist was going to arise from that tribe, as it appears from Genesis 49:17 and Jeremiah 8:16 (Ribera, Pererius). But this is a fabrication, and those places are ineptly alleged (Pareus, similarly Cluverus). 4. On account of his shameful idol-mania and ἀποστασίαν/apostasy[9] (Cluverus, similarly Pareus, Cotterius). Thus also Ephraim is passed over here and is covered by the name of Joseph, as if unworthy to be called by his own name in this catalogue; both, because he was the leader of Israelite Idolatry, with Micah as the originator;[10] and, on account of that extreme ἀποστασίαν/apostasy, with Jeroboam[11] and Ahab[12] as originators (Mede’s Works 567). Dan and Ephraim were leaders and principals of the Israelite ἀποστασίας/apostasy, Judges 17; 18; and the same, in the time of the Kingdom, were hosts of the public idols at Dan and Beth-el; and afterwards were inept for fashioning supporters of a purer religion (Mede’s Works 565). Hence God wished to teach that the names of Apostates and Idolaters were deleted from the book of life and catalogue of the people of God, and that true worshippers of God were adopted into their place (Gravius). 5. Because that tribe perished many ages before (Cotterius, thus Hammond); or, it was greatly diminished (Hammond), and had fallen into one family of Hussim (Grotius), as the Hebrews say:[13] For in Chronicles, where the posterity of the Patriarchs is remembered, Dan is omitted (Grotius, Hammond). And perhaps this is predicted in Amos 8:14. That of the tribe of Dan few survived, and that they escaped into Phœnicia, John of Antioch relates[14] (Grotius). So that the number twelve might be perfect, Levi is substituted for Dan, the name of Joseph supplies the name of Ephraim, passed over in silence (Mede’s Works 565). Now, the Tribe or House of Joseph is sometimes Manasseh alone, as in Numbers 13:11, indeed sometimes Ephraim alone, as in Amos 5:6 (Drusius) and here (Piscator, Drusius, Grotius); for Manasses is enumerated in verse 6 (Piscator, thus Grotius). Therefore, [to Ephraim] is given the right πρωτοτόκων, of the firstborn, of having the name of the father, as in Psalm 78:67; Ezekiel 37:16; Amos 5:6 (Grotius on verse 8).

And I heard the number of them which were sealed, etc.: For the understanding of these five verses several things are to be noted.

1. That the whole number is one hundred and forty-four thousand, which is the product of twelve, as the original number, (setting aside the ciphers,) for twelve times twelve make one hundred and forty-four. The number of one hundred and forty-four, Revelation 21:17, was the measure of the wall of the new Jerusalem. Twelve, which is the root of this number one hundred and forty-four, seemeth to be God’s number, and used in Scripture about one hundred and forty-four times, and almost generally in things belonging to the church; which had twelve patriarchs, twelve tribes under the Old Testament, twelve apostles (as its head) under the New Testament: and the new Jerusalem from heaven, Revelation 21:12, is said to have twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels; Revelation 21:14, the wall had twelve foundations; the length of it, Revelation 21:16, twelve thousand furlongs.

2. That we must not by one hundred and forty-four thousand understand a certain, but an uncertain number, which yet was very great.

3. That by the tribes of Israel mentioned here, are to be understood the several gospel churches of the Gentiles, who are now God’s Israel ingrafted into the true olive.

4. That the tribe of Dan is here left out, and Ephraim is not named, though included in Joseph. Of the tribe of Dan there were none sealed. Dan was a great ringleader to idolatry, so was Ephraim; see Judges 17; 18; and at Dan it was that Jeroboam set up his calves. Levi is put in instead of Dan, and Joseph instead of Ephraim, by which means here are yet twelve tribes; which teacheth us this: That Christians, if idolaters, must not look for any special protection or favour from God in a day of evil.

5. These tribes are not set in order, according to their birthright. Juda was Leah’s fourth son, Genesis 29:35, put first, because Christ descended from him. Reuben, her eldest son, is put next, giving place only to the Messiah’s tribe. Gad, Jacob’s son by Zilpah, Genesis 30:11, is put next. Aser, Jacob’s son by Zilpah, in the fourth place, Genesis 30:13. Nepthalim is put next, who was Jacob’s son by Bilhah, Rachel’s maid, Genesis 30:8. Manasses is put next, who was Joseph’s son. Simeon, Jacob’s second son by Leah, Genesis 29:33, is put in the seventh place. Levi, Leah’s third son, Genesis 29:34, in the eighth place. Issachar, Leah’s fifth son, Genesis 30:18, is put in the ninth place. Zabulon, Leah’s sixth son, is put in the tenth place, Genesis 30:20. Joseph is put in the eleventh place, for Ephraim his son. Benjamin, Rachel’s second son, is put in the last place.

If there be any mystery in this order, differing from all other scriptures where there is a mention made of the twelve patriarchs, it is probable that Mr. Mede hath hit upon it, in regard of the good or ill deserts of these tribes, some of which are mentioned by him; all may be learned from the history of the Jews recorded in holy writ. Hence we may learn, that the summary sense of all these verses is this: That although within that period of time which is signified under the seventh seal, there should be great persecutions of the church, yet God would preserve unto himself a great number in all his churches, which should not apostatize, and who in the persecutions should not be hurt; so as his church should not fail, though the archers should shoot sore at it; for though men raged, yet it was by God’s permission; and his angels overruled it, who should take notice of those numbers that he had sealed, and marked in their foreheads.

[1] Greek: Ἐκ φυλῆς Ἰούδα, ιβ χιλιάδες ἐσφραγισμένοι· Ἐκ φυλῆς Ῥουβήν, ιβ χιλιάδες ἐσφραγισμένοι· Ἐκ φυλῆς Γάδ, ιβ χιλιάδες ἐσφραγισμένοι. [2] Greek: Ἐκ φυλῆς Ἀσήρ, ιβ χιλιάδες ἐσφραγισμένοι· Ἐκ φυλῆς Νεφθαλείμ, ιβ χιλιάδες ἐσφραγισμένοι· Ἐκ φυλῆς Μανασσῆ, ιβ χιλιάδες ἐσφραγισμένοι. [3] Greek: Ἐκ φυλῆς Συμεών, ιβ χιλιάδες ἐσφραγισμένοι· Ἐκ φυλῆς Λευΐ, ιβ χιλιάδες ἐσφραγισμένοι· Ἐκ φυλῆς Ἰσαχάρ, ιβ χιλιάδες ἐσφραγισμένοι. [4] Greek: Ἐκ φυλῆς Ζαβουλών, ιβ χιλιάδες ἐσφραγισμένοι· Ἐκ φυλῆς Ἰωσήφ, ιβ χιλιάδες ἐσφραγισμένοι· Ἐκ φυλῆς Βενιαμίν, ιβ χιλιάδες ἐσφραγισμένοι. [5] Judges 6:15. [6] 1 Kings 17:1. Tishbe was in Gilead of Manasseh. [7] 2 Samuel 16:5-11. [8] Judges 1:34; 18:1, 2. [9] Judges 18; 1 Kings 12:28, 29. [10] Judges 17. [11] 1 Kings 12, 13. [12] 1 Kings 16. [13] According to the tradition of the Hebrews, Dan contracted into the one family of Hussim, Genesis 46:23, and even that family seems to have perished by the time of Ezra. [14] John of Antioch (fifth century) was Patriarch of Antioch. He supported Nestorius at the Council of Ephesus.

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