THOSE WHO DWELL ON THE EARTH (2)

dead-seaPMT 2016-080 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

This is the second article in a short series on a recurring phrase in Revelation, generally translated “those who dwell on the earth.” I am arguing that it should be translated “those who dwell in the Land,” i.e., of Israel. For brevity I translate the whole phrase as “Land-dwellers.” In this article I will begin with:

“The Land” in Revelation

Before discussing the Land in Rev I would remind the reader of Rev’s strongly Judaic character. As I argue in the Introduction (as per most commentators) Rev is wholly saturated with OT allusions, strongly expressed in terms of Hebraic syntactical peculiarities, and brightly colored by Judaic images. John also presents his work as a forensic drama wherein he is presenting a covenant lawsuit from God. All of this prepares us for recognizing the possible use of the Land as an important image in this remarkable work and the Land-dwellers as the recipients of most of its judgments.

In my last article I pointed out that in Rev the Greek hē gē most often refers to the Land of Israel rather than to the generic earth, though like the Hebrew term ‘eretz, it could go either way. In my commentary not yet published) I will provide a chart that sorts out the uses of hē gē in Rev, noting that 64% of them seem clearly to refer to the Land of Israel and 6% of them are uncertain. There I also argue that the recurring phrase “the kings of the earth” (tōn basileōn tēs gēs, Rev 1:5) refers to the religious rulers of the Land. I agree with Buchanan (118) that it is “obvious that the promised land is the central geographical unit in the Book of Revelation.”


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All of this opens the possibility of interpreting “those who dwell upon the earth” (tous katoikountas epi tēs gēs) and similar expressions as always denoting the Jews who live in the Promised Land. And as we shall see, John appears to draw his first appearance of Land-dwellers in 3:10 from Hos 4:1. This is significant in that it not only links the Land-dwellers to the OT but to a covenant lawsuit against Israel. But more on this later.

The “Land-dwellers” in the OT

As he comments on the first appearance of “Land-dwellers” in Rev 3:10, Hort (35; cp. Charles, 1:289; Thomas 1:289n) suggests that John derives this phrase from Hos 4:1 (LXX). Other commentators recognize its general OT backdrop (e.g., Swete 56; Aune 240). Hos 4:1 clearly speaks of rebellious Israel (though Hort applies 3:10 to the wider world): “Listen to the word of the LORD, O sons of Israel, / For the LORD has a case against the inhabitants of the land [tous katoikountas tēn gēn], / Because there is no faithfulness or kindness / Or knowledge of God in the land [epi tēs gēs].”

In the LXX, references to Israel as the Land-dwellers occur often, with the phrasing including epi (as generally in Rev) in Jer 1:15; 6:12; Eze 7:7; Zep 1:8; Zec 11:6 (though without epi in Hos 4:1a; Jer 10:18; Joel 1:2, 14; 2:1). The phrase frequently applies to idolatrous pagans — although specifically to those dwelling in the Land (Nu 32:17; 33:52, 55; Jos 7:9; 9:24; Jdg 1:32; 2Sa 5:6; 1Ch 11:4; 22:18). Buchanan (128) observes that “the great majority of cases, however, identify [the Hebrew phrase] as those who lived on the land of Palestine (Exod 23:31; 34:12, 15; Josh 2:9, 24; 6:12; 7:9; 9:14; 10:18; 13:21; 24:18; 25:29, 30; Judges 1:32–33; Ezek 7:7; Hos 4:1; Joel 1:2, 14; 2:1; Zech 11:6) and should be rendered ‘inhabitants of the land’ rather than ‘inhabitants of the earth.” Thus we see how the Land-dweller phrase speaks of people in the Land, i.e., the Promised Land.

Against those who would interpret this phrase broadly to cover people throughout the world, Penley (108) notes of the similar phraseology in the LXX: This combination “consistently refers to a specific land region in which a tribe or people group lives. . . . The land region could be as large as Canaan or as small as a single city” (Penley 108). In fact, he points out that twenty-two times these two words (gē and katoikia) also appear with the preposition epi (as in Rev and Lk 21:35 [see below]): Ge 47:27; Lev 18:3; 20:22; 25:10, 18, 19; 26:5; Num 13:32; 14:14; 33:55; 35:32, 34; Dt 2:20; 12:10; 17:14; 26:1; 30:20; Jos 9:24; 22:3; 24:15; 1Ki 8:27; 2Ch 6:18. Only one of these (Lev 18:3) applies to a place other than the Promised Land (but there it speaks of the Jews dwelling in Egypt).Book of Revelation Made Easy


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The two references most similar to the Rev phrases are Nu 14:14 (pantes hoi katoikountes epi tēs gēs tautēs) and 33:55 (tous katoikountas epi tēs gēs) which refer to the people in Canaan before Israel conquers them. And when using the Hebrew texts containing the Hebrew form of the words: “the most common referent in the prophets is the inhabitants of the land of Israel not all the inhabitants of the earth” (Penley 109). See: La 4:12; Hos 4:1; Joel 1:2, 14; 2:1; Isa 9:1; 21:14; 24:6, 17; 26:21; Jer 1:14; 6:12; 10:18; 13:13; 25:29, 30; 38:11; Eze 7:7; Da 4:35; Zep 1:18; Zec 11:6.

Thus the OT source of this Land-dweller phrase most often speaks of the Promised Land and of the Jews who are its inhabitants. I believe that this is the way John employs the phrase.

In my next article I will focus on the “Land-dwellers” in Revelation.

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