Consider the Creation
Moving water seems to fascinate human beings, whether it be a flowing river, a cascading waterfall, or a stormy sea. Witness those many brave or foolhardy folk who ventured out to see the giant waves in recent storms around the coasts of the U.K. Most waves are caused by wind blowing over the sea or a lake. Tsunamis are rarer massive waves caused by an undersea earthquake or volcanic eruption (see below)
Swimming or tubing in a flat calm is fine but who doesn’t like waves to jump over, splash in, or even if they are big enough, to surf ? Waves are powerful creations of God and often when they encounter land their power leads to coastal erosion, with undercutting of cliffs, the production of caves, arches and stacks and the drifting of sand into bars and spits. However, by providence, God has to set bounds to limit the sea–he says “thus far and no further!” (Job 38:11 and Jer. 5:22).
The word waves occurs 26 times in Scripture and wave, once. The Hebrew has 4 different words, GAL meaning a heap which is used 14 times, MISHBAR meaning breaker or billow used 4 times, HAMAH meaning height used once and DOKIY which means dashing surf also used once.
The fearful thing about waves, and anyone who has swum in them will agree, is their propensity to cover you and drive you under the water, and if possible drown you. If you have sailed the ocean it is quite fearful to look out upon that vast expanse of sea rising and falling, and realise you would not last long if you were to fall overboard. Think of Jonah!
It is important to mention that the sea in Scripture often stands for the world of the ungodly, “But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt” (Isa. 57:20). The first mention we have of waves in Scripture is II Samuel 22:5 where David speaks of waves and floods threatening his death and these waves took the form of his human enemies. Similar language is used in Psalm 93:3-4 where both crashing surf and rolling waves conspire in their noise to engulf David, but he knows God is mightier than the waves, whether these be literal or figurative. Figuratively they stand for persecution or affliction. Just as God sovereignly raises up the waves (Ps. 107:25), so he also stills them (Ps. 107:29). If we encounter waves of persecution or affliction, God is not only the author and finisher of our faith but also of what tests our faith, namely the affliction or persecution.
Psalm 42:7 says, “ Deep calleth unto deep at the noise of thy waterspouts: all thy waves and thy billows are gone over me”. This should make us think of two men other than the Psalmist. In the first place the prophet Jonah who for his disobedience ended up thrown overboard a ship in the Mediterranean and were it not for a fish prepared by God, would certainly have drowned. Incidentally the words he uses in the belly of the fish are almost identical to the Psalmist and I suspect he was quoting that verse which he had learnt earlier in his life. Secondly these words would have been spoken by Christ himself who in much of his life and especially in the garden of Gethsemane must have felt and expressed that emotion, as the wrath of God was his lifelong portion. However the key point here is the repeated adjective “thy”. These waves are God’s waves and God’s billows! He promises to keep us afloat (Isaiah 43:2).
Again the sea’s noise and billows are used as a picture of restless, godless humanity in Psalm 65:7,”Which stilleth the noise of the seas, the noise of their waves, and the tumult of the people.” Here God is supreme over the political and often violent unrest of nations and people, saying to them, at his appointed time, to be quiet, just as the Lord said “Peace be still” on the Sea of Galilee. In Psalm 88:7 we read, “Thy wrath lieth hard upon me, and thou hast afflicted me with all thy waves. Selah.” Here the Psalmist equates the waves with God’s wrath suggesting he has fallen grievously into sin and contracted some serious physical ailment, perhaps a contagious disease that has afflicted him and driven friends and relatives away.
When we come to Isaiah we see a different picture, ” O that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments! then had thy peace been as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea: (Isa. 48:18). It appears here that God is saying that obedience to his commands brings a continuous flow of peace and the steady wavelike rhythm of righteousness into a life. In Isaiah 51:15 we are reminded of one of the greatest redemptive miracles in all of Scripture when God divide the roaring waves of the Red Sea to allow his people to pass through on dry ground. The path, called a baptism into Moses in I Corinthians 10:2-4 is actually typical of Christ who is our miraculous path out of Pharaoh (Satan’s) clutches into the promised land of heaven. Note also that Christ was the Rock that followed them, to whom we shall refer later.
In Ezekiel 26:3,7 the prophet foresees the proud commercial city of Tyre being overthrown by Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon. Similarly Jeremiah in his prophecy chapter 51:42 has waves of judgement covering and destroying Babylon who had taken the Israelites captive after destroying Jerusalem in 587 BC. I take this to mean the overthrow of Babylon by Darius the Mede in the days of Belteshazzar, which at the same time, is a type of the destruction of the false church and it’s head on the last day (Rev. 18:10). In the last Old Testament use of waves in Zechariah 10:11, we have prophecy concerning the gathering of the church in the midst of judgment on the nations,” And he shall pass through the sea with affliction, and shall smite the waves in the sea, and all the deeps of the river shall dry up: and the pride of Assyria shall be brought down, and the sceptre of Egypt shall depart away.” Here what John Gill has to say about this in his commentary,” (they) shall pass through the sea; the nations, which are many as the sea…and so may design that hour of temptation that shall come upon all the earth, in which the kingdom of the beast, who rose up out of the sea, and consists of many waters, people, tongues, and nations, will be afflicted, which the Lord shall pass through and smite; or it may in general denote the sea of this world, and the afflictions of it, which the Lord causes his people to pass through, and brings them out of them: and shall smite the waves in the sea: that is, the Lord shall smite them; repress afflictions, which are like the proud waves, not suffering them to proceed further than is for his glory and his people’s good, and remove all obstacles in their way; (see Isaiah 11:15) or destroy their enemies, which are like the proud waters, that otherwise would go over their souls, and overwhelm them; and particularly the antichristian states, at the pouring out of the vials, signified by the sea, and by fountains and rivers in Revelation 16:3.”
So, to sum up so far: we have learned that waves in Scripture are afflictions brought about by God in the lives of his people which may be a form of discipline or refining, may take the form of illness or persecution by the ungodly, but in them all, God is sovereign and sets a limit to them to accomplish his purpose. In the case of the ungodly, whether they be an individual or a whole empire, they are the waves of destruction.
Now let us see if these lessons are built upon in the newer testament. There are 6 instances in the New Testament. The New Testament words for waves in 5 instances is KUMA which means billows and once SALOS meaning a vibration (a very scientific definition!) First mention is Matthew 8:24 (Mark 4:37) the passage where the disciples are nearly swamped on the Sea of Galilee. They cry to him in despair to save them and after rebuking the boisterous sea, he rebukes their fearful lack of faith. Had he not said, “Let us go over unto the other side of the lake” (Luke 8:22)? So they failed the test but it was the occasion of a wonderful demonstration of Christ’s divinity, akin to his raising Lazarus from the dead. He planned the waves, and indeed the death of Lazarus to teach his people about his perfect timing and omnipotence and thus glorify his father God. Who is this man that even the wind and the waves, and death itself obey him? Job 9:8 is an interesting verse where God is said to tread upon the waves of the sea and mind you these are the high waves! Is it not fascinating and awesome that God incarnate, Christ Jesus, did exactly that, on the Sea of Galilee in front of his amazed disciples (Matthew 14:24). He came walking on the sea, suspending his own rules of gravity, and causing a calm after Peter had learned first to trust him and then in a cry of need, to save him! In this context we must remember that Christ calmed those waves sovereignly and the verse in Job shows that God is indeed lord of all those waves (see also Ps. 89:9).
The last instance of the use of the word waves in the gospels is Luke 21:25 when in relation to the very last days of planet earth as we know it there will be cosmic upsets affecting sun, moon and stars, distress of nations and “the sea and the waves roaring”, suggesting worsening of weather and destruction of coastal settlements as we have seen recently on a smaller scale in tsunamis and cyclones.
In Acts 27:41 we read of the power of the waves breaking up the hinder parts of the ship that had carried Paul and another 276 people from Caesarea to Malta where they suffered shipwreck. This is the last time the noun describes the real physical, powerful waves of moving water.
The last two instances are very instructive and different from all previous. Firstly in James 1:6 (KLUDON Gr. =surge) where he describes a double-minded man as unstable and wind-tossed as a wave, because he doubts that God will answer his prayer and hence wavers with uncertainty. The final use of the word in Jude 13 describes false teachers who are ungodly men, despise authority, are lascivious and greedy, fruitless and like “raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame;” One gets the picture here again of destructiveness, noise, bluster and froth which is the result of wave after wave crashing onto rocks. These wicked tools of Satan are the product of the godless sea of the world, that endlessly churns and casts up mire and produces nothing of any value. The foam that blows away is just like the chaff of Psalm 1:4 and Matthew 3:12. They are but the stooges and forerunners of the arch deceiver who will arise as a beast from the sea, namely Antichrist.
So our New Testament study reinforces previous teaching that the Lord is sovereign over the waves of the sea and hence also the billows of life. We are exhorted not to be like waves tossed about by every wind of doctrine (Eph.4:14) or by being unbelieving in our requests to God for wisdom. We are warned against false teachers who will rage and foam and have nothing substantial to say, but lead men to destruction with them. In our Reformed Creeds we have rock-like stability!
Finally we are told that before the great and terrible day of the Lord earth’s weather will become extreme and fierce, which alongside signs in the heavens will be the final harbingers of the imminent return of Christ. As we approach the end of the ages it is vital to remember that whatever waves the Lord brings upon us in terms of personal grief or the wicked world’s persecution , he promises never to tempt us beyond our strength (I Cor.10:13), that his grace will be sufficient , that we will persevere and be more than conquerors through him that loved us. The reason being, and the basis of our assurance is, that he for our sakes suffered all the Father’s waves to crash down upon himself and drown him as it were, but he was then raised by the Spirit’s power into life everlasting and hence vindicated by his Father. We, in him, united inseparably to him, cannot fail to be victorious too. This is where the picture of Christ as the Rock comes in. The Rock that followed the wandering Israelites was Christ (I Cor.10:4). On this rock (PETRA),that he is the Christ, he says he will build his church (Luke 6:48). The wise man built his house on the rock, which meant he heard Christ’s words and obeyed them (Matthew 7:24). Putting these pictures together we get the picture of the Christian who is convinced his Lord is his divine rock. His whole purpose is only to do the will of God, as recorded in the Scriptures and the result is he stands undaunted, safe and unmoved as the storm waves of life crash against him.
But of ourselves we are weak. Think of self-confident Peter! We must, like Peter, Jonah and David depend upon God’s help in prayer, and like Christ be resigned to the Father’s good and perfect will, even though it may be viewed with foreboding and involve pain.
Hear Belgic Confession Article 13. “This doctrine (of providence) affords us unspeakable consolation, since we are taught thereby that nothing can befall us by chance, but by the direction of our most gracious and heavenly Father; who watches over us with a paternal care, keeping all creatures so under his power, that not a hair of our head (for they are all numbered), nor a sparrow, can fall to the ground, without the will of our Father, in whom we do entirely trust; being persuaded, that he so restrains the devil and all our enemies, that without his will and permission, they cannot hurt us .” Also Heidelberg Catechism LD 9. “He will provide me with all things necessary for soul and body: and further, that he will make whatever evils he sends upon me, in this valley of tears turn out to my advantage; for he is able to do it, being Almighty God, and willing, being a faithful Father.”
Dr Julian Kennedy, CPRC, Ballymena.