Ancient Jews weren’t scared witless by the sea but there was enough about it that generated unease in them when they looked at it. Whatever else Genesis 1 taught them, it taught them that God was the Lord of the waters and everything else that existed. He spoke and it obeyed him (see also Isaiah 17:13-14). The sea was no god to be worshiped as it had been worshiped in Egypt, where they had spent so many years. Still, its restlessness, its destructive power and the fact that they couldn’t control it were enough to make it a symbol of threat and chaos. They often spoke of it in those terms, as did other nations.

Isaiah said (17:12): “Oh, the raging of many nations—they rage like the raging sea! Oh, the uproar of the peoples—they roar like the roaring of great waters.” Hearing the pounding of huge waves as they smash against one another with destroying force is a graphic sound/picture of clashing armies and nations. In their wickedness they never ceased to cast up muck and debris (Isaiah 57:20). It was out of the restless Great Sea (Mediterranean) that the four great Gentile kingdoms arose like monsters from a science fiction movie, devouring all before them and oppressing the people of God (Daniel 7:1-8). No wonder that when John describes the conditions of the world freed from the oppressor that he says of it (and there was no more sea)—Revelation 21:1.
With thoughts and images like these circulating in a little nation that—on and off— for centuries had felt the power of oppressors the psalmist’s defiant words in Psalm 46:1-3 ring out all the finer and braver and more trustful. These words aren’t sung by people who’ve known no trouble—they’ve known more than their share! These aren’t the words of a people who think the world can be fixed if only it had “enough information”. This man speaks for his entire people who expect the world to be wild and oppressive and who know that either today or tomorrow they’ll feel the hurt that powerful nations bring to others. Knowing all that, fully aware of all that, certain that it will come to that he says this:
God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam and the mountains
quake with their surging.
Picture this believer standing on top of the cliff, watching the huge waves building out there and then rushing for the cliff face with increasing speed and power. There’s the shudder he feels in the ground when they thunder against it, again and again, unrelentingly, threatening to bring down the entire shoreline and him along with it. As he waits for the next bg one he looks landward, to his home and people and the irresistible forces lined up against them. It’s with all those images and realities in mind that he sings into the wind:
God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam and the mountains
quake with their surging.
This song is sung by modern believers as well. I know a lot of them personally! They’re intelligent, wide-eyed, politically aware, as realistic as anyone you could meet and when they feel the shudder under their feet they note it well but still get on with their business of world-transformation by “gospeling,” in all the various ways that each of them is able do it.
But look what another believer did in Psalm 117 with such faith-generating truth. This singer is no bigot, no racist, no patriot that confuses rabid nationalism for love of country and nation and no self-centered worshiper. He knew he was part of God’s chosen people but he knew something about his God that needed to be told to the entire world! He must have had his tough times like everyone else; he might well have had long stretches of agony when the first half of Psalm 22 was most often in his mind and speech and then came to experience the last half of Psalm 22. It would have been when he had come through the long scalding experience and not only survived [see Psalm 124] but was filled with a new experience of God, His power to save and His faithfulness—that’s when he would have jumped up in the middle of the congregation and said, “I have something I must sing.” And he sang this for his people but—more importantly, more immediately and directly—for the world!
Praise the Lord, all nations
Extol Him, all people.
For His kindness overwhelms us,
And the Lord’s steadfast truth is forever.
Hallelujah.     (Alter’s Translation)

He calls on all the peoples and nations of the earth to praise God—Yahweh! And why should they? What reason does this believer give the entire human family to praise Israel’s God? Here it is, “Because His kindness overwhelms us.” His kindness overwhelms Israel—that’s a reason for the entire world to sing His praise? It’s clear the psalmist had a richer understanding of God than many of his fellows. He and the little woman in Matthew 15 had much in common.
This psalm is about the experience of the People of God as a whole and it’s about the non-Jewish nations as a whole. It’s cosmic in scope, it’s humankind in breadth; it’s about the God and Father of all of us and the psalmist says, “Look at us and learn about Him. About Him! Like you, we’ve been in and through trouble but here we are (Isaiah 43:1-7)—alive and well. In his goodness to us and his sustaining covenant faithfulness He speaks a message of His faithful love to you. Rejoice in Him. Rejoice in Him because His kindness overwhelms us.” Rejoice in the one true God that is the God of His chosen People because He is the God of the entire world and He has called His People to tell the world that He is for them also!
Tell that to the NT Church and to the abused and plundered and kept-ignorant people of the world! Give them a song to sing!

(Holy One, we thank you for showing us in the Lord Jesus what holiness is—for showing us that it isn’t a stiff-arm aloofness and forever forbidding. Thank you for showing us in Him, in His permanently choosing to be a human, living, dying and dealing with the Sin of the entire world—thank you for showing us what grace is. Thank you for calling out an elect People to tell that good news to a plundered, tormented world and give them something and Someone to believe in and to sing about. Help us to be faithful to our hope-bringing and joy-bringing message about Thyself so that we will not stuff ourselves with more and more while millions of Lazaruses lie dying all over our world.)

This entry was posted in REFLECTIONS ON THIS AND THAT on by .

About Jim McGuiggan

Jim McGuiggan was Ethel's husband for fifty-three years. They have three children and eight grandchildren. Ethel went to be with Christ on Easter Sunday, 2009 at the close of a gallant life. He has written some books including: Celebrating the Wrath of God; Heading Home with God; Life on the Ash Heap; Jesus: Hero of Thy Soul; The God of the Towel, The Scarlet Letter; and The Dragon Slayer.


  1. Earl Bridges

    Thank you Jim for these precious thoughts showing us and proving that the Older Testament is still so applicable today. God never changes. I have always appreciated your wise thoughts, but sadly haven’t kept up with them for some time. Trust that you are well and pray that Yahweh will continue to bless and use you for His Glory.



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