A Path Through The Sea

DB Ryen

Not all roads are well-marked. In fact, God has a way of making a way where there is none. 

[Keywords: Jesus, death, water, destruction, chaos, walk, swimming lessons, Flood, Exodus, faith, Christianity, Bible]

Length: Medium, 1929  words

Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footsteps were not seen. 

Psalm 77:19, NIV

In the desert, swimming lessons aren’t exactly commonplace. It’s safe to assume that most people in ancient Israel couldn’t swim, let alone ferry all their belongings across a large body of water. So when God led them out of Egypt to the seashore, with a bloodthirsty army bearing down on them, it probably seemed like he had made a mistake. I mean, up until that point, things were starting to look up for this fledgling nation of slaves. After four hundred years at the hands of brutal taskmasters, God had finally heard their prayers and dramatically rescued them from oppression. However, following him into the desert, they found themselves at a dead end - a sea in front of them and their enemies behind. Did God make a wrong turn? Or did he actually plan on destroying them all along? 

You can’t really blame Israel for panicking. Even though God told them of his plan of deliverance (Ex 14:1-4), they didn’t know how it would happen. Nor did they realize that the Lord was rubbing his hands with a grin on his face, ready to display his awesome power yet again. Indeed, he was about to save his people through the most destructive natural force on earth: the sea.

In the ancient Middle East, the sea represented chaos and destruction. In fact, the Bible personifies the destructive power of the ocean as a mythical sea monster named Rahab (Job 9:13; Is 51:9). The writer of Psalm 107 commented on how those who live by the seashore are very familiar with the terrifying power of water. 

Some went down to the sea in ships, doing business on the great waters; they saw the deeds of the Lord, his wondrous works in the deep. For he commanded and raised the stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea. They mounted up to heaven; they went down to the depths; their courage melted away in their evil plight; they reeled and staggered like drunken men and were at their wits' end. (Ps 107:23-26, ESV)

The worldview back then was a lot different from the earth-orbiting-the-sun understanding we have now. Instead, they saw the land as sandwiched between two great masses of water. Check out the account of creation:

God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so. (Gen 1:6-7, ESV)

They saw the sky as a solid blue barrier that held back the “waters above”. When it rained, holes allowed precipitation to fall to earth. Underneath the land, solid pillars kept the earth from sinking into the “waters below”.

The pillars of the earth are the Lord's, and on them he has set the world. (1 Sam 2:8, ESV)

The Bible says the earth was formed “out of water” (2 Pet 3:5) and “founded upon the seas” (Ps 24:2). Being surrounded by mighty waters that could break out at any time was a rather precarious situation for ancient cultures, particularly due the sea’s destructive nature. Anyone who has built a sandcastle on the seashore knows the power of water, albeit on a very small scale. Try as you may, you can’t hold back the tide - water always wins. In Mesopotamia, the land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers flooded annually, wiping out everything in its path. At the time, the most common construction material was brick, which were made by baking straw-infused mud in the sun. These blocks were strong enough to build large structures, but if they were submerged in water for any length of time, their rock-like rigidity dissolved back into mud. Thus, the majority of buildings at that time were highly susceptible to floodwaters. 

The written histories of many cultures in the Middle East include a worldwide Flood - the Bible, Mesopotamia’s Epic of Gilgamesh, and Babylon’s Enuma Elish all describe such a cataclysmic event. During the Flood, the firmament holding back the waters above was released, pouring water down on the earth, while the tehom flooded the earth from below. The process of creation was essentially reversed, annihilating all animal life, people, plants and man-made structures. Afterwards, there was literally no trace that people or animals had ever been there. The earth looked just like it did before creation, “without form and void” (Gen 1:2).

As such, the possibility of water breaking out again and disrupting order on earth was a very real fear. However, unlike other religions whose gods were subject to the forces of nature, the God of Israel was seen to be all-powerful, keeping the chaos of the sea in check. 

Who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, when I made clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed’? (Job 38:8-11, ESV)

By his power he stilled the sea; by his understanding he shattered Rahab. (Job 26:12, ESV)

God’s "shattering" Rahab is a poetic way of proclaiming his creative order subduing the chaos of the sea. Similarly, the writer of Psalm 107 emphasized God's sovereignty over the waves.

[The seamen] they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed. Then they were glad that the waters were quiet, and he brought them to their desired haven. (Ps 107:28-30, ESV)

Nonetheless, when Israel found themselves caught between a destructive army and a destructive sea, they saw no chance of survival. But God had a plan… and it involved the sea.

Israel didn’t realize that sometimes God’s path is where no path exists

The Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. (Ex 14:21-22, ESV)

Who could’ve predicted God would part the sea? Certainly not Israel, nor the Egyptian army who pursued them and subsequently got stuck in the muddy seafloor. Then, with his people safe on the far shore, God released the full destructive power of the sea on their oppressors. 

The waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen; of all the host of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea, not one of them remained. (Ex 14:28, ESV)

They didn’t stand a chance. Safe on shore, Israel witnessed that everything - even the wild and perilous sea - submits to God.

When the [sea] saw you, O God, its waters looked and trembled! The sea quaked to its very depths. (Ps 77:16, NLT)

Deliverance through the sea (and other forms of destructive forces of nature) is a common theme throughout the Bible. As a baby, Moses was sent in a basket into the Nile, with little hope of him surviving. However, by divine intervention, he was rescued and raised as a prince of Egypt (Ex 2). The name Moses, derived from the Hebrew word masa, "to draw out", is a perpetual reminder of God's deliverance. Years after he was rescued from the waters of death, God used him to deliver his people through the same thing.  Jonah found himself in the depths of the sea - in the belly of Rahab no less! - before he was given a second chance at obedience (Jonah 1-2). Jesus’ disciples sailed into the midst of a storm before the Lord calmed the raging sea before their eyes (Mk 4:39). Three Jews exiled in Babylon found themselves thrown into a blazing furnace, emerging unharmed and thereafter able to worship their God in freedom (Dan 3). Daniel had the same experience in a lion’s den (Dan 6). All these people passed through various “seas” in their lives, not knowing if they’d survive, but God used those forces of destruction to bless them. Paul talked about this very thing:  

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (Rom 8:35-37, ESV)

God doesn’t just defeat the seas in our life, he uses them for our benefit. Jesus’ death and resurrection is the ultimate example of this. After his crucifixion, the situation seemed dismal for his followers. But what initially seemed like the darkest day was actually brighter than the sun itself! Who could have predicted the King would have to die before he ascended to his throne? Jesus had to walk into death to find life, down a path that nobody knew was there. And yet, through the Messiah’s “baptism”, he defeated sin and death for all of us. It’s like spiritual judo - God uses the enemy’s power against him. We’re “more than conquerors” when the forces against us are used for our good. This is the redeeming power of God.

There are many times in our lives when the situation seems completely hopeless - that death, destruction, and chaos are right at our door. However, sometimes the Lord’s paths of righteousness lead to “green pastures and quiet waters” (Ps 23:2), but at other times those same paths lead us through “the valley of the shadow of death” (v. 4). During those dark times, we’re sandwiched between a rock and a hard place, between a sea and an army. And yet, I’ve never met a believer who looked back and thought that God had abandoned him or her. It may have felt like that at the moment, but in hindsight, they later see the ever-present hand of the Lord in the midst of the seemingly hopeless struggle. He takes us through the sea - right through the midst of death - not for calamity but for our good.

“I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jer 29:11, ESV)

The broken nature of the earth continually causes pain and destruction for mankind, but the Almighty God has dominion over everything, including the sea and all it represents. One day he’ll do away with the sea completely.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. (Rev 21:1, ESV)

The chaos that threatens the earth will be removed from existence and the people of God will finally be able to rest in peace.

Struggling through stormy seas is never fun, but God always knows what he’s doing, no matter how much it seems like he’s made a mistake. His road isn’t easy, but it’s resoundingly good. 

[The Lord] makes a way in the sea, a path in mighty waters. (Is 43:16, ESV) 

Swimming lessons or not, he’ll get us through the sea, along a path nobody knew was there. 

© D. B. Ryen Incorporated, July 2023.