Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div
“Thy way is in the sea, and thy path in the great waters, and thy footsteps are not known.” Psalm 77:19
Doubtless, when the psalmist penned our text, his first thought was the crossing of the Red Sea. He was seeking to revive his drooping heart by recalling the saving power of God in Israel’s past. But the words of a true poet never end when we have found their literal significance. It is one mark of poetic inspiration that it is capable of indefinite expansion. It is not by narrowing down, it is by widening out, that we get to the real genius of a poet, and the writer of this psalm had the true gift. Thy way is in the sea–were there not glimpses in that of truths which the Exodus never could exhaust? So did the writer feel–so must we all feel–and it is on two of these suggestions that I wish to dwell.
The Sea As an Object of Dread
There were two places above all others dreaded by the Jew. The one was the desert and the other was the sea. The desert–for it was the home of the wild beasts and the haunt of the robbers who plundered the Jewish villages, and it was across the desert that those armies came which besieged Jerusalem and pillaged it. And the sea–because it was full of storms and treachery in Jewish eyes; it was the hungry, cruel, insatiable deep. It is very difficult for us who are an island nation to enter into that feeling of the Jew. The ocean is our defense and our great ally, and we have loved the sound of its waves since we were children. But to the Hebrew, it was very different. For him, there was no rapture on the lonely shore. He loved his fields and his vineyards and his markets, but the element he dreaded was the sea.
But now comes the voice of the great Jewish singer and says to the people, God’s way is in the sea. In the very sphere and element, they dread there are the path and purpose of divinity. They loved their gardens and the Lord was there. They loved their vineyards and the Lord was there. In places that were sweet and dear to them, there was the presence of the God of Israel. But nonetheless, in the realm of what was terrible and in the regions which they shunned instinctively, there was the ordered path of the Almighty.
I think we should all do well to learn that lesson–God’s way is in the very thing we dread. We are so apt to cry that God has forgotten us when the experience which we loathe arrives. We all love health, but we all dread disease. We love success, but we dread disappointment. We love the energy and glow of life, but we dread the silence of death and the cold grave–but the way of the Lord of heaven is in the sea. Believe that He is working out His purposes through what is dark as well as through what is bright. Believe that what is hardest to bear or understand is never disordered nor purposeless nor pathless. What is the object of thy greatest dread, O Hebrew? Is it the sea? “God’s way is in the sea.”
The Restless Sea
And second, the sea is the element of restlessness. That is a familiar thought in the Old Testament, receiving its noblest and most poetic expression in Psalm 107:1-43. It is not easy for us to realize how vividly this thought impressed the ancient world, for the most ignorant among us has been taught by science that nothing in the whole universe is at rest. The earth is flying with tremendous speed around the sun, and the solar system itself is hurrying somewhere; we hardly need to turn to the waves of the sea to get our parable of restless energy. It was very different for the Jew. For him, the earth was fixed under a fixed heaven. It was set fast by the ordering of God. And over against it, in the sharpest of all contrasts, rocked and surged the restless sea. The sea was the element of change, the home of restlessness. One day it was as calm as if it were asleep; the next it was tossed and rent in a storm. It was all that of which a Jew would think when the word came to him that God’s way was in the sea.
Now, there is an unrest in our life that is the consequence and issue of our sin. It is as true today as when the prophet wrote it, that “there is no rest for the wicked, saith my God.” Let a man deliberately choose the lower levels and yield up the reins to his baser nature, and his whole existence becomes one of great discontent there is nothing of God’s way in that.
But there is a restlessness that is inspired; there is a discontent that is divine; there is a spirit within us that will not let us rest, and it is the very spirit of the wind-swept sea; and if there is one thing written clear in human history, it is that the way of God is there.
In one of Shakespeare’s sonnets there is a memorable line, “With what I must enjoy, contented least.” There can be little doubt, from the connection, that Shakespeare is referring to his plays. “With what I most enjoy, contented least”–then Shakespeare was not satisfied with Hamlet. There is a grand unrest there like the unrest of the ocean, and through the heart of it there runs the track of God. We are not here to be satisfied and indifferent. We shall be satisfied when we awake. We are here to strive and yearn and toil and pray for things that are too large for our three-score years. And in that distressing and yet divine unrest, there is the way and ordering of God. God’s way is never in the stagnant pool; His way is ever in the restless sea. It is He who says to us, “This is not your rest.” It is He who fills us with eternal hope. It is He who makes us rise after each failure to strive again for what we cannot reach. So we toil on and all we do is fragmentary, but we shall be satisfied in the eternal morning. He keeps us “climbing up the climbing wave” here, but in heaven there shall be no more sea.