Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div
“He clave the rocks in the wilderness, and gave them drink as out of the great depths.” Psalm 78:15
The psalmist is here reviewing the providence of God that sustained the children of Israel in the desert. That providence had made a deep impression on him, and he delights to dwell upon its wonders. There is a sense, I believe, in which the poet is really the best of all historians. He sees by the gift of a trained imagination into the hearts of men and the character of movements. And though he may lack the minute and critical knowledge that is in the keeping of laborious students, yet he often brings us nearer to the truth than the man who discovers and refutes his errors.
One often feels that it is so with the psalmist, and especially when he is dealing with the Exodus. For him the miracles that marked that journey were not isolated and solitary splendors. They were rather the discoveries of that power which is everywhere present and everywhere upholding; only in other lives they dealt with small numbers of people while here in the Exodus they are with large numbers.
Take for example the water from the rock of which the psalmist is speaking in our text. The wonder that God gave them water as out of the great depths comes to him in a flash. He sees the Israelites crowding around the rock and saying in their hearts, “This cannot last long.” He sees them watching for the supply to fail as, of course, coming from a rock, it must soon do. And then he sees their look of wild surprise when it dawns on them that the stream is inexhaustible and is fed by channels they know nothing of, from boundless and unfathomable reservoirs.
What the people crave for is a draught of water, and God in His mercy gives them their desire. But He fills their cups, not from a little cistern, but as from some illimitable ocean. And the psalmist knows that that is always true, for whenever the Almighty satisfies His creatures, He gives them to drink as out of the great depths.
All Nature Depends on God’s Goodness
Think, then, for a moment of the world of nature as it unfolds itself in all its beauty around us. There is not a bird or beast, there is not a tree or flower, but is ministered to in the way our text describes. I take the tiniest weed that roots among the stones–the flower in the crannied wall of which the poet speaks–and I ask, What does it need to live; what does it need that it may flower and fruit? The answer is that it needs a little warmth; it needs an occasional moistening with rain.
Now in a certain measure that is true, but you can never stop there in this mysterious universe. At the back of the warmth which it needs, there is the sun; and at the back of every raindrop, there is sky and ocean. And it takes the sun and sea and the white cloud of heaven to satisfy that tiniest weed among the stones, which may come to its delicate beauty only to be unregarded and perhaps crushed by a passing foot.
Try to explain the light that a rose needs, and you are carried into the depths of solar energy. Look at the raindrop on the hedge–has it not been drawn “out of the boundless deep”? And so there is not a rose in any garden nor a leaf that unfolds itself on any tree that is not ever whispering to the hearing ear, “He gave me drink as out of the great depths.”
Again, think of our senses for a moment–think of our sight and hearing, for example. One of the plainest facts about our senses is the different way they translate what they receive.
To one man a rose is just a rose and no more. To another, in the smallest flower there are thoughts that often lie too deep for tears. And it is not the eye alone that differentiates, it is the life that is hidden deep behind the eye; He giveth them drink as out of the great depths.
Two men may listen to a piece of music, and one, as he listens, is profoundly stirred by it. There seems to pass before him, as he listens, visions of what is high and fair and beautiful. And he hears the calling of his brightest hopes and the cry of regret for all his wasted years and the stooping over him again of faces that he has loved long since and lost awhile. All this is kindled in some hearts by music–this burning of hope and haunting of regret; yet play that very piece before another, and it is sound and fury, signifying nothing.
Is not the ear of a dead person perfect? Is not every membrane and convolution there? Yet call to it or whisper to it passionately, and will it play its part and carry the news of love? Yesterday there would have been a smile of recognition; there is not a flicker of response today.
So at the back of every sense we have there is a depth that can never be fathomed. All that a man is, looks through his eyes. All that his soul is, listens through his ears. If the eye could speak or if the ear could speak, would they not echo the language of the text, “He gave us drink as out of the great depths?”
The Common Joy and Sorrow of Mankind
Again let us think for a moment of God’s ways in providence–in the ordering and discipline of our lives. One of the lessons we learn as we grow older is that our discipline is not exceptional. When we are young our joys are all our own; we never dream that others could have known them. When we are young we take our little sorrows as if there were no such sorrows in the world. And much of the bitterness of childish trial lies in its terrible sense of isolation; in the feeling that in the whole wide world there is no one who has had to suffer just like us. It seems as if God has cut a special channel for us out of which no other life has ever drunk. In joy and grief, in sunshine and in shadow, we seem to move apart when we are children. But as life advances and our outlook broadens, and we learn the story of the lives around us, then we see that we are not alone but are being made to drink of the great depths.
It is not by exceptional providence’s that we live. It is not by exceptional joys we are enriched. It is not by anything rare or strange or singular that we are fashioned under the hand of God. It is by sorrows that are as old as man, by trials that a thousand hearts have felt, by joys that are common as the wind is common that breathes on the palace and on the poorest street. By these things do we live; by these we grow; by love and tears, by trials, by work, by death; by the things that link us all into a brotherhood, the things that are common to ten thousand hearts. And it is when we come to recognize that truth and to feel our comradeship within a common discipline, that we say, as the psalmist said of Israel, “He gave us drink as out of the great depths.”
The Everlasting Word of God
Now there is one thing that always arrests me in the Bible. It is that the Bible is such an ancient book, and yet is so intensely modern and practical. Think of the ages which have fled since it was written and how “heaven and earth have passed away” since then; think of our cities and of the life we live in them and of the stress and strain unknown in the quiet Bible times. To me it is wonderful, when I reflect upon it, that the Bible should be of any use at all now, and should not rather have moved into the quiet of libraries to be the joy of the unworldly scholar.
But if there is one thing certain it is this—the Bible meets the need of modern life. In spite of all criticism, as a practical guide there is no book to touch it. There is not a problem you are called to face and not a duty you are called to do; there is not a cross you are compelled to carry and not a burden you are forced to bear, but your strength for it all shall be as the strength of ten if you make a daily companion of your Bible. Now this is what you feel about the Bible, that it never offers a draught from shallow waters. You do not find there a set of petty maxims, but you find the everlasting love of God there. You do not find any shallow views of sin there, but a Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. And that is the secret of the Bible’s permanence, when our little systems have had their day and ceased to be, then for sin and sorrow and life and death and duty, it gives us to drink as out of the great depths.
The Depths of Jesus Christ
And think for a moment upon Jesus—of Jesus in relation to His words. If ever words were as water to a thirsty world, surely it was the words that Jesus spoke. How simple they were, and yet how deep! How tender and full of love, and yet how searching! They seemed to pierce into the very heart till a man felt that his secret thought was known.
Now there are men whose lives so contradict their words that when you know the men you cannot listen to them. And there are men who are so much less than their own words that when you come to know them you are disappointed. But what people felt about Jesus Christ was that when all was uttered, the half was never told, for at the back of all His words there was Himself, deeper unfathomable than His deepest speech. That is why the words of Christ will live even when heaven and earth have passed away. You can exhaust the cup or drain the goblet dry, but you cannot exhaust the spring fed from the deeps. And just because the words of Jesus Christ spring from the depths of that divine humanity, they will save and strengthen the obedient heart to the last recorded syllable of time.