The conversation in the coffee shop and throughout the region over the past several weeks has been the flooding of the Red River and its tributaries. Many of you have been significantly impacted by this flood and all of us have been very aware of it. Whenever I listen to the forecast now, I always become concerned when I hear that the wind is going to be strong because I know that means some of you will be staying put and it also presents a potential threat to your homes. I know that some of you have felt isolated and even abandoned because of the isolation. I know that whenever you need to leave your homes, you are very aware of the danger which the waters pose and if you have to go by boat, it can be a scary thing.
We have talked about “How high it will go?” “Will the dikes hold?” “How long will it last?” and many other questions. Anyone involved in programs in the school or church has been wondering if we can or should go on with planned activities.
While all of these thoughts were floating around in the community and in my mind, it was interesting when one day about a week ago in my devotions, I just happened to come to Psalm 93. Here is what it says.
The context of the Psalm is difficult to determine because there is no title to this Psalm, but the central verse, verse 3, seems to suggest some kind of a context, one that seems very appropriate to our situation. Yet, as I read commentaries, I was not sure what this imagery was referring to. Some suggested that it refers to the primordial waters which existed in the early days of creation. Several suggested that the sea is an emblem of the Gentile world in opposition to God’s people. The commentary by Keil and Delitsch suggested that this is about the “future time when Christ will come and God will establish His eternal kingdom.” I would not want to suggest a context and I don’t think a specific context is intended. The words of the Psalm, both in the turmoil presented in the central verse and in the truths about God which appear in the rest of the Psalm are appropriate to our situation today. So let us think about what God’s Word may have to say to us from this Psalm today.
We will begin our examination at the center of the passage with verse 3 where we read, “The seas have lifted up, O Lord, the seas have lifted up their voice; the seas have lifted up their pounding waves.”
The central word in this passage, in NIV, is “seas,” but the Hebrew word is actually “river” and many translations use the word “floods.” These words invite us to think about the different stories in the Bible in which violent waves and rivers and floods were involved in the story.
We may think about the action of water when God first created the world. Can you imagine the rushing of water which occurred when God said “Let the water under the sky be gathered in one place, and let dry ground appear?”
Obviously think of the great flood in the days of Noah. What devastation that caused!
We may think of the crossing of the Red Sea by Israel, recorded in Exodus 14. What would it have been like when the strong east wind parted the waters and created the dry ground for Israel to pass through? Can we imagine the great turmoil when the waters returned and drowned Pharaoh and all the Egyptian army?
A Psalm which speaks of the mighty turmoil of waves and wind is found in Psalm 107:23-27, where we read, “Others went out on the sea in ships; they were merchants on the mighty waters. 24 They saw the works of the Lord, his wonderful deeds in the deep. 25 For he spoke and stirred up a tempest that lifted high the waves. 26 They mounted up to the heavens and went down to the depths; in their peril their courage melted away. 27 They reeled and staggered like drunken men; they were at their wits’ end.”
The sea as an image of unknown evil and great turmoil is implied in Revelation 21:1 where we read that “there was no longer any sea.” It seems that for Israel the sea was a place of turmoil and struggle and trouble. It was not possible to tame it. Although sometimes God redeemed people from it, it always represented a picture of difficulty for them.
These are the pictures which Biblical understanding brings to us when we read Psalm 93:3 and also as we stand on the shores of our own Red Sea. The current flood waters have caused isolation and displacement. They have caused people to feel abandoned because everything else goes on as normal. They have put people into situations of danger on the icy waters. They continue to torment with all the thoughts of future difficulties – “How long will it stay?” “Will we be able to seed this year?” All those who are surrounded know that after the waters recede there will be significant, difficult and discouraging clean up. On top of that, for those who are facing the second or third flood, the memory of past floods and all their difficulties come back as a painful memory. The turmoil presented in Psalm 93:3 is very real to us indeed.
But we should not limit this picture to the current flooding. While we are in turmoil over this difficulty, there are many other difficulties which may also feel like an overwhelming flood. I think of the family of the little girl from Ontario who has been missing for quite a while. I think of those of you who are dealing with illness and those who are overwhelmed by disappointment and loss. All of these should be set on the table as being described by the verses, “The seas have lifted up, O Lord, the seas have lifted up their voice; the seas have lifted up their pounding waves.”
II. The Lord on High is Mighty!
But this Psalm deliberately redirects our focus away from turmoil to God.
A. The Lord Reigns
The Psalm begins with the strong affirmation that “The Lord reigns…” and speaks again of the reign of God in verse 2 when it says that “Your throne was established long ago…”
The “seas lifted up” are not the final word. The turmoil does not reign. Even in the midst of the most devastating situation, it is the Lord who reigns.
Spurgeon writes, “His is not the semblance, but the reality of sovereignty.”
When we look at the powerful waves caused by the south wind blowing on the massive expanse of water, we may think that all that water rules. It sure seems to rule when it causes us to fear, to move, to work hard to protect our homes, to change plans and put everything on pause.
When we recognize that a disease has taken hold of our body, we may think that the disease reigns in our body.
Throughout the world, the philosophy of atheism seems to hold sway. Throughout the world missionaries seem to be a minority and struggle to bring the gospel to people groups who do not respond. For the past 50 years and more there has been work among the native groups in the Chaco and today the mission station where Frank and Marge first went when they became missionaries is still a small and struggling work being carried out today by New Tribes Mission. My dad used to drive kids to Sunday School on Sunday afternoon in inner city Winnipeg in the 50’s and now, 50 years later, people are still trying hard to make a difference in the inner city. Someone recently expressed disappointment that after all the years of effort and money poured into inner city Winnipeg, there still seemed to be so much darkness and struggle.
These kind of experiences cause us to wonder, “who reigns?” Do secular governments reign? Do the forces of darkness reign? Does Satan reign?
I recently received an article which gave me a very encouraging perspective. The article is written by Matthew Parris and his opening line in the article is, “As an atheist, I truly believe that Africa needs God.” He writes, “It’s a pity, I would say, that salvation is part of the package, but Christians, black and white, working in Africa, do heal the sick, do teach the people to read and write; and only the severest kind of secularist could see a mission hospital or school and say the world would be better without it. I would allow that if faith was needed to motivate the missionaries to help, then fine: but what counted was the help, not the faith…But this doesn’t fit the facts. Faith does more than support the missionary; it is also transferred to his flock. This is the effect that matters so immensely, and which I cannot help observing.” He goes on to describe how important God is in bringing change. Although sometimes in the turmoil we wonder if God reigns, this article reminds us that God reigns.
B. The Lord Is Robed in Majesty
Twice in verse 1 this Psalm tells us that “He is robed in majesty.” Even as we have before us the devastation of the “pounding waves” we are invited to recognize the glory of the Lord who reigns.
I enjoy mystery stories and have read many of the stories of Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. So I have interest also in the modern mystery stories which we have on TV. I keep trying to find a good mystery show and so I have watched CSI and Law and Order and so on, but I am constantly turned away by the ugliness of evil which is often so graphically displayed on these shows.
Evil is ugly and there is so much ugliness in our world. There is so much ugliness in the many different ways in which the “seas have lifted up their voice.” We know that with our physical “Red Sea” there is an ugliness about the devastation which it has caused and we cannot be blind to the loss of income, the destroyed homes and trees, the displaced lives and anxiety ridden psyches. The devastation of illness which sometimes deforms, often brings fear, creates brokenness and frequently robs of life is something we can all identify with.
But if the Lord reigns and if the Lord is robed in majesty, then we should also expect that somewhere along the line there will be beauty and not ugliness. We should expect that, as Isaiah 61:3 says, there will be, “beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair...”
If we focus on the “pounding waves” we will be discouraged and devastated, but if we put our hope in the Lord who reigns and recognize that He is robed in majesty, we will know that beauty will come.
We have often puzzled about the legalism of the most conservative Mennonite groups and the oppression under which many of them live. Yet I observed something very interesting about them. A group of conservative Mennonites from Manitoba moved to Paraguay many years ago to escape government interference and forced public education. They took their conservative views to a remote area of Paraguay in order to escape from the world. However, some of them began to open their hearts to the gospel. Although they faced severe persecution from the rest of the group, they survived and grew in their faith and began to do mission work among the native group which lived in that remote area. In time, some of the most conservative people in the original group began to feel the pressure of the world again and moved to a more remote region where once again, some found the gospel and began to reach out to the people who lived in that remote region. I discovered that this has happened in Mexico, Belize, Paraguay and Bolivia and I began to see that the oppression of legalism of the most conservative Mennonite groups keeps causing them to move into remote areas, where some find the gospel and begin to spread the gospel. I began to realize that God is using what we don’t see as a good thing, oppressive legalism, to bring the gospel into these remote areas and is thus bringing beauty for ashes. That is one example of the majesty of the God who reigns.
C. The Lord Is Armed With Strength
In verse 1 we read that He is “armed with strength” and then in verse 4, as a direct response to the verse about the “seas lifting up their voice,” we read, “Mightier than the thunder of the great waters, mightier than the breakers of the sea – the Lord on high is mighty.”
One day the disciples of Jesus were crossing the Sea of Galilee and Jesus was with them. Perhaps it was calm when they started out, but soon we read in Mark 4:37, “A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped.” Here we have a picture which is similar to that in Psalm 93:3. But as we read on in this story, we have a very specific illustration of the truth of Psalm 93:4. As the disciples feared desperately because of the roaring wind and crashing waves, we read in Mark 4:39, “He(Jesus) got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.”
I suspect some of you wish that Jesus was in your boat on those days when you need to cross the mighty waters and that He would speak to the wind and the waves and calm them, but I haven’t heard too many stories of waves calmed in a moment so we question, “Is the Lord still “mightier than the thunder of the mighty waters?” How do we see that power displayed in our turmoil, whatever it may be?
When our daughter was in her teens, she was visiting a friend who lived near La Riviere on the edge of the valley. She and two friends were on a quad and she was driving on some trails in the area and they began to drive up a steep hill. Before they knew what was happening, the machine lifted up and flipped backwards over them and bounced to the bottom of the hill. Some fell off as it fell, but the machine rolled completely over our daughter. They were scared and hurt, but I am sure that it was the might of God which spared them. When I heard that I knew that God does show His power!
Our opportunity is to bring every situation in which we are powerless into His presence in prayer and rely on His promises. His promise, as we find it in Hebrews 13:5, 6, says, “God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”6 So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?”
Abraham Wright has said, “Therefore consider not so much thy distress as thy Deliverer…The danger may exceed thy resistance, but not God’s assistance; the enemies’ power may surpass thy strength, their subtlety outwit thy prudence, but neither can excel the wisdom and might of God that is with thee. O, learn therefore to try God in His strength, to trust Him in difficulties; and when the merciless waves are ready to swallow thee, commit thyself to His custody.”
D. The Lord’s Throne Is Eternal
From this Psalm we also notice, not once, but twice that this reign of God and His powerful help does not come to an end. Verse 2 addresses God and says “your throne was established long ago, you are from all eternity…” In all time past, God has always reigned and has always cared for His flock. In Psalm 93:5, we read that “holiness adorns your house for endless days.”
The phrase in verse 2 seems to look at eternity past and the phrase in verse 5 at eternity yet to come and God is the Lord in both. Charles Spurgeon wrote, “He has reigned, does reign, and will reign.”
If God is the Lord in eternity past and in eternity yet to come, has he abandoned us today? We can say with confidence that He has not. We are invited to put our confidence in the eternal God.
E. Holiness Adorns His House
The last phrase which speaks of who God is in the midst of the “pounding waves” is found in verse 5 where we read, “…holiness adorns your house…”
Holiness has always been a bit of a mystery to understand. In itself it reminds us that God is set apart from all that He has created. There is much to this, but how does it relate to the theme of turmoil which permeates this Psalm?
One aspect of holiness is goodness. Spurgeon writes, “God has not admitted evil to dwell with him.” If that is the case, then our confidence can be that whatever God does will be good and not evil. To recognize that holiness adorns His house is to recognize that we can put our confidence in the goodness of God.
If God reigns and if God is majestic and if God is mighty and if God is eternal and if God is holy; then we can have peace and we know which way to go.
A. The World Is Firmly Established
After the opening affirmation that the Lord reigns, is majestic and is armed with strength for all eternity, we have this comforting word, “The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved.”
In verse 3 it doesn’t look like the world is firmly established. When the floods raise their voice it doesn’t look like the world is firmly established. When arthritis ravages a young body or when a drunk driver takes the lives of a missionary family, it doesn’t look or feel like the world is firmly established. But when the Lord who is “mightier than the thunder of the great waters” reigns, then we can be assured that the world is firmly established. Nothing will happen that is not known to Him, nor will anything happen which He cannot redeem to express His holiness and majesty.
One of the Psalms which I often read in difficult situations is Psalm 46, which has a similar theme and a calm affirmation of where our peace comes from. It speaks in verse 2, about the mountains falling into the heart of the sea and about the waters roaring and foaming. But it says that even in these situations of absolute upheaval when it looks like the world is not firmly established, that “we will not fear.” Why can it so confidently speak like this? Because as verse 1 says, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble.” What is our response to this understanding? What is true for us if “The Lord reigns?” Psalm 46:10 invites us, “Be still, and know that I am God.”
B. Your Statutes Stand Firm
But not only do we have peace in the midst of turmoil, we also know the way to go.
Verse 5 assures us, “your statutes stand firm.” The Message puts it like this: “What you say goes—it always has.”
When the turmoil is great, we may fear that what God has said is obviously not true anymore. But if God’s Word is still true because God reigns, then the promises of God are also still true. To say “your statutes stand firm,” is to acknowledge that the promises which God has made have not been forgotten. We can count on the Lord’s protective care for us and we can know that He is still the good shepherd who watches over His flock.
And if it is true to say “your statutes stand firm” then it is also true that the commands of the Word of God are true. When we are in the stress of flooding and danger, and these things cause our hearts to fear, we may be tempted to behave in ways that are a violation of the Word of God. As Christians, we are not immune to doing things which help us, but hurt another person. But, if God reigns and if his promises are sure, then his commands are also sure and we are called to continue to obey His Word. May the peace which Christ gives, allow us to have the conviction and ability to continue to obey.
I am so thankful for Psalms like this. They help us look into our hearts to see the fear and anger and turmoil that is there. They also invite us to see God in the midst of whatever is happening in our life. Spurgeon says about this Psalm that it “is calculated to comfort the distressed, confirm the timorous, and assist the devout.”
I like the poem he has written which rephrases some of the ideas found in this Psalm. May these words be an encouragement to all.
“Loud the stormy billows spoke,
Loud the billows raised their cry;
Fierce the stormy billows broke,
Sounding to the echoing sky.
Strong the breakers tossing high,
Stronger is Jehovah’s might,
True thy words; and sanctity
Well becomes thy temple bright.”