“…how can a man be in the right before God?
He is wise in heart and mighty in strength…
who alone stretched out the heavens
and trampled the waves of the sea;
…who does great things beyond searching out, and marvelous things beyond number…”
Job 9: 2,4,8,10
Did you notice that Job says God “trampled the waves of the sea”? John Gill, who lived in the 1700s and preached in the same church Charles Spurgeon would preach in 100 years later, gives fascinating details about that exact phrase:
“…when the waves are lifted up as high as they sometimes are, by strong and stormy winds, the Lord on high is mightier than they, he treads upon them and represses them; he rules their raging, stills their noise, and makes them smooth, calm, and quiet (Psalm 65:7); this none but God can do: the Egyptian hieroglyphic of “doing a thing impossible” was a man’s walking upon water; the heathens chose not to describe even their god of the sea, Neptune, by walking on it, as being too great for him, but by swimming…Then, though, think “of Christ’s walking upon the sea…” (John Gill’s Exposition of the Whole Bible)
Had you ever heard of the Egyptian hieroglyphic for “doing something impossible”? I hadn’t. And I’d never heard that the Roman’s thought even mighty Neptune unable to walk on the sea. I now read Matthew’s account of Jesus walking on Galilee’s turbulent waters with enlightened, fascinated eyes:
“…the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”” (Matthew 14:24-27)
Raging seas were dreaded in ancient times. Boats, even those manned by the most seasoned of sailors and fishermen, were tossed about and smashed against rocky shorelines. Both the mighty Egyptians and the world-conquering Romans dared not think that the bravest of humans, or even Neptune, the powerful god of the sea, could walk upon roiling water.
The Lord God Almighty, He of the Bible, treads, represses, rules the raging. He tramples the waves of the sea.
Job knew this.
And years later, when He comes to earth, Jesus not only tramples, but walks. He does “a thing impossible.” Where Neptune dared not venture, He succeeds. And as He walks, He, knowing that the sight of His walking toward them terrifies His disciples, cares to calm their fear-filled hearts. He both demonstrates His terrifying power and cares for the men His trampling scares.
Hear again the kindness of your Savior as He speaks to them — the seasoned fishermen, now terrified as they perceive the “impossible” outline of a man walking on the night’s turbulent waves. He immediately says:
“Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”
From this, I take away amazement. First: amazement at God’s work through recorded history. The disciples probably had knowledge, stored in their fisherman minds, of the Egyptian’s “impossible” hieroglyphic and of the Roman god’s inabilities, as well as incidents of their own past battles on storm-tossed waves. They knew open waters were not controllable. And then Jesus arrives. Walking toward them. Breaking all rules. Demonstrating all power. All on purpose.
Jesus uses other culture’s ancient, recorded thoughts, the disciple’s own knowledge of scary seas, and his own unexpected display of power — all to strengthen their burgeoning faith. Faith in his dominion over the uncontrollable. And faith in his tender care.
And then this: Through Egyptian hieroglyphics (no one can walk on water), Neptune’s inability (not even a god can walk on water), and this recorded account in scripture (Jesus can walk on water), God means for us to also know something. We’re to know that when we lose heart and panic arises, we’re also to trust the Doer of the impossible. It’s then that he says to us, as he said to them:
Take heart. I trample the waves of the sea. I walk on them. Toward you.
Do not be afraid.
Paintings by Andreas Achenbach: Clearing Up–Coast of Sicily, 1847; Storm on the Sea at the Norwegian Coast, 1837