Theme: King of Nature and History
In this week’s lessons we see what it means for God to reign over all.
Scripture: Psalm 93:1-5
When he was introducing the idea of God’s immutability in verses 1 and 2, the psalmist said that “the world is firmly established” because the throne of God is established. But is it really the case that the world is established? It does not seem to be. In fact, when I wrote about God’s immutability, I pointed out that everything changes but God. That thought must have occurred to the psalmist, too. For immediately after writing about the immutability of God’s throne in verse 2, he writes a stanza about the surging, pounding, changing character of this world.
The image he uses is a common one, but it is one that has led to several different interpretations. It is that of the sea, which is always in a state of fluctuation (v. 3). This has been interpreted in a variety of ways, as I indicated. There is a popular theory among Old Testament scholars that it has to do with Yahweh’s triumph over the primordial powers of chaos. They say this not because of anything in the psalm itself but because of parallels in Ugaritic and Babylonian poetry. The problem with this theory is that it has almost no foundation in anything Jewish. The Jewish Scriptures just do not contain mythological elements of this type.
In all probability, verse 3 has to do either with God’s sovereignty over nature itself or with his sovereignty over the nations and world history. If it is the first of these two possibilities, the thought would follow naturally on verse 1, which spoke of the world being “firmly established” by God. It would be a way of acknowledging that the world of nature is indeed in constant turmoil but that God is sovereign over even this change. It would be an Old Testament answer to the fundamental question of Greek philosophy: Why is there order in the universe even though all things are in a state of constant change? The psalmist is saying that it is because Jehovah himself stands behind it. In other words, the biblical answer is not the philosophical idea of law or order, but of providence. God is involved in his creation. He sustains and controls it moment by moment. He is always in charge.
On the other hand, it is hard to think that this is all the psalmist has in mind when he writes of the surging, pounding seas, particularly when we remember that in the Old Testament the ocean with its restless waves is often a symbol of the vacillating world of the surrounding Gentile nations. Examples would be Isaiah 17:12 (“Oh, the raging of many nations—they rage like the raging sea”), and also Jeremiah 6:23 and 50:42 (“They sound like the roaring sea as they ride on their horses”).1 Franz Delitzsch argues for this view when he writes: “The sea with its mighty mass of waters, with the constant unrest of its waves, with its ceaseless pressing against the solid land and foaming against the rocks, is an emblem of the Gentile world alienated from and at enmity with God.”2 Tate also sees this as a possibility: “If the floods are translated into historical reference, they could refer to the roaring of hostile nations against Yahweh and Israel.”3
If the seas represent the Gentile nations, as I think they do, then the second stanza is an assertion of God’s sovereignty over every historical development. He is king not just of the cosmos, which has been asserted earlier, but of human beings, too.
1See also Isaiah 51:9-15.
2Franz Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Psalms, trans. Francis Bolton (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, n.d.), vol. 3, p. 75.
3Marvin E. Tate, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 20, Psalms 51-100 (Dallas: Word, 1990), p. 479.
How does the image of the sea characterize nature? How does it characterize the ungodly world?
Why does the psalmist say there is order even though all things change?
What conclusion does Dr. Boice draw from the seas representing the Gentile nations?
Application: What are the implications to your life from the truth that God is king of the cosmos?