Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. (Rev. 21:1 emphasis added)
Other than the Beach Boys, probably the Vineyard churches have had more musical output on the subject of water. But quenched thirst, rains, showers, oceans and rivers have figured into the lyrics of both classic hymns and modern choruses, and the reference is usually positive.
Not so for the nation of Israel in scripture. They were not a water skiing bunch, and so we often see water cast in a negative sense.
I’m currently reading With: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God, by Skye Jethani (Thomas Nelson, 2011) and he makes the following observations:
…The sea is a source of endless recreation, whether on the beach playing in the sand; on the water’s surface boating, fishing and surfing; or beneath the waves exploring the alien underwater worlds.
But for all the sea’s joys and beauty, it is also an unrivaled source of destruction…
…The massive power and unpredictability of the sea is why ancient peoples saw it as a symbol of evil. The inhabitants of Israel, who were not a seafaring people, viewed the ocean as a realm of chaos, destruction and darkness… [T]o them the sea was a dark abyss to be feared…
…The opening scene of the Bible captures this contrast. In the beginning the earth is described as “without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep.” It is an ominous and disorganized world. But then we read, “the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” The God of creation brought order out of the primordial chaos… …God declared the newly organized world “good.”
…Sadly, the onward progress of order and beauty was severely interrupted when the man and woman broke unity with God. Choosing to rule without him, they plunged the world back into chaos…
…But God has not abandoned his world to chaos. The Biblical narrative has more to say about the sea and God’s power over it. The story of the flood found in Genesis 6 … tells of the world being destroyed by water. But the Lord preserved for himself a remnant through the deluge…
…Moses was put into a basket and survived the waters — a retelling of the Noah story on a micro scale. Years later God rescued his people from the oppression of Pharaoh through Moses. With the sea on one side and Egypt’s army amassed on the other, the Lord separated the waters and led his people to freedom on dry land. Then, as in the story of Noah, the waters washed away those committed to evil…
Taking these stories and others, we see that the Old Testament acknowledges the unpredictable and chaotic nature of our world as captured in the imagery of the sea and flood, but it also speaks of God’s power to preserve us through it. These stories affirm that although the cosmos appears to be random, in fact it remains subject to God’s purposes.
Psalm 77: 16 When the waters saw you, O God,
when the waters saw you, they were afraid;
indeed, the deep trembled.
Psalm 93:3 The floods have lifted up, O Lord,
the floods have lifted up their voice;
the floods lift up their roaring.
4 Mightier than the thunders of many waters,
mightier than the waves of the sea,
the Lord on high is mighty!
…When King David’s enemies overwhelmed him, he compared the situation to drowning… He cried for the Lord to rescue him.
Psalm 69: 1Save me, O God!
For the waters have come up to my neck.
2 I sink in deep mire,
where there is no foothold;
I have come into deep waters,
and the flood sweeps over me.
14 Deliver me
from sinking in the mire;
let me be delivered from my enemies
and from the deep waters.
15 Let not the flood sweep over me,
or the deep swallow me up,
or the pit close its mouth over me.
…The imagery of God’s presence with his people in the raging sea may be metaphorical in the poetry of the Psalms and Isaiah, but it becomes vividly literal in the New Testament. Traveling across the Sea of Galilee, Jesus’ disciples awakened him when a fierce storm came on their tiny fishing boat. “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” they shouted.
Jesus spoke to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” and immediately everything became calm…
They did not fully understand who was with them in the boat. In time they would come to see that he was the one who separated the sea from the land, who preserved Noah through the flood, Moses in the Nile, and led the Hebrews through the sea on dry land. He is the one before whom the waters tremble. And if he is in our boat, we need not be afraid. We will surely arrive at our destination because the forces of evil cannot overwhelm him. With God there is hope even in a world that appears to be drowning in chaos.
The Biblical narrative ends with John’s vision of a new heaven and a new earth. We are told in Revelation 21 that in the renewed creation, “the sea was no more.” This observation must be read within the larger biblical context. From the opening scene in the Bible onward, the sea has been synonymous with evil and chaos. The total absence of the sea in John’s vision simply means evil will have no place in the new creation. Beauty and order and abundance will fill the world, just as God intended from the beginning.