Rev. Laning is pastor of Hope Protestant Reformed Church in Walker, Michigan.
With this article we begin a study of the creation, examining what the Bible says is illustrated by the works God’s hands have made. In the second article of the Belgic Confession we confess that the creation is a beautiful book, a book that sets forth for us the glory of our God. We know our God by two means, the first of which is:
… the creation, preservation, and government of the universe; which is before our eyes as a most elegant book, wherein all creatures, great and small, are as so many characters leading us to contemplate the invisible things of God, namely, His power and divinity….
Creation and history together form a book, a most elegant book, a book that can be read. But it can be read only by means of faith. God must tell us how to understand the things He has made. Only by faith in this Word can we begin to see the heavenly things that are illustrated for us in the earthly things God has created.
We, God’s people, have been given eyes to see that which is hidden from the ungodly world. By nature we also are completely blind to these truths and are no different from the reprobate. But God unconditionally chose us, and sent His Son to die for us, that our blindness might be removed, and that we might receive the heavenly eyes of Christ, eyes through which we are able to begin to see the wonders our Father has made.
The Earth and the Seas: A Fundamental Distinction
We begin by considering one of the most basic distinctions seen in the creation, namely that between the earth and the seas. Already in the first chapter of Genesis the sea is contrasted with the earth. In the third day of creation God called the dry land earth, and the waters He called seas. This fundamental distinction is seen also in the last book of the Bible, where we find the promise that God’s people will inherit the earth, and that in the new heaven and new earth there will be no more sea (Rev. 21:1).
Heaven is pictured as land, the promised land; and the wicked are likened to a troubled, tumultuous sea. The latter is referred to in Isaiah 57:20, “But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt.” By the wicked is meant not only reprobate men, but also the devil and the demons and our sinful nature. Our threefold enemy is likened to the troubled sea, as it tosses and turns, casting up the mire within it.*
With this knowledge we begin to consider some of the distinguishing characteristics of the earth and the seas, and what these make known to us concerning the antithesis between the church and the ungodly world.
The Sea: Unable to Rest
Isaiah 57:20, quoted above, says that the wicked are like the troubled sea in that they cannot rest. Even if they are very lazy, and lie around watching television hour after hour, they are never at rest, never at peace. Spiritually they are constantly tossing and turning, this way and that, like the waves of the oceans. Like the seas they are unable to rest. They constantly live in the fear of death, for God’s wrath is always abiding upon them.
From this restlessness we have been delivered. We are set upon a solid rock, which is Christ. We live in the heavenly promised land that cannot be moved—a land in which we enjoy spiritual rest, the rest of the covenant.
Yet we, too, at times can experience being tossed about like the waves of the sea. Sometimes our mind seems to be whirling this way and that, and we experience little or no rest in our soul. This is what happens when we are failing to live in Christ by faith. When we are consciously living in Christ, we experience being at peace with God, and we enjoy the Sabbath rest of the promised land. But if we live in sin for a time, God will cause us to experience what it is like to be troubled as the sea.
Take, for example, a child of God who lives for a time in the sin of hating and refusing to forgive a brother in Christ. He condemns a man for whom Christ died, and he refuses to promote his brother’s honor and well-being. Instead he delights to think of this person being humiliated and put to shame. He talks evil of him behind his back and strives to destroy his name. Such a person, who refuses to forgive a brother, does not experience the forgiveness of God. He lacks peace with God. He finds it very difficult to rest. Perhaps not in his body, but in his soul, he tosses and turns like the waves of the sea. Then, by the grace of God, he cries out to God to deliver him from these waters and to draw his soul out of this sea. This prayer the Father answers. He pulls out His repentant child, setting him once again upon dry land.
Jonah was one who lived in sin for a time, and this was the judgment and the salvation he experienced. He described what happened to him in his prayer uttered from within the giant fish (Jonah 2:5). “The waters compassed me about, even to the soul: the depth closed me round about, the weeds were wrapped about my head.” A dead man he must have thought he was, for a while. But the Lord delivered him. By a very severe blow God brought Jonah to repentance, causing him to cry out for deliverance. Then Jonah was spit out. He again stood upon dry land, not only physically, but also in his soul.
The Roaring Sea: Unable to Prevail Against the Sand
The sea, unlike the land, makes a noise. If you were hiking in the woods and approaching the ocean, you often would be able to hear it. The sea, in contrast with the earth, is said to roar. Its waves are said to be proud, and their roar illustrates for us the constant roaring of the ungodly(Jer. 6:23).
The sand serves as a barrier over which these proud, roaring waves are unable to pass.
Fear ye not me? saith the LORD: will ye not tremble at my presence, which have placed the sand for the bound of the sea by a perpetual decree, that it cannot pass it: and though the waves thereof toss themselves, yet can they not prevail; though they roar, yet can they not pass over it?
How often do we think of this when we walk upon the sand, listening to the crashing of the waves? Though our enemies proudly rise up against us, they come crashing down, and all their effort is in vain. God has set a barrier over which they cannot pass.
When we die there is a sense in which we go under the waves. God strikes us with the enemy of death, and we go under. But we go under only from the viewpoint of our outer man, which is perishing. But in our inner man we have the resurrection life of Christ, a life that never ends. Although our enemies proudly crash into us, they are unable to bring us under their dominion, just as the waves are unable to prevail against the barrier of the sand.
God sets the barrier. Sovereign over all things, including evil, is He. This is the comfort that we have in Christ. This is the comforting truth declared to us by the waves that continuously crash in vain, unable to pass over and conquer the land upon which we dwell.
* Sometimes that which is good is likened to the sea. God said, for example, that our righteousness would be like the waves of the sea (Is. 48:18). At this time, however, we consider only how the wicked are likened to the sea.