November 6, 2013

Biblica Nautica II: Miraculous In The Magnificent and Mundane

Peace, Be Still!
Stephen Gjertson
Oil on Canvas
As in the time of Jehoshaphat we see construction of ships in Ezion-geber. This is a port at the northern tip of what is now the Gulf of Aqaba at the top the Red Sea. It was essentially considered Solomon’s seaport. Solomon made a navy made here. So in 1 Kings 9 we read this…

1 Kings 9:26-28 ~ “King Solomon built a fleet of ships at Ezion-geber, which is near Eloth on the shore of the Red Sea, in the land of Edom. And Hiram sent with the fleet his servants, seamen who were familiar with the sea, together with the servants of Solomon. And they went to Ophir and brought from there gold, 420 talents, and they brought it to King Solomon.”

So, in reality, Solomon had two navies worth of men. This is not surprising considering he had just about everything else too.

We move forward a chapter and we see…

1 Kings 10:22 ~ “For the king had a fleet of ships of Tarshish at sea with the fleet of Hiram. Once every three years the fleet of ships of Tarshish used to come bringing gold, silver, ivory, apes, and peacocks.”

Not only did Solomon have two navies worth of men at Ezion-geber, he also had a second navy of the ships of Tarshish at sea with the fleet of Hiram. There are two distinct navies mentioned here. We see the richness of monetary blessing and national security blessing given to Solomon by God based in covenant and for at least the initial obedience of David’s and Solomon. We will see the curses mount later in Solomon’s life and that of his son Rehoboam for the apostasy with his the pagan gods of his wives and his disobedience. In other words, the entire swing of empire is sublimely but sovereignly and miraculously steered almost invisibly by God’s mighty hand either in the elements of Creation or through the actions of the people.

Then when we reach the prophets we see Ezekiel gives us one of the most explicit descriptions of ship building in the Bible. It is in the context of a lament for Tyre which will be laid waste (Ezekiel 26) and will never rise again.

Ezekiel 27:5-9 ~ “They made all your planks of fir trees from Senir; they took a cedar from Lebanon to make a mast for you. Of oaks of Bashan they made your oars; they made your deck of pines from the coasts of Cyprus, inlaid with ivory. Of fine embroidered linen from Egypt was your sail, serving as your banner; blue and purple from the coasts of Elishah was your awning. The inhabitants of Sidon and Arvad were your rowers; your skilled men, O Tyre, were in you; they were your pilots. The elders of Gebal and her skilled men were in you, caulking your seams; all the ships of the sea with their mariners were in you to barter for your wares.

In these verses we see that Tyre is described as a stately ship built of the best material, manned with the best marines and most skillful pilots/navigators. The allegory is broken off in verse 9 but it is resumed in verse 26…

Ezekiel 27:26-30 ~ “Your rowers have brought you out into the high seas. The east wind has wrecked you in the heart of the seas. Your riches, your wares, your merchandise, your mariners and your pilots, your caulkers, your dealers in merchandise, and all your men of war who are in you, with all your crew that is in your midst, sink into the heart of the seas on the day of your fall. At the sound of the cry of your pilots the countryside shakes, and down from their ships come all who handle the oar. The mariners and all the pilots of the sea stand on the land and shout aloud over you and cry out bitterly.

Although it is not a real ship, Tyre is described in the terms and imagery that would’ve been true of a real ship fully decked out in the time and location of Ezekiel’s writing. We see that the fate of nations is at God’s discretion and is often based in a nations indiscretions.

In Matthew and Luke we see Jesus save two boats.

In Matthew 14 we see a boat but the focus of the passage is clearly on Jesus and His miraculous control of the elements that included the storm and the water on which He (and Peter) walks.

Matthew 14:22-27 ~ “Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but 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. 26 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.”

We also see a picture of immense faith in Christ as Peter exits the boat purely on the faith that Christ will sustain him. It is an enviable condition. In Christ there is life. In the end we see that God was in control the whole time from beginning to end. It is as if the storm was deliberately placed there by God to test the faith of the disciples.

Matthew 14:28-32 ~ “And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased.

In Luke, Jesus is already in the boat…but asleep. It is another story of lack of faith and Jesus’ mastery over the creation through a further miracle. Jesus may be asleep in human form but God is Trinity and there is also the Father and Spirit.

Luke 8:22-24 ~ One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” So they set out, and as they sailed he fell asleep. And a windstorm came down on the lake, and they were filling with water and were in danger. And they went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was a calm.

In Luke we see that the disciples understand that Jesus is their Master but what they fail to understand is that He is the Master over all creation too. They have limited His realm of mastery to humanity. Perhaps this is because He is in human form. What they fail to see is the control over the intangibility of the spiritual realm and His sovereignty also. I suggest we do the same today also when we try to limit God just the opposite way. We limit Him to the realm of the spiritual and forget that He can steer the elements too. In this way God can affect judgment even through common everyday occurrences and because they are quite common we fail to see the acts of God in the mundane.

Jesus having stilled the water stills the hearts of the men through said act. Jesus having created peace in the environment in which the men dwelt created peace in their hearts. The inverse is also true. Having stilled the hearts of men, men dwell in peace and harmony with other men and the environment. We see the unity of the Spirit of God working in reverse. God can change men through the environment and the environment can be changed by men. Whatever it takes to get God's will done...."Thy Kingdom Come....HIS WILL be done."

Over and over in Scripture we see the tide of national and personal direction change repeatedly to affect the purposes God has. From the mighty to the mundane…nothing is too big or too small to have a lasting effect. We must think of these things when we think on ourselves and those around us. Small acts of kindness go a long way to change lives. Failure to act in even the subtlest ways sometimes cause others to wrongly accuse the brethren or mis-characterize them…because of or behaviors or failures to act. We must never forget that there are no stray molecules in God’s universe. When we see life in this manner we begin to see the importance of each and every human being and every single event that occurs in history, from the magnificent to the mundane.

Finally, in Luke 5 see a ship that was used as a pulpit.

Luke 5:3 ~ “Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon's, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat.

It should first be noted that Jesus, the carpenter is telling the professional fisherman that He needs to use his boat to preach to the people on the shore. Jesus, a carpenter therefore becomes a fisher of men in the fisherman’s boat by preaching the Gospel. Please note Jesus doesn’t ask here, He tells. Jesus fishes from the fisherman’s boat but catches no real fish but catches something worth infinitely more…men’s souls. In the Sea of Galilee, had not Peter held the boat still it would’ve surely drifted away from shore. It is necessary that Jesus anchor his teaching in His disciples since after He is gone it will be they (with Him) that carry on His teaching, just as the boat now carries Jesus and His message.

When the preaching of the Gospel is completed we would think that Jesus would ask Peter to take the boat back to shore but Jesus always the Master of the unexpected tells them to put out for the deep and drop their nets. The problem with this is that, in view of the world, it is a carpenter telling professional fishermen how to fish. What is even more shocking is that Jesus has picked the absolute worst time of day to drop a net into the water. It is the middle of the day and water is warm. The oxygen content in the water near the surface is low. The fish would surely have dropped into much deeper waters and under rocks…out of range of the nets. This is further exacerbated by the fact that these professional fishermen know for a fact that they should fish at night for the best catch and the previous night was a horrible night’s catch. They must be absolutely exhausted. We should expect these professional fishermen to tell Jesus He’s nuts and forget about the whole deal. They do not. They actually signal to the other boats (probably subtlety so not to clue in other groups of fishermen) and they do as they’re told.

As it turns out the carpenter is dead-on. They take in the haul of a lifetime. The boats literally began to sink. It is through Christ's work here that the catch of a lifetime comes to fruition. What we see from Peter and the other fisherman is a willingness to put away their pride and temptation to debate and fight Jesus over what appears to be an obvious fool’s errand. It turns out it wasn’t foolish to do what they did but made perfect sense. Peter then reacts exactly as a man should when he has been schooled in his own profession. He see’s Jesus as Lord.

In dealing with Peter the way that he did Jesus puts Himself at Peter’s mercy too. He is adrift in a boat controlled by someone else. This is the way true ministry often looks. It is not the premeditated business model that supposedly guarantees certain amounts of return for effort expended (i.e.: purpose driven). It is a minister or shepherd that is willing to put Himself in the mercy and grace of the very one’s he leads. By doing it this way it behooves Jesus (or a pastor/minster) to properly train them to produce the desired holy outcome. A true leader is exactly this. A person that is willing to put Himself/himself at the whims of the ones He teaches as it instills a sense of responsibility and accountability. True leadership gets under those that they lead to supply them with the things they need to lead others. It is servant leadership from the suffering servant. In so doing Jesus starts as Peter’s επιστάτα / teacher or leader (v.5) but ends as Peter’s κύριε / Lord (v.8). By putting Himself at Peter’s mercies (therefore God’s), we see Jesus being rightfully recognized and exalted by God through Peter (and probably others in the immediate vicinity). It is in faith that Peter will recognize this fact also. I suppose it is no surprise then that it will be Jesus who pucks Peter from the water like a fish when Peter's faith falters (Matthew 14).

[Continued in Part III]

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