Chapter 9: The Sea
For I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.
John, the apostle
The next few chapters transition from specific character traits and focus instead on concepts. Although these concepts are broader in scope than a specific trait, they indicate essential qualities that help us better understand what is essential in life.
There is a very instructional metaphor that exists on our planet, and it is seen in the existence of the sea. The sea is an essential requirement of our planetary ecosystem, 71% of the earth is water, and 96.5% of water is contained in the oceans. The sea controls planetary temperature, it is the source of oxygen, drinkable water, food, energy, and raw material. The sea allows for a viable, life-sustaining ecosystem on Earth. Scientists claim that we have only explored 5% of the world’s oceans. Even in a natural sense the sea is unknown to us. The mysteries it holds are still withheld from man’s knowledge. Therefore, it is fitting that the sea, as a literary tool, can be a multidimensional metaphor. Although much about the sea is unknown to us, we understand that for life to exist the sea must exist.
The sea represents a complex metaphor in the Scriptures. The sea represents: the mysteries of life; the setting for our journey in life (which is presented in the form of a journey from one shore to the other); and as the expression of life’s struggles manifested in the form of storms at sea.
In the journey’s of Jesus and his disciples, they are seen crossing the Sea of Galilee multiple times. The sea as the setting for life, also presents the idea of the sea as an obstacle to our final destination. One of the most notable characteristics of the new heaven and new earth, as seen by John and recorded in the book of Revelation, is the absence of the sea. All of these metaphors vary on a theme, but each, in their way, indicate something unknowable yet powerful. We will attempt to discuss a few of the scriptures that support this metaphor, beginning with the book of Micah.
One illustration that is used in the book of Micah presents the sea as an abyss where sin is cast. Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by transgression of the remnant of his heritage? He retaineth not his anger for ever, because he delighteth in mercy. He will turn again, he will have compassion upon us; he will subdue our iniquities; and thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:18-19). This illustration portrays the mercy of God in figurative form, as a place where sin is cast, and it is a place where it can never be retrieved. It is cast into the depths of the sea. In this illustration, God himself has decided that what is cast into the sea will remain there. This concept is ‘essential’ for us to understand both mercy and forgiveness. There must be a ‘symbolic place’ where all of our mistakes can be sent when we have repented from them.
A characteristic of this ‘symbolic place’ is that it must be capable of absorbing all that is cast into it, and dissolve it. The idea of repentant sin being cast into the depths of the sea, never to resurface, is ‘essential’ if we are to understand the meaning of mercy and forgiveness. This concept is the initial metaphor we need in order to understand that the message of Truth is a message of hope. Hope of forgiveness and the hope of mercy provide us with the ability to make a fresh start.
Another metaphor for the sea is the ‘holder of mystery’. There is a very interesting picture in the book of Revelation which illustrates the awe that we feel when we look upon the sea. And I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his head the name of blasphemy (Rev.13:1). The image of the beast rising up out of the sea is frightening.
This image plays on the fears that we inherently feel when we look upon what we do not understand. What is hidden in the depths of the sea? Then this image, a ten headed beast rising out of the sea wearing crowns and having multiple forms, and all are blasphemous. In this context it appears that blasphemy is represented as the attacking of Truth by any means possible. This beast lives in the sea. The beast is what resides beneath the surface of human reasoning, and it is awaiting its moment to rise up and strike. It is attacked and yet it heals itself: And I saw one of his heads, as it were wounded to death; and his deadly wound was healed: and all the world wondered after the beast (13:3). The head was slain but healed again. That is the power of a lie. A lie can heal itself and attack again.
This beast receives its power from the dragon, and the dragon gave him his power, and his seat, and great authority (13:2). There is the principal force of evil behind this beast, represented here as the dragon or Satan, and it lends all its authority to the multi-headed beast. This is what lies in the depths of the sea and it is why we desperately need help in order to cross the sea.
The next metaphor to address is the role of Red Sea in the story of the Exodus of the children of Israel from the land of Egypt. When the children of Israel were led by Moses out of Egypt they passed through the Red Sea.
And the Lord said unto Moses, Wherefore criest thou unto me? Speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward: but lift thou up thy rod, and stretch out thine hand over the sea, and divide it, and the children of Israel shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea (Ex.14:15-16).
And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. And the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea upon the dry ground: and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left (Ex.14:21-22).
And the Lord said unto Moses, Stretch out thine hand over the sea, that the waters may come again upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots and upon their horsemen. And Moses stretched forth his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to his strength when the morning appeared; and the Egyptians fled against it; and the Lord overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea. And the waters returned, and covered the chariots, and the horsemen, and all the host of Pharaoh that came into the sea after them; there remained not so much as one of them (Ex. 14:26-28).
This is one of the well known stories of the Old Testament. The Red Sea is a central character in the salvation of the children of Israel from the hand of Pharaoh. This portion of the story begins with Moses and Aaron leading the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt by night after all the firstborn amongst the Egyptians had been slain. Pharaoh commanded them to leave, but then, as on other occasions his heart was hardened and he pursued them. Their escape led the children of Israel to the shores of the Red Sea, and the children of Israel seeing the barrier of the sea in front of them and the pursuing soldiers of Pharaohs’s army behind, became afraid.
They cried out to Moses, Because there were no graves in Egypt, hast thou taken us away to die in the wilderness? Wherefore hast thou dealt with us, to carry us forth out of Egypt? Is not this the word that we did tell thee in Egypt, saying, Let us alone, that we may serve the Egyptians? For it had been better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness (Ex.14:11-12). It was a cry of a people that wanted to be set free but were weak when faced with the cost of salvation.
The Red Sea, for the children of Israel represented a barrier that prohibited them from escape. Moses said unto the people, Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will shew to you to day: for the Egyptians whom ye have seen to day, ye shall see them again no more for ever. The Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace (Ex.14:13-14). God, intervened, and performed a miracle, he opened a way through the Red Sea. An east wind came and blew through the night and separated the sea. The children of Israel then stepped down into the sea and walked across on dry land.
Moses led them through the water on dry ground. This event was later described by Paul as a baptism. Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea (I Cor.10:1-2). This reference explains how passing through the Red Sea, overcoming this obstacle, represented a covenant between the children of Israel and Moses before God. We do not need to discuss the meaning of baptism for the purpose of this analysis on the sea, beyond this one point that crossing through the Red Sea on dry ground was a picture of baptism under the first covenant. The children of Israel followed their leader Moses into an impossible situation, miraculously a path opened up, and they were led into the Wilderness. Their past and the threat from their past was destroyed by the very sea that saved their life. This is a very powerful story.
The sea, as a central character, is represented first as a barrier, then a savior, and finally a defender; and all of these are encased in the mystery of impossibility, as portrayed by the miraculous nature of the event.
The sea also represents a journey. In the account of the children of Israel passing through the Red Sea, there are multiple factors in play. The past is pictured as slavery to a foreign power. The children of Israel were in bondage, and they cried unto God: And it came to pass in process of time, that the king of Egypt died: and the children of Israel sighed by reason of their bondage, and they cried, and their cry came up unto God by reason of the bondage. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. And God looked upon the children of Israel, and God had respect unto them (Ex.2:23-25).
The reality of the experience of the children of Israel in the land of Egypt had prepared them to be led out of Egypt. The solution was presented in the form of a leader, a leader that came in the power of Truth to free them from bondage. That leader was Moses. The power that allowed Moses to liberate the children of Israel from the land of Egypt, was the power of the Spirit of Truth. God allowed for miraculous manifestations of this power, demonstrated through the plagues performed at the hand of Moses. The power of Truth was demonstrated through the plagues which ultimately led to their liberation. Ultimately, that same Truth guided the children of Israel to the Red Sea, and brought deliverance by leading them through the sea. The following 40 years were spent in the wilderness where, as a body, the children of Israel were learning to trust in God, and learning to trust that God is Truth.
Storms of Life
There is an account in the New Testament of Jesus sending his disciples across the Sea of Galilee by night that reinforces the same metaphor. And straightway Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him unto the other side, while he sent the multitudes away. And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone. But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with the waves: for the wind was contrary. And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear. But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid. And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water. And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? And when they were come into the ship, the wind ceased. Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped him, saying, Of a truth thou art the Son of God (Mt.14:22-32). In John’s gospel the same account is told, but with one added detail, it says: Then they willingly received him into the ship: and immediately the ship was at the land wither they went (Jn.6:21). There is a spiritual parallel in this story that outlines our journey through life.
The story begins with Jesus sending his disciples out on the sea. Jesus stayed behind to pray. This can be described as the beginning of our spiritual journey. The disciples had experienced Truth by being with Jesus, but then they were asked to go forward without Jesus. They launched out onto the sea. Their encounter with life without truth is represented by their encounter with the storm. The winds were boisterous and contrary. You can picture the disciples in their boat, dipping their oars in the water, straining against the wind and waves.
The Sea of Galilee is actually a lake, and a generous assumption of the entire distance of their journey that night would be about 5 miles. The disciples launched out at night. They had been with Jesus during the day, but leaving at night, coincided with leaving Jesus behind. The Truth is what enlightens, and launching forth without Truth, is launching forth by night.
The storm worked against their purpose. We read of Jesus coming at the time of the fourth watch. It is generally accepted that the night watches were two hour shifts spaced out over eight hours of the night. The fourth watch is the watch that ends with dawn. All night the disciples are rowing, fighting against the storm, not able to make progress, and then Truth approaches them, walking on the sea. All the instability of the waters, the contrariness of the winds, did not effect Truth’s ability to come to the disciples in a desperate moment. After toiling all the night, they see what they believe to be a vision or a spirit, and they are afraid. Truth then speaks to them, and it is a voice they know, it is the voice of the one who sent them on this journey: It is I, be not afraid. The voice of Jesus calling to them in the midst of the storm, I am here and I can help. Peter spoke, and asked this question Lord, if it is thee bid me come to thee on the water?(Mt.14:28) Or, perhaps we could phrase the question this way: Lord, can I walk where you are walking? Is it possible? Can I too walk upon the sea? Jesus answered, Come. Peter, coming down out of the ship, walked on the water. The conclusion: there is a path of Truth, and we can walk there. It is a path that is upon the seas, above the instability of the waters, unaffected by the contrary winds. Peter walked there.
Then Peter allowed his focus to shift for a moment. Instead of focusing on the one who had told him to come, he turned his attention to all that was against him. Do you see this wind? Do you see these waves? This is water? I cannot walk on water. Peter began to sink, and sinking he refocused on Jesus, on Truth, and cried: Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? (Mt.14:31) The journey in Truth is not without its failings. There is a proverb that says, A just man falls seven times yet rises up again (Prov. 24:16). Peter sank but he did not drown. Peter sinking into the sea personified what happens when the mystery of all that we do not understand overwhelms us. It is very instructive to consider how this happened. Peter was walking on the path of Truth, but the storm and the sea caught his attention. Peter had no individual power that could withstand the force of the stormy sea once his focus shifted away from Jesus. That is equally true for all who are attempting to walk the pathway of Truth. This way, that walks upon the sea, is only possible by keeping our focus on the Truth that is more powerful than the wind and sea. Keeping our focus on Truth is ‘essential’. When we fail to do it we will sink.
After rescuing Peter, Jesus entered the boat and the winds ceased. The disciples marveled at Jesus’ power to control the wind and sea, and then we read in John’s account that they were immediately on the other shore. Truth has that power, the power to deliver us from the storm.
The journey from one shore to the other is the journey given to each living soul. There is a power that can help us through the sea that lies between. The sea is unknown, and it is the barrier that separates the shores. We launch out without knowing what we will face, and we quickly learn that storms at sea are powerful. But there is one, there is one Truth that walks upon the sea. It is a Truth that can be embodied and it will empower us to walk upon the sea. When it is needed the most, when facing the storm, after a night of toil, Truth approaches. It will not fail in the storm because it has power over the storm. If you accept this Truth into your life, then the winds will cease, and it will carry you to your destination.
There is a final metaphor left to discuss. It is also found in the book of Revelation. In this example the word sea is used as a descriptor in reference to the approaching judgement. And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal: and in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four beasts full of eyes before and behind (Rev.4:6). The sea of glass invokes the idea of self-examination, and it is appropriately set around the throne of God, which represents Truth and Judgement. Walking on glass, that shined like crystal, would give an all encompassing view of oneself.
Metaphorically, coming into the presence of Truth, has the same effect. As we approach what is true we are more aware of everything about ourselves that is untrue. This examination process is the preparation we need in order to receive the judgement of Truth in our life. Combined with a sea of glass are the four beasts full of eyes. Where the sea of glass implies self-examination, the four beasts imply divine inspection. There is no possible way to sneak by them, because they are full of eyes.
There has been much speculation and theorizing about the beasts, but for the sake of this discussion we will stay with the simple thought that the creatures themselves represent divinity. Their divinity is represented by their physical position near the throne and their lack of a human form. Also, their eyes imply critical inspection of any who approach the throne.
There is another reference to the sea of glass that can be found in the 15th chapter of Revelation: And I saw as it were a sea of glass mingled with fire: and them that had gotten victory over the beast, and over his image, and over his mark, and over the number of his name, stand on the sea of glass, having the harps of God (Rev.15:2). This imagery also invokes the idea of judgement. Where the sea of glass represents self-examination and fire represents the judgement of God. Fire is used in the scripture to imply the final judgement of God, with images such as the lake of fire, a throne of fire, etc. A sea that is a mix of glass and fire is the embodiment of both internal and external judgement. The description that there are those found standing upon the sea is an image of the Overcomer, the ones who were not deceived. They are seen standing on the sea of glass, with harps in their hands, and they are singing the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb saying: Great and marvelous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints (Rev.15:3).
The metaphor for this sea opposes the metaphors of the sea in all previous writings. In this example, the sea is a giver of knowledge, it promotes self-awareness and self-examination. It is linked to judgement, and it implies the true cost of what is required to draw near to Truth. Yet, it is also a sea that can be stood upon. Those who have reached the sea of glass are those who have walked upon the sea of life. This final step in the process is used to emphasize that every falsity in our life must be eliminated so that we can be ultimately judged as a bearer of Truth.
This discussion of the sea delves more into the existential realm of what is meant by Truth. However, this is not presented as theory, even though much of the analysis is spiritual interpretation; it is presented as practical application. It is the existential nature of Truth that gives credence to its practical application in our lives. Without the existential nature of Truth, truth would merely be a culturally relative term that would neither transcend time nor culture. In order for truth to be Truth, it must transcend both time and culture.
The sea plays an ‘essential’ role in our search for Truth. The role of the sea, as explained by these examples, is a multi-dimensional metaphor that prepares us to receive Truth in our life.
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