MIRACLE AT THE SEA

“He turned the sea into dry land, they passed through the waters on foot – come let us rejoice in him”.

Ps 66:6 NIV

Most countries have historical events upon which they look back and regard them as significant events which were turning points in their development. The French refer back to the storming of the Bastille on the 14th July 1789, the high point of the revolution, as their great day. The Americans regard the War of Independence as important. Some South Africans look back to the Great Trek in 1838 as their “beginning of a new dawn”, whilst others regard the first democratic election on 27th April 1994 as the great day.

For the Israelites, the exodus at the Red Sea was a miracle of God and the act of deliverance as something that began their life as a nation. For many centuries they looked back with joy, pride and gratitude to God. They still regard that event as worthy of commemoration. It not only set them free. It revealed their God to them as a miracle-working God who then journeyed with them through the wilderness and down all their subsequent history. Psalm 66 may have been written between nine hundred and a thousand years later – but it is still an event about which to rejoice. It also pointed to a God who was a God in whom they could always rejoice.

As Christians we rejoice in the birth of Jesus at Christmas and in the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ as the events to celebrate. They are the foundation moments of our salvation – they bring us to the Lord who is our God and Father as well.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, help us always to rejoice in you and the salvation you brought.

THE GOD WHO DOES THINGS

“Come and see what God has done, his awesome deeds for mankind!”

Ps 66:5 NIV

To understand the greatness of God, Christian believers need to be aware of what other religions were about in Biblical times. Most of them created gods with mythical stories about their doings. They used images carved from wood so that the devotees could see what the god looked like. Some of the worshippers used features of nature such as the sun or a river or an animal to depict their god. Some of the images were carved from stone, others were shaped from some metal. But they were all created by human beings. They were static. They did nothing. They were just there. People prayed to them and brought sacrifices to them. But they never heard the prayers of the people.

The Israelites’ God was different. He acted. His great interven- tion at the exodus in Egypt proved he was a God who acts – for all time. They never forgot this unique fact about their God – he did things, he was a living God, a creator, a re-creator, a guide and a provider. And he loved and showed his love in the care he exercised for his people.

Christians know that his greatest act for all mankind was in sending Jesus Christ. And Jesus did things – healing people, teaching them, gathering them into a community, redeeming them and dying for them on Calvary. When he rose from the dead it was yet another mighty deed for all mankind.

He still does things – working renewal, maturity and growth in people’s lives. He brings hope where once there was despair, light to replace darkness, joy to replace sadness and sorrow and love to replace alienation.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, make me increasingly aware of your deeds.

THE GREAT HOPE

“All the earth bows down to you; they sing praise to you, they sing the praises of your name”.

Ps 66:4 NIV

One of the great factors in the world today is the state of relations between the various nations. How are China and the United States working out? What is going to happen in Israel? Or the European Union?

Despite their profound self-consciousness at being called and chosen by God to be his special people and of being favoured and loved by him, the Israelites had such a deep sense of God and of his immense power that they cherished a secret hope that one day they would become such a great and powerful nation that other nations would queue up to join them in order to worship their God. In contradiction to this they also considered Gentiles “unclean” to mix with, a sense that became sharper as the centuries slipped by.

So superior to all other gods did they consider their God to be that they pictured the various nations arriving in Jerusalem to worship God in the temple. It was a forlorn hope. But it was a beautiful dream.

When the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost the end result was that the apostles were inspired to spread the news of Jesus to the Mediterranean world. Led by Paul they preached their way through Syria and what is now Turkey. People were converted to Jesus all along the way, many abandoning their Jewish faith in the process. From Turkey they went to Greece and eventually to Rome. Three hundred years later the Christian faith became the official faith of the Roman Empire. Some Christians still hope that one day people of all nations will come to know and worship Jesus.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, I pray that all nations will come to know you.

DOES GOD HAVE ENEMIES?

“Say to God ‘How wonderful are the things you do! Your power is so great that your enemies bow down in fear before you”.

Ps 66:3 GNB

The reference to God having enemies will strike most people as odd – the sort of statement that makes many people turn away from the Bible and dismiss it as hopelessly out of date.

It is likely that it was written in the time when loyalty by any nation to its god was very strong. Nations were constantly at war with each other and the people assumed that any nation that was their nation’s enemy was also defended by that nation’s god and therefore the different gods all had enemies as well. The idea that God was the God of all the nations of the world was only emerging slowly and tentatively and took centuries to really take hold as a generally accepted understanding of God.

What the Israelites believed implicitly was that God had intervened on their behalf against the Egyptians at the time of the exodus from Egypt and that therefore he was a really mighty God. They also believed that other surrounding nations attributed their release to their God as well and that they would therefore fear God – and the Israelites who worshipped him. Whether the other nations thought as far as that is highly unlikely.

The coming of Jesus put paid to the concept of tribal gods. The Holy Spirit moved the disciples to take the message of the universal love of God to Gentile people and it was among them that Christianity took root on a wide scale.

Christians need to be careful that they don’t “colonise” God and regard him as existing to make their nation great. He belongs to every nation.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, keep us from thinking that you are there to make us great.

THE AWESOME DEEDS OF GOD

“Say to God, ‘How awesome are your deeds!”

Ps 66:3 NIV

Some people approach religion as if it is a “top of the mind” affair. It’s mainly an intellectual exercise. Others come with a mystical approach – it’s about getting an experience that will put them into direct contact with God and enable them to communicate with God more than other people.

Although the Bible does tell of some people having mystical experiences it gives no guidance on how to get them – they come mainly “out of the blue” as and when God chooses. Encounters with God don’t come as the end-goal of searching for him. He breaks in upon them when it suits him. Indeed, God does his deeds out in the open where all may see the awesome power at his command. This means that he is not “an impenetrable mystery… before which people bow down to the dust, overwhelmed by mystical emotions; for he has proclaimed his name before them and has revealed himself to them by his wonderful deeds, that is to say by his miraculous redemptive work which they are allowed to ‘see’ with their own eyes, so that being witnesses of ‘what God has done’ among human beings, they can testify on their part to the ‘everlasting rule of his might’” ( A. Weiser, The Psalms, p 469).

The fullness of God’s self-disclosure came in Jesus Christ. In him “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14 NIV). He too is no “impenetrable mystery” but open for all who will to see, and to know.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, thank you for the greatest of all your deeds in Jesus Christ.

PRAISE GOD

“Shout for joy to God, all the earth! Sing the glory of his name; Make his praise glorious”.

Ps 66:1,2 NIV

Most of us like glory – our own glory that is. We like to be in the limelight, to be noticed, recognized, lauded and eulogized. As Dale Carnegie said, “The sweetest sound in all the world is the sound of a person’s own name”. Maybe this is the reason why we don’t always find it easy, in worship, to praise God. Nor do we often find it easy to praise other people. But praising God is a major theme in the Book of Psalms. It was a major activity in the ancient Hebrew temple.

They concentrated on praising the God of nature for all his gracious provision and for seeing to all their needs. But the major focus was on God’s mighty act in rescuing them from slavery in Egypt. This towered above all else. In that act God became a new kind of God – rescuing them from slavery, bringing them out of bondage, causing the sea to part in order to release them from the clutches of their Egyptian masters. Such a God was great indeed – and was their Saviour for evermore.

And praise is an occasion for joy. We don’t praise God with long faces, dreary tunes and outmoded music. In fact, preachers soon learn that to get a service off to a good start they need to choose a hymn or chorus with a rousing tune. The people feel drawn to God when they open their lungs and give glory in great singing. And, as Christians we have more for which to praise God in the gift of Jesus, the salvation he has brought and the eternal love he has shown.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, help us to make a joyful noise praising you.

FOOD LOVELY FOOD!

“The fields are covered with sheep; the valleys are full of wheat. Everything shouts and sings for joy”.

Ps 65:13 GNB

In farming communities there is a sense of excitement when harvest time arrives. It is the peak time of the year – as is Christmas in the retail trade. It is summer – and the days are longer. There is a mass of work to be done reaping the crops and threshing the corn to extract the food that is the core of the different kinds of corn. Often extra labour is taken on to cope with the work – for the crops have to be garnered into the farm yards before the winter rains arrive and spoil the crops. And the sale of the crops brings revenue which often has to keep the farm economy going for most of the year.

In Christian communities the season is often marked by observing a harvest festival. The sight of the church decorated with sheaves of wheat, bowls of fruit, massive flower arrangements and bunches of grapes brings a feeling of warmth and well-being to worshippers and ministers alike. And most of the “harvest hymns” are strong, rousing, happy hymns – “We plough the fields and scatter the good seed on the land” and “Now the year is crowned with blessing as we gather in the grain”.

It is right to follow the example of the psalmist and celebrate God’s bounty and goodness. And most Christian sermons will allude to “the Fruit of the Spirit” somewhere in the message. However, no Christian celebration should happen where it becomes merely an experience of “escapism” – forgetting the real world and its problems. Such festivals must incorporate a reference of concern for those who have nothing to celebrate – because they have nothing!

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, increase our concern for the poor and hungry.

HEALTHY FLOCKS

“The pastures are filled with flocks; the hillsides are full of joy”.

Ps 65:12 GNB

One of the features of the twentieth and twenty first centuries has been the mass migration of populations from the countryside to the towns and cities. It is called urbanization. And the process has resulted in the deterioration of community life in the rural areas. Many facilities once in use are now disused – including schools and churches.

In the days when the psalmist wrote Psalm 65 the farming of sheep in Israel was very common. The process of urbanization had not yet begun – nor had industrialization. Sheep-farming was probably the most widely-spread occupation in the country. Sheep can feed themselves by nibbling away at bits of grass and other plant food, efficiently converting next to nothing into wool and meat. There is plenty of evidence in the Bible that even the religion of the Hebrews made extensive use of sheep in the sacrificial system. And when the rains came at the right time and made the grass in the meadows grow profusely the shepherds “had a ball”. The sheep grew fat and sleek and there was prosperity for those sheep farmers. This all made the farmers happy and as they looked at the rich lush grass on the hillsides they projected their own happiness onto physical nature itself. It seemed as if the whole world shared in the happy mood.

We can still rejoice in the plenty provided by nature, and also in the skills of the farming community, even if our closest contact with it is via the supermarket. And we can rejoice in the Lamb of God who came to bring us fullness of life and the presence of God’s kingly rule.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, help us, in our plenty, to be mindful of the needs of others.

A RICH HARVEST

“What a rich harvest your goodness provides! Wherever you go there is plenty”.

Ps 65:11 GNB

The words of Psalm 65 were written two and a half thousand years ago. The psalmist described a time when there had been a good harvest. In an agricultural society that is what it is all about. And in many countries today farming is highly developed, very scientific, and immensely productive. Those who can afford it can buy whatever food they like. The shops groan with well-stocked shelves. But outside beggars plead at the street corners for a small coin or something to eat. Nearly a billion people go hungry every day in today’s world. Most of these are in Africa, Asia and Latin America. With the world’s population increasing at mind-boggling speed, the plight of these “wretched of the earth” will only deteriorate. At the same time science is enabling agriculture to produce more food. Can economists and politicians ensure that the world’s harvests get to the world’s poor and hungry? It is a problem every Christian person should be aware of and seek to do something about – from the rich and overfed societies to the poor and deprived ones.

Nevertheless, we should also rejoice with the psalmist at the promise of God’s bounty. We should be positive about the fact that nature, if properly harnessed, does work for human good and promotes life rather than death. It is God’s will that life should triumph over death. The resurrection of Jesus spells this out – and we should not become overwhelmed by the world’s problems. In all of these things we should hold fast to the conviction that we are “on the victory side”. We will pray for the day when “wherever we go there is plenty”.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, bring in the day when your plenty is shared by all.

GOD’S WATERING EXERCISE

“You drench its furrows and level its ridges; you soften it with showers and bless its crops”.

Ps 65:10 NIV

After a recent heavy rain had brought swelling to the rivers and flooding to one city, with the result being unwanted destruction and mayhem, one person observed that this never used to happen until human beings came along and covered the surrounding area with tarred roads, buildings and “development”. When there was just bare earth the rain took longer to sink into the ground, seep its way through to streams and rivers, and slowly work its way to the sea. With the city covering the earth it meant that torrents of water quickly made their way through storm water drains into the rivers without bringing much benefit to the exposed parts of gardens and parks.

The psalmist saw the rains causing erosion on the mountains and witnessed the slow changing of the shape of the earth. All of it was within God’s purpose of providing, feeding and watering the earth and God’s people who depended on it for their survival and prosperity. Humanity’s response is always to adapt to the environment as a faithful and wise steward and to use that environment for his own benefit. One minister, newly arrived in his parish, went out into the country to visit a farmer who had done extensive improvements to the land in his care. The farmer proudly pointed out this feature and that. The minister piously commented, “Yes, God’s earth is beautiful, isn’t it?”. The farmer replied, “Ay Reverent, but you should have seen what it looked like when he had it to himself”.

Christian disciples will cherish the world around them and praise God for both his glory and his bounty.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, make us wise and faithful stewards of your resources.