April 2013 • Volume XIV, Issue 12
God’s Way Is in the Sea (1)
In the last two issues of the News, we followed Asaph,
in Psalm 77, through his doubts and struggles, through his
sleepless nights and comfortless days, until he finally came
to his spiritual senses. Verse 10 is his turning point: "And
I said, This is my infirmity: but I will remember the years
of the right hand of the most High." Verse 13 is his great
confession: "Thy way, O God, is in the sanctuary: who is so
great a God as our God?" No matter what Asaph had foolishly
thought earlier, God’s way with him had been holy and
blameless. God’s way with us is also in the holy place,
where He tabernacles with us in Jesus Christ. Rest and be at
Now we turn to another, similar confession of Asaph in Psalm
77: "Thy way is in the sea, and thy path in the great
waters, and thy footsteps are not known" (19). Thus, God’s
way is both in the "sanctuary" (13) and also in the "sea"
(19). God’s way in both verses, you understand, is His
providential dealings with us in our lives.
Asaph’s faith is triumphing in the latter part of Psalm 77.
Verses 11-20 are filled with the incomparable wonder of our
God. Gone is the defeat of self pity in the opening section.
Now Asaph has confidence in Jehovah and His ways.
We need to see this, too, in order to understand the ways of
God with man, and His way with you and your family and His
church. About God’s "way," "path" and "footsteps"—all three
words meaning essentially the same thing—we are told that
they are "in the sea," "in the great waters" and (dropping
the metaphor) "not known."
Think of your footprints on the beach. The tide is coming
in. When you turn around to walk back, you see the waves
reaching your footprints and erasing them. Your footprints
Our text is even stronger than this. It is not even that
once the footprints could be seen but now the water covers
them. Rather, God’s footsteps when made are beneath
the water. As soon as He lifts His feet, the water
obliterates His print, so we can not see it. Even if the
footprint were down there, we still could not view it
because of the depth of water. We are not looking into a
puddle here. We are talking about "the sea" and "the great
waters." As verse 19 says, "Thy footsteps are not known,"
because they instantly disappear through the action of water
and because they are many fathoms down at the bottom of the
sea. This is a biblical image of God’s way with us in our
You see this time and time again in the Psalms. "Why?" and
"How long?" are two poignant questions repeatedly asked of
the Most High. No wonder! "Thy way is in the sea, and thy
path in the great waters, and thy footsteps are not known"
Asaph, in Psalm 77, is distraught, overwhelmed and
comfortless (1-6). In anguish he asks, "Will the Lord cast
off for ever? and will he be favourable no more? Is his
mercy clean gone for ever? doth his promise fail for
evermore? Hath God forgotten to be gracious? hath he in
anger shut up his tender mercies?" (7-9). He is experiencing
painfully the truth that God’s "way is in the sea" (19).
The life of Joseph is a good example too. He was cast into a
pit in Dothan by his jealous brothers—"Thy way is in the
sea"! He was carried away from the promised land by
Ishmaelite traders—"thy path [is] in the great waters"! He
was put in fetters in jail in Egypt (Ps. 105:18)—"thy
footsteps are not known"! But God meant it all for good
(Gen. 45:5, 7; 50:20), to save the family of Israel from the
coming famine, as they all came to see years later (but not
at this time).
Consider "the patience of Job" (James 5:11). Suddenly, he
lost all his ten children, all his livestock, his
reputation, his friends and his health. What on earth is
going on? What in heaven is going on? God’s way is in the
sea! Although Job was later vindicated and rewarded
abundantly, he did not know about the devil’s machinations
in heaven (and never would know it in this world).
Peter could not understand why Christ had to go to the
cross: "Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto
thee" (Matt. 16:22). At that time, he could not see God’s
way, for he was savouring the things of men and not of God
(23). Before the Lord’s resurrection, none of His disciples
could see God’s footprints in Christ’s nailprints.
There are many things today which leave us wondering "Why?":
the birth of a seriously disabled baby, or a Christian
family unable to have children, or the death of a young
person, or the loss of health of your spouse or family
member, or people who come to the church for whom you have
high hopes but foolishly they leave. We need to believe the
truth of God’s mysterious, yet good, providence. Unless we
have this straight, we will lose heart and crumble under
pressure. God’s "way is in the sea" and His "footsteps are
Why should it be that God’s way is unknown in the depths of
the sea? It all goes back to God’s eternal decree. We do not
know His plan, His ends and His means, and how we fit into
it. We do not know what He will do in and with our lives.
Only Christ, enthroned in heaven, can read God’s eternal
decree; to us it is a sealed book for we are not privy to
its contents (Rev. 5:1-7). We merely see (a tiny bit of) the
execution of God’s decree, for everything which happens is
the carrying out of His eternal purpose, but even then we do
not grasp things in all their proper connections and
relationships. We do not know the future, not even what will
happen tomorrow or in the next minute. God’s "way is in the
sea" and His "footsteps are not known." It is crucial that
we confess and remember this, especially in difficult
times! Rev. Stewart
Judgment on Chorazin and Bethsaida
"But I say unto you, that it shall be more tolerable in that
day for Sodom, than for that city. Woe unto thee, Chorazin!
woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works had been
done in Tyre and Sidon, which have been done in you, they
had a great while ago repented, sitting in sackcloth and
ashes. But it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at
the judgment, than for you" (Luke 10:12-14; cf. Matt.
In connection with the above verses, a reader asks, "Is it
reasonable to argue that if it was God’s decree to save Tyre
and Sidon, He would have done mighty works in those cities?
Does the fact that He did not do mighty works in Sodom mean
that God did not decree to elect them?"
Tyre and Sidon were wealthy, pagan, coastal, trading cities
north of Israel. Sodom was a city in the plain of Jordan
that was destroyed with fire and brimstone from heaven
because of its terrible depravity, particularly the sin of
homosexuality (Gen. 19).
Chorazin and Bethsaida (and Capernaum) were cities in which
the Lord preached and did "most" miracles during His earthly
ministry (Matt. 11:20-24). They were part of the church of
the old dispensation, but they rejected Jesus as Israel’s
Messiah and so were even more wicked than Sodom, Tyre and
Now to the question: Can this passage be used to prove
sovereign and eternal election? It is interesting that this
passage is sometimes used to argue for the very opposite
position. Arminians, who teach the doctrine that man has a
free will and that he can accept the gospel if only he is
given a chance, sometimes argue that these cities that never
heard the gospel would have believed if they had heard it
and had seen Christ’s mighty miracles.
I do not think that Luke 10:12-14 can be used to prove the
truth of unconditional election (and reprobation). However,
the reader is correct when he asks, "Does the fact that
[God] did not do mighty works in Sodom mean that God did not
decree to elect them?" To that we must give a definite
"Yes." But the text itself does not prove God’s sovereignty
in election. At the same time, the text must—I say,
emphatically, "must"—be interpreted in the light of
Jehovah’s eternal and unchangeable election.
Jesus Himself proves this beyond any doubt in the context of
the parallel passage in Matthew. Immediately after He
pronounces His woes on Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum, He
prays. He does not pray, "Lord, I am sorry that there were
no missionaries to go to Sodom." Or, "Lord, be easy on these
people in Tyre and Sidon, for they never had a chance to
believe. Indeed, they would have believed if I could have
gone to them to perform miracles." Listen to what He prayed
"at that time": "I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and
earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and
prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father:
for so it seemed good in thy sight" (Matt. 11:25-26)!
The Lord thanked His Father that He had not saved the
unbelieving Jews in these cities of Galilee! This certainly
teaches that God did not save Tyre and Sodom because it was
His will not to save them. God saves whom He will and
reprobates whom He will. God sovereignly and unconditionally
saves His elect only. The prayer of the Lord in Matthew
11:25-26 shows us that God’s sovereign purpose lies behind
all unbelief—and all faith. But Luke 10:12-14 does not prove
The point here is that God accomplishes His sovereign
reprobation in the way of sin. Christ proclaims woes upon
these cities of the Jews for their dreadful wickedness.
First, man never goes to hell because he is
reprobate. He goes to hell because he justly deserves hell
for his great sins. One may argue that he cannot do anything
else but sin since he is totally depraved, but his depravity
is his own fault for he sinned in Adam.
Second, the Israelites especially had every reason to
believe in Jesus. As a nation, they had been given special
privileges from God (Rom. 9:4-5). They had the Scriptures
and were taught them from childhood. The hope of the Messiah
was held out in the old covenant Word of God and they
professed that they were looking for a coming saviour and
king. They went to church (the synagogue and temple)
regularly. They heard Jesus’ sermons that were far more
excellent than any earthly preacher could ever preach. They
saw miracles that proved conclusively that Jesus was the Son
of God in our flesh. God gave to the Israelites every
external thing that could possibly convince a man that Jesus
was the Messiah. All day long, God held out His hands to a
gainsaying people (Rom. 10:21). In the parable of the
fruitless vineyard in Isaiah 5:1-7, God asks the rhetorical
question, "What more could I have done than I did do?"
God does not in this way express a weak and frustrated
desire to save all men. His counsel always stands and He
does all His good pleasure (Isa. 46:10). But it must be
shown clearly and unmistakably that man goes to hell because
of his dreadful sin so that the perfectly holy God is
justified in all His dealings with man.
Third, man is punished according to the measure of his
understanding of the things of God. Jesus makes this clear
in Luke 12:48: "For unto whomsoever much is given, of him
shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much,
of him they will ask the more." Not much was given to Sodom,
Tyre and Sidon, and so not much was required. Their sin is
less than Israel’s sin. Their judgment on the last day
(though awful) is more tolerable than that of the
unbelieving Jews. To the Jews much was given but they
refused to believe and so crucified Christ. The Lord Jesus
came to call sinners to repentance but they had no sin in
their own eyes. Their smug self-righteousness blinded them
to the righteousness of God in the Messiah (Rom. 10:3-4).
Undoubtedly, the questioner is right. Behind it all stands
the eternal decree of the sovereign God whose counsel stands
forever (Ps. 33:11) and who will have mercy upon those to
whom He will show mercy—and the rest He hardens (Rom. 9:18).
Paul, that great teacher of election and reprobation, issues
a serious warning to us: "Thou wilt say then, The branches
were broken off, that I might be graffed in. Well; because
of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by
faith. Be not highminded, but fear: For if God spared not
the natural branches [i.e., Israel], take heed lest he also
spare not thee" (Rom. 11:19-21). Prof. Hanko
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