Beloved Brothers and Sisters in our Lord Jesus Christ,
There’s a famous photograph that has been published a number of times as a motivational poster that I’m sure many of you have seen – it’s a picture of a lighthouse being engulfed by thirty-metre waves. In the doorway of that lighthouse, with those waves crashing all around him, is the lighthouse-keeper. Surrounded by that wall of water, that lighthouse keeper looks absolutely tiny, and very vulnerable.
With all of the Photoshopped pictures that have been making the rounds on the Internet, I had assumed that this picture was a fake as well – but as it turns out, it’s not. In 1989, French photographer Jean Guichard took a series of photographs of a lighthouse off the North-west coast of France. That famous picture is one of them – and the lighthouse-keeper survived.
This photograph, and others like it, show us the awesome power of the sea. Pictures like this one, and movies like “The Perfect Storm,” may be the closest that many of us come to experiencing the awe-inspiring reality of the ocean’s might. With all of our technological advances protecting us from the power of the elements, we don’t fear them as much as people once did – but still, those waves have not been tamed, and they’re still a fearful thing to behold.
For people in the Ancient Near East, the sea was a scary place, and the power of the sea was taken very seriously. In Ancient Mesopotamia, there was a creation myth called the Enuma Elish. It was the story of Marduk, the storm god, defeating the goddess of the sea, Tiamat, in battle. After his victory, the other gods appoint Marduk king over all of them, and king over all creation, and build a palace temple for him in Babylon.
In Ancient Canaan, along the shores of the Mediterranean, there were different characters involved, but the creation myth remains very similar. In Syria and Palestine, the story was told about Baal, the storm god. It was said about Baal that he battled it out with Yam, the god of the sea, and ultimately won the victory over him. Just like the Mesopotamian gods were said to have acclaimed Marduk as king, the Canaanite story tells of the gods appointing Baal to the ultimate kingship, and building a royal palace for him in the heavens.
And every year, at the beginning of planting season, worshippers of Marduk and worshippers of Baal would recite the stories of their gods’ enthronement. This had to be done, or disaster would happen. Just like the Aztecs offered human sacrifices to empower the gods to keep the universe from collapsing, the Canaanites and the Mesopotamians enacted their religious rituals so that the order of the world wouldn’t come undone, so that the world wouldn’t descend into chaos, with the waters of the sea overwhelming the dry land. It was fear that drove their worship – fear that the gods would be unable to maintain the boundary that had been established between land and sea, that the terrifying power of the sea would overcome after all.
It was in this world that the 93rd Psalm was originally written and sung. In a world held in the grip of fear, a world in which the gods were placated and fed in order to convince them to maintain the order of things, but where that order was never really certain, Psalm 93 turns the false beliefs and fears of the nations on their head. Instead of reaching out to limited gods in fear, never quite knowing if those gods would be able to do what they were supposed to do, the people of Israel were led to an expression of absolute confidence. In this kingship song, they were led to declare the LORD’s majesty, His invincible power, and His steadfast, unshakeable faithfulness.