"The Work of the Ministry" Volume 1.
"Thy way was in the sea,
And thy paths in the great waters,
And thy footsteps were not known.
Thou leddest thy people like a flock.
By the hand of Moses and Aaron"
strange juxtaposition of similes! It would be difficult
to have a greater contrast than is presented in these two
verses - the pilot through the sea, and the shepherd with
his flock. The sea in a rage and an uproar, the tempest
and the storm - and, right alongside of it, the shepherd
and his flock. One a picture of unrest, disturbance,
anxiety, stress, mighty forces in action; the other of
tranquillity, restfulness, calm. What a contrast! - and
yet brought together in one statement as to what the Lord
is to His people - a pilot, a shepherd.
to read the whole psalm to get the full value of that.
The first part of the psalm is a record of distress,
perplexity, bewilderment, a crying out in trouble,
reaching the agony of "Hath God forgotten to be
gracious?" "Is his lovingkindness clean gone
for ever?" - questions about the Lord. And then the
writer recollects and says, "This is my infirmity...
I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most
High"; and the whole tone changes. Recollection and
review, as to how it all worked out in the long run,
brings reassurance, leading finally to this summary at
the end. And yet it is only an introduction - because
undoubtedly the last two verses of this psalm are an
introduction to the next one, that great historic record
of the Lord's dealings with His people - Psalm 78. What a
long psalm it is, recounting the movements of the Lord's
people and the Lord's guidance and dealings with them.
The psalmist has worked up to that in this way. With all
there is here for most helpful, encouraging, reassuring
meditation, we can at the present time only look at the
gist of the matter.
going to change the metaphor again, from the pilot
through the storm, and the shepherd with his flock, to
the mountaineer. There are three peaks which every child
of God has to master - peaks that are suggested by this
psalm. We are not really qualified for the service of the
Lord, nor for life itself in relation to the Lord, until
we have mastered these three peaks. They will challenge
us; they may challenge us again and again; but somehow or
other we have got to be the masters of them and they have
got to be things that have lost their terror for us, have
lost their dread, have lost that which makes them for us
things that defeat and weaken.
Divine Purpose Governing All
first of these peaks which arises out of this psalm so
clearly is Divine purpose governing all. You know how
this mountain presented itself to Israel at the beginning
of their history. When the psalmist refers to 'His way in
the sea' and 'His paths in great waters', what is he
talking about? Undoubtedly about the Red Sea as it
confronted them. What a terror, what a dread there was
that night! We may picture how the East wind howled and
the water lashed. What a dread that sea was to the people
- with what fear and trepidation did they approach its
bank! The waters piled up as a wall on the left and the
right served little to abate their terror. It was a
terrible night, the passing through the Red Sea. It was,
in a sense, a veritable mountain to be negotiated - and a
mountain of, for them, terrible possibilities. But do you
notice what the psalmist says? He says (Ps. 77:16) that
these waters were - well, our translation does not give
us the exact word. They were troubled, they were in
anguish, they were groaning, and the original word which
is used to describe the state of the waters suggests that
they were in travail, the sea was in travail, and the
nation was born in that sea that night. A nation
was born in the Red Sea that night, and the waters were
in anguish. It is a picture.
Divine purpose working in the tempest: behind the fear,
the terror, all that seemed so awful that night, Divine
purpose was governing, producing a nation, bringing a
nation to birth - "paths in the great waters".
That is one thing that we have sooner or later to settle,
that the raging, the terror, the dread, the threatening,
the thing that seems to mean our undoing, is being
governed by Divine purpose to produce something of very
great value to the Lord. The recollection of this saved
the psalmist when he was crying out with those questions
- "Hath God forgotten to be gracious? Is his
lovingkindness clean gone for ever?" The psalmist
was in a state of distress. I think he was expressing the
state of the people at that time, and wondering whether
the Lord had not forsaken His people altogether and left
them. Then he says, 'Let us look back - let us go back to
our beginning as a nation. Were we not born in a threat?
Did we not begin our history in what seemed to speak
destruction? Was it not in the most terrible tempest that
we, by the mighty power of God, came out His people,
delivered, saved, set apart?' That recollection saved the
psalmist in his hour, and we too have to reach the place
where we say, with every new tempest, raging, threat,
dread, fear, onslaught, whatever it is - God has
something in this; purpose governs.
that involves something else, carries something else with
Divine Wisdom Dictating
The second mountain peak is this - Divine
wisdom dictating. It is not only that there is purpose
which is the end, but that there is wisdom dictating the
way to the end. The psalmist looked back and saw, and
said to himself, 'Ah, at the time we could see no wisdom
of God at work, the way we were going seemed to be such a
confused way, a contradictory way, everything seemed to
be anything but the dictating of Divine wisdom; but now I
can see: God chose the way, the method, the means which
He knew would most effectively reach His end, and we have
to negotiate that mountain.' It does seem so strange, the
way the Lord goes. What is the Lord doing? Why? All the
questions come up. But wisdom is dictating the way to the
Divine Love Controlling
And then, Divine love controls. It
controls the end, the way, the motive - yes, the Pilot;
but He is not a disinterested detached pilot, just doing
his job without any heart-relationship to the people in
his care. The metaphor changes at once, as though to say,
'Ah, there is something more in it than that. God is not
just negotiating through difficulties in a cold, detached
way. He is a Shepherd.' And if there is one picture in
the Bible of a heart-relationship to others, it is the
picture of the shepherd. God's heart is bound up with His
people, and the psalmist says an interesting thing here.
"Thy way was in the sea, and thy paths in great
waters, and thy footsteps were not known." What does
again, after it is all over, to the other side of the Red
Sea. The wind has quieted down, and the tempest has come
to rest. You look to see where His 'footprints' are, and
you cannot find them. You cannot say, 'He did it like
this and that'. You cannot find out just how He did it.
The fact is that He did it, and that is all; you cannot
explain, define, mark it out. The psalmist is saying -
'That is how God does things'. He does the most wonderful
things - things which involve the whole question of life
and death for us; and when He has done them, you just
cannot see any trace of how He did it - but it was done.
Do we not have to say that? We come up against a
situation like the Red Sea, and say, 'How are we going to
master this? What is the Lord going to do with this one?'
He just does it. We look back, again and again, and say,
'The Lord has done it, but how, I do not know'. "Thy
footsteps were not known." You cannot trace out how
the Lord does things, but He does them. He brings the
mighty tempest to serve His end, by His wisdom, in His
love, because He is the Shepherd of His flock - because
His heart is bound up with them. It matters to Him about
From "A Witness and A Testimony" Magazine, Mar-Apr 1953, Vol. 31-2.