He has made glorious the way of the sea. —Isaiah 9:1
One of the most ancient of stories for Christians and Jews: Moses leading the people through the Red Sea. Over and again, the Bible authors reference this story as a defining moment for God’s people.
Then why do we—why do I?—feel surprised and betrayed when the path I’m walking is muddy, or narrow, or feels like the whole thing could come caving in at any moment?
God has made glorious this way in between two towering, tottering mountains of water, with a furious army in pursuit, with babies and all earthly possession in tow. That doesn’t sound very glorious.
When the Israelites made a similar trek through the Jordan River, led by Joshua, it says they “passed over in haste” (Joshua 4:10). This was no golden-paved route to savor.
Our practical expectation for our lives as believers tends to focus on the first portion of Psalm 23:
“He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters.”
We expect that most of our lives will be resting in green pastures, and if our pasture isn’t very green we look to another. Maybe that pasture over there will bring even more rest and enjoyment.
But the poem continues:
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. For you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.”
The peaceful cadence of this psalm and its overfamiliarity give the impression that mostly life as a godly person will be gentle and joyful. This is often true.
Where we get off is that we think that “gentle and joyful” will come as a result of the circumstances God leads us into or provides for us. But this psalm paints an “even though” picture of gentleness and joy.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
He has made glorious the way of the sea. He has chosen and elevated the muddy, difficult, dangerous way because it defines us as his own. He brings gentleness and joy in the midst of very difficult and sometimes dangerous circumstances.
Once you’ve walked through the valley of the shadow of death with God, you will be marked by that experience forever. Maybe it’s coming near physical death or enduring deep emotional pain. Maybe it’s a source of fear, a threat on your family’s well-being of some kind, and you do not know what lies before you or how far this valley extends.
The “way of the sea” is stepping day by day through the muck and darkness, with your only assurance being the voice of the Holy Spirit saying, this is the way, walk in it.
If you are walking through fear, grief, anger, or fighting sin tooth and nail, know that God’s intention is to make glorious this way. He wants to define your life with his rescue in it. He wants to teach you to listen to his voice even when the sound of the waves he’s holding back are churning in your ears. (I wonder what sounds the Israelites were hearing when they walked through the heaped up waters with thousands of people in their company and an army of chariots behind them.)
The most dangerous thing to do when you’re walking through a valley with God is to turn aside, off the path. Once you’ve started on a way with God, breaking off from him to chart your own way is sure to fail and to bring great destruction. Imagine a man in the multitude passing through the Red Sea freaking out and deciding to swim instead, or turning back to attempt negotiation with the enemy. No, the only wise choice is to march forward in the narrow strip of mud with massive tons of water held up in gravity-defying formation.
There are paths through the sea in our everyday lives. And some of us may be walking through a long, life-defining one right now.
The glorious way of the sea today may be allowing ourselves to feel sadness or boredom and talking to God or someone we love about it, instead of turning on Netflix or scooping another bowl of ice cream. It may mean buckling down and doing the tasks required of us, even though we’d like to search for a new job during work hours. It may mean turning our thoughts from angry blame to patient blessing when someone has wronged us.
The path through the sea may be shrouded in darkness, loss, and fear. It may not look very glorious now. But by bringing up this story over and over, the Bible authors are reminding us that this is God’s way. That the muddiness and even the drama are not indications that one has ventured out of God’s will. They can become evidence of his rescuing love.
God has made glorious the way of the sea. Let us walk in it today.
Recommended reading: Psalm 77