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Calming the storm and the kingship of Jesus

July 20, 2008

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

This comes, as I am sure you are aware, from Mark 4:35-41. After re-reading this narrative in the light of Smick’s “Mythopoetic Language in the Psalms” I was led to ponder whether in this story we find Jesus making use of the mythopoetic imagery of the Psalms in order to demonstrate that he is the Yahweh that reigns over the chaotic seas, and so is declaring that he is Yahweh, that he is King.

This theme is picked up in Psalm 93 which links the kingship of Yahweh to controlling the waters at creation:

The Lord is king! He is robed in majesty.
Indeed, the Lord is robed in majesty and armed with strength.
The world stands firm
and cannot be shaken.
Your throne, O Lord, has stood from time immemorial.
You yourself are from the everlasting past.
The floods have risen up, O Lord.
The floods have roared like thunder;
the floods have lifted their pounding waves.
But mightier than the violent raging of the seas,
mightier than the breakers on the shore—
the Lord above is mightier than these!
Your royal laws cannot be changed.
Your reign, O Lord, is holy forever and ever.

This is not the only one for in Psalm 74 we find,

For God is my King from of old,
Working salvation in the midst of the earth.
You divided the sea by Your strength;
You broke the heads of the sea serpents in the waters.
You broke the heads of Leviathan in pieces,
And gave him as food to the people inhabiting the wilderness.
You broke open the fountain and the flood;
You dried up mighty rivers.

Psalm 93 and 74 clearly unite Yahweh’s control over waters with his kingship and then in Psalm 89, which is clearly messianic, we find the following declaration

You rule the raging of the sea;
When its waves rise,
You still them.

What is interesting is that in Psalm 107 we find,

Some went off to sea in ships,
plying the trade routes of the world.
They, too, observed the Lord’s power in action,
his impressive works on the deepest seas.
He spoke, and the winds rose,
stirring up the waves.
Their ships were tossed to the heavens
and plunged again to the depths;
the sailors cringed in terror.
They reeled and staggered like drunkards
and were at their wits’ end.
“Lord, help!” they cried in their trouble,
and he saved them from their distress.
He calmed the storm to a whisper
and stilled the waves.
What a blessing was that stillness
as he brought them safely into harbor!

It is highly probable (in my mind at any rate) that by his actions in Mark 4:35-41, Jesus is declaring himself to be Yahweh and announcing his kingship which is demonstrated through his control over the seas and this is a message which the Jews would have been familiar with by means of their singing Psalm 93, a psalm which Gunkel argues is referring to an “eschatological enthronement of God” and about which Kraus writes:

The hymn announces Yahweh as King and Lord of the whole world. The sovereign power of the Creator and Lord of the world is unchangeable and eternal. The stability of the earth is preserved in it. All the powers of chaos that beset the world and are in their imposing strength pointedly emphasized by the psalmist fade away before the highly exalted God who is uplifted all over the earth. They pose no danger to the world for it belongs to Yahweh.

It seems that this would dovetail nicely with the narrative within Mark. Jesus had declared in Mark 1:15 that the eschatological kingdom of God that Israel has been waiting for had come, that the time foretold of in Isaiah 40-55 was being fulfilled and which would entail Zion’s God (Yahweh) becoming king and this would result in three things, “The exile will end at last, with a purified people returning home; evil will be defeated, as Babylon falls at last; and, most important, Yahweh himself will return to Zion” (N. T. Wright).

Can it be, that by the calming of the storm we find Jesus engaging in a parabolic action declaring to all who will see and understand that their king was coming, their exile was ending and that their God was returning to Zion?

5 Comments leave one →
  1. July 20, 2008 5:13 pm

    When Mark is read – I would like to hear it performed as if the king is present – then it will really make sense in us – for we too are full of turbulence.

  2. C Miller permalink
    October 13, 2008 10:21 am

    Hi Richard

    Further to your comment on my blog a few weeks ago, I’ve just come across an article by NT Wright saying some similar things:

    I’ve posted an excerpt on my blog.


  3. June 7, 2009 9:17 am

    Useful, thanks.

  4. Carl permalink
    March 26, 2010 8:06 pm

    No doubt you are on the right track with your reading of the passage in the Gospels. No wonder their response is, “Who is this man?”

    You will find that this ground has been covered earlier by Foster McCurley:

    McCurley, Foster R. Ancient Myths and Biblical Faith: Scriptural Transformations. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983.

    McCurley takes the discussion a step further and draws his readers back to a foundational myth of creation that was very popular in the near East and in Israel: conflict between the evil forces of the primordial sea and the creator god. This is why in just about every passage relating to creation in the Hebrew Bible (Gen 1, Prov 8, Psa 89, Job 38) water/sea is clearly involved/associated.

    On the other hand, Psalm 89 indicates that this divine power (control over the chaotic sea) will be passed on to the Davidic heir. In that case, the Gospel story would be an affirmation of Jesus as the king of Israel.


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