Announce this to the descendants of Jacob and proclaim it in Judah: Hear this, you foolish and senseless people, who have eyes but do not see, who have ears but do not hear: Should you not fear me?” declares the Lord . “Should you not tremble in my presence? I made the sand a boundary for the sea, an everlasting barrier it cannot cross. The waves may roll, but they cannot prevail; they may roar, but they cannot cross it. But these people have stubborn and rebellious hearts; they have turned aside and gone away. They do not say to themselves, ‘Let us fear the Lord our God, who gives autumn and spring rains in season, who assures us of the regular weeks of harvest.’ Your wrongdoings have kept these away; your sins have deprived you of good. – Jeremiah 5:20-25
This passage holds particular interest for me as a water scientist and geologist. Coasts and beaches are some of the most dynamic places on the planet, but the passage is correct in saying that the boundary between the sea and the land is generally a fixed point of reference, at least within the time span of a human life. Beaches definitely move but the range of their movement is quite limited over short periods of time.
The descendants of Jacob are deaf and blind. They “have eyes but do not see, who have ears but do not hear”. This was a common refrain from Jesus to His disciples when he was discussing their amazing ability to miss what seems clear from our perspective today (Mark 8:17-21). I think both the people of this passage and modern-day God followers have selective sight and hearing. We hear and see what we want to hear and see sometimes. God makes it clear that the deafness and blindness we experience originate from a lack of respect — a healthy “fear of the Lord”.
Then comes some “deep water” that I am still struggling to understand, “I made the sand a boundary for the sea, an everlasting barrier it cannot cross. The waves may roll, but they cannot prevail; they may roar, but they cannot cross it.” This is clearly intended to be a metaphor so lets try to unpack it piece by piece. This seems to be alluding to beaches, or the boundary between two very different places, the sea and the land.
After I finished the book of 2 Kings I wrote a post about this concept (almost a year ago on January 18, 2015). I wondered at that time if the “meeting” place between us and God is like a beach. This passage seems to be alluding to the same kind of spiritual boundary between us and God. Our spirits are bound to a body while we inhabit this world and thus are not free to set out on the “sea”. We must choose where to dwell on the “land”. We are free to dwell far inland away from the “surging seas“, or we can dwell near the “beach” where it can get downright scary at times. This passage seems to be saying that God is at the beach and that is where we must meet Him.
The “sand” at the boundary of the sea is an interesting detail. Sand on the beach is derived from a long process of erosion and weathering that takes place on time scales that are far beyond a human life. God is alluding to this same tapestry of time in this passage. The sand on the beach seems to us infinite and almost beyond comprehension. Both God and the spiritual realm are like this. God sees both the expanse of the beach and individual sand grains at the same time. Humans do not have the ability to do this so we focus on the sea from far away and end up viewing it like clouds high up in the sky, or we focus on the sand grains and miss the bigger picture.
God describes the meeting place between land and sea as a tumultuous and turbulent place, “The waves may roll, but they cannot prevail; they may roar, but they cannot cross it”. This is an accurate metaphorical description of the meeting place between God and humans. It is also a tumultuous and turbulent place full of waves and raging seas, but it can also be a place of profound peace. I think this is like how we can both love God and fear Him at the same time. The same “sea” can be a serene ocean on a calm day, but can also be a scary roaring sea that resounds with great power, the lion and the lamb.
The people fail to articulate a recognition of this dual nature of God, “Let us fear the Lord our God, who gives autumn and spring rains in season, who assures us of the regular weeks of harvest”. I do not think that “Fear of the Lord” means to cower in the grass along the shore for fear we will be destroyed. Nor does it mean that we should stand boldly on the shore and deny the existence of the sea. What God is asking us to do is acknowledge that a boundary exists between us and Him. This boundary is like the where the sea meets the land. It is a dynamic place but the nature and location of this boundary does not change.
The good news is that God has come ashore to be with us. He has navigated the turbulent beach and tossing sea to bring us peace and living water. God is both the source of peace like a river and pounding waves.
Prayer: God our view from the “beach” is sometimes confusing and unclear. We have eyes but we fail to see and ears but fail to hear. Help us to boldly dwell on the beach where we can see You clearly.