June 20: Man vs. Nature
Ezra 9:1–10:44; 1 John 4:7–12; Psalm 107:23–43
As a teenager, I devoured stories about men and women at odds with nature. These man vs. nature struggles always told of a battle of wills. Nature was always at its most magnificent and most frightening: untamed, unwieldy, and heartless. The characters seemed to be living on the edge of human experience—they were not focused and resolute, anticipating the next turn of events like a typical Hollywood action film, but frightened and helpless before an uncaring force.
If we read Psa 107, we’ll find this genre isn’t unique to contemporary novels. Biblical writers also used the man vs. nature theme to show battling wills. Psalm 107 reads like a riveting short story: “Those who went down to the sea in ships, doing business on the high seas; they saw the works of Yahweh, and his wonderful deeds in the deep. For he spoke and raised up a stormy wind, and it whipped up its waves. They rose to the heavens; they plunged to the depths. Their soul melted in their calamity. They reeled and staggered like a drunkard, and they were at their wits’ end” (Psa 107:23–27).
When faced with uncontrollable forces, people make choices that mean life or death. In the stories of my youth, the characters were sometimes able to use their wits to get to safety. But most often, they died trying. The English idiom used in this psalm, “their wits’ end,” is actually a rendering of the Hebrew idiom, “their wisdom was swallowed up.” The men in this psalm weren’t just flustered; they were helpless. Their resources and smarts couldn’t battle this power.
Yet the men didn’t meet only a cold, deadly force when they came to the end of their own strength. “Then they cried out to Yahweh in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distresses” (Psa 107:28). Submission in the battle of wills leads to Yahweh’s love and care. He is more than willing to guide us to the safe harbor (Psa 107:30).
When faced with difficult circumstances, do you rely on your own strength, even when it’s insufficient? If you cry out to God, do you believe that He will answer?
REBECCA VAN NOORD
- When as these things were done, the rulers came to me, saying, The people of Israel, and the Priests, and the Levites are not separated from the people of the lands (as touching their abominations) to wit, of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammorites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites. For they have taken their daughteres to themselves, and to their sons, and they have mixed the holy seed with the people ofthe lands, and the hand of the Princes and rulers have ben chief in this trespass. But when I heard this saying, I rent my clothes and my garment, and plucked off the hair of mine head, and of my beard, and sat down astonied. And there assembeld unto me all that feared the words of the God of Israel, because of the transgression of them of the captivity. And I sat down astonied until the evening sacrifice. And at the evening sacrifice I rose up from mine heaviness, and when I had rent my clothes and my garment, I fell upon my knees, and spread out mine hands unto the Lord my God. And said, O my God, I am confounded and ashamed to lift up mine eyes unto thee my God: for our iniquities are increased over our head, and our trespass is grown up unto the heaven. From the days of our fathers have we been in a great trespass unto this day, and for our iniquities have we, our kings, and our Priests been delivered into the hand of the kings of the lands, unto the sword, unto captivity, into a spoil, and into confusion of face, as appeareth this day. And now for a little space grace hath been showed form the Lord our God, in causing a remnant to escape, and in giving us a nail in his holy place, that our God may light our eyes, and give us a little reiving in our servitude. For though we were bondmen, yet our God hath not forsaken us in our bondage, but hath inclined mercy unto us in the sight of the kings of Persia, to give us life, and to erect the house of our God, and to redress the desolate places thereof, and to give us a wall in Judah and Jerusalem. And now, our God, what shall we say after this? for we have forsaken thy commandments. Which thou hast commanded by thy servants the Prophets, saying, The land where unto ye go to possess it, is an unclean land, because of the filthiness of the people of the lands, which by their abominations, and by their uncleanness have filled it from corner to corner. Now therefore shall ye not give your daughters unto their sons, neither shall ye take their daughters unto your sons, nor seek their peace nor wealth forever, that ye may be strong and eat the goodness of the land, and leave it for an inheritance to your sons forever. And after all that is come upon us for our evil deeds, and for our great trespasses, (seeing that thou our God hast stayed us from being beneath for our iniquities, ad hast given us such deliverance.) Should we return to break thy commandments, and join in affinity with the people of such abominations? wouldest not thou be angry toward us till thou hadst consumed us, so that there should be no remnant nor any escaping? O Lord God of Israel, thou art just, for we have been reserved to escape, as appeareth this day: behold, we are before thee in our trespass: therefore we cannot stand before thee because of it. Ezra 9:1–10:44
- For there are three, which bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three, which bear record in the earth, the Spirit, and the Water, and the Blood: and these three agree in one. If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for this is the witness of God, which he testified of his Son. He that believeth in that Son of God, hath the sitness in himself: he that believeth not God, hath made him a liar, because he believed not the record, that God witnessed of that his Son. And this is that record, to wit, that God hath given unto us eternal life, and this life is in that his Son. 1 John 4:7–12
- They that go down to the sea in ships, and occupy by the great waters. They see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep. For he commandeth and raiseth the stormy wind, and it lifteth up the waves thereof. They mount up to the heaven, and descend to the deep, so that their soul melteth for trouble. They are tossed to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and all their cunning is gone. Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and he bringeth them out of their distress. He turneth the storm to calm, so that the waves thereof are still. When they are quieted, they are glad, and he bringeth them unto the haven, where they would be. Let them therefore confess before the Lord his loving kindness, and his wonderful works before the sons of men. And let them exalt him in the congregation of the people, and praise him in the assembly of the Elders. He turneth the floods to a wilderness, and the springs of waters into dryness, And a fruitful land into barrenness, for the wickedness of them that dwell therein. Again he turneth the wilderness into pools of water, and the dry land into water springs. And there he placeth the hungry, and they build a city to dwell in, And sow the fields, and plant vineyards, which bring forth fruitful increase. For he blesseth them, and they multiply exceedingly, and he diminisheth not their cattle. Again men are diminished, and brought low by oppression, evil and sorrow. He poureth contempt upon princes, and causeth them to err in desert places out of the way. Yet he raiseth up the poor out of misery, and maketh him families like a flock of sheep. The righteous shall see it, and rejoice, and all iniquity shall sop her mouth. Who is wise that he may observe these things? for they shall understand the loving kindness of the Lord. Psalm 107:23–43