Psalm 24: The Sea of Chaos and the River of Peace

Read Psalm 24.

Not too long ago, I read that Nikolai Tesla invented a kind-of “death ray.” He called it Teleforce, and it wasn’t a beam or a ray so much as it was a particle accelerator. Telsa’s weapon was capable of sending tiny pellets hundreds of miles at high velocities, enabling a nation to bring down enemy aircraft and silence ground troops while they were still a long way off.

In the 1930s, military planes were a threat to peace and security unlike anything the world had seen up until that point. Major cities could be bombed from above, bringing suffering and death to civilians down below. And there was little anyone could do to completely stop such an attack. Teleforce, however, could stop bombers before they ever reached their intended target.

Tesla’s hope for his machine was that it would end all wars. He believed that if every nation had the ability to stop a battle before it started, there would be no more fighting. The world never got a chance to find out if Tesla was right, because as he tried to develop and market the weapon, he found he had no takers. It was considered too big a security threat. (It’s rumored the Russians paid Tesla for information on the weapon, but it’s unclear that a physical device was ever produced.)

I don’t think I’m on Team Tesla when it comes to the development of superweapons, but I’m in Nikolai’s corner when it comes to his desire for lasting peace. That’s God’s heart as well. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:19). His kingdom is coming, and when it does peace will flow like a river (Isaiah 66:12).

The Bible describes peace not just as the absence of war, but as the overthrow of chaos. In the beginning, there was chaos—”the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep” (Genesis 1:2). But then God spoke (1:3—2:1). He brought form to the formless and filled up the emptiness. He overthrew chaos and brought peace.

In Psalm 24, we are invited to remember God’s initial victory over darkness and chaos: “The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it on the seas and established it on the waters” (vv. 1–2).

In the ancient world, the waters—the oceans—were chaos personified. Out at sea, ships were at the mercy of the wind and the waves. There were storms and sea monsters, and if a person found himself adrift for any reason, he was a goner. Traveling by boat was dangerous, which is why the people of Israel were, for the most part, not a seafaring people.

But in the beginning, God separated the waters and created dry land (Genesis 1:9–10). He placed the shore as a boundary for the sea (Job 38:8–11). Whereas other gods of the ancient Near East constantly battled the forces of chaos, God was already victorious. He founded the earth upon the seas; chaos was subdued by the Lord.

There is another kind of chaos, one that’s usually less wet than the sea—sin. When Adam and Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and invited sin into our world, the result was chaos. The peace our first parents enjoyed in the garden was broken. Up through the cracks of that brokenness came lies and murder, envy and idolatry.

Thankfully, God is still in the business of subduing chaos. Many Bible scholars believe Psalm 24 was sung when Israelite troops returned from a battle against their enemies, with the ark of the covenant at the head of the procession. You can almost hear a priest shouting to the gatekeeper at the tent or the temple in Jerusalem: “Lift up your heads, you gates; be lifted up you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in” (v. 7).

As the people of Israel fought their enemies and were victorious, peace was restored to the promised land. It is an Old Testament picture of a future reality. Believers already have the peace of Christ (Colossians 3:15), and though our battles are not against flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12), as we bring the gospel to places near and far, we bring the peace of God.

One day, an angel will shout, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever” (Revelation 11:15). Peace will be the rule of the land. The curse will be broken (22:3), and there will be no sea (21:1). It seems a strange thing that the new earth will lack oceans, but when we understand all the darkness and disorder that the seas represent, it makes perfect sense. God will bring an end to chaos, once and for all.

“Who is he, this King of glory? The LORD Almighty—he is the king of glory” (Psalm 24:10).


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